Nicole Croes is a recent graduate of Chef’s Training Program class 178, which began nearly 10 months ago. On July 9th, Nicole’s group marked the end of their journey by preparing and serving their 3-course Friday Night Dinner for 100 guests – the final project for every graduating class. Nicole has been blogging the entire Friday Night Dinner process in installments here on Blanched and Shocked. Here is Part VI, the conclusion . . .
It’s been two weeks and I’m finally able to sit down and write my last Friday Night Dinner blog. After July 9, the day of the “big dinner”, it took me some time to really absorb all the nuances of the experience. That evening, all I could really focus on was the heat – the incredibly relentless heat that we cooked in for two days. I was hot, tired and had a pounding headache.
In the days to follow, my “plate was full” with final tests and our last few classes. Now, as I prepare for graduation, it’s all really starting to settle in. I can’t help but think back to the midpoint when we eagerly wondered how the Friday Night Dinner process would go. In March we had our first meeting – the one where we revamped our entire menu because our counterparts in Group B had very similar ideas. Next we were testing recipes and tweaking them, and before I knew it, it was July 8 and I was heading to school for our first of two kitchen preps . . .
On day one we gathered at school at 4:30 pm. I actually arrived a bit early, as I couldn’t sit at home any longer. I was a flutter of nerves and excitement, like an actress on the eve of opening night. The anticipation had come to a full boil and I was ready to start creating our masterpiece.
When I got to school I immediately learned of the crisis du jour – the air conditioning had broken. Ordinarily, that might not have been so bad. After all, we’re chefs and as the saying goes, “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” But in July, in the midst of a heat wave, that saying doesn’t seem to apply.
Chef Elliot allowed us to cook in our “street clothes” – shorts and tank tops – so long as we wore appropriate kitchen shoes and aprons. If you’ve ever worn thick, itchy chef pants, you’ll understand what a reprieve shorts were for us that night. The temperature had crept up to about 100 degrees and, as I stood over a hot stove turning out crepes, I decided we must have moved into desert territory.
On the plus side, I, along with Chef Elliot and one of our awesome student helpers, Julia, successfully flipped over 200 crepes! I prepared an industrial-sized bowl of batter, while Julia prepped the chives and lemon and pepper garnishes. We added the chives to one half and the lemon and pepper to the other. Working two (Chef was up to four) pans at a time, we deftly yielded more than enough crepes for the dinner and the staff meal. It was a long night, but getting those crepes done was a huge personal accomplishment.
The following day the air conditioning was still broken, so I mentally prepared myself for another day in the furnace. But it wasn’t just the heat that got us down on Friday. Our prep was understaffed and we had lots to do. Abbey had written the day’s tasks on the board and I really felt like we were again on an episode of Dinner Impossible.
There was no way our short-staffed team could get everything done by 6:30 that evening. So Chef Elliot went to the top and asked, maybe even begged, for help. To our surprise and delight, he recruited Chefs Barbara, Sue and Alex, as well as two students. I recall an amazing sense of unity as our team, the student helpers and the chef instructors, churned out each task one by one, working side by side with a common goal. It was a remarkable group effort and one that made me proud to be a Natural Gourmet student.
But as we overcame each obstacle, a new one would take its place. Bringing me to the Chocolate Bon Bon Fiasco. Noel prepared a luscious cherry sorbet that we were going to coat in chocolate as part of our dessert trio. As luck would have it, we discovered the freezer had also broken, leaving us with bowls of cherry soup and melted chocolate. We had to think fast.
Our menus had already been printed and we promised a trio of desserts. Somewhere along the way Abbey and Chef Elliot came up with the idea to create a chocolate cherry bark. At nearly an hour before service, while Ayse and I fought once again with the evil agar flakes for the cherry tart, Noel cooked the braised artichokes and Denise assembled the trifles, Abbey and Chef constructed our last-minute dessert.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we finished in the nick of time – but finished is operative word here. As it turned out, the air conditioning was fixed shortly before service, 100 dinners were enjoyed and the impromptu dessert was a hit! We were well received by our public, walking out to cheers, whistles and happy faces as we had hoped.
As our names were announced by the evening’s host, I flashed back to my first Friday Night Dinner, the night I had predicted that I would be in this position someday. I smiled to myself, and then focused on what was going on in the present moment. I tried to take it all in, knowing it was coming to a close; aware that even though things didn’t necessarily go as planned, it was still a success and I was proud to be part of it.
Within three-and-a-half hours the night had been wrapped up. Chairs were put back, dishes were washed, compliments were shared and it was time to go home. I had a hard time walking out of the school that night. I felt like there should be more – more prep, more dinner, more something.
It reminded me of my wedding, when after six years of dating and thirteen months of planning, our big day had come and gone. You never expect it to last forever, but for some reason it doesn’t feel right that it’s over. As I come to terms with those feelings, I understand that because of this experience, there will be more new beginnings and fresh starts, subsequent chapters and well-deserved achievements, but like all the best things in life, this adventure has officially come to THE END!