I Bake because I Am

Culinary school was hard!  It was unglamorous.  It was tough.  If you got to class early - you were on time!  If you got there on time - you were late!  The competition among classmates was.....unnecessary!  And the competition among our work was unrelenting.  I remember forming perfect sacristans for a mid-term assignment and getting rated very highly by a visiting "judge" professor chef!  This man was a legend in the field.  He actually instructed my prof chef to set aside my sacristans for the faculty fundraising reception.  All I could do at that moment as I stood there in front of both the big-wig-judge-prof-chef and my prof chef, was to hold my arms closely behind my back and press my fingers tightly to celebrate my joy and elation and accomplishment!  That quickly dissipated as I looked to my prof chef for some form of approval.  Her eyes did not meet mine.  Instead, she gave a quick compliant nod to the big-wig-judge-prof-chef's instruction to hold my laminated pastries aside from the rest, and then kinda usher me away with her pen.   But somehow, all of that didn't bother me.    You see, we had all been prepped on the first day of class to "...wipe those grins of your faces, this isn't the Food Network's "Next Big Star!"  Further more, I took to heart the words of our Head Chef, he said "we are not training you to become a TV chef.  Instead we are training you to become the best dedicated chef that you can be!"  Another thing that Head Chef said that has always stuck with me was, "Thank your teachers! For because they are dedicated chefs - you will become one too" (in his profoundly wonderful French accent)

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All of this hard nosed-ness prepared me for beyond the safe (yes...safe) walls of the culinary school!  Out in the field, I met a different kind of beast!  But thank God I was well-seasoned to handle all the bee ess the real world threw at me.  I was lucky though that I ended up working with a "nice" chef.  My nice chef was scary but fair.  He was British and old school.  But again, because of my training, I found this chef patient, rude, adorable and all around warm and fuzzy!  He taught me the world! Being British he suffered no fool (or situation) lightly!  Not once in culinary school (NOT....ONCE) did I ever approach a new lesson, technique, etc. without bright eyes!  The pasty arts captured my attention from start to finish (except for baker's percentages.....WTF?!)  When I got "out", I was still ever so bright-eyed!  Nice chef ripped that out of me!  "Time is money.  Stop liking making meringues!"  I'd snicker under my breath at his barking orders and yell back to him "Yes Chef!"  He taught be how to work with dedication.  "Why do you have to hold your pinky finger up like that when you're drizzling couverture?!"  I'd proceed to answer and he'd interrupt "....I don't care to know.  Just stop it!  We need 500 of these.....TODAY!  Put your [expletive] finger down and get them done in 15 (minutes)!"  I'd walk away to my station with my full-sheet pan of truffles and obediently yell back "Yes Chef!"

Fast forward to today.  It is my afternoon off and I'm "baking" (which by the way - is a word that no pastry chef ever uses!  It is relegated only to the home baking enthusiast.  we "make" in these here stainless steel walls).  But today, I'm actually baking bread.  So it's day 2 of the process. My shaped boules, batards, batons are done with their cold sleep.  They're now ready for a hot rude awakening in the oven.  I score and bake.  I carefully monitor for steam, springs and ear formations.  They're done.  Next, crumb and crust examination.  Wait..what?!  Whatever happened to just plain old eating them after baking them?  Are you kidding!  True dedication is to make notes.....ALWAYS!  The boules never fail to amaze me, though I should try more scoring techniques.  The batards always need more work - better open crumb.  The batons are just joy!  Batons are like Golden Retrievers - just a perfect fun loaf with a sunny disposition, always there to give back love!

Making food is a real form of relaxation for me.  I'm always learning.  Sure there are times I just really want to be "off" and give my back and feet a break.  But I guess I suffer from restless arms syndrome.  That and just wanting to perfect my craft and I so haven't even scratched the surface yet....

It is my belief that sharing knowledge is the utmost expression of generosity and community!  Thank you Prof Chef, Head Chef, Nice Chef and.......Big-Wig-Judge-Prof-Chef!

 

Jeanette Warne