Finals: The Glamorous Life

It’s Finals Week and just in case you are wondering what a cooking school Final Exam is like: it’s hard. It’s like every other 5.5 hour lab class — make a million things all at once with a partner who may or may not know what is going on — but you do it by yourself (hallelujah!) and there’s a lot more riding on it. And you take a written part, too. Between the two parts — written and practical — you’ve got 300 points out of a 1,000 point class on the line. So get ready.

Example of brunoise dice cut (not my photo). In fact, these carrots are rather uneven. Good thing they are not being graded!

While I spent an inordinate amount of my allotted time dicing brunoise (why are they so TINY? It’s like trying to pick up glitter.) the exam went rather smoothly. We had to take a whole chicken, truss it, then fabricate it into its various bits and pieces.

Looks pretty, right?

Trussed bird

Fabricated parts

Next, we took a whole fish, and filleted that. This task is actually quite empowering. There is something really cool about taking a fish off the bone. In order to practice this over the weekend, I had to call around to find a place that carries whole fish. I wanted several, so they had to be cheap since each one is several pounds and I don’t have a lot of cash right now. I was already on the hook for the seven whole chickens I had bought for practice over the last two weeks. Obviously, Whole Foods was out, and Safeway and Giant don’t carry whole fish. Fortunately, this is Maryland, so there are seafood stores around. Would you believe I have never been into one?

I’m not sure how to explain these Eastern Seaboard seafood stores. They are a world unto themselves. I’ve never been in anything like it in California. They can be intimidating to outsiders, like me, who don’t know how to order anything. Like crabs. I didn’t grow up cracking crabs so when it comes to ordering crabs I clearly don’t know what’s up. I’ve lived in Maryland for 9 years off-and-on and I still don’t know how to order crabs — male, female, medium, large, extra large, jumbo, swamp dogs, dozen, bushel…goodness gracious. I just tag along with people who do know what to do and watch them eat crabs while I sit there holding my mallet with Old Bay all over my cold, wet, cut-up hands and fantasize about ordering food that doesn’t involve so much hard work.


My practice fish from the seafood store.

But anyway, this seafood store I went to was packed with people waiting for crabs. They all had deli numbers and were mulling around waiting for their bushel of swamp dogs, or whatever. It was crazy in there. It was like being at an auction.  But as busy as it was, I got an appreciative glance when I told the fishmonger I wanted the fish whole.

Here’s how it went:

Me: “I would like three of those trout, please.”

Him: “Filleted?”

Me: “No.”

Him: “Gutted?”

Me: “Yes.”

Him: Heads on or off?”

Me: “On, please.”

Him (appreciatively): “Good for you.”

Me (like a dork): “Thanks! I’m practicing!”

So now that you know how the conversation goes, you can walk into a seafood store and order some whole, gutted, heads-on trout with confidence.

Here’s my little lovely, before and after.

Fish for the Practical — Before

I was so happy with my fillets that I patted them a few times before turning them in for inspection.

Fish for Practical — After

Finally, we subjected all these various cuts of chicken and fish to separate cooking methods. Here are the results:

Chicken and fish on the presenting grid.

Glamorous it ain’t, but it was interesting and satisfying to produce. I’m ready to fillet up a storm. And with my freezer stuffed full of various baked goods from my baking class, I’ve got a boatload of chicken to eat in the next week.