Culinary school, week twelve: an internship

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It’s official. My last internship is over! I’ve got two days of school left, but no kitchen time. We’re just back to wrap things up and finalize all that we’ve done over the last three months so that our programme will be validated. My internship, which lasted one and a half weeks, was crazy and great. I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired, but I never once questioned my place in the lab as I tore the coral from fresh scallops, heated blocks of foie gras to melt the fat and rolled them in hazelnuts, prepared 300 tomato, mozzarella and bell pepper bouchées, etc., etc.

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I spent the first half of the week working in the fishery because the apprentice was on vacation and we had a lot of work to do! A delivery of 50 whole, fresh salmon was made in the morning and we spent most of the day fileting, taking out the bones with pliers, and trimming the filets. The chef let me filet a few salmon myself, and while the first few were butchered, I saw myself progress with each fish. I also spent a lot of time preparing scallops, pounds and pounds of delicious scallops, that were eventually trimmed and placed in molds with zucchini, honey-roasted eggplant and a simple scallop mousse. The domes that we made were incredibly beautiful. We also made a fish terrine with a gelatin-laden ratatouille and little filets of fish, all wrapped up in thin slices of zucchini. So easy and yummy!

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The next few days were more hectic. I went from station to station, wherever I was needed and did whatever needed doing. One of the interesting things that we did were fill tiny little plastic vials with an apple smoothie mixture. They were cute, and the way that they were filled was pretty ingenious. I took a metal tray with holes in the bottom that’s usually used to strain mixtures. I popped the open end of the plastic vials into the holes (very time consuming!), then filled another tray with the apple smoothie mixture, placed the first tray on top and popped it all into the sous-vide machine. As the machine activated the mixture started to bubble and boil and then woop! In a fraction of a second the vacuum did its work and all the juice was sucked up into the vials! They were served as a canapé with a little bit of smoked salmon.

One of my favorite moments was lobster day. So much food transits through the lab that often times, like with our salmon, one big delivery is made on a certain day and that day is basically dedicated to processing it. We received so much lobster one day, and it was amazing to see the team in action. It was cooked in massive imbeded pots, then dispatched to different areas of the lab where some people were in charge of separating them into pieces, others with extracting the meat from the claws or tails, and still others with cooking down the carcasses and heads to make the most succulent sauce that ever existed, the Sauternes. The bits of lobster are caramelized with onions, celery, carrots, spices, etc, then deglazed with Sauternes, a sweet white wine, then simmered with three different types of cream, then strained and voilà!

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I also spent lots of time in the assembly line making chicken skewers, tomato and mozzarella appetizers, crab salads, chicken with black and white sesame seeds, etc. I also spent hours cutting tomatoes into a small dice, slicing zucchini and eggplant with a mandolin and then dicing it, dicing mozzarella, slicing pounds and pounds of quail… Sometimes the sheer quantity of what we had to do was overwhelming, which made for repetitive tasks. I often thought I might go out of my mind, but it’s clear that there’s no better way to learn to master a small dice than working on a small dice for two hours! My knife skills definitely got a boost depsite the fact that I lost a large chunk of my fingernail while cutting those tomatoes. Once I realized that I’m not quite a pro yet, I took my time and made sure that my gests were just right, and the rest of my internship went by without any more cuts and scrapes.

I ended my internship with two consecutive 12 hour days, but despite the fatigue I was sad to leave. Luckily when I said my goodbyes to the chef, he had nothing but positive feedback to give me and even asked me to come back and work in the very near future. I’m so excited to be continuing this culinary adventure in the lab, with the chef and the whole team, and all of the scallops and lobster and foie gras. It’ll be a difficult adventure, but one that is well worth it because I still have so much to learn!

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