Our culinary class is divided into four groups, each of which is assigned a set of recipes to complete by a given time each day (usually we get about two hours from start to plate, sometimes less, which can get hairy but somehow we manage). The recipes get rotated through the groups so every group gets to make all the recipes at some point.
Yesterday was the first day of our third project, the first project being soups and the second, vegetable cooking methods. We were also shuffled around into new groups, and my new partner and I tackled braised cabbage, braised fennel, corn fritters, beer-battered pan-fried zucchini and roasted red pepper coulis for the fried zukes. I was happiest with the coulis, which my chef instructor gave the thumbs up, as did Chef Wilke, who constantly walks around the kitchens, surveying and tasting. The fennel was surprisingly delicious, as was the cabbage (though a bit overdone, Southern-style, but still good in flavor).
I was in charge of the corn fritters, and though I thought the flavor was excellent with the addition of some fresh basil chiffonade, the oil was too hot when the batter went in. Instead of a lovely golden brown, they were clearly burnt in a couple spots and in a general an unsightly dark brown all over. Surprisingly, burning them did not compromise the flavor much, but my instructor deemed them unfit for general restaurant service. I sadly and disappointingly relented in agreement. My classmates still tasted them, and though it was overall a better day than Monday, still a bit of a let-down.
We began lecture today by discussing what happened yesterday in production. My chef instructor asked me directly about the corn fritters, and I relayed in my best "positive attitude" tone what went wrong, what could have been done better, but that generally speaking I didn't think they were ruined. The chef instructor, who is not one to mince words, cut me off and said, "Well, actually, they were ruined. Yeah, the taste was alright, but you wouldn't serve that to the general public, would you? And that's who we're going to be cooking for, right?"
I felt a rush of blood go to my face and was thankful at that very moment that I don't blush much when embarrassed, or my face would have been a bright, hot pink. I was slightly irritated and felt foolish for saying anything at all. I nodded silently in agreement and was determined to keep my mouth shut for the rest of class.
My chef instructor, however, quickly followed with, "But listen, just because the food was ruined doesn't mean you're a failure. You're not. I'm glad you're making the mistakes now, in a safe environment where it doesn't cost you a thing to make mistakes. It won't cost you your job, or your money, maybe a little time but that's ok. That's what we're here for, right?"
I felt the blood leave my head and my muscles relaxed. My instructor was right, and I remembered suddenly, 'I'm in school. I'm paying to have this freedom to make mistakes and to learn from my mistakes.' I smiled a little at how irritated I was just seconds before, and thought to myself about how glad I am that I'm in such good hands. My tendency to take things personally was shaken off a bit, and I was ultimately reminded to be less hard on myself.
So yes, today was a good day.