First night cooking. First night as group leader. Can we say STRESS??
Thanks to a classmate, I raised my hand to be a group leader. Don’t really know what was going through my mind, but if I’m going to put myself out there, might as well go all the way. The leaders got to pick three classmates to work with and a dish to cook. We had six choices: french onion soup, vichyssoise, sauerkraut, coq au vin, sole, or quiche loraine. I chose the vichyssoise since it was one of the dishes that made Anthony Bourdain fall in love with food and I knew the classmate I was working with wanted to learn how to make it. Also it would be simple…how hard could potato and leek soup be? Retrospectively, this darn cold soup was deceptively simple.
We started at 7PM and had until 9:30PM to get the soup on the plate, presented nicely. My group settled in peeling potatoes and cleaning/slicing the leeks as I flitted about trying to get all the other ingredients in place. Fortunately, Chef McDreamy came through with some fresh french bread and another friendly chef helped me find sour cream. I felt like a headless chicken, running here, there, and everywhere. The potatoes and leeks get chopped and we dump them into the stockpot with chicken stock and milk. This is meant to simmer for 25 minutes. In the interim, I’m like what are we supposed to do now?
Frustrated since the chef is not paying any attention to us since there are WAY too many people in the room, I completely violate his personal space until I get his attention. He agrees to come over and help us figure out what to do. He makes a few suggestions to take our dish to the next level. One group mate has an especially brilliant idea to fry up leeks like we did with onions for our green bean casserole. The two of my group goes off to do that and I decide that myself and the other person can start food milling the soup. Except no, we get scolded by the chef that it has not cooked enough. Soup goes back on the heat.
By 8:45, I’m starting to freak out. The soup still needs to go through the food mill and then put back on the heat to creme and season. And then cooled. And then plated nicely with its garnishes. AAAAAAAAAAH. I will not be late.
We start to go through the food mill again and just make a big mess. The potato/leek puree is just getting stuck on the top part and the our soup looks like greasy milk. On the fly, I grab the ricer and start ladling soup through that instead. This also is messy beyond belief but at least we’re getting the expected results. The soup isn’t the right consistency so we end up having to puree it for a few seconds anyway. (The reason this soup isn’t pureed from the start is that it will become overly starchy in the food processor). Soup goes back on the heat, add the creme, and when I turn around to add the salt and WHITE pepper they are both gone. Run around the room in a desperate search for it with no luck. It is 9:15. THE SOUP STILL NEEDS TO COOL. I run out the room and find out that one of the 100 students came into our lab and took it and forgot to return it. Just great.
Finally get to taste this soup. Horrifyingly bland. After a few rounds of salt & pepper we deem it ready. Start cooling it in an ice bath (we cheat and only cool the amount that we need to plate). At exactly 9:30, I am walking over to the plating table with the portion for the chef to taste. We anxiously crowd around him waiting for him to say something. He eats one spoonful, and then another, and then a few others before he finally says “it’s nice.” He loves the little fried leeks and the presentation. Felt that we took it to that next level! I don’t know about my groupmates but I breathed a huge sigh of relief. The soup itself was interesting. The coldness was a little different than I’m used to but it all went really well together, the crunchiness of the fried leek, the smoothness of the sour cream, and of course, the coldness of the soup.
The first night with the chef that makes comments like “I will chase you around with my knife until you go running out the back door screaming” was over. And I didn’t go running out the door screaming or break into tears. I think I can call that success. All over some freaking cold potato soup.