POV: Culinary Arts and Design Final Cooking Practical

November 01, 2018

POV: Culinary Arts and Design Final Cooking Practical

 “If you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

As legend goes, this popular idiom came from former U.S. President Harry S. Truman, who shared it with an Idaho newspaper when asked what he says to colleagues who question the feverish pace of his work. Kitchens are crucibles of heat and steel, open flame and close quarters, where deadlines are tight and perfect execution expected. They are collision spaces for creativity, collaboration, and camaraderie—bound by a love of cuisine.

When Culinary Arts and Design students are put through the paces of their final cooking exam, they wear this love on their sleeves. Writer/photographer, Stacia Franz, recently captured the sights and sounds of this experience.

 

3:30 p.m.

I arrive at the teaching kitchen at Henlow campus, which is nearly empty save for Chef Rob Boyko and two students who are mindfully walking about collecting utensils and ingredients. The ovens are on and the room is humid from a rice cooker slowly pluming steam to the vents above. As I set about doing white balance checks, two female students begin to map out their culinary choices for the evening.

3:45 p.m.

Chef Rob explains to me that each student has three hours to prepare three courses: an appetizer, main, and dessert. To maintain full marks for timing, the first appetizer must arrive at the judges table in exactly three hours from the 3:30 p.m. start time. Students continue to arrive in pairs, Chef Rob allots them a station where they can begin their prep—one as main chef, one as helper. The positions will rotate over the course of three days until all the students have been judged. Only the main chefs on a given day are graded.

 

4:15 p.m.

The kitchen is alive. No one is rushing. No one is stressing. Students are calmly and purposefully moving about their work spaces collecting ingredients and beginning to prepare their dishes.

 

4:30 p.m.

“Behind.” “Sharp, sharp, sharp.” I hold my camera tight to my chest to take up as little room as I can as the students move past and all around me. Countless vegetables and fruits being cut at once fill the kitchen with a fresh, crisp smell. Two more students enter and Chef Rob points to the direction they need to go.

 

4:40 p.m.
Chef Rob quietly walks about the various stations curious as to what the students have chosen to prepare. He shoots me a “that’s impressive” look, gesturing to the detail the students have chosen to feature in their dish.

 

5:50 p.m.

Students have now completely accepted me as a feature of the kitchen. They no longer side-eye me, wondering if they should smile for photos. They are too focused to mind.

 

6 p.m.
A loud time check from Chef Rob signals that the first two students have exactly half an hour to have all of their dishes ready and on the table for the judges.

 6:10 p.m.

More aromas begin to swirl around the kitchen. Curries, fried bacon, butter and garlic. Chef Rob wheels a serving cart to two students whose time is almost up. One picks up two differently shaped plates and holds them up across the kitchen. The other turns from the fresh parsley she’s chopping and gestures to the square one.

 

6:20 p.m.

It’s plating time. The appetizer, main dish, and dessert all need to be on the trolley, weighted and balanced so as not to spill. The students expertly adjust the angles of each piece as they strategically arrange the food into an artful presentation.

 

6:25 p.m.

Now comes the fun part: quickly weave the stacked trolley through the bends of the kitchen and the bodies of the other students, down the hallway, and onto the judges table without letting a single morsel of food get cold.

 

6:30 p.m.

Students present the judges with their menus. Each dish is explained as it is placed in front of them for sampling.  

 

6:31 p.m.

The first bite is taken. Breaths are held. The judge raises an eyebrow. “What was your inspiration for this sauce?” The student explains her passion for cooking and that her use of spices reflects her heritage. “I like it. Very fresh. Nice texture.” A collective sigh of relief.  

 

8:15 p.m.

Four pairs of students have been judged. Everything was taken into consideration on their scores: timing, portions, knife skills, temperature, taste, presentation. Time to clean up the kitchen, regroup, and reconvene for two more days of testing.

 

The MITT training kitchen is hot, but it’s nothing Culinary Arts and Design students can’t take.

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