Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Final Exam and Final Comments

Every course requires an examination of some sort. Today (10 June 2015) was that final day for this group of budding chefs. They created this menu, they worked together in teams of two, three or four,
they researched the recipes, methods, ingredients required and they refined how to plate and present their work. Almost everyone showed up for three gruelling days of intense work and attention to tiny details. Today ... triumph!

There's nothing like a good meal with friends to slow the rushing world down for a while. In a good restaurant this is done with aplomb and attention to the smallest details. In the 'back-of-house' the crazy may be happening, but in the 'front-of-house' tranquility rules. Today, for the second time this semester, my students had a chance to really find out what it takes to be in this business.

Ruby, our incredible community volunteer, arrived at 09h00 with flowers for the tables and a big smile for everyone.
Then she started to work with the production teams, a willing resource of depth and reassurance for everyone.

Tamara had a badly-wrecked finger and I didn't want her to have her hands in food or water, so she set the tables up beautifully, with professional guidance from Ruby.
The results were ... well, look at the photo. Lovely! Then she pleaded with me to be allowed to cook ... get on the hot line with her friends ... and I just had to relent and said YES. You've never seen a happier girl. My confidence in her is fully justified.

All morning the teams of students ebbed and flowed, managing their time as well as they could. We had spent Monday of this week planning out time management sheets alongside recipes, and built in some extra time to allow for the inevitable hiccough.
Everyone worked hard and, amazingly, kept their tempers. This is a business where tempers famously flare under the pressure of the kitchen work, and I am SO proud of my students for managing themselves professionally. A couple of burns and nicks produced some swearing,
to be truthful, but then it was right back to the work, the sweat and the striving for perfection.

At about 11h00 I opened "Aller-Stead's Kinder, Gentler School of Hospitality and How To Wait At Table". Every student attended (but I don't offer any choice). How to wait at table, how to keep track of your orders, how to do basic service and answer questions and how to be polite and welcoming to everyone ... these are the Hospitality Arts. (I was channelling Dave Schwingenschlogel, the Master of all these arts, who is a Professor of Hospitality at George Brown Chef School's "The Chefs House" restaurant. Dave, I hope I channelled you well!) It was a crash course ... it took 15 minutes (well, 10, actually, with time for questions), then back to work.

At 11h45 our 26 guests (it had been 24, but then ballooned!) all arrived with appetites and high expectations.


The wait-students went out and collected orders, then came into the kitchen to the pass areas and picked up 2 at a time. The hot-line, garde-manger and cold-line all went into action, plating as fast as they could and making sure every plate sent out looked perfect.

Our guests were blown away, frankly, by both the food and the wonderful attitudes of honest pride and confidence my students have developed throughout the semester. At the end of the luncheon a group of our guests barged into the kitchen and applauded my students (who were too pooped to do much more than smile wanly and wave).

The kitchen looks (early evening) like part of the Titanic disaster. There are dishes piled up to heaven, pots and pans and roasting trays and cutlery and glassware EVERYWHERE. Tomorrow, we clean up. All students had to head off to their afternoon classes immediately after lunch today (although there was SOME tardiness, I am sure).

I am VERY PROUD of my chef students this semester. Well done! You've completed the course and, as I promised you, at the end all I would do really is wash dishes because you don't need me any more. Today you proved that I was right.

You've come a long, long way from 'Make Me Cookies'. Congratulations.

Tyler, you have been my wonderful second set of arms and legs this semester as my co-oop student.
Many, many thanks. You're an Award-winner in every way. Congratulations!


Now, go and enjoy a wonderful summertime. Use your planning and execution skills at home for your families, and at school to build success in other courses.

In the autumn, when school re-opens, come and say hello then go on to other things. You don't really need me or Chef Ruby and Chef Plummer any more, most of you. I have given you the things you really needed for school success by helping you find them within yourselves ... but drop in once in a while to cadge an espresso or just say a cheery hello. I'll be here for new students: It will be their turn. You can visit, but you can't stay. In real life, you can't go back again. This course has been real life.

Leave the kitchen remembering three important lessons: Respect yourself and your talents and ability to share, look after your family and community, and always look for ways to build, to give back, to make the world a little better because you were there and made good choices. You will be hugely respected for these values. They are very old, very deep and not particularly sexy, but if you live by them you will be the most lovely people on this old earth, and the community and your family will cherish you every day of your life because you are decent, honest, reliable and caring.

Now go, and be well. Live long, as Spock said, and prosper. Keep in touch.

Bon voyage!

-- Chef