Firsts of anything are nerve-wracking. A first date. A first interview. A first pastry class. As my class approached, I felt a surge of anxious and excited butterflies in my stomach. I put on my my commis cap, chef coat, checkered pants and big black kitchen-safe shoes and wondered why I always thought chef uniforms looked so sexy on others when they felt quite the opposite on me. I brought everything I was given, including a tool bag, binder, and textbooks, and tried to find a way to organize myself with so much baggage! As I walked into class to join my 12 other classmates we were all fairly silent. If they were anything like me, they were excited to be starting something new but anxious about what to anticipate.
After the first week of class, I am getting a better idea of what to expect. I always knew pastry and baking required more accuracy than the culinary world. As Chef Nicole very simply put it, “We’re in pastry, we weigh everything.” We broke into groups of two and weighed out specific amounts of flour, sugar and lots of other ingredients, just to get accustomed to how weights looked and build a foundation. As I got out my electronic scale, I realized this is why I decided on pastry. When people would tell me to “just put a little bit of this or a lot of that” in a dish, I would panic. I want exact measurements and accuracy and I’m relieved that this is what pastry and baking is all about.
Our first individual hands-on project was making a cornet. Chef Nicole made it look so simple in her demo, turning a flat, triangle piece of parchment paper into a cone-shaped piping bag in a fluid motion. Then, it was our turn to make 10 cornets. With the instructions and my sheets of parchment paper in front of me, I felt my hands shaking. The illustrations for the instructions, all of a sudden, looked like they were from IKEA and I was missing a piece to put that bookshelf together perfectly. I stopped and focused on Chef Nicole’s mantra, “Believe you are the master of the paper,” and I got one done. It wasn’t perfect, but just as in anything, practice makes perfect.
I’m getting the feeling that I’m really going to enjoy this program. For example, we were given an assignment to visit a French pastry shop and eat something — it was the best homework I was ever given! The anxiety of the first day of class is gone, and I’m excited to learn more and start making my favorite treats. This week, we will make gingersnaps, scones and pâte de fruit, and we’ll be using those cornets to pipe some basic borders. You can be assured that I will be practicing beforehand.