I don’t think I realized just how many ingredients exist. Over the past few classes, we have discussed, smelled, tasted and worked with fruit, herbs, spices, extracts, jellies, jams and eaux de vie (colorless fruit brandy). As we learned about these ingredients, I started to wonder if I would ever be able to eat dessert the same way again. And I think that’s a good thing.
Part of my new outlook is thinking about seasonality. One of our assignments this week was to go to a farmer’s market to find the fruits that are currently in season. Along with sustainability and cost, seasonality is one of the most important factors when selecting products. There I was at the Union Square Greenmarket on an early Wednesday morning, discovering herbs and the fruits when I saw a chef from Craft running over to pick up some greens to bring back to the restaurant. After tasting the local strawberries from one stall, I know why so many restaurants in the area depend on the Greenmarket.
We also learned how to prepare different fruit. Chef Nicole noted that knife skills are not used as much in the pastry world. However, when working with fruit, we spent time peeling, coring, slicing, dicing and wedging. There is definitely a skill to it. My new partner and I dried apples, candied orange rinds, poached pears in port, roasted pears and figs and tossed a strawberry salad with balsamic vinegar and mint. The other groups in the class prepared different fruits. Then we all tried everything together.
As we all talked about the preparations, I started to look around at my classmates. There are two males and 11 females (a ratio that is not uncommon in pastry kitchens), there are a few of us who have never worked in a professional kitchen and spend our day in an office or hospital, and others who work hands-on with pastry regularly. The diversity among the group is what makes it really interesting to work in pairs. In a professional kitchen, how two or three people are able to work together can be more important than the recipe. It’s evident in Chef Nicole’s rule that not one of us leaves the classroom until we are all ready to leave. Surely, it takes less time to wash the dishes when all 13 of us are accountable for it. So that just may be it, teamwork — that just may be the core of it.