On September 24, my class at the Natural Gourmet Institute had its brunch—our first opportunity to cook a la carte in real time. Friends and family were invited to come to the school and enjoy the students’ offerings and see what things they’ve learned. Guests ordered off a menu and we students worked in the kitchen to give them the best brunch we could muster up. (See our menu below.)
It was a busy day, which began at 9:15. We had an hour overview of the recipes and how things would work. Then we began prepping. We chopped, measured, assessed components, and discussed presentation. Sometime in the afternoon, we got a 20-minute break, which allowed me to run out for a cup of coffee. Mind you, we’re in uniform when we’re cooking and we’re not allowed to go outside in our uniforms. This means that running out for a cup of coffee requires changing into my street clothes, going out, coming back, and changing back into my uniform. Normally, when we have an intense day with little time for lunch, I don’t bother. Even when we have a full hour I sometimes don’t bother because it’s a pain in the neck to do all of that. But on that day, I so needed a cup of coffee (which, having just learned in our Kitchen Pharmacy class, causes fatigue, seemed counter-intuitive, but it was no time for logic). As soon as I got back, I had just enough time to change and we had to go back into the kitchen.
I was on the crêpe station. I made Moroccan-style chickpea crêpes with mango sauce. The batter was made with chickpea flour and the filling was coconut-curry chickpeas and spinach. I cooked fresh chickpeas, then sautéed them with onion, curry powder, coconut milk, spinach, and a few other ingredients. That simmered until it was thick and flavorful. And it was really good. I wasn’t sure I’d be crazy about it because coconut curry is not my first choice of flavor profile. But when I tasted it, it was really good!
My first crêpe was questionable, but by the second one, I had it under control. It was unfortunate that not many people ordered the crêpes—I was looking forward to improving my technique with each one. But the students enjoyed the leftovers and the dishwashers got to have a taste, too.The mango sauce was more of a challenge than it should have been. The first couple of mangoes I was given were rotten. The instructor got me two more mangoes, but they were not quite ripe. That meant that the flavor needed some boosting. I tried adding different things, from apple juice to lemon juice to, finally, coconut sugar. I finally got it to a good flavor and consistency. Although I don’t think it was as good as it would’ve been if the mangoes had been ripe.
When the time came to start desserts, the Crêpes Suzettes turned out to be quite popular,so I stepped in to help with those. Again, my first one was questionable, but each one got a little better. What remained the same was that the other two students making the Crêpes Suzettes did a much better job than I did. I think I added too much Grand Marnier to a couple of them, if the flames in the pan were any indication. But, overall, I don’t think I did too badly for someone making them for the first time.
I also experienced a moment of adrenaline-driven disaster. Well, not a disaster, really. It was more of a little trip-up. I had poured my batter in two small pitchers, to make it easy to pour. When I made my first chickpea crêpe, I turned to the prep table behind me to plate it and proceeded to knock over one of the little pitchers of batter. It went over and the batter went right into the garbage pail. I let out a firm “son of a bitch” and finished my crêpe plate. I guess if my batter had to spill, it was lucky that it went directly into the garbage.
It was also an opportunity for students to meet each other’s loved ones. We met husbands, parents, grandparents, and friends. It was nice to see these people who my fellow students have been talking about for months!
At the end, we were exhausted but, I think, exhilarated at our first real meal service. It’s getting better and better. Next event: Buffet.
(Photos by Elyse Prince)
CTP 197W Brunch Menu
Salad (choice of)
Spinach Salad, Crisped Shiitake Mushrooms, Pickled Red Onions with a Sherry Vinaigrette
Mixed Greens, Roasted Beets and Walnuts with a Creamy Horseradish Dressing and herbed Goat Cheese on Toast
Omelets with Choice Filling of:
Tofu Scramble with Pine Nuts, Tomatoes, Onions, Garlic, and Spices
Belgian Waffles topped with Fresh Fruit and Whipped Cream
Moroccan Style Chickpea Crêpe with Mango Sauce
Tempeh Reuben on Housemade Spelt Bread with Sauerkraut, Pickles, Tomatoes, Avocado and Russian Dressing
Chocolate Pudding with Optional Whipped Cream
Crêpes Suzette with whipped Cream