My last day at Gastronomicom is bittersweet – sweet because we plate a fabulous sablé, macaron, and pistachio ice cream dessert in the morning, and bitter because I spend my afternoon trying to roll shredded cow tongue in a sheet of gelatin. So here it is: the delicious, the not-so delicious, and the désastre.
The format of our Pastry class has changed this week. We make three intricate plated desserts, each with about six different components: cookies, cakes, sorbets, candied nuts, mousses, and chocolate sauces. We’re each assigned a different component and must set up the mise en place. Then Chef circulates through the room, stopping at each table to quickly demonstrate, while we chase after him, like goslings after Mother Goose, and scribble notes.
With all of us crowded around the table, it’s hard to see each step; we panic – Wait, did he put the egg whites in before or after the sugar? How long did that syrup boil? At what temperature did he heat the ganache? Missing a step could mean the difference between caramel and simple syrup.
After we prepare the components, we each plate a dessert and hope to get close to Chef’s masterpiece. Our final dessert is Sablé Breton, a shortbread-like cookie, crusted in candied pistachios and topped with cherry jelly, pistachio ice cream, and a classic French macaron (the leftover macarons get a spoonful of chocolate ganache and tucked into pastry boxes for an afternoon snack).
To decorate our plates, we use cherry juice and tuile de griottes, similar to a cherry flavored fruit roll up. Chef makes curlicues out of his tuile, but I finish mine à la Lindsay with a tuile bow, studded with a pistachio. When Chef comes by to critique my plate, he stares inquisitively and says nothing . . . so I cheerfully blurt out, “Chef! It’s a bow!” In a thick French accent he replies, “I know, but I do not like it.” Well, that makes one of us. Bow or no bow, the combination of flavors and textures is divine. And for the record, it tastes way better with the bow.
This afternoon we have our Cuisine class final: Cow tongue rolled in beef gelatin, with a gribiche stuffed egg. Cow tongues are enormous; you almost need two hands to pick one up. They’re cooked for two-and-a-half hours in vegetable stock; then Chef assigns a few fortunate classmates to remove the taste buds. After they pull the first layer of skin off the tongue, we shred the meat.
My partner and I prepare a thin sheet of gelatin with jus de boeuf, laced with fresh herbs. We will wrap the beef tongue in the sheet of gelatin, similar to wrapping a spring roll. On our first attempt, we can’t even remove the gelatin from the pan; it’s too thick and won’t roll. We start another batch, and once it has cooled, we try again. With a little luck, we get the thin gelatin out of the pan and onto a sheet of plastic wrap. It’s so fragile, the only way we can roll it up with the tongue is to keep the plastic wrap intact. My partner and I wonder how bad it would really be if our diner ate a petite mouthful of plastic. As we’re wondering, the gelatin breaks again, so we can barely recreate the spring roll shape.
Then . . . the egg. Oh, the egg. Chef has boiled his egg, made a tiny hole and extracted the yolk, then filled the egg with gribiche, a thick white sauce made with egg yolk, mustard, and oil. When a guest cuts into the egg, instead of a normal yolk, they find gribiche. My partner and I go through six eggs to get two decent ones, but just as I’ve extracted most of the yolk from mine, the egg breaks. By now, we’re laughing so hard I can hardly breathe, and there’s no time to try another one, so I have to present the broken egg with sauce spilling onto the plate – a perfect complement to our pile of cow tongue and gelatin. Can you guess which plate is Chef's?
Hoping Chef will give us a few points for creativity, we garnish our plate of oozy sauce, a broken egg, and a messy cow tongue gelatin roll with a hash tag made of shredded-tongue – #cowhungryareyou? #areyouintheMOOdforcowtongue? – then we brush everything with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. When Chef comes to review our work, he can’t help but smile and laugh. It’s far from good, but he says it was a nice arrêt du désastre, save from disaster.
That night, to commemorate the end of our month-long journey together, my classmates and I celebrate on the beach: everybody sips rosé and cold beer and dances by the ocean. I’ve met so many interesting and incredibly talented people; I’m eager to see what they will create from their own corners of the world.