Day 1

March 7, 2005

I'd say "Bright and early," but it was still dark out at 5:50 when I got to the correct room. There were 16 people or so, but as it turns out, most of them were there for the basic Culinary Boot Camp. There were only 6 of us in the Pastry Boot Camp class - 4 women, two men. Our backgrounds are varied: Jeff, the other man besides myself, is an accountant who's previously taken a CIA Boot Camp course (World Cuisines, which is no longer offered). Heather was a passionate baker; she used to own a bakery but, for various reasons, couldn't make a go of it. When her son in the Navy, a son who'd urged her to keep working on her passion, died suddenly in action, she was the beneficiary of his life insurance. She's using that money to have a new bakery built so she can restart her career. There's Marie, with whom I was teamed, Nicole, and Carole. More about them on another day.

From 6 to 7, all of the assembled Boot Campers were told a little bit about the week ahead, given our knapsacks, and taken on a quick tour of the building. The regular Boot Camp people left the group, and the six of us in Pastry Boot Camp were taken to the building where we'd spend most of the week: the Colavita Center, which includes classrooms, kitchens, and the Ristorante Caterina de Medici (one of the Institute's four on-campus restaurants).

In the few minutes we had before our first lecture started, we changed into our "whites," two pairs of which (baggy drawstring pants and correctly-sized chef's jackets) were included in our knapsacks. These also contained: our ID badges; a neckerchief; an insulated coffee cup; pen and pencil; a copy of the CIA's cookbook "Baking & Pastry," a binder containing our week's schedule with notes on techniques and all the recipes for each day; a calculator; a flexible cutting board; two sets of tips (for pastry bags); a decorating comb; and an engraved icing spatula ("CIA Boot Camp 2005"), courtesy of CutCo.

Chef Stephen Eglinski came in and introduced himself. Soft-spoken and friendly, he lectured and took our questions from 7 to 8:15. We asked a lot. First, he covered the basic ingredients of most pastry (flour, liquid, fat, eggs, and sugar), going into depth about their functions and synergistic properties. This is when I asked him about pie doughs, which are difficult for me to get flaky; why, I asked, do cookbooks specify all-purpose flour if using pastry or cake flour would make them more tender? Because the recipes are assuming that AP flour is what you have available. Go ahead and use cake or pastry flour, or replace 10% of the AP flour with cornstarch, he said.

He then gave us an overview of the three kinds of custards (custard would be the main hands-on topic for the day): boiled, baked, and stirred. He applied this to the specific recipes we'd be working on today: Pastry Cream, Crème Anglaise, Pots de Crème; Crème Brulee; and Crème Caramel.

At 8:15, we broke for a quick breakfast of marvelous pastries from the Institute's Apple Pie Bakery. (All other days, we're welcome to eat the full, sumptuous breakfast with the rest of the student body, but that does mean getting on line no later than 6:15am to make the 7:00 lecture time.)

At 8:30, we returned to the kitchen in the Colavita Center basement and watched as Chef Eglinksi dashed off the Pastry Cream, Crème Anglaise, and Crème Caramel. This illustrated the three techniques: Pastry Cream uses a "boiled custard" method, Crème Anglaise uses a "stirred custard" method, and Crème Caramel uses a "baked custard" method. He cooked all these, which I'd usually considered "fussy" dishes, with astonishing speed: he cooks over extremely high heat, but takes the pots on and off the heat frequently. Once we were divvied into 2-person teams, we started work. Each team made a batch of Pastry Cream and a batch of Crème Anglaise; then one team was assigned to making Crème Brulee, one team to Crème Caramel, and my team to Chocolate Pots de Crème. We all finished making the Pastry Cream and Crème Anglaise, and prepared our mise en place for whatever kind of custard we had to make. Then we broke for lunch at 11.

I think our Crème Anglaise came out nearly perfect. But I'm not looking forward to tasting the Pastry Cream that my partner and I made. Why? Because she added the salt before I'd measured it out, and I didn't realize that until I went to measure it and found her already finishing the recipe on the stove! I'm guessing there was at least ¾ of a teaspoon of salt in it. I hope it'll be balanced sufficiently by the much larger quantity of sugar, but I'm nervous.

Today and tomorrow, the student dining hall is doing Americana recipes. I had the Johnnycakes, which were served with green beans, carrots, and a wonderful mushroom-and-cream sauce. There were also codcakes wrapped in bacon that looked terrific (and, according to my campmates who ordered them, tasted terrific as well).

At noon, we returned to the kitchen. We assembled our various custards and put them in the oven.

Our Pots de Crème had one problem: when we added the chocolate to the hot liquid, some of the chocolate seized, making for a lot of brown flecks. Chef said this was because we should've tempered the chocolate first (not in the typical "chocolate tempering" sense, but in the sense of adding some of the hot custard liquid to the chocolate, to bring it up to temperature, before adding it back to the liquid). But I don't fault us for not doing this; Chef didn't demonstrate the Pots de Crème before we made it, nor was there anything in the recipe about tempering the chocolate first.

I have had this exact problem with recipes before, and it's nice to know how to get around it.

We then all made our Pate a Choux dough, but didn't pipe it out or bake it&ldots;we'll do that tomorrow morning.

Class ended at 1:30, with a quick review of all we'd done and some of the problems we'd encountered (apparently one of the other teams did a major scrambled-egg job on their Crème Anglaise).

We took a tour of the campus for the next hour, then went our separate ways. Dog-tired, I decided to forego a trip to the bookstore, library, and rec center for another day.

We met at the St. Andrew's Café for dinner. It was a 2-and-a-half hour affair and wasn't nearly as casual as it sounds. Although we could order whatever we wanted (one could presumably order soup, salad, appetizer, main course, and dessert), I had to use a lot of restraint; there was no way I was going to be able to have that much food, and Chef had required us to order dessert at every meal and be prepared to talk about it. I had the Seared Tuna Cake appetizer with Wakame Seaweed Salad (very good) and Pan-Seared Salmon and Shrimp with Saffron Paparadelle and Wilted Spinach, Saffron Shrimp Broth, and Feta Cheese (also very good). Those who ordered the soup sampler were disappointed to find the soups warm, cool, and cold (they were all supposed to be hot). For dessert, I had the Selection of Fruit Sorbets in an Oatmeal Cookie Basket (also very good); those who sampled the cheesecake pronounced it horrendous. I tried it and had to agree. Turns out it was a Dietetic cheesecake made with Splenda.

Over dinner, we all discussed our backgrounds. Very good conversation. Very good service at the restaurant, too, and we tipped.

There's so much more to talk about. I don't know where to start. I guess I already have.