Not So Grand Buffet    

August 28 1998
is technically a fruit

The task of the day:

Hot and Cold Buffet

Well, today was our second buffet of the week, and my last day of "cooking" classes. Next week starts six weeks of baking and pastry. Our buffet wasn't quite "grand" but it did turn out rather well.

* * *

Our group produced:

  • Sunchoke Salad with Fruit
  • Smoke Duck Tart
  • Galentine of Fois Gras
  • Peach Catsup
  • Pear and Melon with Spices
  • Grape Stuffed Grilled Quail
  • Smoked CousCous with Curry
  • Creamed Onion Sauce
  • Chanterelles Rossini

* * *

The three winners in all of this were the couscous, the smoked tart, and the fois (two ways). Our group had our mise en place together early, and cranked through the production. Plating was dead-on at six for our group. Our workstations were a bit of a mess due to the last minute hustle, but it was all very well organized and calm. Basically, we rocked this one.

The smoked duck tart was done in the style of a fruit tart. We smoked a duck and used the dark meat for a mousse that went into the tart shell. The breast of duck we sliced and fanned out on top, along with roasted and chopped pistachios and peppered orange slices. We took the duck carcass and made a smoked duck stock from it (yum!) and reduced the result down into a glace (a 20 to 1 reduction that becomes very syrupy). We infused this with rosemary and thyme, and used this as a glaze for the top of the tart. The result looked like a fruit tart, only it was savory. Turns out this is one of Chef's inventions. We got some major kudos for thinking to do the glaze. It wasn't in the original recipe.

The couscous was a neat idea. We smoked it off the day before, and it was the large style, which I think looks very cool on the plate. With the curry, grapes, and nuts, it all came together with a wonderfully complex flavor. Good plan for the future here. We plated this in the chaffing dish, along with the quail, the onion sauce, and the bonus dish -- Chanterelles Rossini. We plated in a nice curving line, which got some nice praise from the Chef as well. We were the only group to pay attention to his instructions when filling our hot tray.

I got to make fois gras two ways (Hi Wm.). The Galentine I made the day before. For service, I coated the outside in chopped truffles and parsley, re-wrapped it in plastic, and sliced it very thin with a hot knife. Came out very well. "A perfect example and a superior product," declared the Chef.

But I had almost a pound and a half of extra fois. Tornados Rossini is a classic beef dish made with fois. For my variation dubbed "Chanterelles Rossini", I made some sage crusts of bread. On top of this, I placed a slice of pan seared fois. On top of that, a sauteed chanterelle mushroom (which I found a bag of in the fridge that some other group ignored!). The sauce was a red wine and brown veal reduction with maderia, raspberry puree, and truffle juice. This I spooned over each finished product. I had enough fois to make 20 portions of this, which we also placed in our hot tray. It was incredible, and it all got eaten. Chef seemed taken with the sauce. "Lovely little packets of chanterelle and fois gras on crustini," was the public comment. It was a cheat, because I know Chef likes reduction sauces. But then again, so do I. Joshua, on the other hand, loves fois and was threatening to eat the entire production run.

* * *

Chef did a very nice critique of all of the dishes. Our group went over our plates with him beforehand, and we talked about things we would have done differently. It was nice to be able to go over the dishes one on one with him. I like to get at least one negative per dish, because there is always something you can do differently the next time. Chef thinks the same way, which is why I think I like his critiques. He's also not too traditional in terms of plating and flavors, which I think makes his style more interesting.

There were some incredibly funny things during the public critique. Chef pointed out at least one thing wrong with almost all of the plates, but did so with humor that I think made it less painful. Our galentine display was slightly too symmetrical, and our salad was weeping dressing a bit. These were minor problems, and things we talked about beforehand with him.

Some choice comments:

  • In discussing the Cheese and Fruit Tray, "Well, I suppose that tomatoes are technically a fruit."
  • In discussing a Pâté en Croute that was not filled with Aspic, "Of course, instructions are easier to follow if you speak the language."
  • In discussing plating of same, "In this orientation, what you are doing is featuring the flaw in your product!"

All in all, the class produced some awesome stuff. Rabbit's Pâté en Croute was not flawed. It filled the crust to the top and was sliced very thin. Garnished with smoked rabbit and tasso ham with an inlay of smoked rabbit loin, it looked and tasted marvelous. His only mistake was cooking the pan in contact with a tray, which slightly overcooked the bottom. Chef recommended placing the pan on a rack after he saw this. So not all of the lessons learned were because of instructions beforehand.

Lest some previous entries make it sound like I'm complaining, this was the best class I've had so far. I learned a ton, my own group was excellent, and Chef Smythe is great. The bakers (and a few other people with little experience) were a trial, but all worth it. These are dishes that I've never made before, and certainly will once again. Lots of very tricky details, all explained well, so that the final products look very professional. When you can pull it all off, this food looks so wonderful and amazing that the hard work is worthwhile.

* * *

The burn continue to improve. Looks like I'll have a scar in the webbing between my thumb and first finger. Cool.

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Copyright 1998 Tom Dowdy