I’m in Level 4 this month at The International Culinary Center and Level 4 is the most demanding of the program so far. We prepare buffet-style lunch for the entire staff and student body everyday in this level, for about 300 people. School begins at 9am and we have to have all the food packed-out, meaning served in covered hotel pans prepared to head out the door to particular classrooms and kitchens, in addition to having everything else set up on the buffet line by 11:30am. 2.5 hours isn’t a ton of time to prepare food for so many, but definitely do-able.
My particular class faces additional challenges in Level 4, aka Family Meal. My Farm to Table class has 12 students, divided roughly down the middle with one group working on the Family Meal everyday and the other half working on special buffets. That means my Family Meal group has 6-7 people working to turn out lunch everyday, a challenge we’ve successfully risen to every day thus far. Our jobs are divided up based on the dishes going out: a protein, vegetable, starch, vegetable entree, and salad. Each of us takes on a job and gets going immediately upon arrival at school. The timing we’re provided with doesn’t leave us with any other option, or ability to move slowly, ha.
So, with the understanding of the Family Meal framework in place, imagine my surprise when on Tuesday morning I arrived to school the morning after St. Patrick’s Day to find only one other student in place to prepare Family Meal. I almost started laughing at the madness of the situation I faced, but quickly realized I only had time to get to work.
On the menu that day were steak and chicken fajitas, with caramelized onions and peppers, rice and beans, roasted vegetables, and salad. Thank goodness we had done the majority of the prep the evening before so our job that day was to cook, not chop. There’s no way we would have gotten lunch out on time had we prepped the meal from start to finish the morning of. Along with Chef John, we jumped in headfirst getting the steak and chicken in the ovens, veggies roasting, rice cooking, and onions glazing. It was like doing a intricate and detailed dance with the machinery in the large Family Meal kitchen, twirling and diving around each other to get the job done.
A 3rd student arrived when our task was almost complete. Just the 2 of us had finished – and early at that, but thank goodness S turned up to help out nonetheless. We managed to get lunch ready to go, but the amount of prep done in the afternoon amongst the 3 of us was intense. We drained and cooled chicken and veal stock for the main kitchens downstairs, made an additional veal stock, made a marinade and covered chicken for chicken confit, prepared ribs for the following days lunch, and created a huge amount of coleslaw and dressing out of thin air. A lot for 3 people to manage in the 2 hours after lunch was served. But, we did it. And when the clock finally struck 3pm at the end of our day we were incredibly proud of ourselves.
Family Meal requires tough work, stamina, physical strength and mental fortitude. If you don’t believe you can do it, you won’t be able to. Persistence, and using your brain to task yourself appropriately is necessary, a reflection on the training we’ve received thus far at The ICC. My particular Family Meal group is moving on to the Special Buffets at this point as I’m halfway through Level 4, and I’m going to miss the hustle and bustle. I’ve learned that I’m stronger, mentally and physically, than I ever realized.
Next week we’ll discuss the Charcuterie Buffet I’ll help to put together, along with some great recipes for Chorizo and Pate. Yum!