A single, bright yellow egg yolk, still runny and perfectly smooth. A gentle pinwheel of smoked haddock. A creamy, slightly sweet, steaming hot broth.
Set against the eggshell white background of a beautiful soup, offset by two perfectly tourneed potatoes, garnished with some mustard seeds and a vibrant parsley leaf, this dish could have easily just slid through the doors of a high-end eatery like Per Se or Alinea.
Instead, it is placed in front of me under the careful eye of my culinary buddy, who we will refer to hereafter as Biker Bill, as I sit at his dining room table in an offset Orlando suburb. Instead of a posh, glittering five-star restaurant, the man-cave feel of the room is an unusual and charming juxtaposition.
“Tell me what you think,” Biker Bill says. “And be honest.”
I take a bite. The smoked haddock is perfect, flaking under my spoon as I dive into the gorgeous artwork that is my dinner.
“Bill,” I say. “This is delicious.”
The table full of culinary students (read: meal guinea pigs) chimes in with praise and agreement. Biker Bill explains the dish to us as we eat, using his hands to illustrate every movement, from stirring to garnishing. Expressive, he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it.
This is arguably one of the best possible reasons to love culinary school. My classmates are literal geniuses. I look at their food, their knowledge and their passion and it just fills me with pride and excitement. They’re so talented.
Occasionally we all get together for dinner parties where bottles of wine litter the table and we usually end up playing poker. (Which I am terrible at, but I’m learning how to pull off a fedora like a champ. Also, I’m underage, so I drink sweet tea out of a wine glass to feel fancy.)
Tonight’s dinner party was based on competition meals, which Biker Bill and our other talented classmate (henceforth referred to as ‘Mr. G’) are perfecting in preparation for the state competition in mid September.
Our second course involved handmade orzo, beautifully offset by a tricolored brunoise of pepper, next to a moist and flavorful piece of chicken and stunning, slightly translucent pearl onions. We ate and marveled and drank our respective pairings (I recall a local blueberry wine on the table, a very sweet red, a blended pinot noir and Mountain Dew.)
Dessert was provided by our most talented group baker, a dear friend with something close to a serious obsession with Girhardelli chocolate. A chocolate tart with pecans and crumbled amaretto cookies, cut into picture-perfect wedges of course, finished the night. We sat around and talked about everything from our chefs to our classes to our various kitchen jobs.
And can I just say that tart was probably one of the best things I’ve ever eaten? You could sit there and say, “Erin, I need you to kidnap the President’s daughter, okay?” and I would just sit there and agree with you because seriously, this tart has the power to melt minds.
I don’t think I can ever truly express how cool it is to be surrounded by talented people who invite me into their homes just to feed me.
“Can I just take a second to appreciate this?” one dinner party guest called out as we sat around the table. All the girls, four of us in total, were chatting and giggling over drinks while the men cooked. “The men are in the kitchen and the girls are sitting at the table drinking wine. Welcome to 2014!”
What can I say? This education extends off campus. The more I learn about these wonderful culinary artists, the more sure I become that this is the best industry I could have ever entered.
The people and the moments are just as sweet and memorable as a tasting course at a five-star restaurant, and really… who could ask for more?