The First Day of School Jitters
On my first day of school I entered the main restaurant kitchen and was greeted by Chef Rainford — who immediately told me that I should never enter a kitchen without my chef whites on. It wasn’t the warm welcome I was expecting – but a lesson learned nonetheless! Chef Rainford is an all around awesome person and we laughed about my little slip-up immediately after. I wanted to find out where I was supposed to be (I’ve mentioned in my previous post that I’m directionally challenged). Chef Rainford graciously took the time to give me a quick tour of where the change rooms, lockers and classrooms are. I am out of my element here — I have worked my way through a lot of schooling but I never had to worry about a uniform, tools, mise-en-place, and rules – like real chef stuff! This is my first hands-on training program.
Our instructor, Chef Yasmin Johaadien welcomed us to the class and gave us a tour. We were told that we should treat this class like we would a job. We have to report to class 30 minutes early to prepare our ingredients and tools, have our timelines prepared, and we must always be in full uniform or we will get docked marks. No messing around here! I appreciate that the expectation is set high since these students are likely going to be preparing food for us all in the next couple of years.
I didn’t have the CSA approved shoes for my first class. I happily went to purchase a pair (even though I think they’re absolutely hideous.) An instance where I will allow function over fashion.
That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles
After all of the rules and expectations were out of the way, we spent the remainder of the class on chocolate chip cookies. Chocolate chip cookies seem pretty basic but there are so many intricacies in baking — every ingredient and technique has a consequence.
We watched the Chef demo the recipe and while I feverishly took notes while listening intently, I still managed to mess up my batch when it came to the practical exercise. I am not a patient person and I don’t work in teams often. I also think everything is a competition (blame being a twin for that one) so I just wanted to finish first! I worked in a group of four and we all scaled ingredients and when it was time to prepare the dough I took the lead. Unfortunately, I didn’t wait for each egg to be incorporated before adding the next and our batter curdled. The Chef told us that this is an instance that is usually very hard, and if not impossible, to fix. ( I wrecked the cookie dough!) She turned the mixer on high speed for 1 minute hoping to fix the issue but the consequence of doing this would be a lot of air being whipped into the dough which would create holes in our cookies.
“That’s the way the cookie crumbles” pretty much sums up my first class at Centennial College — Recipes aren’t always going to turn out, especially on my first attempt, but the lesson learned will be my success (and I won’t make that same mistake ever again!)
The best part about this class, besides all the educational stuff, is that we get to take home what we bake! So, the evening after my first class, I joined a gym. We all took home the chocolate cookies we made, air holes and all, and they were delicious! Probably one of the best, albeit not perfect, chocolate chip cookies I have ever eaten (possibly because of all of the effort that went into making them).
I received a grade of 75/100 for my first class. I don’t even fully know how I got this grade but I was pretty darn ecstatic about it. The Chef said “Great job – You’re obviously a leader with the way you handled working with everyone else.” I guess I can work in teams!
Moving and Shaking and Masking and Piping
I miraculously got my homework done – I prepared my timelines – and I joyfully handed them to the Chef to which she replied “thanks for reminding me! Can everyone hand in their time lines please”? I could literally see what the other students were thinking – “seriously, did you just do that?” Once a teacher’s pet, always a teacher’s pet I guess! To be honest, I don’t have a clue how these timelines should be set up but thankfully they won’t be worth any marks until week five. For now, the Chef will be giving us feedback on how we should be managing our time. I love this — I wish I had someone giving me feedback on how to manage my time in life – someone to tell me not to spend so much time on social media – that’s what I need!
Anyway, if you don’t know what masking is (I sure as heck didn’t) it is the technique of covering a cake — and I’m horrible at it by the way! Another instance where patience is key! Also, the more you fuss with it, the more imperfections you get. I did a pretty decent job but this took me what seemed like forever.
The Chef made it look like a piece of cake! (No pun intended).
Piping is something that I’ve done before but I am really bad at it. I remember being on MasterChef Canada and every time I would grab the piping bag, I would wonder why I keep torturing myself. Imagine hiding in an equipment pantry feverishly trying to pipe a tart and hoping the cameras wouldn’t find you and capture you making a complete fool of yourself. Luckily they didn’t catch me and I didn’t get eliminated for my hideous looking tart.
With piping, I make the same mistake over and over – I’m stiff as a board and I keep the piping bag too close to the product so instead of getting nice high, billowy-looking piped rosettes, I get flat, sorry looking ones. These are the Chef’s demo rosettes (as if I’m posting my sorry piping work!)
We also were taught knife skills and the practical exercise was to create a fruit salad. I scaled my ingredients for my simple syrup prior to class starting and then someone stole it from me (karma for reminding the teacher about the homework? Perhaps.) The old me would have stood up in front of the class and yelled at everyone (wait, that’s exactly what I did!) I was upset and it wasn’t cool, but I’m over it now.
The Chef is also giving us ideas on what to do with scraps that are usually considered waste (i.e. orange peels immersed in water to make a citrus-flavoured water). Using the entire fruit/vegetable is a trend that I am totally into!
I received this email from the Chef regarding the second class “Your grade from last Friday’s class is 74/100. Masking got progressively better as the class went on and we will have a chance to practice our piping next week with the spritz cookies.” Very encouraging and I will try not to be so hard on myself about not getting it right the first time.
A Chef Story
Starting school at Centennial College has given me the opportunity to meet some amazing people and we all have the same thing in common – a passion for hospitality and cooking. My instructor Chef Yasmin, has a particularly interesting story. I am always fascinated by where chef’s culinary careers have taken them. Every story is unique and provides some great insight into the industry and how versatile culinary skills could be.
Yasmin started her career as a culinary student at George Brown College and took her first job with Mark McEwan at North 44 in 2005 in the kitchen and when an opening came up in pastry, she took it so she could learn all aspects of the business. This is when she really fell in love with baking. She was able to work under a fantastic pastry chef who actually took the time to give her exactly what she is hoping to give all of us in this class.
In 2007, Yasmin moved to London, England and worked at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze restaurant for a year. She claims this to be one of the hardest and best experiences of her life. It’s fun hearing stories about her experience at Maze. Yasmin then took the position of Pastry Chef under Chef Rowley Leigh at Le Cafe Anglais in 2008 and then returned to Toronto in 2009 where she helped open the original location of Buca with Chef Robert Gentile.
She began working as a Continuing Education instructor in 2010 while simultaneously working at Buca. In 2011, she left Buca to concentrate on teaching. At this time, she also worked as a freelance consultant for the Globe and Mail developing and hosting a series of short baking /pastry demos for their online content. In 2013 she moved to Halifax Nova Scotia for her husband’s work and while there she joined the committee for the Savour Food and Wine Festival and got to be a big part of that amazing month long festival. She also worked as the Pastry Chef for Craig Flinn at Chives and 2 Doors Down.
She returned to Toronto a couple of months ago with a little one in tow and was lucky enough to have the wonderful opportunity to come on board full time as Professor for the Baking and Pastry program at Centennial College at the beginning of January. I love that Yasmin has a little child too – it’s something that we connect on and it helps motivate me to work through the struggles that school and family life presents.
Yasmin is passionate about teaching and preparing the Centennial College students for success and it shows. She has shared her practical experience and advice and is constantly encouraging us to do our best. I am honoured to have her as an instructor and I am also honoured to have Centennial College as part of my story. I’ve had an overwhelming amount of support for this journey and the one point that I always reiterate is that besides the amazing education I’m receiving, I really love my Centennial College family! I literally wake up excited knowing that I have a whole day of adventure ahead of me. New skills, new friendships – there is endless opportunity here and it really is the best feeling in the world.
To Be Continued
My plan is to develop some recipes based on what I’ve been learning in my classes and I will also include some awesome baking tips along the way. I don’t want to overload you with information here so I will keep my journey through Baking School posts coming every second Thursday and every once and a while I will surprise you with a recipe post…so stay tuned!
*The above post was created as part of a paid partnership between myself and Centennial College, however, and as always, all opinions are my own.
Growing up in my Italian family, sandwiches were our go-to lunch on the weekends. They are quick and hearty and the options