Stop, Cook and Listen

Six months and $20,000 later, student chefs prepare the meal of a lifetime.

The second day of tests: Cody, Brent, Tanner, Don and Ethel are cooking. As he works, Cody seems to almost tremble with concentration. He keeps wiping the tabletop while the chefs taste his food. But their comments visibly relax him. They like his presentation, find the potatoes smooth and the pork chop perfectly cooked.

Brent, uncharacteristically flushed and nervous, wondering if the sauce under his scallops is too intense, receives high praise for all of his dishes, particularly the truffles, which are small miracles of coconut-flavored smoothness in thin, snapping chocolate shells.

Don's meal, too, pleases the chefs, who especially like his appetizer: mussels dressed with warm vinaigrette and garnished with bits of chive and crisp thin curls of red pepper. Later, Don confides that after hearing the chefs commenting to Cody that a warm appetizer might have been more welcome than Cody's cold one on this chilly day, he rapidly heated the mussels.

Jay Bevenour
The meal world: Elizabeth keeps things cooking.
John Johnston
The meal world: Elizabeth keeps things cooking.

Ethel has flavored her truffles with an unlikely combination of raspberry and lavender. "I won't tell you the gory details," she says to the chefs. "Not even I want to know them."

Chef Gallit takes a bite of Tanner's shrimp appetizer and her eyebrows lift slightly. "Very good," says Chef Andy. "You're starting to conceptually understand food."

When the chefs have left, Tanner sighs deeply. "I can't believe how tired I am," he says. "I can't believe it's over."

All ten of the original students have survived the cooking intensive.

Chef Gallit is thinking about what it means to be a teacher; her own teachers have had a huge influence on her life. In twenty years, she may have forgotten the last names of these ten students, "but I can bet they won't forget Andy, they won't forget me," she says. "It's a big responsibility."

And one she takes very seriously. "I study every night," she adds. "I have to. I can make a beautiful jus, but to teach it, I have to stop and think about process. I've been tasting, tasting, tasting for years and years and years, and to try to teach someone. They have to develop a palate. That takes a long time. We can only tell them: 'This is a little too salty; you want to bring out the flavor; you're trying to balance the flavor.' Food is as complex as it is simple."

Can she predict which students will become excellent chefs? "It's too early to tell," she responds. "They have to be someplace where they're constantly going to progress. If, say, Tanner goes into a job and his job pushes him, he can become a fine, fine baker. If he goes into a job where they leave him in the back listening to Phish all day and never push or criticize him, he may stay there and work for 25 years. You never know.

"I was upset one day. I was questioning Andy. He said one thing that stuck out in my mind. He had asked me what my first experience of food was, was it a positive one. Of course it was positive -- otherwise, I wouldn't have gone on searching. He's like, 'Make their first experience of food a positive one. You're not going to be able to teach them everything you know. But make their first impression of food a positive one.' That makes sense to me. And I can do that."

On the whole, Chef Andy is pleased with the departing class. Everyone has progressed, and Tanner's eyes seem to have snapped open during the last two weeks. Don "has everything you need to be a really good chef," he says, and Brent "has the potential to do great things." (In fact, Brent is the first in the class to get a job -- at Vail's renowned Sweet Basil -- shortly after their December 18 graduation.)

"Elizabeth is great, also," Andy adds. "She's very disciplined and very perfectionist-driven, which is a good thing to be, but she needs to be a little less hard on herself."

He thinks a moment. "They've learned how to tie their shoelaces," he says. "Now they have to learn how to walk."

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help