Saturday, October 21, 2006

Cordon Vert Diploma Finals

Last week was the culmination of my Vegetarian Society Cordon Vert cookery course that I have been doing over the last couple of years. The Diploma Finals consist of two days of cookery exams, firstly you have to cook a three course meal for four people, the second you have to cook a two course lunch for four.

The three course dinner menu is decided by the student, taking into consideration certain skills and techniques learned during the various courses. The menu has to be nutritionally balanced, taste good and look good. It also has to be served on time and the kitchen has to be kept relatively clean and tidy while you're cooking.

The second exam has much the same criteria, save for the various techniques which weren't being tested. Instead, it was the creative side of the repetoire that was under scrutiny as we were given our ingredients only an hour and a half before we started cooking.

I've been practicing and revising my dinner party menu for the last few months on friends and family and I was reasonably happy with it. After initially having timing problems, I'd managed to just about get everything served on time in the last couple of meals I'd done.

After a morning spent making our lunch, it was time to begin the first of the exams. We had some time to check our ingredients and gather equipment and then we were off. Four and a half hours to cook the best three course meal we could.

My menu was Fried Rissotto Balls with Roasted Pepper Sauce followed by Carrot and Chestnut Ravioli with Watercress Cream Sauce. This was accompanied by a Warm Sweet Potato Salad. The dessert was Poached Pears In Red Wine Galette with Iced Ricotta Parfait.

I started by making the parfait, as this had to go into the freezer. Then I worked my way through the rest of the menu, having a few problems with the pasta, but as the serving time of 7.30pm approached, I was pretty much on time.

I plated up my first course and served it to the invited guests, and gave one plate for the tutors, who would be marking the dishes. I then began getting the main course ready to plate. Once I'd served the main course, it was time to do dessert. There wasn't much, if any, time in my schedule to rest. However, the timings that I'd worked out and practiced were pretty much spot on and my dessert was ready and delivered on time. I finished my clearing up and that was it - it was all over. Or at least half of it was.

There were four of us taking the finals, and once we'd all finished clearing up, we sat and had some soup and dips and chatted about our experience. We were all shattered, it had been a really stressful day. The tutors paid us a visit but weren't giving anything away, they just warned us not to have too late a night as we still had the creative exam to do.

The next morning at 9am we were given the list of ingredients that we could use for the creative exam. We then had an hour and a half to work out what we were going to cook. I had taken about half a dozen or so of my favourite cookbooks with me to help me decide what to cook, and after having read through the ingredient list and flicked through the books I decided to do an Indian Thali followed by grilled banana pancakes.

So, at 10.30am we all began the second exam, with two and a half hours to create a two course menu to be served buffet style.

I'd decided to make a creamy coconut pepper and mushroom curry, Bombay potatoes, spinach with chilli and garlic and basmati rice cooked with onions and a selection of spices. This was then to be followed by the aforementioned banana pancakes.

Getting it all ready in the two and a half hours was pretty tough, but I just about managed to do it. I wasn't at all happy with what I'd produced, as I thought much of it was overcooked and didn't taste as good as I'd hoped.

We all served our dishes to the tutors so they could do their marking and we sat down to eat the rest of what we had cooked. I still wasn't that impressed with my morning's work and was worried that I'd thrown my diploma away.

After we'd finished eating, we cleared up and then went to see the tutors to get some feedback and results of the exams.

And the result? I passed! The sense of relief was enormous, I don't think I've ever had quite a stressful couple of days. I'm looking forward to receiving my certificate and detailed feedback on my meals.

And the future? I'm still keen to learn and to do something in catering, so watch this space...

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