(Firstly, an apology; I’ve been a bit lazy with my blogging recently, and as a result, I’m once again several months behind with my posts. Hopefully I’ll be able to remedy this soon, when I have some time to spare.)
Another new year has come and gone. I know I’m a bit behind the times, seeing as it’s practically halfway through January already. However, you’ll have to excuse me and my belated acknowledgement of the start of another year; I’m a week into my course at the Cordon Bleu and everything is crazy at the moment.
In the last seven days, I’ve met more new people than I can remember, taken a Food Safety exam, had a lecture on Health and Safety and kitchen practices, attended my first demonstration class and completed my first practical. (It was fruit salad. I know I’m doing a patisserie course, but the new students have to start somewhere, don’t they?! I think it’s to ease us into working in the kitchens gently; it’s only uphill from here. Case in point, my second practical is going to be creme patissiere and variations upon it, plus meringue work.) It doesn’t necessarily sound like much, but being a new student in an unfamiliar city surrounded by strangers, everything is that bit more difficult and challenging. And let’s not even talk about the 8am start which requires students to be in school by 7:30…
I’m gradually getting used to it, and more so now that I’ve had my first practical session in the kitchen, which means I know what to expect from all my classes. I’m also starting to get to know people a little better, which is nice. (Luckily, I’m in a group where everyone seems pretty friendly, which makes life a bit easier.) Still, I can’t seem to squash the niggling doubts that have been plaguing me since I started. They whisper in my ear and say “This isn’t what you want. You don’t really want to be here. You’ve barely made it through the first week, how will you cope with nine months? Do you even want to be a pastry chef?” I know that it’s just nerves and not being accustomed to my new environment and routine yet. (Plus, I’ve always had a terrible fear of failure and of disappointing or annoying people. In this case, it’s the teaching chefs. I put it down to my desire to be good at everything I do, even though that’s pretty much impossible.) As I have more classes and learn more, it should become more natural; at the moment, I feel like something of an imposter, like I shouldn’t be there. I’m afraid that at any second, someone’s going to realise and say “What are you doing here?”
Of course, I think it’s partly also loneliness. As I mentioned in a previous post, I really don’t know many people in London at all. Now that I’m making friends at school, it’s not so bad, but going home after class to a flat that I’m not entirely comfortable in yet is still a challenge. Last week was easier; my flatmate was visiting friends for New Year and my mum came to stay for the week, with my dad driving down to join us at the weekend. (We had a lovely few days; visiting the Tate Britain and seeing their Turner collection was a particular highlight.) I won’t lie, their leaving on Sunday was one of the hardest partings that we’ve been through so far in my life, at least for me. After they’d gone, I just felt totally lost and alone, with nothing but the terrifying prospect of school on Monday to look forward to. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant evening.
Naturally, I don’t have time to think about it when I’m in a class or a practical. It’s only when I’m at home, by myself, that my mind turns to it and starts to wonder whether I’m doing the right thing. It’s really my fear talking. I am afraid of being unsuccessful at something I enjoy so much, nervous to be working in a semi-professional kitchen because it’s an unknown, worried that I won’t be up to the standard that’s expected and also afraid that this sense of loneliness will never leave me. It’s my fear telling me that it would be easier to give up and not put myself through this than to persevere and keep going, even though things feel difficult at the moment. The thing is, what do you do with fear? You have to work through it and I will, because there’s no other choice. I’ve put too much into this to throw it all away just because I’m having a tough time right now.
(I didn’t mean for this post to be so long – or sound so miserable(!) – so kudos to you if you’ve made it this far! Just stick with me for a little longer and I promise there’ll be some cake at the end of it…)
Okay, so it’s not cake. But it’s tart, so that’s sort of close! (Well, not really, but it is sweet and dessert-based…) This pear and chocolate tart was made for a lunch we had with some family friends, way back in October last year. Chocolate shortcrust pastry, brushed with melted milk chocolate, was filled with caramelised pear slices. The idea was good, but the outcome was perhaps less successful. Because there was no filling other than the fruit, the tart tended towards being slightly dry, even with the juice from the pears. Also, I unwittingly chose a type of hard pear that did not soften when cooked; lesson learned! As such, it could be improved with a pastry cream filling beneath the fruit and the use of softer pears. However, it went down just fine, accompanied with a scoop of ice-cream or some cream or custard. It just didn’t turn out quite as I expected.
Still, as they say, you can learn a lot from mistakes, and no doubt the world would be a less interesting place if everything was perfect all the time! (Remind me of that when I’m next panicking over something that’s not quite right; it’s such hard work being a perfectionist…!)
(Recipe adapted from Dan Lepard’s Chocolate Crumble Pear Tart, from Short and Sweet.)