Last Wednesday, my fellow chefs-in-training and I were tasked with preparing a fancy four-course meal with canape (1-bite appetizer), intermezzo (a palate cleanser) and dessert for 90 guests at L’Academie de Cuisine. Here was “le menu” for the day:
Duck Pate en Crouton
Smoked Salmon on Potato Cake with Goat Cheese (pictured, right)
Seafood Ragu with Petite Vegetables in Bouchee, Fennel Fondue and Lobster Cream Sauce
Champagne Lemon Verbana Granite (flavored shaved ice)
Braised Lamb Shoulder, Ratatouille, Au Gratin Potatoes, Haricots Verts
I know what you’re thinking, because I thought the same thing – how were we going to prepare all of this within our 3 1/2 hour time limit? Without a carefully thought-out plan, it would have been impossible. We planned each component of the meal carefully, to make sure everything would be ready on time. Part of the trick was knowing what we could do ahead of time, and what we would have to save for later or even the last minute. Here’s an example – because the duck pate en crouton was not a time-sensitive dish, it could easily be prepared and set aside until service. The pate could be served at room temperature, and the crouton (toasted baguette) would hold just fine for a few hours. On the other hand, the haricots verts were a little trickier. We could cook them partially ahead of time in boiling water (called par-cook) and set them aside. Right before service, we could throw them back into the boiling water for a few seconds to finish them off. This way, the green beans would be hot and ready for service in a quick, efficient manner.
Preparing the meal is just the first part. In order to get our food to our guests as efficiently as possible, we needed to have another system. We formed a kind of assembly line around our prep tables – as each plate moved down the line, another component and finishing touch was added. After that, a runner took the plate to the room where our guests were dining. It all sounds a bit hectic, and it really is – imagine a kitchen, crowded with cooks simultaneously slicing, dicing, sautéing, braising, flambéing, whatever. Call it organized chaos, but in the end, it works out. Our guests loved the food, especially the apple brioche pudding (thankfully, we had plenty of leftovers for us to attack!).