Blog post #2 by 2015-16 student blogger James Toenders

Heat the pan; drop your pasta (2 portions? No, 4!), add the sauce reduction and get the bowls out of the oven. Drain the pasta and get it into the pan, DON’T LET IT STICK! Add some of the pasta water, but not too much; toss toss toss! Now the egg, toss toss toss toss toss toss toss toss, DON’T LET IT SCRAMBLE! Lots of pepper; TOSS TOSS TOSS TOSS TOSS TOSS TOSS TOSS (DON’T LISTEN TO YOUR WRIST SCREAMING OUT IN PAIN) TOSS TOSS TOSS! Now plate; pick a portion up with your tongs, a quick twist and into the bowl. Last, a little Parmesan on top and… “SERVICE PLEASE”.

Those hundred or so words encompass all of the steps of cooking spaghetti alla carbonara to order, something that I did for 30 guests On November 3rd at the Prune.

The way that we learn at the Stratford Chefs School is primarily by cooking for the public at lunch and dinner “labs”. Each of us rotates through the various positions of the kitchen and service team: from pastry, to sommelier, all the way up to student chef. This Tuesday, the rotation placed me at entremetier in charge of hot appetizers.

Service began, as our first guests entered the restaurant at 6:30. Standing silently by the stove, where I had a big pot of boiling water and a stack of pans ready, I watched as the first course was slowly sent out to tables. My time was getting closer and closer, and I was totally ready. The first round of pasta was ordered and Chef Bryan Steele, our chef instructor for the night, came over to my station to show me the cooking process from start to finish. After that it was up to me to finish the other 26 orders. Besides the help from my group-mate and general best-bud Heather with finishing plates, I was able to handle everything on my own!

This was the first time I’d worked on the hot line of a real fine-dining restaurant by myself. I was left only with my own skills and the confidence of my chef and it went as well as I could ever hope! Sure, after a few orders there was egg all over the burners, I was drenched in sweat, and my wrist felt like it was going to fall off from tossing the pan, but I couldn’t have felt like more of a boss.

One of the hardest things about learning at Stratford is that there really isn’t a huge amount of time to savour the victories of service. There are the obligatory after-service beers and a few awesome hours of mental celebration, but by tomorrow you’ve got to be focused on your next kitchen rotation.

For me, the next huge hurdle is going to be tackling the position of student chef on November 17th when my group cooks the menu I created for dinner at the Prune. If an Italian menu structure influenced by Indonesian, Thai and Vietnamese recipes sounds up your alley, make a reservation and see me either succeed or take the school down with me!

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