Sunday, October 29, 2006

Musical Geography Question of the Day

If your heart is down, and your head is spinning around, where did you have to leave a little girl?

Harvest Dinner

Now that I've had time to rest, I'd like to share my thoughts on and impressions of the Harvest Dinner and the prep day for it, before they fade.

Monday, we had no classes, and instead all the first year students, from both both the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management programs, received training on how to serve and bus. By the end of the week, I was sure of one thing -- I'd rather work 16 hours in the back than 4 in the front.

Also on Monday, because The Feared Redhead had a training class all day up in Salem, I had the duty of dropping The Lad off at daycare. That's a job I don't envy TFR. When he cried at my leaving, it pretty much tore my heart out.

Tuesday we had Cooking Theory class in the morning, but our Restaurant Operations class was taken up with more training -- including a game of follow-the-leader around campus carrying serving trays. I made a reference to Supertramp's Breakfast In America album cover, and got a blank stare from a couple of my classmates. That pretty much put me in my place -- and age bracket -- for the week.

Wednesday, no classes or training for my group.

Thursday was prep day, getting all the Mise en Place ready for Friday. I was assigned to the salad station, which was also tasked with developing the vegan options for the dinner. Caprial and John had not specified any, and when asked about it, instructed the school to adapt recipes from Caprial and John's latest cookbooks. The second year students running our station were good about accepting input from us first years, and between all of us we came up with options that fit the theme of the dinner ("Autumn in the Vineyard"), as well as being plausible substitutes for their meat counterparts. I volunteered for the job of doing the conversions, since the recipes were all for 6 servings and we were preparing 24 of each.

So for those who have been wondering, here is the menu for this past Friday's Harvest Dinner:

Dungeness Crab [Thanks to Sgt. Jeff for the editing] and Parsnip Cakes in Orange Oil
(Vegan) Baked Acorn Squash with Wild Rice Pilaf and Apple Cranberry Chutney
Wine: Griffin Creek Pinot Gris

Celeriac Soup

Baby Arugula with Rosemary Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
(Vinaigrette made with sugar instead of honey available for Vegans)

Roast Tenderloin with Wild Mushrooms in a Veal Demi-Glace accompanied by Caramelized Onions
(Vegan) Marinated Portobello Mushrooms with Pear and Onion Compote
Wine: Lorane Valley Pinot Noir

Mascarpone Cheesecake with Apple Compote
(Vegan): Apple Tartlets with Caramel Sauce
Wine: Sylvan Ridge Early Muscat

We ended the day Thursday with a meeting after cleanup in which our guest celebrity chefs were introduced to us. I was impressed with how gracious and down-to-earth they were. They heard that several students had asked our instructors if we were allowed to speak directly to the guest chefs. They made it clear that yes, they wanted us to talk to them. They also gave us strict orders not to address them as "Chef" -- John's exact wordswere, "I'm john, this is Caprial." They fielded questions from us. My classmate Patty, the "Mom" of our class, asked the best question, I felt, and I appreciated their answer. The question was regarding the philosophy behind the menu they selected. Caprial explained that the menu was selected with an eye for what ingredients are available locally this time of year, so that they are seasonal. The Pences are very strongly influenced by the Slow Food Movement. They also explained that for large events such as this, they believe in simple, elegant dishes wthout a lot of complex components. They shared a story about a dinner for Julia Child in which they participated, and how they were able to spend time mingling with other chefs while some of the participants were stuck in the kitchen for many more hours because of the complexity of the dishes they chose to prepare. I agree with them in this regard, and besides, Caprial is a James Beard Award recipient, so it's safe o say she knows what she's talking about.

The most touching moment of the day came as we were leaving. I have a classmate who has missed quite a few classes because his three-year-old daughter has a malignant tumor in jer jaw muscle. We were passing around a card for them, and Caprial and John were happy to sign it for us. altogether very warm, personable people, and John has a quirky sense of humor much like my own.

Friday was hectic all day. It started when I woke up remembering I had homework due for my 10 AM "Human Relations in the Workplace" class. Ugh. Not only is this class almost universally viewed as a waste of time in terms of what we're getting out of it, it has more take-home work than any other class we're taking. But I got it done and got to school with time to print it out at the library and still get to class.

After class ended at 1, I went directly to the Center for Meeting and Learning and got changed into my Black & Whites, then waited around until the auditorium was ready for us to start setup, around 2 or so. Then we met with our section captains (all second year Hospitality students) and received our table assignments, where I learned that I would be serving the president of the college. Apparently, I wasn't already nervous enough.

We began seating at 6 and serving at 6:30. The evening went well. Between the cost of dinner itself, the silent auction held in the lobby and the oral auction during dinner, we raised around $200,000 for the College Foundation, which will mostly go to scholarships. At the end of the night they had all of us students come to the front and we received a standing ovation. It choked me up, to be honest, knowing how generous all these people were being, and knowing that my efforts helped raise money to pay the tuitions of people I pass on campus every day.

We were done cleaning up by around 10 or 10:15. I must say, the students who worked as stewards rawked. Their efficiency clearing trays as we bussed made things run incredibly smoothly. I can't tell you how much I appreciated them.

I got dropped off at home around 10:30 or so. TFR had a nice bourbon and Coke waiting for me, and I took a long, hot bath, then went to bed for what I expected to be a good night's rest. No such luck. The Lad has a cold, so I was up with him at midnight, again at 2 and then fro 2:30 to 2:45, at 4:15, at 6:30, and finally when he was up for good at 8. It was a challenge keeping my eyes open all day yesterday while I cared for him, so I was grateful that TFR took over last night -- of course, he slept most of the night, only waking once.