22 June 2014
This Post Lacks Pastry
Now that I'm finished with first quarter, here is a retrospective on the classes that I hope might be useful to any future student (or anyone considering pastry school at Seattle Culinary). So if you're here for the pastry photos, you might want to skip this post! My original list of classes was:
BAK 101 Introduction to desserts & breads
BAK 111 Desserts/breads practicum
CUL 106 Culinary arts theory
CUL 151 Sustainable food practices
HOS 101 Customer service practicum
HOS 110 Principles of sanitation
MIC 102e Excel for culinary students
BAK 101 was three days a week from 7:30-8:50 on Tuesday and Thursday, and 7:30-8:20 on Wednesday. The text for this course is Gisslen's "Professional Baking". The class covered most of the text book. There is a lot of memorization of things like weights and measurements (how many grams in an ounce?), converting quantities (how many tablespoons in an ounce?), properties of ingredients and their composition (how is invert sugar made, and why use it?), and even recipes (what is the procedure for making creme anglaise?). There were three tests (quiz, midterm and final) that are both multiple choice and fill-in-the-blanks. There is also a report on an ingredient (mine was on rambutan fruit) for which you must develop a power point document and present it to the class.
I liked the class but it crammed a lot of information into us very rapidly; I felt like I was sometimes just memorizing rather than understanding or seeing interconnections. On the other hand, much of the reading made more sense once I was applying the knowledge during a bakery rotation. I wish I'd had the text ahead of school to preview - I thought there was no text for the class because the book wasn't listed in the school's bookstore for the class, but apparently they often don't order these fat and expensive textbooks because students try to get used copies.
BAK 111 was the bake shop practicum, which I wrote about in a previous post. The rotations are four days a week, 9-1:30 on Wednesday and Friday, and 10-1:30 on Tuesday and Thursday. The last half hour every day is spent cleaning up the kitchens so they are spotless for the next day. Bake shop rotations overlap with HOS 101, which is the work we do in the Pastry Case, selling our products. The advantage of having a small class size for these rotations is that there were at most two of us on a rotation at one time, so we had more opportunity for hands-on baking and more individual attention. The downside is that we spent more time in the Pastry Case and the on-duty time there means missing bake shop work. My class had nine students, and I worked four days on rotation in the Case during the quarter.
I received very little feedback on my bake shop work (I haven't seen my final grade yet); I talked about this with Chef James (our "shepherd" chef) and he said there was not much expected of first quarter students in terms of quality of product. If a student is making the same mistakes repeatedly, or there is a problem with work ethic (like absenteeism) they are given a talking-to, but otherwise, no news is good news. My best advice to a new student would be: show up, pay attention, don't worry about being perfect, and never, ever stand around when there are dishes to be done.
CUL 106 meets twice a week for an hour, and provides a brief overview of the non-pastry side of cooking. This class is where I learned some beginning knife skills, how to hone a knife, and a couple of ways to cut up a chicken. There is again a lot of memorization (what is the difference between conduction and convection? At what temperature does protein coagulate?) and there were five quizzes. The quizzes were not very difficult - they covered only material from about 2 weeks, so were easy to study for.
CUL 151 (Sustainable food practices) met only once a week, from 7:30-8:20 on Fridays. I already had an interest in food politics and policy before starting school, so I found this class both interesting and a lot of fun. The instructor encouraged discussion in class; in two classes we watched the movie "Food, Inc." There was one midterm report, which was to pick a product and research its ingredients, labeling, company ownership, and sustainability (I wrote mine on Organic Valley's Grassmilk), and the final was take-home (half essay and half multiple choice).
HOS 110 was the course to prepare us to take the ServSafe Food Safety Test for Managers. This was definitely the hardest class and the one that required the most study and homework. We met in the classroom only once a week, with the rest of the class and most of the homework done online. This is the first quarter they've done online training, so there was somewhat of a guinea pig experience just getting the online system to work properly. There were a couple of chapters of reading every week, plus weekly quizzes, online discussion boards and extra readings and videos to watch.
The instructor was very strict and particular - we even had one section of our grade based on "professionalism" which included attendance, class participation, and remembering to bring your text to class each week. All my classroom courses required memorization but this class was by far the most intensive. I found an app called Quizlet very useful with all the memorization, by making flash cards, which I could even review on my phone whenever I had a free moment. To give you an idea of the scale of the memorization, my "summary" flash cards for the ServSafe test had almost 150 cards. This is definitely a course where you must not fall behind on the work. There was one fun project: to make a "Fact Sheet" intended for a "general public" audience, on a food safety topic of your choice. I wrote mine on home canning safety - I titled it "Delicious... Or Deadly?"
I had hoped that MIC 102e, Excel for Culinary, would teach us how to do neat things with Excel related to baking (like figuring baker's percentage, or quantity cooking) but it turned out to be just "Excel 101" and very boring. On the other hand, it's only one hour a week, and it was an easy A since as long as you show up and do the (very easy, brief) weekly assignment, you get 100%.
So that's it for first quarter. Much more homework and memorization than I expected, and most of the hands-on learning happens while producing goods for sale. I very much like that the work is practical and food isn't wasted, and that we get real-life professional kitchen experience. Without a doubt it is hard work and it's work under pressure to produce edible, beautiful baked goods. But then, that's what I'm going to baking school to learn.