Here’s a story, a grudge match for the ages that went down in cooking school. This is a stew that I had been yearning to make since I first heard of it in French class. When I had the opportunity in my hands-on class to make it, I jumped at it.
The contender: Rachel, a 20-year-old cooking student (at the time).
The reigning champion: Pot-au-feu.
Now for those of you that have never made pot-au-feu, it has MANY parts! There is a roast chicken (or turkey) involved, horseradish root that is cut down, then there are a million different vegetables that are cooked to go into it, AND the actual broth itself.
The class had an odd number of students, so I took on this challenge myself. I desired to make it, so I had at it.
While people were going so smoothly though the different phases of their soups, I was wondering the whole time what I had gotten myself into. It was taking forever for the bird to be done, I had to start on the other vegetables, and I had never cut horseradish root before! It felt like I was drowning in broth and diced vegetables, and the whole time, I was wondering what could be wrong with me. Yet, I still persisted. I wanted to make this.
Meanwhile, people were getting to the presentation portion, and I barely had everything cooked. I was nowhere near ready to plate a thing! My chef looked over, and I felt the pain in my chest. This chef was one of my hardest. “What are you doing? Tell somebody if you need help!” He immediately sent one of the other students to help me finish and plate everything.
I walked sheepishly into the presentation room with someone else carrying my platter. It didn’t look half bad, actually. Everything was laid out on a big platter with the broth in the middle. The breast of the chicken had been sliced, and the rest of the parts were part of the presentation as well. Even though I had worked my butt off, I did a walk of shame into that room because I was the last one in there. I wanted so hard for it to be done right… yet, I felt like I had failed.
Then, the most remarkable words snapped me out of my self-pity.
My chef, who was known to be tough, said in front of the class: “I have to commend Rachel. She picked the hardest of the soups to do, and did it all by herself.” He even made the class clap for me. I don’t remember whether he clapped or not, but he sure did nod his head my way.
I walked a little taller that day, knowing that I had taken on a big challenge and conquered it. Moreover, someone whose opinion I respected at that time, took note of my tenacious move. It didn’t feel that way at the time, but I’ve always been a sucker for a challenge.
After all that, I don’t remember what it tasted like! I can tell you this, though; working for it and being recognized for that effort made it taste like victory.