Monday, April 26, 2010

when ya hang with royalty.....

I’m currently in flight between Albany, New York and Chicago. I’ve spent the weekend as lead judge for a Master Baker practical exam. The exam was held at the Culinary Institute of America, down in Hyde Park. If you ever get a chance, and you are at all interested in food, ya gotta make a trip to see that place. I have been there several times, and every time I go, there is a new building to see. They graduate a culinary class and a baking and pastry class every three weeks. Consequently, they start a new two year program every three weeks. It is set on the bank of the Hudson river. A big river, creating the big Hudson Valley, surrounded by mountains, incredible. I guess in the scheme of the world, they are really big hills. Growin’ up in Chicago, the tallest thing we see besides skyscrapers is the hill over the railroad tracks on south Western Avenue. You step out of the front door of the school and you look out over the river, magnificent.

My hosts this past weekend were dean of the Baking Pastry school, Tom Vaccaro, CMB, and Chef Rich Coppedge, CMB. My fellow judges were Christophe Gaumet, CMB and Noble Masi, CMB. Noble is the godfather of the entire Baking & Pastry department there, he moved with ‘em from New Haven. He is also the figurehead of the whole RBA certification process. I took over as certification board chair, from Noble. He was a judge when I took my exam in 2001. Great guy, great, great story teller. Think of the experience he has had. Thousands of students he has taught. He has traveled the globe as ambassador of the school and the American baking community. Everywhere I go with Noble, he knows the chef. I’ve been to all three CIA campus’s with Noble. When he enters the school, trumpets sound. At the Hyde Park campus, they have several fine dining restaurants. As figured, a French one, Italian, Green, American, etc. Each one is a classroom. Working “The front of the house”, in one of these restaurants, is the swan song before graduation, for each student. This past exam, kinda got scheduled late. Part of the deal is, the judges have dinner together on the first night of the exam. Noble would’ve had to force the school to cancel a reservation, in one of the fine dining spots, to fit us in. He could have done it, one phone call, done, but he didn’t. Instead, the school opened the closed, Apple Pie café, for us. The Apple Pie café, is the “Front of the house” classroom for Baking and Pastry students. It is located right inside the front door of the school. They don’t serve students, they serve the tour buses that stop there on their way to the Vanderbilt Mansion or the FDR library. The café is open two hundred twenty days a year, they do over two million in sales. You wouldn’t believe it unless you saw it. Folks lined up down the hallway, out the school door. Typical day, they close at 5pm, unless Noble needs the place. They staffed it and each fine dining spot, sent over course after course of, Nobleworthy, food. Each if the chefs came over and apologized for forcing Nobleesque folks to eat in the café. Even the wine instructor came and asked Noble about the wine choices. Then each bowed, as they left, I didn’t catch any of them kissing his ring? Surprisingly.

The candidates did well, instructors Lee Ann Adams, Hans Welker, Staphane Weber, a cereal chemist from Cargill, Tim Christensen, and Jim Clohessy, who works for Wolfgang Puck in Atlanta. Peter Jacobs from the LeSaffre yeast company, in Montreal, came to make up one segment, that he failed at the test in Chicago, last August. The instructors had several students there watching. The labs were closed, but the students can watch thru the windows. The made posters for each of their instructors, and tapped them on the windows, cheering on their teachers. “Go chef Adams, Good Luck chef Welker, and Bon Chance chef Weber”. I would guess Stephane Weber is the favorite of the young girls. He is a very fit, bicycling Frenchman. They all did well, not sure yet if any passed. Noble doesn’t allow any discussion between the judges. Sure we make our comments, but no grades are discussed. We send the score sheets to RBA headquarters, and they are tallied there. We will know before the candidates, but we will hear the same way they do.

I’m leaving the exam weekend with a good feeling. Not sure who passed and who failed. I have my own ideas. One thing for sure, the baking world is better because of the process, because the exam exists. Each of the five candidates tried something they never tried before, baking in a different surrounding, working under close observation by their peers. Being graded on how much flour they get on the floor, or how heavy the string ice a breakfast pastry, how they score a baguette, or how long it takes to ice and decorate a sheet cake. Rest assured American pastry purchasing public, our offerings just got a little better.


Blogger Laminatrix said...

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April 27, 2010 at 6:13 AM  

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