In the final term at my school, all students have to do an unpaid externship. Ninety-nine hour of learning on the job, at places ranging from small bakeries, to cake decorators, to family restaurants, to high end dining, to hotels. I’ve been at my externship since mid-January, at a fabulous new restaurant called Voya, at the new Loden Hotel. The Loden is a fairly small boutique hotel that just opened in the fall, and Voya is just gorgeous. The pastry chef is this lovely Italian man named Maurizio who is super sweet to work with and has no attitude at all (he wants his chef jacket to say “head pastry guy” on it instead of “executive pastry chef”).
I have been going there every Friday evening after school to do plating and learn how the actual desserts are served. Then on Saturday, I go there for a full day shift to do production. We do a lot of bread (baguettes for dinner, breads for sandwiches, breadsticks for the bar, caramelized onion buns for the mini-sliders at the bar), lots of sorbets and gelatos (very technical, they actually use a densimeter tool that measures the sugar density to make the dessert the correct sweetness and density!) and of course, all the desserts. We even make the chocolates and candies for room amenity platters, custom birthday cakes, and well, pretty much anything else required by the hotel and the restaurant.
As far as desserts go, my favorite one is the lemon curd – a cookie pastry base, topped with raspberry jam, then piped with almond paste. After it is baked, it is then topped with a frozen sphere of lemon curd, and before serving, we blast two homemade marshmallows with a blow torch, place them on top along with some diced candied lemon, and a chocolate curl. It is served with a mandarin sorbet, plated on top of orange ‘pop rocks’.
But there’s more to pastry than just dessert. Last Saturday for a change of pace, I peeled, sliced and cored an entire case of quince (a perfume-intense relative of a pear), which I vacuum packed, cooked in a sous vide bath overnight, then the next day pureed it into a large vat of quince jam. A bit of Meyer lemon juice added some acidity (needed for taste and to activate the natural pectin) and a bit of sugar, and then it’s ready to go. So good. Another non-dessert item I made last weekend for the Valentine’s menu was a batch of nori (seaweed) tuiles, which are really super thin cookies, which are baked and rolled into an ice cream cone shape. It was the starter for Valentine’s Day, topped with cubed tuna tartare, and was made by toasting seaweed sheets in the oven, grinding it into a powder, and mixing that into the sweet cookie base. It seemed a bit weird making green, seaweed flavoured cookies….but when paired with the tartare, I’m sure it was perfect. Would love to go there to eat dinner one day!
Next week will be the end of my time at Voya. Times are tough right now and they don’t have a budget to bring me on, but who knows. Right now at least, I’m happy to be learning a lot in such an amazing kitchen.