French Rolled Omelet
At the Culinary Institute of America, Egg Day occurs during Skills II, the class that comes right after students learn how to make stock and just before they’re expected to put a whole meal together. Egg Day’s polarizing qualities elicit a variety of superlatives: “Egg Day is the WORST.” “Egg Day is the BEST.” “Egg Day made me cry.” “I drank a whole cup of hollandaise sauce on Egg Day—I couldn’t stop myself.” That single day is one of the rites of passage of culinary school; one that upperclassmen like to swap war stories about, and new students lay awake at night fearing. What makes Egg Day so momentous? For me, it was my instructor, Chef McCue. Dave McCue was a graduate of the CIA who had gone on to have a career as a “working chef,” the kind who actually cooks food every day. After many years, he came back to the CIA as a chef-instructor to teach young cooks to stand up straight and be better and faster. The school outlines a curriculum, but it’s up to each instructor to execute the lesson and uphold the standards of properly cooked food. The way to learn cooking is through practice, and Chef McCue instills repetition. “The egg came first,” he assured me. If you can cook an egg properly, then you can move on to the chicken. For Egg Day, most classes receive a case of eggs to be split among the twenty students. A case of eggs is 30 dozen. Chef McCue orders THREE. I’ll do the math for you—that’s 1080 eggs for Egg Day. Chef obviously doesn’t mess around. He hopes they won’t all be needed, but eggs are the perfect, and cheapest, way to teach proper technique. There’s cracking the eggs correctly, having a place to toss the shells, the best tool used to beat them, the type and quantity of seasoning added before, during, and after cooking, how to heat a pan, when to add the fat, all the visual, aural, aromatic clues of coagulating protein, the essentials of proper presentation, and on and on and on. To pass Egg Day and move to Skills III, each student must cook eggs eight ways, three times in a row. If your soft scramble is a little too hard on the third try, you start over and make it three times again until all three in a row are perfect. This isn’t a mild form of torture intended for Chef’s enjoyment. (In fact, he takes a bite of almost every egg to check for seasoning and temperature—joke’s on him!). He knows when the students graduate, they will be asked to cook an omelet when they stage at restaurants. How they approach the task, from prepping their mis en place to presenting the dish, will show their level of finesse and determine whether they get the job. “How they roll an omelet is like a resume,” Chef McCue says. Having submitted my edible resume countless times to (thankfully!) rave reviews, I can look back with gratitude on Egg Day, and Chef’s meticulous training.
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