Week 14: the black box, the final practical, and the valedictorian

Week 14, holy cow. How did we come this far so fast? I remember looking in my curriculum binder on day 4 and looking ahead to days 68 and 72 thinking the agendas looked so intense. Well, I’m there now, and they are. My 15 week program comprised of 72 class days is coming to an end in just one week.

Here’s what happened last week though:

Monday kicked off with out black box exam. It was intense and a bit of an anxiety inducing experience. In advance, we were given some an outline of possible ingredient combinations and technique requirement possibilities we might receive. The idea of a true blackbox though, is when you don’t know what you are receiving at all and then you have to make something out of the ingredients in a specific amount of time. For us, we had 5 hours.

This was my list of required ingredients and techniques I received at 9am:


This is what I presented at 2pm:


Looking back on the experience, I feel that I bit off more than I could chew. I wanted a gluten free dessert, just because, and I wanted to make a frozen dessert sandwhich, and a tuille cookie cup. I have never made a frozen dessert sandwhich before, let alone in less than 5 hours. And when I committed to gluten free I didn’t recall that the tuille recipe had gluten in it, so I had to modify it on the fly and pray it would work. I also wanted to caramelize the almonds, which didn’t caramelize like I had hoped. I didn’t have time to redo them. The sauce for the ginger apple compote, in the tuille cup, initially burned and I had to restart that too. All just because I was trying to multi-task a little too much.

The desert was a gluten free pie dough that I added cardamom too, as my required ingredient, and I made a cream cheese cardamom semifredo filling with candied almonds inside, for crunch. The dough didn’t taste very cardamom like to me because I used previously ground cardamom. So, I thought I would use some fresh ground in the semifredo. The whole thing ended up being a bit strong on the cardamom. The cream cheese semifredo was not overly sweet either, and strong on the cheese (I didn’t modify the original recipe enough). I drizzled creme Anglaise over top, and used a berry coulis to give the plate some colour, and candied some lemon zest.

Considering what I pulled off and the risks I took, I was happy with my mark but it was sub-par to most of my previous marks and thus I was a little disappointed. I learned a lot from this experience and I recognize that is more important.

I forgot some very simple and obvious things, like taste your food. I was just running a mile-a-minute and didn’t stop to taste some of the components that I should have. Lesson learned.

I also learned, I don’t want to bake on the fly ever again unless I really have to, because I like to be organized and prepared, in advance. Operating under that kind of pressure is not my cup of tea, but I did it.

After it was all over, there wasn’t much time to reflect, because our final practical exam was that Wednesday/Thursday.

I had to remind myself that in prior week prior I did two stages and barely recharged on my one-day weekend. Again, biting off more than I probably should have. But I see this as the time to take advantage of all these experiences. Life balance is still important though.

Tuesday arrived and we reviewed theory for the final exam and practiced for our practical the next day. We did draws for a few of the recipes we were required to make, we each had to make a type of bread roll and a cookie. I drew hard bread rolls and gluten free Linzer cookies. I hadn’t made the cookies since week 1 or the bread rolls since bread week, what felt like months ago. So I practiced them both that day.

Then we had to vote for the class valedictorian. “It’s an honour to receive this”, explains the Chef, “vote for someone you look up to, who has worked really hard this term, etc”. Then everyone received a little piece of paper to write a name down and placed it in the draw bin. Chef said she will tally the names and announce the valedictorian later in the morning.

We carry on to start scaling our practice recipes and then Chef announces that I am the valedictorian of the class, and writes my name on the board. Holy crap. Naturally, I took a photo.

Then my heart raced, I probably blushed, and part of me still can’t believe it’s me. Part of me thought/hoped it might be me, in all honesty, because I know I have been busting my but this entire term, but I didn’t expect to actually be elected.

As valedictorian I have to give a speech at graduation. Just one more thing on my plate, why not?! I am flattered and honoured by the nomination. I am also grateful that I have some writing experience under my belt from my career to date, but it has been YEARS since I have personally given a speech. We are talking back in 1998, when I was a contestant in Quesnel’s Youth Ambassador Program. I competed then for Miss Quesnel, it feels weird to even type this out, it is a distant memory. We did toastmasters and had to give a speech, among many other things. Later, I pursued my career in communications, and contributed to others’ speaking notes, but never have given another speech myself. That was my 5 minute thought process.

As I came back to the present moment, I realized everyone around me was beginning to practice for our practical exam tomorrow. I took a couple minutes for myself and then moved on with the day.

We had a class meeting later that day to determine how the practical exam would flow as a group. We made a plan and wrote it down.

If you are living in Vancouver right now you know how hot the weather has been, well the kitchen feels hotter because we are in full uniform, hats and all. It gets hot, then hotter. It feels like a race, even though we aren’t necessarily rushing, it is just intense. When you know you are being graded on what you make on this exact day, it raises the blood pressure a little. I know I have made all of these things very well in the past, and I just have to repeat that effort today. It did not feel that easy though.

Day 1 we aimed to bake everything we could to get the hottest parts out of the way, and ensure the room is cool for day 2 when we are working with chocolate and marzipan. Day 1 was hot, on purpose, and it seemed to go ok. We did not present many things for marks that day as most of our things had to be finished on day 2. We presented our bread rolls on day one, and I wished I listened to my instinct that the bread rolls were not dark enough, because they were slightly under. Otherwise, they turned out well.

Day 2 is where I really felt the heat, even though the room was less hot than the day before. We had less time to finish everything so I felt more pressure. Things started to go wrong, here and there, I had to re-temper my chocolate, when you hope you only need to do it once. Although I wasn’t the only one. My cookies from the day before didn’t bake before the exam time had closed, so I had to finish them on day 2. It just crunched my schedule more. I managed to pump everything out though, I just wanted to present something form each recipe, at the very least, rather than incomplete on some.

So my chocolate writing was shaky, I have shared photos of nicer writing, but we only had two tries and I presented the best writing I could do that day. It was hard to let that go, but I know I did the best that I could. It is like every recipe is a check point in a race, and you want reach every check point. You almost don’t care how you get there, just get there. Well, let’s get real, we care, but we don’t have a lot of time to think about it.

The biggest lesson I learned during the practical was that I need to not overthink things. Ironic, think less during exam is my lesson learned.

Because my marzipan rose was my best product mark that day and I made it in less than 15 minutes. I had one minute to make each petal and place it perfectly on the rose. It was the fastest rose I will ever make in my life, probably, and boom, it looked good. That was a satisfying way to end the exam for me.


The other item that kept me organized during the practical was my timer. I highly recommend to future students that you invest in a kitchen timer. Your phone gets annoying when it alarms in your pocket and your hands are sticky and you can’t get to it with clean hands. A kitchen timer can clip on your apron, turn off easily, and you care less about getting it dirty.

The other tip is to make task lists, for each day. It made me feel good every time I crossed something off the list. A sign of progress.


To add to our struggles during the practical, the humidity in the kitchen was messing up the walk-in fridge. The Chefs had to turn off the fridge part way into the day, to fix it, and then use the fridge properly. When working in a warm room bakers need the fridge to help things set, etc. Everyones’ products were not our best simply because of the conditions of the kitchen. Eventually the fridge was fixed but it was like a big speed bump both days.

Chef gave the class a few extra minutes to finish what we were doing, in lieu of kitchen challenges. I know a number of students felt relief hearing this, and I was just about to submit my rose.

In the end, this is everything I submitted. The florentine torte (cake) and the lemon tart were both super hard to portion due to the heat, so the portions are not as clean looking as we would like. But they still taste good 🙂


We closed the week with planning for a menu development project that is due after our final exam in week 15. I will talk more about that next week.

Final written exam is tomorrow morning, wish me luck!

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