Week 15 – Graduation: My valedictorian speech & video

I was voted valedictorian approximately 10 days out from graduation. As I mentioned my week 14 post, I didn’t really expect for this to happen. It is an honour to be recognized this way by my peers, even more so because this is a career-changing move for me to have pursued pastry school.

After all was said and done, I had two evenings to myself to polish my speech and on the eve of graduation I managed to put a video together. A six-minute recap of our summer at North West. Actually, I am going to save the video until the end, and first I will share a version of my speech.


Note: I have cut out some parts that are really just relevant to those who were there, and for my classmates. Some of this was also ad-libbed to, of which, I cannot full recount.

Jeanette’s Valedictorian Speech
Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver | Summer 2014
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Week 15: Final week & the show must go on!

While I write this after my program is complete, it still feels, literally, like yesterday that this all happened. The dust from the program has not settled yet. But I want to account for my final days in school before I also forget the roller-coaster of events that unfolded in the final days and hours. I am splitting week 15 into two posts, one about the week and final days, and the second post simply on our graduation – it deserves a post on it’s own. Frankly, I could write a post about each of the last days in that week, but that might be going over-board. So here goes week 15….

It felt like we flew into week 15 with a sprint-start, there was little time to “enjoy” the final days of our program.

The skinny version of the week: Monday kicked it all off with our 3-hour final written theory exam, and then we had lunch prepared by the culinary class. The afternoon included a little time to prepare some of menu development project components in advance of our dessert production days: tuesday and wednesday (with wednesday being a service day, external judges, and guests too). Thursday was a massive – all hands on deck – cleaning the school day. Then friday we graduated, napped, celebrated, and said our goodbyes…

The full meal deal on week 15:

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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:


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Week 13: How to make a 3-tier Celebration Cake!

Last week began with two more days of dessert production and plating practice, we made four different desserts and practiced a mock-service again. We even received some different orders, as we would in real restaurants, like, no nuts, gluten free, or just a milkshake please, or a chef’s dessert selection – off the menu. This was a bit of a curve ball for some, forcing us all to really think fast and know your menu. But as fun as dessert plating is, the real highlight for me last week as our celebration cakes.

The balance of the week was ALL ABOUT CAKE. A massive cake project, where, for many of us, it was our first experience with stacking cake tiers. It was an awesome week.

This is my cake that I made with my station partner. The rest of this post I’ll show you, through photos, how this cake came to be over the three days.

One more look at our finished cake. It didn't stay like this for long, we had to break it apart and then cut it open. Such is the life of a cake - short-lived... *smile*

One more look at our finished cake. It didn’t stay like this for long, we had to break it apart and then cut it open. Such is the life of a cake – short-lived… *smile*

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Week 12: Dessert production – yes chef, 2 tiramisu, 1 pavlova!

Last week was a different sort of week. It began with a day dedicated to frozen desserts – of all kinds – and transitioned into dessert production and plating techniques for the balance of the week. We then used the frozen desserts for most plates.

Tiramisu. I think this is Chef's demonstration, it's too perfect to have been mine, all the photos are starting to blur together. Essentially she plates a dessert and we had to copy it, EXACTLY.

Tiramisu.  This is Chef’s demonstration for plating this dessert. Essentially she plates a dessert and we had to copy it, EXACTLY, because that is how it will be in other kitchens.

But before I get into the week, I have to share a few realizations that occurred for me last week:

All of a sudden we became real pastry cooks still-in-training, but we have learned all the basic fundamentals of pastry and now we just piece them together on plates. My mind blown: we don’t need a demonstration anymore from chef? Pause. I guess we don’t…. We can read a recipe and generally know how to make it. That was one cool moment to process. Continue reading

Week 11 (part II): Alternative Baking and Stage #2

The latter part of Week 11 was all about alternative baking. I also gave my class presentation on this topic on thursday morning. Preparing for the presentation is mostly what threw my blog schedule off in the last two weeks. I spent alot of time reading and researching. It is a huge topic, and a very interesting one. One we should all be aware of.

Each student has to give a 20 minute presentation on a topic in our program, and last week was my turn. I had chose alternative baking at the beginning of the term. It is basically baking to accommodate different lifestyles, diets, allergies, and eating preferences.


For my presentation I served milk + cookies, but I demonstrated how to make sugar free nut milk (hazelnut almond caramel vanilla milk), and served gluten free vegan chocolate chip cookies.

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Week 10: Temper-mental with chocolate, marzipan, and my first stage!

Well, this post is a coupe weeks late but I wanted to recap Week 10 separately from Week 11. I just ran out of time last weekend, and now I write to you on the eve of Week 12!

Week 10 was the week before last, and it was a long week full of chocolate and ended with my first stage (pronounced stah-ge). I’ll start with the chocolate and share a bit about my stage later.


It’s just a mountain of chocolate. After we are done with tempered chocolate, we pour it onto a sheet pan so it can cool and be used again the next day. Even in it’s random form, chocolate is still beautiful and delicious looking.

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Week 11: Is it hot in here, or are we just pulling sugar?

Last week was an unusual week because it was a mix of different things, we learned about sugar in all shapes and forms for the first three days of the week and then thursday and friday were all about alternative baking. I’ll write about that in my next post because it doesn’t feel right to write about them together.


My first sugar cage (that worked), I plated it with some chocolate almonds from chocolate week, and another cage on top. The cages absorb humidity in the room so they only last one day.

Sugar work included learning about isomalt, sugar (casting, piping, spun cages, bubble sugar, rock sugar, blown sugar and casting sugar), making fruit jellies, marshmallows, nougat, fondant, gumpaste, and more. Sugar is a vastly versatile medium for baking and sugar artwork/ show pieces. Some days felt a bit like we were in science camp, making things foam and blow up and melt and more. Continue reading

Busy times: mini post on weeks 10 and 11!

This is a mini post to say last week and this week have been long weeks: between working in the heat and full uniform and working with chocolate and sugar, it’s been HOT. Like, boil sugar up to 350F hot…. Tempering chocolate was a daily exercise and a crash and burn, from the chocolate sampling (we may have even been a little cranky at times). Chocolate is not easy, when it fails it sucks and when it works it’s rewarding. Despite the challenges, I’d do it all again in a heart beat – especially chocolate 🙂

We wrapped up chocolate last week and have been working with sugar in all shapes and forms this week.

Tomorrow we begin alternative baking and I am giving a presentation on this topic to my class. I’ll update you all in my next post on weeks 10 & 11 with more photos and behind the scenes kitchen stuff! Oh yes, and we have begun stages (stah-ges) (one-day observations in kitchens) which make my weeks 6-day weeks now so if you’re itching for an update please bare with me!

Side note: there are not many weeks left in the program, hard to believe. We wrap up and graduate in week 15.

Time flies when you’re having fun 🙂

Here are a few photos from this week and last week:







Week 9 (cont.): CHOCOLATE week is here!


This is the inside of a roasted cocao bean, crushed. Also known as cocao nibs. They are pure chocolate basically – and an acquired taste. This is is the part of chocolate that is good for you.

Last we we began chocolate week, and chocolate is awesome. I love chocolate, always have, and always will.

We began with learning how to temper chocolate, with different methods. Essentially we melt and cool the chocolate in the right way so it sets beautifully for serving to others.  Chocolate is so fascinating: from it’s chemical properties, to health benefits, to where it comes from and how it is made. Every step in the process is quite interesting.

Once we learned the basics of tempering, we began to cover fruit and nuts in chocolate and build from there. We chocolate, like your classic pot of gold that grandma serves every christmas holiday, are alot of work to make. Each one is like a little entremet cake because every layer requires a recipe and work. You really need to have a vision for what you want, and plan it out.

Good chocolate is also not cheap either, and with good reason. It requires real talent to produce fine quality chocolate. I fully support your consumption of good chocolate: it is generally better for you – in the raw form mainly – and the quality is worth it. I’m talking about Lindt, Green & Blacks, Calebaut, Valhrona, etc. Not your Nestle or Cadbury (sorry).


@eastvanroasters (a social enterprise) is a local shop in downtown Vancouver, and they make great chocolate – with beans sourced directly from the farmers. Go look them up. Here is a jar of roasted beans we looked at in class, they smelled amazing.

By the second day of chocolates we had a chocolate tasting lesson.


The chocolate was all set up for the lesson as we arrived to class. Great way to start the day!

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