Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A late pre-Christmas Caramel Cake and some thoughts

So it's finally over...my two years of studies culminated in a presentation and a final hand-in earlier today. And I am free. But what awaits ahead, I wonder? I don't know. No clear path seems to be presented to me. It is definitely time to look for a full-time career, but am I, with my bird bones and 5 foot 1 frame, cut out for the long hours, physical strain and stress that working in a kitchen presents? But if not, what career path do I pursue? I cannot imagine myself working too far away from food---I love it so much, too much to stay away from it.

Pondering the fore-mentioned thoughts lead to another. During my spare time (which recently has been, well, spare), I ponder about the people, food, and places. More specifically, about why people get so emotional when it comes to food. How many times have you been upset when your dessert came out not less stellar than its description on the menu? And how many more when you were made to wait a little longer than expected for your meal?

I had the fortunate experience of tasting fresh walnuts at the market yesterday. J insists that I pair it with some gorgeous, plump raisins that we bought at the same stall. The first bite, and I knew I found a new addiction. The walnuts were unlike the anything I have ever tasted. I popped one into my mouth, instinctively waiting for that bitterness that was always present in all that I have tasted thus far. But nothing came. Just the smooth, subtle taste of the nut.

Why am I suddenly talking about things that has nothing to do with my Caramel Cake post, you ask? Because working in the industry has led to an observation that people get very personal when it comes to food. I have the fortune of not having to work Christmas this year or last year. But considering how many restaurants are open, I can't help but wonder: How much thought do people give to the food that is served to them at a restaurant/hotel/cafe? How much thought do they give into the preparation that took hours to complete, the hours of labour, the injuries and physical and mental stress that take place in a commercial kitchen? How much thought do they give to the people who will cook and serve them, and probably hundreds other, their food on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? Do they ever think, if even for the slightest moment, that some people had to sacrifice being with their families on that one special day just so they could eat out? I am aware that there is a whole other side to it: people who would say that eating out at a certain restaurant on Christmas Day has been a ritual for the family for 30 years, and that I have no right to judge, etc. etc. But please, I am not looking for a fight. Merely a discussion, and a sanctuary where I can let my thoughts loose. I am by no means condemning you for eating out on Christmas Day, gee, I personally have done that so many times.

Being a chef is, in a way, a thankless job. We slave away days and hours making food for people we do not know and do not meet. (Unless you are the owner or head chef of a restaurant, in which case you probably no longer cook as much.) Your sighs of appreciation and moans of pleasure do not reach our ears unless you send your compliments by virtue of a front of house staff. And that is rare. They usually never leave your table, and are reserved for the ears of friends and acquaintances.

So what pleasures does being a chef brings? Certainly not the long hours, low pay or lack of recognition. I suppose the feeling that you have given a part of yourself to create something that you can share with others. And to work so closely with all the things that you are passionate about---the best fresh ingredients, the merging of flavours, the beautiful art that lies on a plate....I think that personal gratification is as important, if not more so, than recognition and acknowlegdement.

So, if you are still with me, I will finally resume normal mode and actually write about the November Daring Bakers' Caramel Cake. The cake, I think, was amazing, even though I made my caramel syrup lighter than suggested. The frosting, though, was so tooth-achingly sweet I cringed at the first bite. Yes, a sugar fiend like me. Can you imagine? Though to its credit (and Shuna's), it was one of the best frostings I have ever worked with. I spread it, chill it for a couple of minutes, and smooth it---and I get the perfect, smooth frosting! I had to discard some of the frosting because one layer of cake broke on me and I was adamant that I have the perfect cake this time. So I ended up with less and had to compromise on using whipped cream for the side. I also added some red currants to introduce some tartness to the cake. I only noticed how Christmas-sy the whole cake looked after I was done, so I decided that I would call this my pre-Christmas Caramel Cake.

Thank you Shuna of Eggbeater for the caramel cake recipe, and Alex, Dolores and Jenny for hosting this month's challenge. And if any of your are interested in making the cake, you can find the recipe here.

26 comments:

MeetaK said...

incredible! this looks absolutely sensational. congrats on completing your studies!

linda said...

Congratulations on finishing your studies! Hope you'll find a full-time career where you can your satisfation from.
Good point about sending compliments to the kitchen. I'll think about that the next time I enjoy a meal in a restaurant.
Love the look of your cake, the red currants must have been a very good match with the (for me too) sweet cake.

Y said...

Beautiful! It looks so Christmassy! Almost makes me wish there was snow falling outside.. except right now, it's just rain :P

Congrats on finishing your course! I think a lot of people don't realise how hard chefs work sometimes. All these years now, and family members still express shock at hearing how many hours I work a week, without break. Or how little I earn. It's certainly no excuse for receiving shoddy service or bad food when you're in a restaurant though!

pea & pear said...

Christy!! That cakes looks amazing. And as a chef who has sacrificed every Christmas, birthday and new year for over 10 years I would like to thank you for you comments. I love what I do but sometimes I think it would be nice if people actually understood what it means that they can eat out on these special occasions. Anyway well done on finishing your course.. and well done on that cake it is beautiful!!!

Penelope said...

I don't think many people think much about the chef at any time of the year...I'm stuck at home with a baby atm, but if I ever get to a restaurant in the next 5 years, I'll definitely ask for my compliments to be passed on.
I worked in a liquor store over Christmas/New Year 2000, and that was thankless enough...can only imagine what it'd be like in the kitchens...

Rachel@fairycakeheaven said...

WOW this is beautiful!
Congratulations on completing your course!

Aran said...

Congratulations on finishing school and getting to the cake. better late than never, especially for this one. Although the icing a bit too sweet for me, I really enjoyed the cake. Fabulous Christy!

Elra said...

Fabulous looking cake, Kristy! It really is beautiful. I love the red decoration on the cake, it making look merrier.
Cheers,
Elra

Ash said...

Very Very Nice!! Love the currents! You're cake looks amazing!

Mallory Elise said...

Christy--what do you mean you don't know what career path you're going down?? huh? OBVIOUSLY it's writer--your prose here is very sentimental and adjective heavy, i love it! bravo!...it reminds me of, of, of ME! and Anthony of course...

first--yessssssssss i'm pretty sure you need to convince J to go to Portland, i'll wait for you at the airport. second--im so jealous!!! my week of finals begins monday, almost done...ahk but i still have one semester left after this!!! third--you are a shrimp!! 5'1! i'm about 5'10! our bus tours will be amazing--i'll show the tourists how you pick bananas, and you show them how to collect snails. hehe! and finally--your cake and photos are absolutely beautiful!!! so pretty much you are just the cat's pajamas. yep. congrats on finishing school! and if it makes you feel any better--i finish in May and as of now i have no clue where or what i will be doing in June, i could be in Tibet for all i know.

natalia said...

Ciao ! your cake is a real beauty !!! I didnt like the frosting too much but the cake itself was very nice !!!

Vera said...

Christy, congratulations on finishing your study!
The cake looks amazing, jewel-like!

Dharm said...

This looks just fabulous! Well done and congrats on your studies!!

Liska said...

I've just discovered your blog. It's so beautiful! Now, I have a lot to read and to look. Thank you :)

Mallory Elise said...

i am absolutely certain that is why we get along. and Melbourne sounds a hell of a lot better than Tibet, i can't wait.

ps. i just got a job! not full time--while im still in school, but its writing, photography, and advertising design for an independent media company---and some of their clients are food! something finally pushing me closer to a career!

Apples and Butter said...

I love the addition of currants. They are so beautiful and definitely make your cook look like Christmas!

Maya said...

Stunning! Congrats and good luck.

nikkita said...

Your cake presentation took my breath away! What a beauty. Oh and congratulations!!

Eunice said...

it ishes beautifuless!!!!
your photography is superb!
my biggest guess (so I dont feel so bad) is that you got a beautiful lens?

the cake looks lovely!!! congrats about, well, everything!!

Bea said...

It looks lovely! Very cheery!

Tartelette said...

You're late posting and I am late commenting...the perfect pair! Just like those redcurrants on the cake! Simply gorgeous!!
Congrats on finishing your classes!
It's my second time not working Christmas (although everybody is coming over) but I will always work NYE. The energy and camaraderie that night goes beyond any expectations. And it's probably for a handful of magical moments spent with other chefs sweating away that we still do it the other 350 of the year.

Cherie said...

I'm craving red currants right now! The cake looks absolutely beautiful.

Oakley Rhodes said...

absolutely amazing. your photos have gotten SO GOOD!

Vera said...

Merry Christmas, Christy! And the best wishes!

Mallory Elise said...

happy christmas christy!!! oh yes you must build a snowman, snowmen are almost as important as monkey viewing snail picking bus tours--so that must go on your list. :)

thank you, happy new year to you too! crossing my fingers at random house--and may the new year bring you success as well!

im already planning out future posts for a semester that has zero time. hehe. we should do something fun--like not daring bakers, i personally don't think that's very daring because a thousand people make the same thing--we should do some collaboration like 5 types of sugary cod or something, well not actually in that order, but we should do something together. i have to think first.

onward 2009! we're ready......i hope. :)

Paula said...

Oh that is beautiful - it looks like summer and christmas all rolled into one. Perfect for an antipodean xmas