The road to becoming a chef is not an easy one. You work every public holiday, enduring the glamour of peeling nothing but potatoes all shift, only to be rewarded with minimal pay on apprentice wages. No wonder there's a high drop-out rate.
I do admire anyone who works in the hospitality industry, especially those in the kitchen. It's hot, it's stressful and there's absolutely no room for error.
Luckily for us, there are actually people who willingly subject themselves to double shifts, low pay and no social life.
At Sydney TAFE, hospitality students put theory into practice at their aptly named training restaurant, The Apprentice.
The restaurant, along with the commercial cookery students, used to be at East Sydney TAFE. At the completion of the modern new building at the Ultimo campus, both restaurant and students relocated in April 2005.
The glass-paned walls of the seventh floor offer some great views on the short walk from lift to restaurant. Linen tablecloths and comfortable suedette chairs give some sense of sophistication. Orchid arrangements (by Ultimo College Floristry students) grace each table, although some do look a little wilted.
In the kitchen will be apprentice chefs honing their skills in Commercial Cookery; on the floor will be students undertaking traineeships in Hospitality Operations; and the bread rolls dispensed individually to our table will have been made by students in Food Processing (Retail Baking - Bread).
A printed menu indicates the dishes on offer for the day, but given that this is a training environment, diners are subject to a no-choice "alternate drop", wedding-reception-style. That doesn't stop me from silently willing certain dishes to descend before me =)
Broccoli soup with nuts and drizzled with olive oil
Calamari rings with tartare sauce and lemon
Duck, mint and coriander rice paper rolls
Our entrees arrive quickly. We are a party of six so we get a chance to examine all of the dishes on offer today. We are also busy quaffing the never-ending glasses of wine (a very good dry white Mudgee cleanskin).
The broccoli soup is pronounced "delicious". I go halves in the calamari (tender with a crispy batter albeit a little oily) and the duck rice paper rolls which are generously filled with fat juicy shreds of duck flesh.
Chicken kiev with red cabbage and duchess potatoes
Braised chicken and duck with daikon, carrot and mushroom
Seafood stew with fennel, tomato and parmesan cheese
To my delight, I am the recipient of the seafood stew for mains. Three mussels, two pippies, a prawn, crab legs, octopus and chunks of fish are soaked in a thick and hearty tomato stew. The lemon yellow bulb is in fact a boiled potato. There is no offer of a nut cracker for the crab leg, but I am undeterred, and crack it with my teeth and scoff it anyway.
I trade half my stew for the chicken and beef dish which reminds me visually somewhat of Tetsuya's spatchcock. Alas the rice is soggy but the vegetables are pleasantly Japanesey, albeit a little on the sweet side. The chicken Kiev is enormous but polished off in its entirety.
Warm chocolate brownie pudding with ice cream
Chocolate, hazelnut and coffee bavarois served with cats' tongues
Crepe filled with cream cheese and raisins
Desserts are artfully presented and although we are struggling by now, we lick our plates clean. My mental telepathy is working brilliantly because I score my desperately hoped-for cream cheese crepe.
The crepe is perfectly cooked and the piped cream cheese filling is thick, rich and studded with fat juicy raisins. The brownie pudding is given the thumbs up and I manage a cheeky forkful of the chocolate, hazelnut and coffee bavarois which is deliciously light and airy.
The kitchen do a fantastic job and the significantly over-staffed dining floor make up for some hesitant awkwardness with eager-to-please enthusiasm. Besides, any hiccups are easily forgiven by the "free labour subsidy" on the price of your meal. At the conclusion of our meal a supervising teacher tells us that in the kitchen are third semester students; on the floor are first semester students in their third class but working the floor of the restaurant for the first time ever.
We congratulate our table's waitstaff saying what a great meal we've had and that they should all be proud of their efforts. They endearingly puff their chests ever so slightly, beaming visibly with eyes all a-sparkling and breaking out into dazzling smiles of relief.
Was it good?
I've already booked us all in for another one.
Level 7, Building E, Ultimo College TAFE
695-731 Harris Street, Ultimo, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9217 5527
Lunch - $25.00
3 courses with 2 glasses of wine, beer or soft drink
plus a welcome drink on arrival
Dinner - $35.00
4 courses with 2 glasses of wine, beer or soft drink
plus a welcome drink on arrival
Open Monday - Friday during term time only
Bookings essential, and must be paid in advance.
Related GrabYourFork posts:
The Apprentice, May 2006
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3/02/2006 11:14:00 pm