As time started ticking away, I was working at a slower pace than what I had anticipated. I had practiced multiple times and knew that I could be finished before the allotted time. Something about having judges stare at you and documenting your every move is unsettling. All while knowing that one cross contamination or an untidy work station could be the difference between passing and failing. I had my timeline though and I knew if I could be done with all the proteins within the first hour, I would be alright. I finished my proteins at an hour and ten minutes into the exam, ten minutes behind schedule, but I was still feeling good.
Before I knew it, I already had my first warning. “Chef, you just touched raw seafood then ripped off a piece of plastic wrap to roll it up.” That was one major violation, one more and I was done. I had to keep pushing forward though and it seemed that the minutes were moving faster than I could keep up. As I began to roll through the rest of my prep I was feeling good again. My salad turned out just as I wanted, although in the final critique the judges did say it was too big. My appetizer of arctic char and lobster mousse roulade turned out decent, slightly under poached but still delicious. The grilled artichoke and creamed corn that I paired with it wasn’t what I had hoped for. The flavor of the corn had masked the flavor of the artichoke. As the judges put it, artichoke needed to be the star, not corn.
As my service window opened, my salad was already complete and I served it the second I was able. Thinking it was easiest to have the cold dish ready, one of the judges noted that it wasn’t the first thing on my menu. The appetizer was first and the salad was second. Assuming that it didn’t matter what order they were served since they would be tasted at the same time, she stated “but as long as you put up your appetizer before your 15 minute window is up, it will be ok.” I had every intention of making my service window. The appetizer came together quickly, it was a simple plate-up. I had 11 minutes now to plate my entrée. I sliced the chicken breast, tossed the chicken legs in butter and fresh herbs, had all my sides right there and I began to plate. With 3 minutes to spare I was done. Knowing that it was behind me now was a huge relief, although I didn’t know the outcome yet.
As I began to clean up, the judges were tasting my food and having a discussion. After about 10 minutes, two of them came back and were just walking around the kitchen, with the third judge nowhere to be seen. After he emerged, all of us went over to the plates and discussed them. While most of the feedback was positive, there was some that was negative. However, with a slight grin on his face, the lead proctor said “We do have good news for you, you passed. Congratulations.” The world came off my shoulders and I was so relieved. He handed me a piece of paper and we all shook hands. My journey was complete. I had earned my Certified Executive Chef status.