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Culinary Arts Project

The Battle of the Hollandaise, James Beard House, and Kitchen Vocabulary – Day 74

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • When rolling your pasta dough through the final time to create the fettucine from a wide piece, trim the ends so you don’t end up with spikey and uneven fettucine.
  • If you cut your bread before service, put a damp towel over it to keep it fresh.
  • Never close the oven with your foot – it’s dangerous, and slams the door loudly which impacts not only the food but the chef you’re volunteering for at the James Beard House! Ooops.

While there was much less panic in the kitchen today, I still had my troubles. I’m really wrestling with what should be one of the simpler dishes – poached eggs with Hollandaise. My problem is how to serve this dish pipeing hot!!!!

Stewart vs. Hollandaise - Round 1
Stewart vs. Hollandaise – Round 1
Luis losing his battle with the lemon tart dough
Luis losing his battle with the lemon tart dough
A bass losing his battle with Miyako
A bass losing a battle with Miyako

I started my battle with the Hollandaise early: took 2 eggs yolks, 25ml of water, and started whisking them over a hot water bath. It took for ever to turn into a sabayon (almost liked soft whipped cream).Then off heat, I slowly added the clarified butter, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, “more lemon juice” according to Vitor, and some salt. It tasted ok, but the problem was how to keep it hot. Apparently the trick is to double bowl it and then put it over a hot water bath, which I tried. I got my vegetables reheating in butter, and then tasted the Hollandaise and now it was cold. Ugh. Turned up the heat on the hot water bath, poached my eggs, shocked them in ice, trimmed them, and then got them ready to go into salted hot (not boiling) water so that they would reheat but not cook. I looked up and my Hollandaise had curdled. Aaaaahh!!! Back to the drawing board. Wipe out the bowl, two more egg yolks and some water, and I start to whip again. This time it literally took less than two minutes and I had my sabayon (nothing like a pre-heated bowl I guess). It was like magic. I added the butter, cayenne, juice, salt, and put it back on the doubled water bath, but no way I was going to turn the heat up on it this time. Three minutes till plating time, so I put my poached eggs in the hot water, fill the mold with my vegetables, put the eggs on top, cover with Hollandaise, put the “tomato peel cross” on it, and run to the chef’s table….

Dolma getting accolades from the chef, in front of Chef Sayhac - the dean of the school!!!!!!!!
Dolma getting accolades from the chef, in front of Chef Sailhac – the dean and founder of the school!!!!!!!!
The chef asks "Whose perfect papillote is this?"
The chef asks “Whose perfect papillote is this?”

…total disaster. My Hollandaise was lukewarm with too much lemon and cayenne, the eggs were also only lukewarm, my vegetables were ok but I didn’t have enough of them, and the tomato peel was too thin. Total defeat. The only way I can see to pulling this off is to poach the eggs and make the Hollandaise right at time of service. This reheating business doesn’t work so well, plus you risk “breaking” your Hollandaise (which happened to a lot of people in the class).

The beef bourguignon was better, but I over-reduced my sauce a bit. I just love the smell in the kitchen when people take the cover off the braising dish. Heaven!

The "kitchen cam" at the James Beard House
The “kitchen cam” at the James Beard House

Saturday, I had such and incredible time at the James Beard House. I was the only volunteer, so it was famous Vermont Chef Kruse, his crew and me. I couldn’t believe it but he let me sear all the bacon wrapped sous-vide rabbit (which was one of the signature dishes), the whole team really took me under their arm. The Sous-Chef, Chef Juan (from Costa Rica) was my boss, and taught me all sorts of tricks. I also realized how much Culinary School had taught me particularly in the “kitchen vocabulary” department. Like in most disciplines, the kitchen has its own vocabulary. Had I been volunteering at JBH prior to culinary school, I would have had no idea what the chef’s were talking about: “hotel pan”, “sheet pan”, “half pan”, “china cap”, “chinois”, “circulator”, “Hobart”, “combi”. After the meal, the chef and his team walked around and talked to the tables. I was honored to be asked to join them. When not panicking, I was grinning ear-to-ear all night.

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Culinary Arts Project

“Old School is Gooood Schoooool”, Boeuf Bourguignon, and Pure Mayhem – Day 73

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Cut a small slit in your papillote when pulling it out of the oven so it doesn’t deflate (more on this dish next week).
  • Your pasta dough is properly kneaded when you stick your finger in it and it springs back 90% of the way.
  • Use clarified butter to brown your croutons to get a beautiful even brown colour.

Today was the day Chef Dominique had been subtly warning us about for the past three weeks. My half of the class had to prepare Poached Eggs with Hollandaise over macedoined vegetables plus Boeuf Bourguignon and the other half had Bass en Papillote and the Lemon Tart. And it was pure chaos!!!!

Chef demoing the beef bourguinion old school style
Chef demoing the beef bourguignon “old school” style
Emma plating the poached eggs
Emma plating the poached eggs
Lemon curd sneaking out of its shell
Lemon curd coming out of its shell

Everyone was running everywhere, there were burnt and spilt tarts, broken and curdled Hollandaises, fresh pasta too hard to cut into fettuccine, sauces that weren’t reducing, eggs that were too cold or over poached, there was a fire alarm, ovens at all the wrong and different temperatures, papillote that weren’t sealing, etc… Even the normally calm and genial “ICC Mayor Joe” didn’t have time to answer questions.

I really wanted to nail these dishes. I had served my first poached eggs and Hollandaise to my brother and his wife on a visit and it was a total disaster – the eggs were cold and the hollandaise didn’t work at all. Ugh. So I had a personal rivalry going with this dish. And also, this beef dish was the one that got Julia Child her book deal. It really is a classic dish. Chef told us this dish was “old school, but old school was goooood schoooool”. But my dishes definitely weren’t gooooooood school today.

Sophia and Dolma double teaming to hit the deadline
Sofia and Dolma double teaming to hit the deadline
"Mayor Joe" and crew prepping the beef shoulder
“Mayor Joe” and crew prepping the beef shoulder
The day Vitor fell in love with a fish
The day Vitor fell in love with a fish

The eggs sound pretty simple: Place two eggs in 180F degree water with a mise cup of vinegar in it. Swirl slightly at first so the eggs don’t stick to the bottom, wait “twoish” minutes till done, remove and shock in ice water, trim, and reheat in hot salted water before service. (You have to wash the vinegar off, and the salted water gives the eggs some additional taste.) You shouldn’t poach them in salted water because the salt interferes with the coagulation. Chef told us to always poach an extra egg “just in case”, I forgot to do this, and of course one of mine broke slightly (I covered the break with Hollandaise so I might have gotten away with it). The hollandaise is whisking and egg and an egg yolk with a bit of water over a hot water bath till it thickens (a sabayon), and then slowly add clarified butter off heat, and finish with salt, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper. I ran out of time to get my sabayon thick enough. The eggs are served over a bed of macedoined (“old school” cubed) vegetables, and topped with an “x” of tomato peel.

The beef is marinated overnight, seared and then braised in the marinating liquid. It is plated in a reduced sauce of the marinating liquid, deglazed sucs and stock, along with those darn pearl onions, mushrooms sauteed in bacon fat, freshly made swirled pasta, and a heart shaped “crouton” tipped with parsley. Again I ran out of time. I left my pearl onions till too late, I forgot entirely about the pasta for a while, my sauce took too long to reduce, my pasta stuck together, and I realized I didn’t have parsley well after the Chefs announced “has everyone got all their ingredients?”. Thanks Joe and Alton for donating some parsley to the cause. Ugh…I’ll do better on Monday. Despite the chaos, the kitchen smelled amazing. While yesterday’s fish fumet is a taste highlight, the red wine braising is definitely a smell highlight.

Today I’m volunteering at the Jame Beard House, and Chef Kruse is preparing 11 courses, so we have to be there at 2pm. There are three cameras in the kitchen so you can watch here to see if I’m peeling the potatoes correctly. Have a great weekend everyone.

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Culinary Arts Project

Another Mock Final, The Trail Report, and dirty dishes – Day 72

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Always shave before going to a “trail” (see note below).
  • Rotate your profiterole pan in the oven half-way through the baking. You can really see the different hotspots in oven with a tray of profiteroles. Some definitely get baked before others, so it’s always a good idea to rotate anything you’re baking half-way through.
  • Use an electronic scale for baking. A mechanical scale works well enough for protein cooking, but for baking you need better accuracy.

Today was another mock final. I walked in (just in time, I got a flat tire riding to work today), picked up number B6 which meant I plate at 1:10 (salmon) and 1:50 (profiteroles). We had roll call, chef reminded us of some of the more common errors, and then BAM, we’re off.

Running the elements full flame after clean up to burn off any grit.
Running the elements full flame after clean up to burn off any grit.
Sometimes the dishes pile up, even in a professional kitchen.
Sometimes the dishes pile up, even in a professional kitchen.
Pre-oven profiteroles
Pre-oven profiteroles

I could tell within 10 minutes that my profiterole dough “wasn’t like the others”. It seemed to take forever to absorb the eggs, it didn’t seem to dry well, and when I piped it out it looked a little flat. I stuck them in the oven anyway, but they came out looking like Alton’s macaroons (Alton’s now got a copyright on macaroon-looking profiteroles). Mentally, it seems so hard to throw it all out and start again. If it was just another step in the recipe, it would be no problem, but psychologically starting over seems twice as difficult. Anyway, into the garbage they went, and off to make another batch. I felt slightly better when I saw Emma “bin” all hers as well. Misery likes company I guess. Joe mentioned that I was using an analog scale to measure the ingredients (my digital scale shattered) and that was probably the cause. The analog scale is closeish (and good enough for non-baking recipes), but “4 grams too much of one baking ingredient, and 4 grams too little of another, and suddenly your ratios are all off”. I borrowed Meagan’s digital scale, and the second batch worked fine. I also wasn’t happy with my spinach (I had slightly burned the garlic and slightly over-salted). Having just re-done the profiteroles, it was somehow easier to “bin it” and re-do the spinach as well. I was pretty happy with my dishes, though my white wine sauce came out a bit thick. Chef Joe and I agreed that the wonderful wine-fumet sauce smells sooooo good, and like a fancy French kitchen should. It certainly was one of the WOW flavours we had back in Level 1.

Salade nicoise vinegar infusing with garlic.
Salade nicoise vinegar infusing with garlic.
Miyako searing the dark meats of the chicken before putting in the oven
Miyako searing the dark meats of the chicken before putting in the oven

Many of us are reporting back on the “trails” for our externships. Trails are the kitchen equivalent of a job interview, where you are basically “trailing” someone in the kitchen doing what they tell you to do for a whole shift. For our 200 hour externships, you basically go do a trail and then they tell you if you can do your externship there. This is how it worked for Joe at Betony, and Alton at ABC kitchen for example. Yesterday, Vitor showed up for his trail at The Modern slightly unshaven, so the chef gave him a razor and told him to go shave. Somewhere along the way to the bathroom Vitor lost the razor, so he used his potato peeler!!!!!! Ouch!!!!!! Rachel went to hers all ready to spend the day in the kitchen, but it turned out to be a traditional hour interview which she passed and now she has to go back to trail. Pablo reported being amazed at Le Chevalier – apparently they have a chandelier in the kitchen(?!). Good luck to Dalal “trailing” at Mercer kitchen today. I still haven’t heard back from my restaurants, but Gina is suggesting and alternative: JoJos, which doesn’t “sound” fancy, but JoJo is actually Jean-Georges nickname and is one of his restaurants, so it might be a fantastic experience.

Tomorrow some us start the famed Boeuf Bourguignon (Beef Burgundy) which is marinading tonight in wine, mirepoix and a garlic bouquet garni (thyme, garlic, bay leaf, pepper corns wrapped in a cheese cloth – see main pic). We also make our own pasta for this. I can’t wait.

Happy birthday to Joanne who was a welcome sight back in the kitchen today.

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Culinary Arts Project

The Sun Also Rises – Back on our feet – Day 71

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Add the powdered sugar to your cream only after it starts to gain some volume. This results in a better whip.
  • When cutting the tops of your profiteroles, align the bread knife parallel to the bottom of profiterole. It’s natural to align the knife with the top that you’re cutting off, but may end up with a wonky base, and the base has to hold the cream.
  • If you buy a knife sharpening stone, get the 1000 grit stone. Ideally you can get a stone that is 300 (rougher) on one side and 1000 on the other and use the 300 grit if your knife is really dull. But regular use of the 1000 grit should be fine.

Today was a much better day than yesterday. It was the second day we were all doing our dishes, we knew what we had to do, we certainly knew what NOT to do (see yesterday’s post!), so it was noses to the grindstone and whisks in the crème chantilly.– time to deliver for the chefs.

Grilled salmon with the sauce "locked in".
Grilled salmon with the sauce “locked in”.
Chef Dominique and Chef Joe prepare bouquet garnis.
Chef Dominique and Chef Joe prepare bouquet garnis.

We were rewarded by a “plates of pride” display, rather than our usual “plates of shame”. In the words of our chefs “A big rebound from yesterday”, “bigtime difference”, “everyone manchonneéd”, “garnitures looked nice”, etc… The two areas we seem to miss are getting the sauces perfect, and those darn pearl onions, but we’ll get there.

I made minor alterations to my dishes today. I grilled the presentation side of the salmon “at 2 oclock” for 20 seconds, and then “at 10 oclock” for 20 seconds. This is way longer than the recipe calls for, but I wanted to get those real nice dark sear lines. I then flipped the fillets over and only seared for 5 seconds. I still ended up with a succulent piece of fish, just a little under-seared on the plate side, but nobody looks at that side anyway. I also plated the dish as Erik recommended which was to make the fillet create a dam to prevent the wonderful wine-cream-herb sauce from spilling all over the plate, and definitely kept my herb out of the sauce till the very last second so they were green and fragrant.

Meagan and Spencer standing at attention
Meagan and Spencer standing at attention
Joe leaning at attention
Joe leaning at attention
Our "plates of pride"
Our “plates of pride”

I experimented with putting more sugar in the cream puff dough, but didn’t really notice any difference. Where I did put more sugar was the Crème Chantilly. “CC” is whipped cream with a bit of vanilla and a pinch of powdered sugar. I’ve decided that if you are using it more as a decoration then it should be “lightly” sugared, but if you’re using it “in” the dessert then it should be more “heavily” sugared – particularly because the dough isn’t sweet. If it is going with fresh fruit, it is better to lighten up on the sugar, because you don’t want the fruit tasting sour.

I plated a total of 12 profiteroles, and definitely wasn’t going to eat them all, so I walked across the hall and gave them to the pastry class. I figured I could pay back them a little for all the wonderful bread we’ve been getting from them. But it was a bit risky giving pastry to the professional pastry class.

Speaking of sweet, we have one more day of practicing these recipes, and then its on to the Lemon Tart, which I’m really looking forward to.

Salmon at "10 o'clock"
Salmon at “10 o’clock”
Me straining my fumet. Thanks Dalal for taking all the pics today!
Me straining my fumet. Thanks Dalal for taking all the pics today!

The class felt a bit smaller today. Joanne was out sick (get better soon!!!!), and Pablo/Vitor/Rachel all add to leave to do their “trails”. This is when you do a shift at a restaurant to see if they want you to extern there. I still haven’t heard back from my restaurants (Jean-Georges, and Lucien) so I’m starting to get nervous. On the good side, the James Beard House called, and I’m working for Chef Kruse on Saturday. He features food from the Lake Champlain area – I see at 16 hour cooked pork belly, and Sous Vide rabbit loins on the menu. Yum.

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Culinary Arts Project

The Hammer Drops: Blood, Sweat and Tears – Day 70

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Powdered sugar through a cheese cloth gives a much finer “sprinkle” than through a sieve.
  • Chives+chervil+Tarragon is a great combination of herbs for fish – beats the standard parsley by miles. (especially the tarragon).
  • Gently tap the salmon skillets under plastic with the side of a butcher’s hammer to flatten them out so that they are the same thickness throughout, and therefore cook evenly.

It was pretty chaotic in the kitchen today. Half the class got hit with the tsunami of doing the nicoise/grand mere chicken combined, both dishes for the first time. These dishes have an incredible amount of garniture preparation, and you really don’t have any time to spare, and it’s easy to find behind, as many found out.

Joanne's bandage
Dolma looks at Joanne’s war wound.
Chef Joe and Alton discuss why his profiteroles didn't "texturize"
Chef Joe and Alton discuss why his profiteroles didn’t “texturize”
Terrence nicoise under inspection.
Terrence nicoise under inspection.

One student was 10 minutes late to the chef’s station. Also, many of us did things today that the chefs have been telling us not to over and over, which led to a somewhat exasperated chef’s station. Not only that, but the usual jovial Joe had to leave early to do his externship trail so he was under pressure, Joanne burned her arm, several people “cracked”, and I can’t tell you how many infractions Vitor committed. This all contributed to quite the tension/pressure in the kitchen. To be honest, it was exactly the craziness I thought all of Level 4 was going to be.

To give you a sense, in the words of our frustrated chefs: “Not a good day today”, “lot’s of sloppiness”, “it was like a pizza parlor here today”, “if you don’t have your note cards, next time you’re out”, “peel over your bowl – this is level 1 stuff”, “follow the directions”, “only take what you need”, “a lot of people we’re late”, “the dishes have to be HOT”, “the sautoir has to be very hot, or the chicken skin will come off”, “properly remove the salad from the water, don’t just pour the water out”, “eggs were under-cooked”, “eggs were over-cooked”, “food was under-seasoned”. “manchonner, every day we have to remind you to manchonner”, “the jus was too runny”, “bone with bone-out, white with dark meat”. Ouch! Guaranteed we’re going to do better tomorrow chef!

Meagan "went for it", with four plates.....
Meagan “went for it” with four plates…..
......so did Stewart
……so did Stewart

Amid all this though, with some tag-teaming with Erik, I actually had an ok day, but I could definitely feel the tension all around. My dishes were the easier grilled salmon with a cream herb sauce, and profiteroles. The salmon dish tasted amazing (if I do say so myself!). We made our own fish stock starting with 1L of water, fish parts/bones, mirepoix, thyme, bouquet garni. This was boiled down to half, and then added to wine/butter shallots glaze, and then heavy cream was further added, reduced down, a few drops of lemon juice, s&p, and at the last minute the herbs (chervil, tarragon, chives). Reduce reduce reduce, concentrate concentrate concentrate. This ended up being just a few tablespoons of heaven. The fish was served with a rice pilaf and spinach with garlic, s&p, and the amazing addition of nutmeg.

No eyeballs in the fumet!
No eyeballs in the fumet!
Emma: it's hammer time!
Emma: it’s hammer time!
Vitor, in a rare instance of not committing an infraction today!
Vitor, in a rare instance of not committing an infraction today!

The profiteroles were “easy-ish”. The dough is pretty straightforward – you boil water with butter, salt and sugar, then add in flour, mix, dry it a bit over the heat and then off-heat you gradually add eggs till the “Israelites make it but the Egyptians don’t” (see Day 29). My batter took 4½ eggs. You pipe this out and bake for 20mins, cut them open, stuff with crème Chantilly, sprinkle powdered sugar and place over a dark chocolate sauce. Yum! I always think that “Pate a choux” by itself tastes a bit bland (as its supposed to). I’m going to try and sneak in some extra sugar tomorrow to see the effect.

To top all the mayhem off, after we were done, we had a “Poissonier” written exam – thank goodness I studies the skate, salmon, and bass recipes for that one.

Thanks for those that are sending in meatball recipes for the contest. You can email them to me at stewart1234@sympatico.ca if you prefer.

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Culinary Arts Project

A Mock Final, 158 Verbs, Nicoise-Chicken Combo, Dolma gets an A+, a MeatBall Contest – Day 69

TODAY TIDBITS

  • A quick blanch (boil) before you fry your potatoes will: a) improve the golden colour because it gelatinizes the outer starch, b) will “infuse” salt into the potato enhancing flavour, and c) kill the enzymes that cause “purpling” while you air dry. Blanching is the first step in potato rissole
  • The chef recommends “snapping” your beans “by hand” rather than using a knife, because if there is a tough “string” you can remove it using this method (my mother and her sister use this method)
  • Infuse your vinaigrette with an anchovy filet – I’ve always said anchovy is a magic ingredients – here’s another place to apply that magic.

Today was another mock final which means you pick a number out of a hat that tells you what time to plate. This was a tougher mock than previous, because none of us had cooked their two plates together, and we had all only practiced the dish once. This caused many of us to be late plating. To further add to the pressure the two dishes I had to do had 158 steps/verbs.

Joe, with a pound of butter on his chicken
Joe, with a pound of butter on his chicken
Dallas plating her Grand Mere plates
Dalal plating her Grand Mere plates
Alton spooning a reduction sauce over the chicken
Alton spooning a reduction sauce over the chicken

I was doing the combo of Nicoise salad (72 action verbs) and the Chicken Grand Mere (86 verbs). I did manage to get the plates to the chefs on time, but I felt the pressure of the clock the whole time, and at one point I thought I wasn’t going to make it because I hadn’t even started my pearl onions with 30mins to go, but Joe gave me a confidence boost (and a little help) and I managed to get them done. Panic set in early when the chef told me “you haven’t started your potatoes? Get them going, they take a long time!”.

Joanne plating her cream puffs
Joanne plating her cream puffs
Chef Dominique points to Dolma's A+ profiteroles
Chef Dominique points to Dolma’s A+ profiteroles
An A+, close up
An A+, close up

After the mock,  Chef Dominique and Chef Joe gathered us to tell us publicly what we did right and (more often) what we did wrong (another form of mock?). I have mixed feeling about this process. It is true you really learn the most hearing/seeing mistakes, but it’s always a bit depressing getting told what you did wrong in front of everyone. What makes it all worthwhile however is hearing the “plate of the day”. Dolma got an A+ for her profiteroles “perfect”. The chef told Joe he tried real hard to find something wrong with his chicken but couldn’t. Hehehe.

We have a written exam on “Poissonnier” tomorrow, so time to go learn those fish recipes.

The meatball contest is on
The meatball contest is on

Also, Ray and I are thinking of doing a Meatball pop-up this summer and have been experimenting with meatball recipes. Have you got an amazing meatball recipe or tip? Apparently Spencer’s mother makes “the best” meatballs. Consider sharing it below and tell me why you love it. The winning recipe will be posted here plus I’ll mail you a copy of the Meatball Shop.

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Culinary Arts Project

Chicken Grand Mere, Celery Root Puree, and a Smoking Gun – Day 68

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • You don’t need a trussing needle to truss a chicken. By making a cut in the skin near the end of the legs (where you eventually manchonner), the string can grab the legs and keep the chicken together – you can also loop the chicken legs instead.
  • If you’re serving sliced grilled meat, sprinkle a little line of sea salt over them – this dramatically enhances the flavor.
  • Potato chip bags are filled with Nitrogen to prevent crush, not air. Oxygen would cause the chips to oxidize faster.

Today we did either the Chicken Grand Mere (roasted chicken with potatoes, pearl onions, lardons, mushrooms, and jus roti), or Grilled Salmon with White Wine Herb Sauce. For the first time in Level 4 I really really felt the time pressure.

Chef Dominique critiquing my chicken
Chef Dominique critiquing my chicken
Dean Chef Candy gives Pablo some trussing help
Dean Chef Candy gives Pablo some trussing help
Doma grilling her salmon on a grill sitting over the burners
Dolma grilling her salmon on a grill sitting over the burners

I thought the chicken was going to be easy: throw the chicken in the oven and while it’s roasting prepare all the vegetables. But everything took a little longer and more complicated than I anticipated, I put myself on team #1 and decided to do 4 plates, and time ran out pretty quickly. Step one was to de-wish bone and manchonner the wings, half-manchonner the legs, then put thyme s&p and bay leaf in the cavity, truss the chicken (is it officially a truss if you don’t actually use a trussing needle?), sauté/brown the chicken in a pan and put in the oven later adding mirepoix and leftover chicken pieces, make 12 potato cocottes and risolee (blanch-saute-oven), cook pearl onions glacer au brun, render the bacon and sauté the mushrooms in the fat, take the chicken out after 40mins and let rest, make the jus roti by deglazing the pan with white wine and then reducing 500ml of veal stock, finish the manchonners, carefully separate the chicken into 8 pieces, present on each plate the bone/no-bone, white/dark meat combination along with all the garnitures and sauce. Phew, got it done but was 3 minutes late to the chef’s presentation table.

Even though Chef Dominique demo’d the trussing without the needle half-manchonner trick, when I got back to my station I just couldn’t figure out how to start but eventually got rescued by Chef Joe. Then Dean Chef Candy walked in and immediately told me to get a new cutting board (I had grabbed the very last one which was warped). It seems every time Chef Candy walks in I’m doing something wrong. Ugh. Anyway, I did my potatoes pretty well, but then it was those darn pearl onions again. I worked my way through those, but saved two telling Chef “I’m not leaving culinary school without getting the Chef to show me how master these”, so Chef Joe showed me how he does them. (The key is to leave them in warm water and then only slightly cut the root so it holds together and then using the inside edge of the paring knife to make an initial scrape allowing you to quickly peel the one layer off – haven’t quite mastered it). Anyway, my chicken was cooked perfectly (really juicy), but my jus wasn’t reduced anywhere near enough, my potatoes were a little dry, my onions weren’t brown enough and I was late. It still tasted great.

Chef Dominique and our "plates of shame" again.
Chef Dominique and our “plates of shame” again.
Terrence sneaks a bite
Terrence sneaks a bite
Chef Herve uses a smoking gun on the celery puree
Chef Herve uses a smoking gun on the celery puree
A $32 chicken roulade dish.
A $32 chicken roulade dish.
Celebrating at Toad Hall
Celebrating at Toad Hall
Sharing an armagnac with Chef Dominique
Sharing an armagnac with Chef Dominique

The other half of the class was doing a grilled salmon which smelled amazing. They put a cast iron “grill” over the gas burners so that they could achieve those amazing grill marks, and the 4 tablespoons of sauce was reduced from 750ml of liquids, so you can imagine how good that tasted.

We had part 2 of our Sous Vide lesson in the afternoon which was amazing. Chef Hervé took the hanger steak (2 hrs at 133F) and Short Ribs (20 hrs at 133F) and quickly seared them in cast iron pan that had BEEN SITTING ON THE BURNER FOR 2HRS! – apparently it was over 500F. The steak tasted amazing. The best taste experience of the day though was a celery root-butter-cream-salt cooked sous vide pureed, and then infused with smoke using a “smoking gun”. (It reminded me of Boulud’s Chestnut-Celery-Apple soup I used to cook). Chef Hervé used this puree as a base for an amazing chicken-roulade dish (which he used to charge $32 for at his restaurant). We also had a great talk on the economics of restaurants. While obviously there are 1000 variables, he said that at 70 seats and 250+ covers a day you are starting to make money. Often top chefs participate in 5% of the gross as a bonus – totally changes the outlook when a party of 12 walks in at 10pm when you’re thinking of closing.

Paragraph of Sighs: My James Beard House volunteer kitchen gig was cancelled tonight ☹ because of the snow storm – I was really looking forward to it. Sigh. I also haven’t heard back from Jean-Georges, so I’m guessing I probably won’t be externing there. Sigh. We all invaded Toad Hall after class and had a great time doing shots, but I woke up with a headache. Sigh.

On the bright side, there’s nobody out on the streets because the mayor just issued a travel ban so we’re going to build a snowman in the park, and a Happy Birthday goes out to Joe! Off to buy one of the cast iron grill thingies.

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Culinary Arts Project

Vacuum-infusing a Watermelon, Sous Vide, and Salade Nicoise – Day 67

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Magic infusing liquid: Yuzu juice + Elderberry Cordial. This combination of sweet and sour tastes incredible.
  • To instant peel a hard boiled egg – roll it around hard on the counter till it’s all broken like a web and you can peel it off in once piece instantly.
  • “Snap” your green beans AFTER boiling them – if you cut the ends off before boiling they tend to absorb more water and become a little more watery – it’s better to cut “on the bias” after they’re cooked.

Today we all experienced incredible new tastes. Chef Hervé took the afternoon shift and taught us all about Sous Vide, Low Temperature Cooking, and Vacuum Infusing. Sous Vide (literally “Under Vacuum”) is a recent way of cooking where meats or vegetables are vacuum sealed in a bag, and then put in circulating water at the desired “final temperature”.

Chef Herve demonstrating the vacuum machine.
Chef Herve demonstrating the vacuum machine.
Eggs "sous vide"
Eggs “sous vide”
Pickled watermelon rind
Instantly pickled shaved watermelon rind

Conventionally, if you were cooking a medium-rare steak you want an internal temperature of 145F, but you would set your oven way higher at 400F, and wait for the meat to get to that temperature. In all probability, the outside will be more done than the inside, and getting it perfect without drying it can be tough. In Sous Vide cooking the meat would be put in 145F water for many hours, and the whole meat will gradually come up to that temperature but no higher. Perfectly cooked! (and super moist too because nothing is drying out the meat). Meat will be grilled before (or after or both) to get that nice browning flavor to boot. (Apparently Jean-Georges where I’m hoping to extern does all their vegetables this way.)

What this all means is that you can cook food to the exact temperature you want and get PERFECT results every time. Chef Hervé really brought this home by showing us eggs that were cooked at 57C, 62C, 63C, 64C, 65C, etc… The one degree differences were incredible, and we all agreed 62.5C would yield the perfect poached egg. The 65C egg is at the exact temperature that the yolk is “like playdough” and you can fashion it in to a square – crazy.

Chef Dominique demo's the salad nicoise
Chef Dominique demo’s the salad nicoise
Got the thumbs up for my nicoises
Got the thumbs up for my nicoises
Megan building her profiteroles.
Megan building her profiteroles.

The real magic today, however, was using the vacuum machine to infuse foods. Watermelon cubes were put in a bag with a mixture of Yuzu Juice (a nice sour juice) and Elderberry Cordial (mellow sweet). This bag was put into the vacuum machine which first sucks all the air out of the watermelon and then when exposed back to atmospheric pressure, presses all the juice into all the spaces where the air was. It all takes about 10 seconds, and tastes incredible. Chef also took watermelon rind peelings and infused it with a pickling juice. In 30 seconds we had incredibly tasting watermelon rind shavings. The whole class couldn’t believe what we were tasting. Part 2 of the class is tomorrow. We can’t wait.

The morning was Salade Nicoise for half of us, and Profiteroles over Chocolate for the other. I was in the salad group, and tried to remember all the tips: I infused my wine vinegar with crushed garlic (not diced) and s&p before adding the oil, boiled the eggs for exactly 11 minutes, used waxy potatoes cooked with the skin on before cutting and peeling, infuse the potatoes with dressing while they are still warm, cooked the beans before ‘snapping’ them, peeled the green peppers to make them more supple, carefully ‘vinaigretting’ each item separately, alternate between green and not green on the plate, don’t overlap the rim, cut the nicoise olives in half, super fine chop the parsley, and present using a tray. It was worth all the trouble, all the elements got two thumbs up from the chefs.

Keep your eyes open for a meatball competition coming soon!

Categories
Culinary Arts Project

“Truth in Menus”, another Mock Final, and one more Fire Alarm – Day 66

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Never try and put one over on the chef

Yesterday, Chef Dominique told us all never to try and trick the chef. One student tried to say she had put sugar in her Crème Chantilly, but the Chef was pretty sure she didn’t. This brings up the topic of “Truth in Menus”. “TiM” is a series of legislations that various states have passed requiring truthful disclosure on menus (New York state has not passed this yet). A few days ago Azure, the Intercontinental Hotel’s fancy dancy restaurant in Toronto was found guilty of all sorts of breaches in this category. Their “wild” salmon was farmed, their “organic” granola was Quaker Harvest Crunch, their “homemade dressing” was bought, their Japanese Wagyu steak was regular skirt steak, their “freshest artisanal ingredients” were frozen, etc… you can read the article here. Wow!!!!! I’ve always assumed all menus are truthful, now I’m not so sure. Apparently the most numerous offences are around fish (usually frozen rather than fresh). Congrats to Toronto for their “menu verification squad”.

Doma, flambeeing her pork
Doma, flambeeing her pork
Dalal cocotting a potato
Dalal cocotting a potato

Today was another mock final where we walk in, draw a lot, which gives us our station location and presentation time. I drew c6, which is a station right by the chef. I really enjoy being near to the chef. Yes, you get “reminded” every time you’re doing something wrong, but you learn so much more than being in the back. I didn’t fillet my skate so well today, but decided to do 4 plates anyway (we only “have” to do 2 plates today, but on the real exam you have to do 4, so why not practice). I thought I did pretty ok today. My tart got an “awesome”, but I under-buttered my skate and had my capers and croutons bunched up on the plate. I think our work station was jinxed today because Megan’s consommé didn’t clarify at all, Doma’s pork was rare having read three different temperatures with three different thermometers (everywhere from 113F to 170F), and Emma was getting “constructive reminders” on a more-than-regular basis. Dalal got the highest award today: “The best ICC tart the Chef has EVER tasted”. Wow!

Keeping warm in the freezing cold during the fire alarm.
Keeping warm in the freezing cold during the fire alarm.
Chef Dominique giving us our critiques.
Chef Dominique giving us our critiques.

I’ve also really learnt the importance of uniformity of cut. For instance, cutting my apple pieces for my apple compote exactly the same size means they all cook at the same speed and to the same hopefully perfect doneness. This particularly applies to garlic and onion pieces that you’re frying. You definitely don’t want anything burning in your pan, and those small pieces are guaranteed to burn before the bigger ones are done. I now understand why the French are so stipulating (sp?) about making sure the vegetables are all cut to the exact same size.

Tomorrow, we’re on to new recipes (finally), and we also are getting a sous vide demonstration, which should be interesting. I’ll have lots to report about this new way of cooking.

Categories
Culinary Arts Project

Chitchat Chitchat – oops, look what I cooked, Skate Grenobloise and an Apple Tart – Day 65

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Present a skate with the round side facing the customer, like a smile. Also, it turns out skate fish is not kosher.
  • When reducing sauces or soups, it’s a better idea to add salt only at the end. If you add salt near the beginning, it might taste fine but as it reduces the salt taste will get stronger, and there’s not much you can do if your sauce is too salty.
  • When boiling vegetables, root vegetables (e.g. potatoes) should start in cold water and warm up with the water, all other vegetables should go in when the water is boiling. When the potatoes go through the different temperatures slowly, they develop all sorts of different interesting flavours.

Today was the second day we were all cooking our respective dishes. Although on Friday there was a lot of helping each other out, today we all knew pretty much what we were doing, so it was more chitchatting about the long weekend while we were cooking than panicking about our dishes.

Using a piece of dough to push in the corners of the tart
Using a piece of dough to push in the corners of the tart
My plated skate
My plated skate

I was supposed to be on team #4 (the team that presents last), but I put myself on team #1 so I could present early. It’s no problem getting these dishes in time if you kinda know what you’re doing, and there’s nothing worse than sitting around waiting to start your dish but can’t because your “present time” is still an hour away.

Chef Joe working on a HUGE ham
Chef Joe working on a HUGE ham, making proscuitto
Chef Joe and Chef Dominic notice Pablo's "slightly over cooked" tart
Chef Joe and Chef Dominique notice Pablo’s “slightly over cooked” tart

I did my dough in a bowl this time (you’re supposed to mix it on the counter, but I find this creates a huge mess, and you loose some of the ingredients in this mess – in a bowl you don’t loose anything). The Chef asked me to do a double apple compote because he had an extra tart shell to fill – this may have not been his most well-considered plan since I burnt the compote last time, but I got it done no probs. You simply cube peeled Granny Smith apples, put some sugar and a bit of water and sweat them under a parchment paper lid, until mushy (but not too mushy, we don’t want apple sauce), and then cool. A reminder: you use Granny Smith apples for the filling (because they are a bit tart and hold together well in the cooking). You use Golden Delicious to cover the tart, because these are more delicate, sweeter, and will brown nicely. I also used a Julia Child trick – when slicing the apples (1/8 in thick) to cover the tart, I only sliced them as I was putting them on the tart. This allows you to keep the shapes from the same apple together, and so adds to the uniformity of the tart. I slightly over cooked the tart on purpose to get a real nice browning, and then after it had cooled covered it in warm melted apricot glaze. I thought it looked it perfect. So did the chef, he kept it as an example of perfect colour. Linda got the ‘best dough ever’ award. I didn’t taste it, but overheard the chef’s saying how fantastic it was. She did a tiny little extra fraissage (take a walnut size of the dough and smunch it along the counter – this fully mixes the ingredients one last time).

The bread class across the hall "pommading" their butter for croissants
The bread class across the hall loudly “pommading” their butter for croissants
Vitor and Jess pouring their consommes for the chefs
Vitor and Jess pouring their consommees for the chefs

I got a mini-skate today, so my fillets were tiny. I still used the big sauté pan, and got a little reprimand – use the “right vessel” for your work. I cocotted my potatoes pretty well, but still overcooked my croutons (“do zem again, zey are too dark”). But really, once you’re ready to go, the whole skate dish takes only about 8 minutes to do, and still tastes amazing – then again, almost any fish with brown butter, lemon, capers and parsley tastes amazing.

We got a little more info on our final. Apparently when we randomly pick our dish out of a hat, we’re allowed to look up the recipe and write down notes, but then we’re only allowed the refer to these notes during the cooking. Tomorrow, we’re supposed to do our dishes “sans recipe”. Other than the dough measurements, you can pretty well eyeball everything else. Got a 97 on my test, so felt good about that. Forgot to the lemon juice in my Hollandaise Sauce recipe. Dough!