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Culinary Arts Project

Mickey Mouse, and the Shape of Things to Come – Charcuterie: Day 48

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Lean meat is often encased in dough (eg. Paté en Croute, or Beef Wellington) to preserve the flavor and moisture. I fluked out and nailed my first beef wellington this summer at the cottage, and you could literally cut the meat with a fork it was so tender.
  • Apparently, hundreds of cats get released at Disney World every night to catch mice. (This is a random fact that Alton mentioned at the party tonight and everyone said it has to be on the blog, so here it is).
  • Club 33 – Apparently this is a club you can join (for $10k), and is the only place at Disney World where you can get a cocktail. (Johnny Depp and Elton are members).

Today was our last day producing ‘family meal’. As a recap, ‘family meal’ is the term used in restaurants referring to the meal that the the staff get fed. At large restaurants there is a chef entirely dedicated to producing the meal for the staff – at smaller restaurants, ‘someone’ prepares ‘something’.

Alton trying his best at making our polenta look amazing
Alton trying his best at making our polenta look amazing
Luis and the inspiring charcuterie display
Luis and the inspiring charcuterie display

I wished we could have ended family meal on high note, but it wasn’t to be. Alton and I were tasked with Chef Ben’s recommended fried polenta. I prepared our prep list and showed it to Chef Karen, our new chef. She said ‘ok’, but I could tell in her eyes she didn’t really believe we could pull it off. She recommended trying it out in a small batch before trying to do it for 200. Alton and I had decided to sauté the polenta and then serve it with a wine mushroom veal stock sauce. In principal this sounded great, but the execution was not so good. In a small sauté pan I managed to sauté the polenta, but when we started trying to do it in the massive tilt skillet, it was a disaster. For the first time ever at culinary school, I thought we were not going to be able to complete the dish. Chef Karen came to the rescue, and said to put the polenta in a very hot oven and brown it there. This worked, and we managed to get it done within 5 minutes of the deadline.

Stew working some dough for the upcoming 'en croute' dishes
Stew working some dough for the upcoming ‘en croute’ dishes
Fois gras, and ....all those other fancy things
Fois gras, and ….all those other fancy things

The highlight of the day, however, was the charcuterie display. Half the class has been divided off producing all sorts of charcuterie, and today they put it on display for all to eat. There was pate en croute, all sorts of cured meats and terrines, chutney, head cheese (we all remember Vitor kissing the head of the pig), and a totally cool gin-and-beet cured fish. Gin and beet? It tasted amazing. We start charcuterie tomorrow – originally I wasn’t all that excited about it, but after seeing the displays, I can’t wait to do it.

Stewart doing quality control on the champagne infused chocolates
Stewart and Ray doing quality control on the champagne infused chocolates
Ray and Jacques at the 'chocolate factory'
Ray and Jacques at the ‘chocolate factory’

The highlight of the weekend was working a 12 hour shift at Jacques Torres’ chocolate factory. Literally a factory in the middle of Brooklyn somewhere. We spent the day packing boxes, packaging chocolate, decorating santas, doing quality control, wrapping chocolate bars, measuring ‘bark’, etc…. Jacques was there with us the whole time. His personality kept us entertained the whole time, whether it was riding around the giant warehouse on his motorized scooter, or telling us stories about how he got the business started, it couldn’t have been a better way to spend a Sunday – and we got chocolate presents to boot!!!!!

The highlight of this evening was our class party. Joanne and Miyako organized a class party at Joanne’s Dad’s restaurant (Monte’s) , which was lots of fun. We got to taste incredible authentic Italian food, lots of reasonably priced wine, and hear some amazing voices sing some amazing songs. I only wished there was a piano there so I could be part of the incredible talent – I can only vaguely remember the beer pong and dancing afterwards. Maybe someone can fill me in.

For the next two weeks our half of the class is now on charcuterie, so I’ve got to write out my recipes for bacon, Paté on croute, Foie Gras, and duck terrine – sounds yummy.

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Culinary Arts Project

Last day with Chef Ben, BBQ Chicken, Potato Salad, Panzanella and a film debut – Day 48

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Make sure to apply potato salad dressing to WARM potatoes, they grab and absorb the dressing much better.
  • Be careful in covering hot food with aluminum foil – this will react with any food that is acidic. Often catering companies put an intermittent layer of plastic between the food and the foil.
  • Don’t throw out stale bread – you can make a Panzanella salad, croutons, or bread pudding with it.

Today was a little bit sad because it was our last day with Chef Ben. So far throughout the various levels we’ve had the opportunity to be taught by a variety of great chefs and personalities, but you definitely develop a different type of bond with your “Family Meal” chef: Yes, he’s still your instructor, but in family meal it’s all one team – there’s an 11.55am deadline and all the food HAS to be ready and HAS to be up to quality, so the whole team is pulling together, including the Chef, and through pressure bonds form. Plus, because we’re given some liberty to bring our own creativity to the dishes (albeit within limits), when you nail it and the Chef tells you that, it feels pretty good.

Chef Ben inspecting the chicken pre-sear
Chef Ben inspecting the chicken pre-sear
Serving up some family meal
Serving up some family meal

But there wasn’t too much time for reflection today, there was a BBQ chicken lunch to prepare and all sorts of various salads. There was also the added pressure that we were being filmed. My friend Frank is filming a pilot for a show about career changers, and I’m one his subjects. He was visiting nyc, so he asked if he could interview me at school, and the school said yes.

Jess and I were on the potato salad, which wasn’t quite as exciting as I was hoping for the big ‘film debut’, but potato salad for 200 has its share of complications. First cooking that many potatoes requires huge vats. We were cooking both Idaho and red bliss potatoes, which cook at different rates, so you can’t cook them together. Also, for potato salad, you have to boil the potatoes perfectly. Too much and you end up with potato mash salad, and too little you end up with grainy potato salad. So when that hugemungous (sp?) vat of potatoes is cooked on point you have to stop the cooking right away – which involves quickly draining out the hot water and dumping in ice.

Megan and her gingerbread men
Megan and her gingerbread men
Alton and Erik on corn duty
Alton and Erik on corn duty

Then, to further complicate things, you put back hot water…..huh?….yes… once you’ve stopped the cooking, you want to keep the potatoes warm, because warm potatoes absorb the dressing much better. The dressing/vinaigrette has its own share of challenges. Jess wanted us not to do a cream dressing (I agree), so we did a simple shallots, scallions, dill, parsley, Dijon, s&p, in white wine vinegar, with canola oil whisked in. While we finally got the seasoning right, Chef then had us taste it in a small bowl of potatoes – totally different – nowhere near strong enough. This was an important lesson we’ve learnt several times: don’t only taste the dressing, taste the dressing on the item to be dressed. We finally got the seasoning right, but it took about 10 different salt/vinegar/oil manipulations.

Breaking news on CNN
Breaking news on CNN
Jess prepping polenta for Monday
Jess prepping polenta for Monday

Nina and Gerardo did a great job on the BBQ chicken. I’m not 100% sure what they did, but it included wood chips, a smoker, a visit to the huge food library to find a unique BBQ sauce, and pre-searing, Alton and Spencer made charred corn smothered in a delicious Cotija maynaise, and Joe made a Panzanella salad (which is a salad made from stale bread, a way restaurants use of getting rid of all that left-over bread). My favourite taste of the line today though (other than Meagan’s gingerbread cookies of course) we’re the roasted celery root. I’ve written about celery root before, and I think it tastes great. I took some home, which I’m going to glaze with a bit of brown sugar and butter. Have a great weekend everyone.

ps: Our gingerbread house display made it into USA TODAY. To see the story click here.

pss: Ray and I are volunteering at Jacques Torres chocolate factory over the weekend in Brooklyn. Should be fun.

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Culinary Arts Project

Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Broccoli Rabe and a mighty fine lookin’ line – Day 47

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Buttermilk is a magic ingredient imho – use it in dredging fried chicken or smelts: buttermilk slightly tenderizes the protein, coats better, and adds a light acidic element.
  • Use buttermilk (or sour cream) in puréed potatoes – it makes them pop.
  • Add cheese rinds when boiling your polenta for added flavor – you can take them out before service.

Fried chicken is always a hit, so much so today that we ran out before we fed ourselves – though the few tidbits I managed to savor tasted mighty fine.

Joanne and Chef Ben ponder the tilt skillet
Joanne and Chef Ben ponder the tilt skillet
Megan, Joanne and Gerardo using the '6 pan system'
Megan, Joanne and Gerardo using the ‘6 pan system’

Today’s fried chicken used one of my fave ingredients – buttermilk. We were riffing of Thomas Keller’s recipe – and Joanne was in charge: dredge brined chicken in flour (seasoned with garlic & onion powder, parika, cayenne, s&p), then in buttermilk, and then in the flour again. You then let the chicken sit for an hour so that the coating sets, this will result in a much crispier fry. Then a quick fry (14min for dark meat, 10min for white), and season with salt. It was delicious. Several classes that had already been sent food, tried to sneak into the line to get some more. Joe put an end to that!

Serving up some rapini
Serving up some rapini on a mighty fine lookin’ line
Alton preparing rapini for service
Alton preparing broccoli rabe for service

Alton and I were on the less glamorous Broccoli Rabe. When we were prepping this yesterday, I had no idea this was what-most-of-the-world-knows as ‘rapini’, so I was all nervous about cooking it…..but rapini?….that’s pretty much a staple in Canada. We got the thumbs up on it today from both classmates and chefs so our approach must have worked pretty well. We heated a 50/50 mix of Canola and olive oil. Threw in crushed garlic and pepper flakes till the garlic started to brown, and then took the garlic out. (If you leave the garlic in it often eventually burns, and you don’t want that taste anywhere near your food). Then in goes the rapini, for 2mins, then out to drain, where it was seasoned with salt, lemon zest, grated parmesan and a sprinkle of lemon juice. The lemon juice and short cooking time counteract the potential bitterness. Placed beside a roasted-tomato-topped polenta, oven-roasted chayote, salads, and fried chicken – the line looked amazing.

Prepping chicken for tomorrow
Prepping chicken for tomorrow
Nina stirring the polenta
Nina stirring the polenta

The chicken breading station was using the ‘6 pan method’. This means each station has a back pan and a front pan: 2 pans for the flour, 2 pans for the buttermilk (or eggs often), and 2 more pans for the flour (or breadcrumbs often). You use the front set of pans to do your breading, and as soon as things get ‘clumpy’ empty your bin and refill from your back pan. This accomplishes several things: Most importantly, by never dredging in the ‘clumps’ you get a much better coating which coats and fries evenly. You also save on ingredients, and you can have your milk/egg safely on ice in your back bin. Also: always use only one hand for wet, one hand for dry.

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Culinary Arts Project

Mexican Family Meal, Chayote, and the Head of a Pig – Day 46

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • A secret to making tasty beef for enchiladas are Ancho chiles and Spanish paprika “La Chinata”
  • Use Meyer Lemons to ‘amp up’ your citronette. Meyer lemons are a cross between a lemon and a mandarin.
  • Don’t use cumin in Mexican food – lots of restaurants use it, but really it’s rarely used in Mexico.
Joe working the tilt skillet with enchilada meat
Joe working the tilt skillet with enchilada meat
Stewart crushin' garlic to infuse the Canola oil
Stewart crushin’ garlic to infuse the Canola oil

Today we served up traditional Mexican fare as family meal. Both Jess and I really had no idea what we were doing with the Chayote – a kinda cucumber/squash that looks like a pear. Chef B said to either roast, or sauté it. We had three huge hotel pans of the stuff, so we didn’t want to screw it up. We grabbed a small sauté pan, threw in some canola oil, onions, garlic, oregano, s&p, and then sautéed a few slices to see what it was going to taste like. Not bad…it had a subtle flavor that worked well. By the time the Chayote was sautéed, the onions and garlic had browned, so we decided we’d do the onions and garlic first infusing the oil, then take the onions and garlic out and sauté the Chayote in the oil. Our idea to brown the onions and garlic first turned out to be a good plan. It was cute seeing little Jess working the humungous tilt-skillet. I really learnt the lesson about properly prepping the food. Because the chayote slices weren’t all cut to the exact thickness, they weren’t all done to the proper doneness. We also poured a ton of seasoning. Chef Ben came over, tasted one, and gave us the ‘sprinkle sign’ – more salt. I can’t tell you how many times during the past 2 months have I heard “more salt”.

Today I ‘worked the line’

Geraldo crushing platains for tostones
Gerardo crushing platains for tostones
Deep fried plantain piece pre and post squishing into Tostones
Deep fried plantain piece pre and post squishing into Tostones

serving the Chayote, while Jess kept sautéing additional batches. I was quickly corrected on the pronunciation from the many Mexicans I was serving. It’s pronounced “Shyotay”. The chef’s usually come behind the line and grab their food. I learnt quickly that because ‘shyotay’ is such a delicate flavor it has to be cooked ‘perfect’ or it’s not so great. One chef came up and touched a thick slice, “not cooked enough”, another chef came up “let me taste it before I take it…… too salty”. Ugh, you can’t win! I was surprised by how many people in line knew of it, but many others didn’t want any, so I offered them one slice to get them hooked, and a lot then asked for more. Chayote is something that I would add as a small side balancing a spicy dish, but not as a main vegetable.

Another cool part of the meal were the Tostones. These are one inch pieces of plantain, that are quickly deep fried, them ‘flattened/smashed’ with a hammer, and then deep fried again. They were delicious.

Emma works the grindr
Emma works the grindr

Half way through the mayhem of putting together the Mexican meal, there was all this ruckus from the normally quiet charcuterie half of the class. They were making head cheese, which is not a cheese, but a terrine made from the many parts of a pig’s head. Apparently all parts of the head are used somewhere in charcuterie except the brain. The question is whether Vitor was using all parts of his head while dancing cheek to cheek with Ms. Piggy!

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Culinary Arts Project

Asian Influences, Lecithin, Xanthan Gum and Togarashi – Day 45

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • The later you add your eggs to fried rice, the ‘stickier’ it will be.
  • The Maitre D’s most important role is to make sure customers don’t all order their food at the exact same time.
  • Yuzu juice rocks!!!!

I was nervous about today, because while Alton and I were only responsible for coleslaw, it had to be Asian influenced – and other than throwing together soy, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and sake, I’m not that familiar with Asian cooking. Since we were using two types of cabbage (green and purple), I decided we would do two different slaws: one green oriented that would be sweet, and one purple oriented that would be spicy, both with the julienned carrots. We had already sliced the cabbage and mixed them, so first on the agenda was separating back out the cabbages and then creating the sauces. We were lucky that it wasn’t that frantic today, which gave us time to keep tasting the sauces till we were happy with them.

Me and my new favourite juice - Yuzu juice
Me and my new favourite juice – Yuzu juice

 

Alton with our two slaws pre-mixing
Alton with our two slaws pre-mixing

For the sweet(ish) sauce, I based it on Elaine’s suggestion on the blog yesterday: we used rice vinegar, Yuzu and lime juice, honey, canola oil, pepper flakes, a few drops of sesame oil, scallions. I thought it tasted great. Chef Ben said, taste it on some cabbage – this was good advice, because it tasted quite different. He recommended putting some soy in it, which I was trying to avoid, because that would make the green cabbage look a little brown, but I did it anyway. Next time, I’d just add salt.

The namasu line
The namasu line
Chef Ben working the fried rice
Chef Ben working the fried rice

For the spicy one: we pureed a beet in rice vinegar (to get some real purple color going), ginger, garlic (raw), red pepper flakes, togarashi spice, lime juice, soy sauce, and canola oil. We certainly got it tasting spicy and yummy, but it really wasn’t sticking to the cabbage that well. We tried some dry mustard, but still no joy. Chef Ben said try Lecithin (a yellow powder), but it didn’t work that well. In our debrief he said that he had meant to say Xanthan gum powder. Both of these are chemical names I’m used to seeing on ingredients, but not in recipes – but apparently chemicals are used in top restaurants. Lecithin and Xanthan gum apparently work as thickeners without affecting the taste. Togarashi is a mixture of spices, which tasted like cheap msg’d spices – it wasn’t that amazing.

Chayote - you learn a new squash every day.
Chayote – you learn a new squash every day.
The charcuterie gang
The charcuterie gang

Also on the line today was stir-fried rice, fried pork cutlets, namasu (pickled carrots and cucumbers), and repurposed beat salad & bean/barley salad. After lunch, we prepped for tomorrow. Here I was introduced to a new squash – a Chayote, that looks like a weird pear, but tastes pretty raw. Apparently it is a subtle flavor, which we’ll fry up and serve with a ‘subtle’ sauce. Jess is team leader on this, so it’s up to her how we’re cooking them.

Off to grab some bread, and then home to write the culinary costing home-test.

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Culinary Arts Project

Meatless Monday, Quinoa Patties, Beet Salad, and Yuzu Juice – Day 44

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Bottled Lemon/Lime juice is cloudy because it has been pasteurized – this changes the flavor profile, to something much less desirable – yuck – use fresh lemon/lime juice.
  • Eggs in Japan have a much shorter expiration date – because Japanese use a lot of raw eggs in their cooking, so they need to build in a wider margin. (courtesy of Miyako).
  • During a fire, before going through a door touch the door to see if it is hot – but use the back of your hand. Because if you scorch the front/palm of your hand you can no longer use your hand, but you can if you scorch the back. (courtesy of the fire marshal at the fire drill).

The ICC follows ‘Meatless Monday’ – originally driven by an attempt to get Americans to eat less meat, Meatless Mondays further gained traction from environmentalists (fewer methane producing cattle required), and activist vegetarians (e.g. Paul McCartney). Now it’s a global phenomenon.

Alton at the tilt-skilled grilling quinoa
Alton at the tilt-skillet grilling quinoa
Jess preparing our beet salad.
Jess preparing our beet salad.

For us today, this meant lots of veg protein dishes – namely fried Quinoa Patties (boiled quinoa, cheese, onion, garlic, chiles, bread crumbs, Salbitxada Sauce), two lentil preparations (Jess and I did a roasted beat and lentil salad). There were also delicious roasted butternut squash, fried potatoes and fruit salad – so the plates were looking pretty full and worked well together. The big revelation for me today was Yuzu juice. The acid for our vinaigrette was Yuzu & Lemon juice. I find Yuzu hard to describe…. sweet lemon?…but amazing delicious. Apparently the Japanese have several of these types of fruits that aren’t widely yet known in the West, which hopefully we’ll get to cook with. Most of today’s recipes came from Yotam O.’s vegetarian bestseller “Plenty More”. At one time, I was a bit worried that we weren’t getting enough ‘international’ exposure, but we’re getting our share here in ‘family meal’ for sure.

benphone
Chef Ben makes an important call to Commissioner Gordon
The line looked pretty good today
The line looked pretty good today

It was bit hectic today. We had a fire drill (see main pic) in the middle of it all, so suddenly everyone was a bit behind. The Quinoa Patties were the eye of the needle today. Alton was on the tilt skillet, frying the patties and we were getting them ‘to the line’, ‘just-in-time’.

After lunch we had our regular debrief, and then it was off to prep for tomorrow. Alton and I are doing a coleslaw, which sounded a bit boring, but we’re tasked with spicing up with some Asian sauces (either something peanutty, something with a fish sauce, or spicy, or something new). Chef Ben has left it up to us, so we’ll be up late into the night figuring out what to do. We have a list of ingredients: Togorashi, brown sugar, peanuts (for roasting), black and white sesame, soy, rice vinegar, limes and herbs….sounds like fun… if anyone has any ideas I’m all ears.

The crew pounding pork for tomorrow
The crew pounding pork for tomorrow
L'ile Flottante at Cherche Midi
L’ile Flottante at Cherche Midi
Stewart on the mandolin
Stewart on the mandolin

Several of us went to one of Keith McNally’s restaurants on Friday called Cherche Midi. Miyako knew the chef so we went back to the kitchen and spent a few minutes with him. He had more tattoos than I have freckles. The food was amazing, and their crème anglaise around the “Ile Flottante” would definitely have passed our Level 2 practical with flying colors.

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Culinary Arts Project

75 Liters of Chicken Stock, Roasted Chickens, and a little less Chaos – Day 43

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • The best way to reheat potato puree is the microwave (I know, a sin for most cooks).
  • In a fast-paced kitchen, no bowls unless you need to toss or whip. They waste too much space – use square boys.
  • Tortilla chips are simply tortillas, cut into 6ths, and deep fried.
Joe's herb beds
Joe’s herb beds
My stock vat
My stock vat

Today was breasts, thighs, heads and shoulders above yesterday in terms of organization and ‘reduced mayhemness’. Team leaders had their Prep Lists, we all knew a little bit more about what needed to get done, and we know the kitchen that much better. There was quite a lot to do, we were serving 50 Roasted Chickens (Joe – Chef de Partie), Glazed Carrots (Joanne), 60 pounds of Pureed Potatoes (Spencer), Greek Salad (Nina). Alton was sous-chef, Erik worked ALLLLL day on pre-prepping butternut squash, and I had 75 liters of chicken stock to produce. Oh, and at the last minute Chef Ben reminded me that I had agreed to do a bean puree and tortilla chips…..right…..I had totally forgotten about that, and have no idea how to make a proper bean puree OR tortilla chips.

The gang had trussed and brined the chicken overnight, so Joe’s team put them on huge herb beds in massive roasting pans, and put them in convection and conventional ovens. As an experiment they also basted some and some not. Since the chickens had been brined, the basting really didn’t affect the taste/moistness that much, but the convection oven produced a better chicken. Counter-intuitively, the non-basted chickens were browner (apparently the more moister the cooler and less brown). These were all quartered and served on a cutting board. Looked real cool.

photo 1 (59)
Joanne at the Tilt-Skillet with her carrots
Erik and the butternut squash for tomorrow
Erik and the butternut squash for tomorrow

Joanne’s glazed carrots were done in the huge Tilt-Skillet. This is a massive bin that is has a skillet at the bottom, but you can tilt it to drain off fat, or simply to empty it. The skillet was filled with water up the half the carrots, butter, cumin, s&p. Honey was used as the glaze. The potatoes were a nightmare. Megan and Spencer were cutting, ricing, mixing potatoes all morning. They did one with bacon, and one without for the vegetarians. It got top marks though.

Spencer and Megan in potato mayhem
Spencer and Megan in potato mayhem
Chef Ben and Joe discuss important matters
Chef Ben and Joe discuss important matters

I started to panic about this bean puree/tortilla thing, but what can you do. I grabbed the beans from yesterday, threw them in a Robo-Coupe, fried up some onions and garlic and threw them in, added some chipotle peppers, cilantro, some raw garlic, salt, and ground it all up. Chef said it was too salty, so I added lemon juice. Came out pretty good eventually. Now the tortilla chips. How on earth do I make those? DEEP FRY TORTILLAS came the answer from someone. So Alton got me tortillas, I chopped them into sixths, and suddenly was Mr. Deep Fryer for 30mins as I made tortilla chips. I let my stock making duties slip a bit during this panic, but throughout the day I was skimming the vat of chicken stock, and then finally drained it and cooled it over ice. Total result = 75 liters. A quarter for us and the rest for Level 1s and 2. NOW I know where are all that stock came from for our previous classes.

The line looked amazing. I have yet to figure out how the fruit salad gets on the line, but it was there.

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Culinary Arts Project

Hanger Steak, Tortillas, Roasted Corn Slaw and Prep Lists – Day 42

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Order “the line”: 1) starch 2) veg 3) protein. By the time people get to the protein, they’ve filled their plates, and so don’t take too much expensive protein.
  • Cafeteria-style restaurants always put the desserts first, so people take them, which they wouldn’t if they were the last item in the line.
  • You only really need to rinse rice for sushi quality rice preparation. Today there was no difference between the rinsed and un-rinsed rice.

Today was more hectic than yesterday. Yesterday, Chef Ben more or less just told us what to do. Today, he is starting to offload the thinking to us (which may not have been his most well-considered plan!) I was sous-chef for today, which meant I more or less filled in wherever needed, handled extra supplies, and did the Chef’s bidding. 4 of us were Chef de Partie, which meant coming to school with a fully thought out “Prep List”, recipe, and plan. Let’s just say, we’re in the learning stages of how to do that. This helped contribute to the mayhem, but also there just was a lot to do.

photo (20)
Joe double fisted on the onions
Checking the salsa verde
Checking the salsa verde

Even though we had butchered all the hanger steak (which seems to be all the rage these days by the way), there was incredible amount of food that had to be prepared in two hours. A bucket of carrots julienned, one red salsa from roasted tomatoes, one green salsa from green things, deep fried fish, a fresh salad, a roasted corn salad, a triple been over drive dish, fruit salad dessert. Lots and lots of prep, plus we were down a man as Gerardo chopped through his thumb. (He’s ok). We all aren’t fully organized and methodical in our prep, but we’re learning. Apparently we are to be like “ninja ballerinas”!

Spencer, in charge of operation cole slaw
Spencer, in charge of operation cole slaw
Choppin' roasted corn
Choppin’ roasted corn

We had some left over chicken parmesan from yesterday, so this was chopped up and reheated. I took it out of the oven and tasted it – it tasted a bit dry, so I took it to the Chef and said I think this needs a little something. He took one bite, and said “chuck it all”, I said are you sure, we can put some butter on it, so he took another bite, and said…..”chuck it all”. Into the garbage went two hotel pans (1ft by 2ft pans) of chopped fried chicken. Eventually, everyone got their dishes ‘on the line’, and the Chef shouted – where are the tortillas? We had every ingredient ready, EXCEPT THE ACTUAL TORTILLAS. I can’t tell you fast we got those tortillas on the flat top.

In our post mayhem debrief, we all had to admit that having the Prep Lists detailed and ready to go would have made things smoother, insured we had all our ingredients, made things easier to delegate, and would prevent last minute forgets.

Dalal, over there in charcuterie - doing something fancy
Dalal, over there in charcuterie – doing something fancy

Our class is divided up into two. Half of us our in “family meal” and half of us are in charcuterie, but we’re all still in the same kitchen. There are some really interesting items happening over there (I saw a Pate en Croute with smokestacks) but I really can’t tell you about them till we swap over there in two weeks.

After class I had an appointment with Gina, the externship counsellor. She is the one who helps us all get externships at an appropriate restaurant. I brought my resume, which she totally re-arranged (needless to say my financial experience wasn’t the first things Chef’s want to see), but I’m doing a bunch of volunteering for different culinary events which help put something relevant on there.

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Culinary Arts Project

Family Meal Craziness and a Jacques Torres Buche – Day 41

TODAY’S TIDBITS (Also see Jacques’ below)

  • If you rip basil ‘along the grain’, then you can do it a long time before service, because it doesn’t tarnish. If you rip it against the grain, it will wilt quickly.
  • Fry Rainbow Chard stems separately from the leaves – unless you want to overcook the leaves and undercook the stems.
  • Pasta water should be salted, but not too much, as the pasta absorbs the equivalent of its weight in water (and salt). You should use much more salted water for vegetables because they really don’t absorb that much of the cooking water.

Today was the first day of “family meal”. In restaurants, family meal is the meal that the staff eat. At our school, it’s the meal EVERYBODY eats – all 200 of us. I was theoretically in charge of one of the main dishes (chicken parmesan) so I got to the kitchen an hour early this morning just to get ahead of the game. Of course, the reality was that we just all did what Chef Ben told us to do, but soon we’re going to be fully responsible for getting that food ready for 200.

Stewart manning the tilt-fryer
Stewart manning the tilt-fryer
Stewart and Alton, on the bread line
Stewart and Alton, on the bread line

It didn’t take long for reality to set it. I walked in with my “prep list” prepared with tasks all assigned to people on my team. Chef Ben politely said that because today was our first day, just do what he tells us. “See those sixty eggs over there? Crack ‘em for the chicken battering…. And the race was off… soon we were prepping for 200 chicken parmesans. After flour-egg-bread crumbing the chicken, it was my job to man the ‘tilt-fryer’ and shallow-fry all the parmesan, which then got some parmesan, and a second cooking in the oven, covered with fried herbs, sauces and on to a serving plate. When the frying was done, I hopped ‘on the line’ and started to serve the chicken. This was the first time I actually looked up and lo-and-behold there were 5 other courses generated by our class (2 pastas, some chard, a salad, etc…).

The charcuterie crew
The charcuterie crew
Putting the 'parmesan' in chicken parmesan
Putting the ‘parmesan’ in chicken parmesan

I was amazed how much we had all got done. When the lunch rush was over, I thought, ok, it’s over for today, we can relax a bit….but no….after a 20min break, we had to start the prep for tomorrow – hangar steak for 200….so it was time to put our butchering skills to work, and off we went. At 2.45pm we have to stop at whatever stage we’re at because we have to have the kitchen clean by 3pm. We got accolades that our family meal was really good, so that was cool! Personally I thought we could have done a better job on the chicken – next time!

Jacques getting ready to 'roulade' his genoise
Jacques getting ready to ‘roulade’ his genoise
Buche de Noel - Torres style
Buche de Noel – Torres style

But the day didn’t end there. Famed chocolatier Jacques Torres was giving a demo after school which I really didn’t want to miss. Jacques ‘Mr. Chocolate’ is one of the top pastry chefs in the world, did a long stint at Le Cirque, is a dean of the school, and now owns 7 chocolate shops around town. He gave a demo on making a Buche de Noel, which brought back memories of our family Christmas, because we’d have one every so often. This was a rolled genoise (infused with sugar and rum), with chocolate pastry cream on the inside and coffee buttercream on the outside. The amazing thing about his demo was that all the techniques we had just learned, he was doing them…. He even did the “dipping your fingers in the boiling sugar to test it” thing. I asked several questions, of course.

  • JACQUES TIDBITS
    When you cool a cake, flip it over onto the cooling rack, but leave the parchment paper on for the cooling. This gives you a moister cake.
  • Use Belgian chocolate.
  • Generally avoid using yolks when making buttercream, it’s heavy enough, so using only egg whites makes a much lighter cream.
  • Cover your piped meringue shapes with a damp towel to softly curve the top, and remove the “pipeing Hershey’s kiss top”
  • Bring eggs to room temp by putting them in tepid water – saves time.
  • When whipping a meringue, don’t keep the speed on full all the way till the end, or you’ll lose some volume.
  • Use a slice of your ‘buche’ on top to construct a branch cut formation.
  • Use cornstarch in your crème patissiere rather than flour – it gives a better consistency and taste.

It was quite a day: from fry cooking to asking Jacques Torres what type of liqueur works best with chocolate….what a day!

ps: The answer was a bit boring: rum, and grand marnier.