Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Hot Damn, It's a Parsnip

Parsnips and celery root – my first experience with both. And surprisingly, a positive one at that! I made a beautiful vegetable strudel out of them this evening. A couple of layers of phyllo dough wrapped around this delicious vegetable concoction turned out to be quite a professional looking dish. It reminded me why I’m going into debt for this school. Although I didn’t get a perfect score on my strudel, it looked and tasted good enough to serve to my fam and friends. Watch out folks – I’m cooking parsnips…and you’re gonna have to eat them!

Mmmmm, Corn

Last night we began vegetable cookery, and we kicked it all off with the most delicious corn I have ever eaten. If you are a fan of corn, you’ve got to try this:

Sweat some mined shallots and garlic in a little butter until no longer crunchy
Remove from heat and let this mixture cool
Chop up some fresh parsley and tarragon
Build a compound butter by mixing together butter, cooled shallots and garlic and herbs
Meanwhile, cook fresh ears of corn in boiling, salted water
Once cooked, remove from water and cut kernels off of the cob
Stir in some of the compound butter until melted and serve

This dish will definitely be added to my Thanksgiving menu. Not necessarily good for you, but oh so gooooood!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Stock + Rice = Bisque

Friday night's class introduced us to the method of making bisque. The classic, French method requires the following two ingredients:

Seafood, most commonly, crustaceans
Cooked rice

Without these two ingredients, it just ain't a bisque. You create the base of the bisque with a stock made from the shells of the crustacean du jour. Once the stock is created, you blend it with cooked rice. The starchiness of the rice serves to thicken the seafood stock. Finish it off with a touch a cream, a nice garnish, and the bisque is served.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

All Things NOT French

No stock, no cream soup, no consommé, no fancy garnishes, just good old comfort food. For breakfast, I whipped up some fresh hashbrowns, sautéed some onions, and scrambled in a couple of eggs.

Top it off with a little Tabasco and garnish with cheese. Now that’s what I call fine dining.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Professional Comparison

On a daily basis, my chef instructors (one of who I’m certain was a drill instructor in a previous life) stress the importance of professionalism in the school environment. Having worked in a couple of professional environments myself, not to mention graduating from a well respected university, I think I have a decent feel for professional. That being said, let’s do a little analysis:

Chef Instructors say professionalism is:
-Short, short nails: get humiliated by having to cut your nails to the quick in front of the entire class
-Line Up: stand in front of your stove and undergo a white glove inspection to evaluate your cleaning skills
-Screaming: get screamed at for anything and everything, including going to the restroom without permission
-Questions: have a damn good reason for asking a question or risk snide looks and blatant disregard
-Name Calling: get used to being called a dumbass

I have experienced professionalism as:
-Tolerant of questions, learning and growth
-Praise for a job well done
-Pointers on how to avoid future failures

As week two of this course is nearing a close, I have failed at my main goal – to not let this environment prevent me from learning and enjoying this experience. Instead, I’m starting to think being a chef is more like Hell’s Kitchen than Paula Deen’s breakfast table. Complete bummer.

Monday, April 17, 2006


Day 6 was all about Hollandaise. Last week we worked with a partner on a couple of days. Mine was nice enough, but didn't really like to share the spoon or stovetop. I didn’t feel like I was getting enough hands on experience, so I was looking forward to a new partner this week. Today turned out well. While I am very serious about getting everything out of class, I also like to have fun. Luckily, my new partner does too.

Hollandaise and five of its derivatives that we made today are extremely labor intensive. It’s basically a mixture of egg yolks and clarified butter that has to be continuously whisked to create an emulsion. In our thirty minutes of whisking, we managed to light a towel on fire and catch an uncontrollable case of the giggles. Our scores weren’t perfect, but a day of making extremely difficult sauces was lightened by laughter.

Tomorrow we start making soups. After days of stocks and sauces, we are all looking forward to making dishes that people actually eat.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Brown Sauce and Human Flesh

Tonight we made brown sauces. The high point was making a Bordelaise sauce with poached bone marrow. I’d never seen bone marrow before, much less chopped it up and added it to a sauce. Very interesting, but psychologically I couldn’t get past the mental thought of eating goop sucked out of cow bones.

The um-okay moment came when Chef Instructor, while making Sauce Robert , told a little anecdote about the sauce. Apparently, when pouring Sauce Robert over meat it takes on the flavor of human flesh. Now who the hell would actually know this?

My “um-okay” turned into a curious desire to find out more. After a few Google searches, it turns out there is something behind all of this. Apparently the Sleeping Beauty fairytale (the part not show in the G-rate movie version) indicates that her mother-in-law despised her and hired a hit man to kill her so she could feast on her flesh. The hit man falls in love with Sleeping Beauty and decides he can’t kill her. Instead, he kills a lamb, covers it in Sauce Robert, and viola, mother-in-law thinks she’s chowing down on Sleeping Beauty.

Maybe if Dahmer knew how to make Sauce Robert, a few lives could have been saved.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Béchamel – Mother Sauce Numero Uno

According to Chef Instructor, tonight was our first “real” day of class. I guess that was because we were doing something more than chopping carrots and watching stock water boil. Our assignment was to create one of the five French “mother sauces”- Béchamel. Out of that mother sauce we were required to produce four “daughter” sauces – Crème, Nantua, Mornay, and Soubise. Besides learning how to make a shrimp paste and sweat onions, my shining moment of the night came when I was the only one in the class to receive a perfect score on a sauce. Now that’s worth cutting a finger for!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Let’s Get to Slicing and Dicing – Fingers and Food

Today was day one in the kitchen, or “lab” as they call it at school. This 5 hour class started out with a LOOONG introduction of the chef instructors’ expectations regarding attendance, dress code, cleaning, etc. Usual first day stuff. I was a little caught off guard because the whole introduction was intended to stress the need for us to dress and conduct ourselves in a professional manner. That I get. What I didn’t get was why the chef instructors were laying out these expectations with the abundant use of expletives. Not that I’m offended by such words (they are essential to my vocabulary), but I don’t usually associate them with professionalism.

Following the intro was an hour long demo on how to chop, dice, mince, julienne, tourne, chiffonade and perform various other knife cuts. After the demo, we were turned loose with an onion and potato, 2 shallots, 3 carrots, 4 mushrooms and our shiny, new knives. We had 2 hours to churn out 10 uniquely cut veggie products. You start the night out with a grade of 20. Points are deducted if your station is messy, if your plate presentation is poor and most importantly, if your knife cuts are inaccurate. And by inaccurate I mean, when the chef instructors bust out the ruler (oh yes they did) and measure your cuts, wrong is wrong. There went my points….

I’m a perfectionist. I will spend hours medium dicing a carrot if I have to, just to get it right. But 2 hours is all I had. As I went to present my plate for grading, I was embarrassed, disappointed and ultimately defeated. My cubed carrots looked more like rectangles, my 7 sided potato only had 6 sides, and my fluted mushroom…oh, I can’t even go there.

I’d like to say that I survived my first day in the lab unscathed. I’d be lying if I did. I was the second (of three) to slice open a finger. Top of my left thumb knuckle – almost to the bone. I started sweating heavily and nearly passed out. After the bleeding finally stopped, chef instructor 1 checked it out….”You may need stitches, but probably not.” I made a decision – NOT.

As I sit here with my bandaged up thumb and a hot cup of tea, I am starting to wonder…if the first day went this bad, what does that mean? That the worst is over or the fun is just beginning?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Lemon Cream Sauce Revisited

Last night I whipped up a quick pasta dish using the aforementioned lemon cream sauce. After adding the juice of a couple lemons to the pan and allowing it to evaporate, I dumped in a couple of cloves of chopped garlic with some olive oil and sautéed for a couple of minutes. Then I added heavy cream and brought it up to simmer. Right before serving, I tossed in a handful of fresh, chopped dill. It was delicious poured over penne pasta! It was supposed to have grilled chicken too, but that didn't quite work out. Maybe next time.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Evil Thoughts

My dear friends R and M sent me a lovely collection of postcards as a cheer me up gift. I have yet to personally thank them for the laughter the postcards inflicted and the warmth their friendship continues to instill upon my life.

With phrases like, "Sorry I painted the word 'Twat' on your garage door," I don't know how you couldn't laugh. And I'm sure all of you know at least one person you'd like to send this postcard to! If not, you are kidding yourself, don't work in corporate America.

Check out David Shrigley's work and maybe you'll find a postcard to send to the one you love (or hate).

R and M - I miss you both and thank you for thinking of me.

Lemon Cream...


So, on Friday, we were studying seasonings and flavorings. Chef Instructor suggested heating a sauté pan over medium heat and adding the juice of a lemon and waiting until it completely evaporates. Once evaporated, pour in heavy cream. Ultimately you will get a cream sauce infused with leftover lemon oil absorbed by the sauté pan. Sounds delicious, no? C.I. suggested serving over a nice white fish such as Sole or Tilapia. I hate fish, so how about I serve it over a nice hunk of mozzarella cheese instead?