A lot has happened over the past year including the loss of my mother and the arrival of my son. In a moment of clarity what is obvious, life is precious, has an even greater effect on how I spend my time. The age old problem of time working is time away from problem is hard to reconcile.
Although I did not work for long in a restaurant, what has become clear is that restaurant life isn’t for me. If I could, I would be in culinary school forever or I stage at as many restaurants for as many chefs as I could to learn cuisine, technique and about who I am as a cook. A life-long learner, the path to being a chef is not one of glitter and fame for me. It’s simply a goal backed by experience, confidence and a wealth of knowledge.
Over the next few months, I’ll work at teaching at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts while also seeking out events, stages or opportunities in general that are flexible. For now, that’s what is right for me and my family. Anything more or less can’t be considered the right progress for me now.
I only had one class due to a snow storm. The recreational class was great. After leaving, I went home to cook dinner and was tired too. Being on your feet all day and moving around quickly is a lot of work. Office life compared to kitchen life is so different. There is so much more standing and moving in the kitchens which is great and yet it’s sad how taxing it is!
I reached out to Career Services for contact information for graduates that are running private classes as well as for local businesses that might be looking for extra kitchen help. I’m excited to make some new connections, gain perspective from others and to start getting more out of class experience.
The school requires all students to participate in our of class activities ranging from stages at restaurants, volunteering for culinary events or helping out with recreational events among other things. For my first activity, I volunteered to help out with a recreational class on the pastry side on Pies and Tarts. I thought it would be a great review following my class on Pâte Brisée, but as luck would have it, class was cancelled and it ended up being an intro to a rescheduled class.
I’m particularly interested in helping out with recreational classes because after school, I would like to go into teaching myself. I enjoy teaching others and classes are part of a grand vision I have about educating people about food, helping them eat healthier and making a positive impact on society.
I arrived at the school an hour before class and met Chef Elise. She was incredibly welcoming and introduced me to the other two assistants for the day. She had arrived earlier than us and had already started putting things out for the students. We immediately began working to help her out.
Setup was straight forward. I helped measure out some ingredients for pâte sucrée using a baker’s scale. Plus one for new experiences!
With everything measured, I got to watch over the big stand mixer and bring the pâte sucrêe together.
The class was held in the pastry kitchen which is not a kitchen I spend time in. I required a little extra time in terms of finding items I needed. I set out some flour for rolling the dough, aprons and side towels for the students.
The lecture was a brief overview for the students of the dough and the recipes. Chef Elise provided an amazing overview on how to work with the dough, add water and check for doneness all by hand. Each student was allowed to select which recipe they wanted to do. It was briefer that the lectures we normally get in class, but that is understandable. We aren’t going into food history and science here. These people are here for technique and a challenge and to make friends among other things.
As I’ve mentioned before, a new kitchen can be tough. It’s harder when you’re being asked questions about where to find tools and not familiar with it. I enjoyed helping everyone that asked with where to find tools, the best way to measure something out, assistance with the ovens and more. Time went by quickly as I moved from one area to the next helping out. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, but part of teaching is getting questions you didn’t expect.
After class was over I had the opportunity to talk with Chef Elise about the class, the techniques covered and teaching. I asked for her perspective on learning, where to get experience and how she decided to go into teaching. She was very open with her learning process, where she’s worked and suggestions for getting the experience I needed.
Mistakes happen. Students will measure dry ingredients with wet measures and wet ingredients with dry measures.
I really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of class. Everyone was there to learn and have fun.
Some students definitely have the idea of attending school in the professional programs and really enjoy to talking with assistants.
It was tricky to stand over students or around them and not have them feel like they were being judged.
Skill levels vary. Teaching hands on involves adapting to the student skill level.
I’m super happy I got to help out in this class. It was an easier than expected introduction into teaching.
The honeymoon with food is over. We had our first class with Chef Richard and covered a lot of material related to food safety, regulations and how we should think about food preparation going forward.
This class understandably draws lots of groans when it comes up in conversation, and that’s understandable. It’s not a pleasant topic, and yet it’s one of the most important ones that we’ll have to learn about as students. Customers trust food operations with their lives, literally. I hesitate to use a word such as fascinating to describe the class, but it was informative, eye opening and at times overwhelming.
There is a lot to cover in preparation for the managerial exam that is coming up. The biggest focal point was on bacteria, viruses, fungi, toxins, and physical risks and controlling what you can to increase safety.
FATTOM: Optimum Conditions for Bacterial Growth
Food > high in protein or carbohydrates
Acidity > neutral or slightly acidic
Time > cummulative 4 hours in the temperature danger zone
Temperature > in the temperature danger zone (41 degrees F to 135 degrees F)
Oxygen > aerobic or anaerobic growth depending on the bacteria
Moisture > adequate moisture for growth
Key Observations and Learnings:
Look at food through the eyes of a food health inspector. This will go a long way to keeping your customers safe and employing good practices.
Food inspectors are looking for risks. Sometimes Food Quality and Food Safety are at ads. Always go for safety first.
Cold food must be maintained at 41 degrees F or lower
Hot food must be maintained at 135 degrees F or higher (140 in Massachusetts for now)
Ah, a class I was definitely waiting for, where we get to make Pies and Tarts. I love pie! Pies and Tarts are simple and yet require proper technique to get a great end result, a balance between flaky and tender, textures that are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Chef Deb provided a brief history of pie and tart making and specifically Pâte Brissée in Europe and American influence on fillings, preparation and look. We discussed the difference between a traditional American crust, usually made with everything mixed in a bowl and Pâte Brisée (European) where butter is broken into flour. Pâte Brisée is also usually rolled thinner than an American crust. A variant of Pâte Brisée, Pâte Sucrée (sweet version) was also discussed allowing us to compare savory versus sweet products.
Pies as compared to bread, which we’ll cover in a future class, require the control of gluten. Gluten is our “enemy”, as too much will result in tough crusts. Just enough is needed for structure and nothing more.
Chef Deb went over different fats that go into crusts ranging from butter, oil to lard and shortening. Each have pluses and minuses with respect to the end texture and flavor.
We also went over a blanc (blind baking) techniques and when to use them depending on what we’re making, a pie, tart or savory item.
A final key element is the rolling pin and the balance of rolling and shaping vs. overworking the dough. Properly flouring your work area is important and is a learned skill. Too much and you’re changing the ratio of lour to other ingredients. Too little and you might find your dough sticking to your work surface.
Chef Deb gave us a demo from start to finish for mixing ingredients, adding water and rolling that helped round out everything we went over and then set us out to pick recipes and get to work. I selected the Honey Walnut Tart.
For this lab I ended up with a recipe that didn’t call for working with the dough by hand although there were some other components that I needed to work on that were likely going to be challenging for me, caramel and ganache.
I set out my mise for the first part, the dough more quickly this time which felt great. It allowed me to get to work quickly, which was necessary given the timing and components to my recipe.
I started out with my dough so it could be chilled while I worked on other components. As it came together in the mixer it was hard to tell if it was ready or if I needed more water.
The dough seemed dry and I kept adding more water until I thought it was ready for chilling.
As the dough was chilling, I moved on to making the batter for the filling.
The batter called for making caramel, something I’ve seen other classmates make, but I haven’t done myself. As I was making mine, Chelsea was making hers. She was using a brush to wipe the sides of her pot and I wasn’t. Uh-oh. Chef Deb had suggested she do that to stop the formation of sugar crystals which would ruin the caramel last time Chelsea made caramel. I remembered hearing that but didn’t know the technique. Fingers crossed, I moved forward until my caramel started boiling.
I got a brush with water and wiped the sides just like Chelsea was, but I couldn’t get some of the harder chunks to disappear. Chef Deb came over at one point and immediately noticed the sugar crystals starting to form and recommended we add some lemon juice to the sugar water as an interfering agent with the hope we could save my caramel.
Unfortunately it didn’t work as I was too far gone. I had to start over. Chelsea’s caramel was looking great and she carried it over to complete her recipe. As her luck would have it, the cast iron pan she was using for her Tarte Tatin was so hot that the caramel burned and she had to start over.
We both laughed at our fortune, and yet nervously worked on our next batch hoping to get it right. We did prevail and I combined the rest of my ingredients to finish my batter.
I rolled out my dough and placed the bottom into a flan ring which is a ring mold with rounded edges instead of sharp ones. I had to cool down the batter filling first so that it wouldn’t melt my dough.
Once cool, I added my batter to the dough inside the mold, spread it out and then put a top on, and rolled the edges closed. With it ready, I put it in the oven to bake.
Next was the ganache. It was quick and simple to make. With everything mixed together, I pulled it off the heat and left it on the back of the stove until I was ready. Big mistake. With my tart baked and cooled, it was time to pour on the ganache. The ganache wasn’t terrible, but it was grainy, likely from too much heat exposure. Chef Deb gave us a demo on how to easily cover a tart with ganache.
The end result was delicious, although very sweet! We also got a demo on how to decorate a fresh fruit tart.
With one final recipe to go, Chef Deb gave a brief demo on how to spin sugar or caramel with a fork. Pretty cool!
Combined with all of the other delicious items we go to eat, I definitely left class thankful for my stretchy chef pants.
My recipe, Walnut and Honey Tart
Tomato and Eggplant Quiche
La Tarte de Demoiselles Tatin
Fresh Fruit Tart #1
Fresh Fruit Tart #2
Key Observations and Learnings
Caramel requires constant attention to make right
Chocolate also requires attention. Too much heat or activity can result in an undesired texture.
Everyone could have done better with their crust. It’s hard to know what was not done correctly when your crust is baked. Control for variables and overtime improve your technique.
Pie weights and docking your dough are important for blind baking.
What a start to the week. We all arrived around the same time and began to unpack. When Craig took his winter coat off, we saw that he was wearing his Chef’s coat. The remaining 4 of us obviously asked how he got it and if he knew anything about ours. Since Craig is not in the same Baking Basics class as the rest of us on Wednesday, he got his on Thursday. Immediately jealous, I went downstairs to the pantry and storage area right away along with Peter, Jen and Maya to check the status on ours. They had arrived also! We promptly put them on and sat in our seats just in time for lecture.
Chef Eliana was out today as planned and swapped Food Basics classes with Chef Erin. While Chef Eliana was missed, it was interesting to observe another teaching style and and discussion for methods to execute our dishes.
We reviewed eggs from last week before starting our lecture on this week’s topic, soufflés. It was great to tie things in as eggs are a major component of many soufflés. As we went through the egg review and proper techniques including mixing and folding, we touched upon two things that can happen with eggs and/or protein in soufflés, hydrolysis and syneresis. Hydrolysis is the breakdown of protein by water, and syneresis (also known as weeping) is the breakdown of protein and water, generally when too much mechanical action, such as over whipping, has occurred.
Chef Erin discussed the different properties of metal and cooking pots, and how some aren’t good to use because of how they react with the food such as aluminum and acids. Others work really well for the same reach, such as copper with eggs. The challenge is using the right pot for the right application.
We got a demo on the proper whipping of egg whites by hand, something we’d have to do in lab so we could learn how to do it properly. Using a good whisk with many tines made the process easier and we were able to observe the changes easily. It was important to do this by hand, because eggs can be over whipped easily in a stand mixer and if they are whipped too far, syneresis can happen. Chef Joe was asked to find some whites and put them in a stand mixer and let it run for a while. They were beat to hell and we could easily see the difference between the properly beaten eggs from Chef Eric and the eggs in Chef Joes mixing bowl which had water at the bottom.
As the lecture came to a close, Chef Erin talked about using collars on our ramekins so they could be filled to the top and then expose our wonderful sufflés. This was very different than the technique I was shown at Sur La Table and we discussed this. Essentially, if you’re going to go through the trouble of making a soufflé, why hide part of the rise in the ramekin? We ended with a word about folding. Mise and place and timing are important. When the egg whites are whipped, the clock starts ticking to get everything folded and into a ramekin and then to the oven. The longer you wait, the more the egg whites will fall and you’ll miss out on some of the rise from baking.
After our lecture ended, we chose our recipes. I chose the Grand Marnier Orange Soufflé with Grand Marnier Sabayon. I was assigned kitchen cleanup duty which seems like an easy task, but is hard in practice when you’re focused on making your own recipe. Dirty dishes keep coming no matter how hard you try to keep up. Luckily, given the nature of soufflés, we were told to serve them right out of the oven instead of coming up with a service time. This is likely the only reprieve we’ll have from the stress of serving on time.
Mise en Place was fairly straight forward. I was able to pull my custard together and then whipped my egg whites appropriately in a bowl. We did this by hand to avoid over whipping, and so that we could recognize the different stages of egg white whipping. It’s amazing to see how quickly egg whites can go from not whipped to whipped and hold a soft peak. As Chef Erin stated, when the egg whites are whipped, the clock starts ticking. I folded the whites into the the custard and then into the ramekin, then everything went into the oven. I set out to make my Sabayon.
I haven’t made Sabayon before, although I love eating it. I’m glad I got a chance to make it this week. We amped up the wine used for the recipe by finding a bottle from a recreational class that was not fully consumed instead of using a generic white available in the pantry. I whipped vigorously as I brought everything up to temperature and it thickened. Right before pulling it off the stove, I added a bit of Grand Marnier. Just at this time, my soufflé was ready.
My soufflé rose but was slightly overcooked as it was left in too long. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any skewers to test that it was at the French Cream stage, slightly soft in the middle and cooked throughout. This cost me a few extra minutes of wasted time and my soufflé had some cracking on the top.
I had missed the doneness I was looking for. A missed Mise en Place error for sure! Regardless, we dug in and poured in the Sabayon.
My Recipe, Soufflé Grand Marnier
Soufflé de Crevette
Amarene (Wild Cherry) Soufflé
Lemon Souffléd Pudding with Blueberry Sauce
Key Observations and Learnings
Even though recipes call for measurements for things like butter and sugar, that will be used to coat a ramekin, I can save time by using common sense. An exact amount is not needed.
I can still be even better with mise en place. This includes tools I’ll need for execution like skewers, which are not in the recipe.
When making something delicate like a soufflé, timing is hard. You can’t just open the oven door when you want as you might ruin someone else’s work.
Seasoning will be an ongoing learning process.
Teamwork is essential in the kitchen as is some level of selfishness. There is a line between hoarding the tools that you need and sharing with your classmates. I am sure this is magnified in a commercial kitchen.
I’m exhausted. It’s crazy to think and how different life in a kitchen is compared to working an office. I’m on my feet all day and using muscles I probably don’t use very much when sitting in an office. I also realize that I’m learning a lot and think about how much I will continue to learn.
As we students get to know each other better, like any team, the work is starting to gel. We’re quick to shout out to others offering help, notifying everyone about hot pans, sharp knives and help each other out with cooking tasks when a person is in the weeds, needs help plating or really anything else. I now have an email list with both of my lab classes going to share pictures, and to coordinate studying, meetups etc. in the future.
I’m really excited right now, despite how tired I feel. It’s amazing how sad I feel when class is over on Wednesday. Ok, that might be an overstatement, but I can’t wait for the next week to begin and definitely feel like I made the right choice in enrolling in school. This is the most fun I’ve had learning. Did I say I’m excited?
Wow, another amazing seminar. This one was taught by chef Carrie and covered so many factors that go into how we experience a meal and food.
The lecture started off with explaining that there is a misconception that tastes comes from a part of the tongue, when in fact, tastes comes from all parts. Our taste buds have cilia, or tiny hairs that detect food particles. They are tuned to allow us to sense the different tastes. In order for us to taste something, it must be a hydrated molecule. After we continue chewing something in our mouth, our saliva break down food and flavors can change.
We classify taste into five categories:
We experience food through mouthfeel and take into consideration:
Taste & Flavor Profiles
Roundness of Flavor
Depth of Flavor
We spent about an hour going into the specifics which included interactive eating that touched all of the senses. Chef Carrie presented us with cups of food where variables such as salt content, texture, color and more were adjusted for comparison. It was amazing to taste a food item, and then taste it again with a variable changed.
One powerful demo she did, was the “potato chip test” where Richard was blindfolded and then was asked to eat a potato chip he was fed and then guess it’s flavor. The first one was plain which he guessed correctly.
Chef Carrie then pulled out a bag of barbecue chips. She placed a barbecue chip under Richard’s nose and then at the last second pulled it away while giving him the plain potato chip. He guess wrong and thought it was barbeque. It was a great example to show how much smell is a factor in tasting.
Finishing (Plating and Presentation)
So much of what we eat is with our eyes Chef Carrie explained. Colors and textures draw us in. We went into considerations around plating such as:
Setup – placements of items on a plate
Focal points – eye catching ingredients, usually being the money, which is often a protein
Sauces – which add flavor, contribute to color, and texture, and how they have evolved over time
Garnishes – the compliments to food
Interestingly enough, plating has even followed a timeline
Medieval – consisting of large presentations and heavy spicing often to distract from that the food was bad.
Classical – large, but served on platters in the middle split up and served to guests.
Conventional – from the late 60s to 90s, with starches at 10 o’clock, proteins at 2 o’clock and vegetables at 6 o’clock.
Modern – all over the place, with linear or vertical arrangements
Our school is training us in the classical sense and recipes often lend themselves to classical plating although we are encouraged to be creative. I hadn’t really thought about this too much until the seminar.
We ended the lecture going over key points of plating and how to choose the right plate. Blue doesn’t exist in nature so avoid blue plates if you can. When in doubt, choose a white plate which won’t disguise or mute all of the hard work and thought you put into plate design in the first place. Essentially, why spend so much time and energy on a dish only to have a plate take away from it or not highlight the rich colors and textures you’ve created.
The last part of class was an interactive demo in the kitchen where we got to compose a dish starting with an unattractive and messy plate.
We then worked as a group to think about how we could make the dish look nice with the same ingredients.
Key Observations and Learnings
Draw what the dish should look like on the recipe before you start.
White space is imperative. Don’t crowd food.
Never take too long to do a presentation. Food will cool or warm up from the desired temperature. This is more of an issue for hot food
Odd numbers were re-enforced with respect to design and what looks more appealing.
Our eyes and sense of smell have so much to do with how we experience what we eat.
As students, we are required to visit with Jen in Career Services during our first month at school to discuss our aspirations, understand how to use the student portal, understand how to obtain our event credits to obtain experience outside of the classroom and to discuss how we can best use our time in the class to match our goals. The focus of our conversation was matching my out of class event credits with my desire to go into teaching. I’ve always enjoyed learning about cooking, and then passing that information onto others. As a generally quiet person, I can talk for hours and be animated about food in conversation.
Jen suggested getting experience through stages and by helping out with recreational classes. Essentially a stage (pronounced stazhje) is unpaid shift or internship in a restaurant or other food related position where you’re thrown into a full day of a job as an audition or learning experience. It exposes you to different techniques, kitchen environments, teams and styles of food. It is derived from a French word stagiaire meaning trainee, apprentice or intern. The recreational classes will provide me with the experience of observing a class, seeing how technique is taught without being so immersed in it that I can step back and think, and also hear questions that are asked to increase student understanding. Both should compliment my goal of teaching.
This was a really useful meeting, especially as I immerse myself in this new industry, one totally different than Advertising.
I found out that three of my classmates already have jobs in the industry. This is exciting news, but also made me think about getting more “real world experience”. I have a meeting later today with Jen in Career Services and I’ll definitely bring this up.
Class started off with again with a lecture, and then a demo on how to make Crème Pâtissière (pastry cream) and then it’s harder cousin Crème Anglaise which is a base sauce that can be used to create other things like ice cream. They both have the same base ingredients of eggs, sugar, and dairy (milk or cream) along with some salt and potentially vanilla, but Crème Anglaise is considered harder because it is more delicate. It doesn’t contain a starch like flour or corn starch which pastry cream does which acts as a layer of protection for the eggs so that they don’t cook or rather turn into sweet scrambled eggs!
The speed at which we cook some things is important especially when creating emulsions. Cooking something too slowly or to quickly can result in a bad product from separating or burning, poor flavor development and a myriad other challenges. Chef Deb cautioned us when making pastry cream and admitted that over time, mistakes in class will happen and those are good because that’s when we learned. As she stated in our last class, most things can be fixed unless you burn something.
Today I was responsible for three recipes to create one final product, cream puffs. I had to make Pâte À Choux, a Chocolate Crème Pâtissière (Pastry Cream) and a simple glaze made out of confectioner’s sugar and a tiny bit of liquid which in my case was milk.
I was paired with another classmate, Peter who was making èclairs, along with a Coffee Crème Patissière and a Chocolate Glaze. We were paired so we could mix and match flavorings and decoration for our final product.
My other classmates were assigned different variations of Pâte À Choux with sweet and savory treatments. This lab was a bit frenetic as most of us worked on multiple recipes or recipes with multiple components.
I spent a lot of time thinking about my mise en place and making sure I had everything I needed.
Making the choux paste as pâte à choux is sometimes called in English, was fairly easy. It was much quicker than I imagined. I started by cooking my water, butter and salt. It’s important to not take too long so that you don’t lose too much moisture.
When everything was hot, I added my flour and stirred vigorously.
At this point I was cooking out the raw flour taste from my dough. The dough is done when it looks like mashed potatoes. Once that was done, I cooled it down so that I could add in my eggs one at a time and not have them coagulate and be scrambled.
We learned the “spoon test” which is essentially putting the spoon in your choux. If it stands straight up, it needs more egg. If it falls slowly, you have just the right amount.
After it was set, I had to pipe my cream puffs onto a sheet pan. Making them uniform and a good shape was tough and my first ones didn’t look so great. Chef Deb came by and showed me how to improve my technique which did get better as I went a long and got a feel for the pastry bag.
I had forgotten to dorure (egg wash) my cream puffs before putting them in the oven. Luckily, we have everything checked and Chef Deb noticed, saving me some execution embarrassment.
I later had to work on my glaze and my pastry cream. I quickly found out that taking my time earlier, often meant I had to wait for things, or certain kitchen items were dirty and needed to be cleaned as I went along with my recipes. The glaze was super simple, being only confectioner’s sugar and a bit of water. It was the pastry cream filling that was challenging and where I made a mistake. I combined everything i the recipe and brought it to a boil, while trying to manage my heat.
We were told not to cook the pastry cream for too long or stir too slowly as emulsion could separate. My pastry cream began to thinking with more cooking. As things turned out, I became the first class example of what happens when you don’t work with your pastry cream properly as mine separated.
I managed to temper and my chocolate ok and after fixing my pastry cream, was able to mix the chocolate ok and set things to chill. The last step for my recipe after chilling was whipping up some heavy cream to a soft plop stage and folding it into the chilled chocolate pastry cream. I wasn’t sure what soft plop meant, and I had over whipped my cream in my first Food Basics class. Chef Deb offered a demo to the class.
I was confident about folding. I had learned the proper technique last week, although Chef Deb demonstrated it to the entire class this week once the cream was set.
Chef Deb also showed us how to properly fill both the cream puffs and the èclairs.
At the end of class, we got to see another demo. This one was for assembling the cream puff swans which was great as we saw them come “alive”.
This lab was full of challenges and technique. I definitely left happy, knowing that I could practice this at home and refine my technique.
My recipe, Creme Puffs
Cream Puff Swans
Dauphine Potatoes Choux
Petit Choux Hors Dœuvres
Savory Cream Puffs Filled with Caponata
Key Observations and Learnings
I’m slow! I’m the last one done this week.
Timing is important especially when working on multiple things at once. Read the recipes for all of your components and think about how to execute them in order so that they all come together at the end without much downtime.
Fighting for the stove and ovens. Get mise done quick and get your stuff in so you don’t run out of time later!
There is only one bad question, “what do I do next?” You should read your recipes and ask questions then, not while cooking.