Week 2 – Summary

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?

Week 2 – Seminar – Plating & Presentation

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.

Lecture

Tasting

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:

  1. Sweet
  2. Salty
  3. Bitter
  4. Sour
  5. Umami

We experience food through mouthfeel and take into consideration:

  1. Smell
  2. Taste & Flavor Profiles
    1. Low Notes
    2. Middle Notes
    3. High Notes
    4. Roundness of Flavor
    5. Depth of Flavor
  3. Textures

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.

Apples, Caramel and Salted Caramel

Grapefruit

Tonic Water

Vinaigrette

Boiled and Savory Rice with Mushroom and Soy Sauce

Mushroom Soup

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.

Potato Chip Test

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.

Potato Chip Test

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:

  1. Setup – placements of items on a plate
  2. Focal points – eye catching ingredients, usually being the money, which is often a protein
  3. Sauces – which add flavor, contribute to color, and texture, and how they have evolved over time
  4. Garnishes – the compliments to food

Interestingly enough, plating has even followed a timeline

  1. Medieval – consisting of large presentations and heavy spicing often to distract from that the food was bad.
  2. Classical – large, but served on platters in the middle split up and served to guests.
  3. Conventional – from the late 60s to 90s, with starches at 10 o’clock, proteins at 2 o’clock and vegetables at 6 o’clock.
  4. 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.Plating and Presentation

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.

Plating Demo

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.

Messy and Poor Plating

We then worked as a group to think about how we could make the dish look nice with the same ingredients.

Composed Dish

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.

Week 2 – Meeting with Career Services

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.

Week 2 – Baking – Pâte À Choux

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.

Lecture

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.

Chef Recommended Books: Flour by Joanne Chang, How to Bake & The Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri, Baking with Julia by Julia Child and Dorie Greenspan, Baking by Dorie Greenspan, The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg

Lab

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.

Pâte à Choux Mise en Place

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.

Making pâte à choux

Making pâte à choux

When everything was hot, I added my flour and stirred vigorously.

Making pâte à choux

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.

Making pâte à choux

Making pâte à choux

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.

Making pâte à choux

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.

Piped pâte à choux for cream puffs

 

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.

Piped pâte à choux for cream puffs with dorure (egg wash)

 

Baked Cream Puffs

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.

Making crème pâtissière (pastry cream)

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.

Making crème pâtissière (pastry cream) - breaking

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 Puffs with Chocolate and Simple Glazes

Èclairs

Eclairs with Chocolate and Simple Glaze

Cream Puff Swans

Cream Puff Swans

Gougère

Gougère

Cheese Beignets

Cheese Beignet

Dauphine Potatoes Choux

Dauphine Potatoes Choux

Dessert Beignets

Dessert Beignets with Sour Cream Orange Sauce

Petit Choux Hors Dœuvres

Petit Choux Hors D'œuvres

Paris-Brest

Paris Brest

Savory Cream Puffs Filled with Caponata

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.

Week 2 – Food Basics – Eggs

Due to some class changes, we’ve dropped to five students now. This is awesome from the perspective of student/instructor ratio, meaning we now have more individualized attention, but difficult because there is more work to do to get all the recipes done, while also keeping up with kitchen assignments.

We already knew this class would be tough. Eggs in food are an important subject and proper cooking and technique are crucial. Eggs, their proper use and technique are a foundation for cooking and the success of a recipe. Hell many oldschool chefs audition new cooks by having them cook an omelette. The recipes for today’s class also looked heavy so we expected to enter into a food coma after our family meal.

Lecture

Our lecture started off with a discussion of chickens, their breeding environments and egg laying. We also discussed properties of an egg such as cooking times and how they should look as well as their major parts (shell, albumen and yolk).

Eggs can come in a variety of sizes, from largest to smallest, jumbo to extra-large to large to medium to small and finally peewee (also known as brighten or pullet). Recipes generally call for large eggs unless otherwise noted. We also discussed egg grading, the coagulation point for proteins when cooked (very important for sauces and other delicate cooking procedures) and the special properties that make eggs a magical substance for cooking.

This discussion had a major emphasis on emulsification (permanent, semi permanent and temporary) and factors we should consider for success, along with foaming and then the mother sauces. For our sake, the Mother Sauces are Mayonnaise, Hollandaise, Bechamel, Veloute and Espagnole. Methods for cooking eggs were also discussed. All of the information was a lot to take in, but what was really on everyone’s mind was the application of knowledge in our lab to come.

Lab

Today I had kitchen management (red box) duty. Essentially I had to gather ingredients from the pantry and ensure everyone had what they needed for their recipes.

For a recipe, I was assigned Grilled Asparagus with Poached Eggs and Orange Dill Mayonnaise. When it was I assigned to me, I cringed a bit because asparagus isn’t my favorite, and mayonnaise can be tough to make right with respect to doing it by hand and getting a good emulsification. Since I was poaching eggs, Chef Eliana wanted me to try out a few other methods for cooking eggs like Sous Vide (french for under vacuum) and Hard Boiling. I was definitely excited about Sous Vide using the immersion heat circulator. I had never used one before and had only seen them on TV!

Eggs in Immersion Circulator

As we cooked we were determined to keep up with the dishes. Having worked in the kitchen before, we all felt a bit more confident in how to get setup and start working. We were quicker to get setup and have our mise checked. It’s amazing how much our pace picked up and how the energy increased in the kitchen as a result.

I started with my Sous Vide eggs. Normally, you would vacuum seal a food product before immersing it in water, but eggs, our magical food product already come wrapped in a handy shell. The thermal regulator was set to 62.5 degrees Celcius and I set my watch for 50 minutes. It couldn’t get any easier than that.

I moved on to making my mayonnaise. Even though the recipe called for canola oil, to keep the texture light, I talked it over with Chef Joe, and we opted for olive oil. The risk was that we’d have a green mayonnaise, but it called for herbs and since I was serving it with the asparagus, I figured the color would be ok. I thought the olive oil would add for a nice flavor. The method for making mayonnaise by hand calls for adding a tiny bit of oil at a time to the eggs.

Starting Orange Dille Mayonnaise

Chef Eliana suggested that we add any flavoring ingredients like herbs and shallots etc. at the end, so we can easily tell if our emulsion is coming together. This was good advice as mine wasn’t.

Orange Dill Mayonnaise Emulsifying

 

We looked at it and she suggested I continue whisking it a bit more to see if the emulsion would come together before I added more oil. After a few minutes, things looked better, and I continued adding more oil.

Whipping up Orange Dill Mayonnaise

Once the oil was incorporated, I added in my flavoring ingredients and set out to poach and hardboil eggs.

Poaching was fairly easy as was making the hard boiled ones. My challenge came when Jen, our expediter for the day asked for timing confirmation. We had agreed when we would all be ready during the middle of class, although it was feeling like crunch time now. I definitely started feeling stressed, not knowing how I would plate my eggs three ways, and grill off my asparagus in time. I didn’t follow the golden rule of thinking about plating and timing before I started cooking and I was about to pay. Thankfully Jen helped me setup my deviled eggs so that I could pipe and season the yolk back in. At the last minute I decided to grill off some orange slices to go with the asparagus and found myself almost throwing my dish together to serve on time. I could hear Chef Eliana speaking loudly from the dining area “Where’s the food guys? Get it on a plate. You’re late. Time to serve!” What a rush.

All told, we were late with service by two minutes from the time we quoted Chef Eliana at the beginning of lab. Not bad, but we still can do better. The presentations looked really nice this week even with our tense ending. We have our seminar on tasting and finishing on Wednesday and have been told that after it, we have no excuse for poor execution with respect to presentation. Yikes! We can only continue to improve of course! Anything else would be disappointing.

Everyone’s dishes came out really well and I can see that we’re really starting to gel together in the kitchen.

My Dishes, Grilled Asparagus with Poached Eggs and Orange Dill Mayonnaise, Deviled Eggs, Sous Vide Slow Cooked Eggs

Grilled Asparagus with Poached Eggs

 

Deviled Eggs and Orange Dill Mayonnaise

Soft Cooked Eggs

Roberta’s Eggs

Roberta's Eggs

L’Omelette Nature

L’Omelette Nature

Savory Waffles with Piperade and Scrambled Eggs

Savory Waffles with Piperade and Scrambled Eggs

Crêpe Quiche Cups

Crêpe Quiche Cup

Bread Pudding with Lemon Rum Sabayon Sauce

Bread Pudding with Lemon Rum Sabayon Sauce

Eggs en Cocotte

Eggs en Cocotte

Family Meal

Eggs Family Meal

Key Observations and Learnings

  • It’s really awesome to know that a chef will be in the kitchen as we cook. This is much different than reading a recipe at home and then attempting to cook on your own. If something goes wrong, ad this does happen, someone is there to help.
  • Timing is difficult for us and when times change, it’s hard to recalculate when your dish will be ready
  • The stove is tight! Even with our small class, we have to fight for the stove.
  • Chef Eliana encourages us to be creative with the recipes. If we think of a change, we have to commit and go for it!
  • Again, think about how the food should look before you start cooking. Last minute changes are panic inducing and might not work out.
  • For timing, think about how long it will take to plate, cook and work backwards. Add 15 mins as a buffer for mistakes or anything unplanned like waiting for an oven. Use that estimate to provide a time for plating to the expediter.
  • Making mistakes was exciting in a way. I learned why something bad happened, how to recognize it before it was not fixable and most importantly how to recover.

Week 1 – Summary

I did it. I survived my first week. It’s probably too early to formulate deep thoughts or opinions and yet I haven’t been this excited about school or learning before. Everyone in my classes is motivated and excited and the energy shared between us is great. Having Baking and a Seminar on the same day makes for a really long day and yet I’m glad to have it this way though so I have more free days even though I did enjoy going to school this week. There is so much to learn ahead, it seems overwhelming to think about being tested on our knowledge at some point. On to next week!

Week 1 – Seminar – Knife Skills

Tonight we finally got our Chef’s knife! Our instructor for the seminar was Chef Jim. Student knife kits come with a paring, boning, bread knife and steel, but the Chef’s knife is only provided during the Knife Skills seminar. The reason for this is because we get to choose the one we want; students aren’t issued one standard knife. A chef’s knife is very personal and must feel right in their hand. Our options were 8” wide or narrow or 10” wide or narrow. We have two 8” ones at home, so I opted for the 10” wide. Beyond learning basic cuts that we’ll need, I came out of the seminar with some interesting things to consider.

Lecture

Chef Jim encouraged us to consider that while the knife of course is an amazing tool, it should be used wisely. For instance, when cutting we should ask ourselves “What is the end goal?”, “What should this look like?”. This seems obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said. This is similar to other statements from Food Basics and Baking, but the context is different. For instance, if potatoes are being cut for mashed potatoes, then we can work quickly and not worry so much about how they look. If we’re cutting a julienne or brunoise at a 5 star restaurant, then precision really matters. If we want a crisp French fry, the size and shape of the batonnet matters. Also we must always remember that uniformity will aid with even cooking times. Lastly, as we make smaller cuts, we’ll extract more flavor and our ingredients will cook faster given the additional surface area and reduce mass for each item. This is something we can control with our dishes and recipes.

Chef Jim also demonstrated the proper way to take care of our knives (Western-style knives). A sharp knife is a safe knife as it is said in the kitchen. A knife that is well taken care of, should last a very long time and even outlast it’s owner so it can be passed down.

Hands-on Lab

Knife skills ended up being fun, although I know the feeling was shared by everyone that the skills are something that we’ll be working on for the rest of our lives just as we will with all cooking.

On the plus size, Chef Jim, took our batonnets of potatoes and demonstrated the proper way to make french fries, by frying them twice, first on low heat to cook them through, and then on high heat quickly to get a nice crust on the outside. Making french fries this way allows the potato to cook all the way through the first time around without burning the outside before the inside is even cooked.

French Fries

Being a double day with my lab in the morning and seminar at night, I am definitely tired! That said, I am also really excited and can’t wait for class again next week (Food Basics – Eggs, Baking – Pate Choux, and Seminar – Tasting and Finishing). I’ll have a lot to practice and read up on until then.

Key Observations and Learnings:

  • My julienne and brunoise as well as other cuts need work. A lot of work!
  • Proper cutting is more important than speed. Speed will come.
  • We are training our hands to work with our knives and creating muscle memory. We must focus on technique now so that we don’t develop bad habits.
  • The more you cut and chop, the more you are breaking down your food item. If you see green or other colors in your cutting board, you are seeing flavor that you are losing. Don’t over cut, chop, mince.

Week 1 – Baking – Fruits & Spices

My Baking class is slightly different than my Food Basics one. We have more students which is great because the ones that aren’t in my Food Basics class also have varied backgrounds. My Baking class is in kitchen C, in the basement with Chef Deb and an assistant, a recent grad named Sherry.

This class started off with some housekeeping items as well, but not as many as we had Food Basics. Chef Deb gave us some quick things to keep in mind.

  • Almost everything can be fixed unless you burn it.
  • We’ll experience less creativity at the start of this program while we learn the basics. Classic recipes will be executed based on how they “should” look.
  • “If you’re working messy, you’re cooking messy”.

We also went over some quick baking basics to keep in mind before the lecture.

  • Don’t separate eggs with the shell. It’s sharp and can break the yolk. We are to use the 3 bowl method we learned in Food Basics to prevent egg white contamination. This is key for success with whipping egg whites.
  • When using salt, Kosher salt is for savory food. Pastry uses table salt.
  • Always use a double boiler when melting chocolate.

Lecture

Lecture was really interesting. I like the science behind cooking which is one of many reasons why I enjoy baking. We covered the properties of fruits, and proper storage as well as interesting facts about how the sugar added to frozen fruit protects it’s structure when it defrosts, and it’s not really for the flavoring.

Color, protecting your food from oxidation, selecting optimal products and flavor were also discussed. I enjoyed seeing the fruits and smelling spices that were passed around as well as learning about their origin and use.

Fun fact: Successful poaching requires sugar. For instance, when poaching pears or other fruits, cooking breaks down the cell walls. Sugar replaces the cell walls so that the fruit can maintain it’s structure and not fall apart. Acid helps as well and that’s why poaching usually happens in an acidic liquid like wine. Health conscious people can’t just cut the amount of sugar used for poaching from a recipe as sugar does more than sweeten the pears. I guess that’s another case for moderation.

Chef recommended books: CookWise & BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking with Over 200 Magnificent Recipes by Shirley Corriher, On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, I’m Just Here for the Food: Version 2.0 & I’m Just Here for More Food by Alton Brown

Lab

For lab I was assigned Peach Fritters with Spice Infused Whipped Cream which sounded great of course because they are fried and have whipped cream. Yum. As I read through this recipes I realized that both the fritter batter and the whipped cream needed resting time in the fridge. This meant that I had to stop half way through the fritter recipe, start the whipped cream and then come back to the fritters to cut the peaches. I’m glad I was a little more thoughtful with my recipe reading that I was in Food Basics this week. My recipe called for whipping egg whites into a soft peak stage and then folding them into my fritter batter just before frying.. Chef Deb was more than happy to verify that my eggs were whipped the right amount before moving onto the proper folding technique. She did a quick demo for me of the proper procedure for folding and then set me loose, making sure I kept up the correct motions. This is a technique that won’t be covered until next week, when we do Pâte à choux, but I am lucky enough to get a first glimpse. It will come up many times throughout the program including Soufflés in Food Basics. Frying the fritters took way longer than I expected and it was hard to tell when they were done. Even harder was dropping them into the hot oil without getting burned all while making them a nice shape!

Peach Fritters

It was hot work! They were finished off with some powdered sugar and plated for service. It was a lot more work than expected, but they were really flavorful and light.

My Recipe, Peach Fritters

Peach Fritters Servedd

Poached Pears with Caramel Sauce

Poached Pears

Fruit and Spice Granola

Fruit and Spice Granola

Bananas Foster

Bananas Foster

Blueberry Cobbler

Blueberry Cobbler

Passionata Smoothie

Passionata Smoothie

Hum-zinger

Hum-zinger

Grilled Chicken Breast with Spiced Kumquat Chutney

Grilled Chicken Breast With Spiced Kumquat Chutney

Mango-Tomatillo Salsa

Mango-Tomatillo Salsa

Guacamole with Homemade Tortilla Chips

Guacamole and Fresh Tortilla Chips

Fried Plantains

Fried Plantains

Prosciutto and Brie Sandwiches with Rosemary Fig Confit

Prosciutto and Brie Sandwiches with Rosemary Fig Compote

Key Observations and Learnings

  • Powdered sugar is not sprinkled on like Kosher salt on a steak!
  • With more students in the class, getting the recipe you want is likely going to be harder than Food Basics.
  • We must be precise. It’s hard to keep your area clean and things setup properly with more people in class.
  • Read the recipe over and over! Measurement and timing are important. Recipe times are guides, not absolutes.
  • Our eyes like odd numbers. When plating, set things out in odd numbers.

Week 1 – Food Basics – Vegetables and Herbs

Today was my first day at culinary school at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and it was awesome! Food Basics, the savory portion of the culinary program will be in kitchen A for our class. Our instructor for Food Basics is Chef Eliana and we have an assistant, Joe, who is a recent grad. The class is on the small side with 6 students. I’m looking forward to interacting with everyone as we have very different backgrounds and long-term goals.

We started off with a few “housekeeping” items as she explained what we should expect, how classes will be structured. We will be learning through recipes that apply to the topic or technique the class is focused on. While each student will be assigned a recipe or to work on a couple as a team, we won’t be able to make every recipe ourselves unless we do additional work to study outside of class. Chef Eliana was quick to point out that the recipes matter less than technique. The recipes are simply a basis for learning. If we don’t get to practice a technique in class, it will come up several times in recipes and demos.

Each class going forward will start with a review of the previous class, a lecture and then we’ll move onto the kitchen and cook for our “lab”. The class ends with everyone sitting down to eat at a “family” meal, where we get to test everything that was made, critique what we liked and didn’t like, the flavors and textures we noticed and what we observed about ourselves that we would like to do better or what we feel we did well. The Chef instructors will also provide feedback to us and the class overall. Let’s get on with it!

Lecture

As the lecture started and we went over general items, I took note of many key things that I’ll keep in the back of my mind throughout the semester.

  • Take pictures of your work and classmates’. You will need pictures of your food for a program portfolio and pictures for others in case they aren’t able to get a picture before service.
  • Mise en place will save you. Mise en place is essentially your prep work and setup to get ready to cook. If you don’t get yourself setup properly with ingredients sourced and measured along with the correct tools, you’re in for some trouble down the road.
  • Wash all of your vegetables. Don’t believe the pre-washed label. You’re responsible for what you serve.
  • Some sinks are for washing hands, some are for dishes, some can be used to wash food. You must be careful to use the right sink.
  • Sharp items to be washed go in the “sharps” bucket. Nothing sharp goes in the sink.
  • Steel you knife before each class. Your knives are essential kitchen tools.
  • Think about the end product before you cook.
  • Do not read recipes at the stove. If you are reading, you aren’t paying attention to what is being cooked. You should have reviewed your recipe several times to know what tools and ingredients you will need, how it will be plated and what the dependencies are.
  • Recipes are not as important as technique.
  • Every day we will work on our timing and communication. Working together as a team is what makes a kitchen work.
  • Over communicate in the kitchen. Warn others of hot items, knives coming through, ovens being opened. Don’t get hurt and don’t hurt others.
  • Food will be evaluated every time we cook. We will sit down to a meal together and critique each other and the Chefs will critique us.
  • Think about plating from day 1. We eat with our eyes first. If we make a mistake, “rebrand” it. We are in the business of selling and if something tastes good and uses proper technique, that matters most as students.
  • Use the appropriate sized plate for food being presented.
  • Hot plates are for hot food and cold plates are for cold food.
  • Our meal table must be set properly with forks, knives, spoons, and napkins in the right place.

We moved onto our main discussion and talked about some general concepts around food, cooking and presentation. Who knew, I would take so many notes on vegetables and herbs!

I enjoyed learning about how meal compositions are changing and moving away from being meat centric. We went over vegetables by their botanical categories, discussed parts of a plant and how they translate into what we call vegetables versus herbs and spices and what we actually eat. We also discussed the how some vegetables are treated like fruit and how some fruits are handled like vegetables as well as components of color, oxidation, nutrition and proper storage.

Chef Eliana described cooking as problem solving, noting that we will never have perfect conditions. Recipes are guides, not law. We must use judgement as we develop our skill.

For this class, the recipes had us employing different techniques including blanching and boiling, steaming, baking and roasting, grilling, sauteing, and sweating.

The end of the lecture focused on herbs, their proper use and storage and the differences between dry versus fresh herbs with respect to their taste and potency. We then tasted some raw herbs, described their flavors and their textures before moving into the kitchen.

Herb Tasting

Chef Eliana closed with a statement, saying we should “cook with intent, attention and always with love and affection. These are words to live by in the kitchen and with those words, we were off!

Chef recommended books: Ideas in Food by Alex Talbot and Aki Kamozawa, The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg , Ratio by Michael Ruhlman

Lab

In the kitchen, everyone is given a task in addition to cooking their recipes which is either a kitchen duty or to support someone else. My job today was to check the stock items to ensure everything was at the right level. If anything was missing or needed refilling, I had to take care of that by visiting the pantry. Recreational classes take place over the weekend, and the kitchen can be in an unknown state with respect to ingredients. Today I only had to get more olive oil, salt and red wine vinegar. Other roles include kitchen management & cleanup, and being an expediter and I’ll get to play all of them in the future. We were warned to keep up with dishes so that when we were done, we didn’t have a huge amount to wash keeping us in at the school longer. We’re responsible for keeping the kitchen moving in all aspects.

As for a recipe, I had the pleasure of being assigned Chef Eliana’s least favorite, Old-Fashioned Grated Sweet Potato Pudding. The texture of the result from the recipe is something we discussed before I entered the kitchen. I read through the recipe quickly and began working on my mise en place hoping to get things setup properly. We must have our “mise” checked before we can cook.

I measured and portioned out everything I needed and got to work. After getting my station checked, Chef Eliana gave me some suggestions on how I could alter the recipe for better results which I gladly accepted. One of them included cutting my sweet potatoes into a large dice and putting them on a sheet pan to bake in the oven for a few minutes. This would soften and brown them and provide more flavor as well as a better texture. This was an early sign to all of us that changing the recipes was ok. In what seemed like no time at all, Maya, who was assigned the task of Expediter was asking me when I would be done. I had to do some quick calculations and then gave my best guess.

While my sweet potatoes were in the oven, I worked on a shared recipe with Peter, an Herbed Frittata. I got the mise ready and checked as Peter was working on his Gazpacho. Even though I thought I had a lot of time, the clock was ticking fast and I had to finish up the Sweet Potato Pudding to meet the time we had set for service with Maya. I kind of panicked and had Peter help me finish the recipe while I went back to finishing the pudding.

Herbed Frittata Cooking

 

I had misread my recipe earlier and miscalculated the time for baking. I took the sweet potato out of the oven, let them cool and opted to change my cooking vessel from a regular 9×9 suggested in the recipe to some large ramekins which I thought would look nicer and hopefully cook faster! The problem was finding two identical ramekins that would be big enough, which I luckily found in another kitchen.

Near plating, I decided to make some whipped cream from scratch to go along with the presentation. I was totally winging it here without a recipe or ratios. As people walked by from other classes, they were quick to give advice, some that was conflicting. Unfortunately, when Chef Eliana came over to check my progress, I was told that I over whipped my cream into butter. It’s funny because I couldn’t tell, but I started over again and achieved a much better product.

Peter and I finished the frittata in the salamander (a professional kitchen broiler) and put it on a pizza peel for serving minutes before service time.

Herbed Frittata in Salemander

 

Amazingly we all finished on time and sat down to a great meal. The last few minutes felt tense, but we all breathed a sigh of relief as we took pictures of the final products, and served ourselves.

My Recipe, Old-Fashioned Grated Sweet Potato Pudding

Old-Fashioned Sweet Potato Pudding

Shared Recipe with Peter, Herbed Frittata

Herbed Frittata

Gazpacho

Gazpacho

Fresh Green Bean Salad with Basil and Tomatoes & Garlic Basil Dressing

Fresh Green Bean Salad with Basil and Tomatoes

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

Hungarian Mushroom Soup

Pasta Primavera

Pasta Primavera

Baby Beet Salad With Mint and Tarragon

Baby Beet Salad with Mint and Tarragon

Family Meal

Vegetables and Herbs Family Meal

Key Observations and Learnings

  • We managed to get food out on time which apparently has never happened.
  • We totally failed at dishes and were left with a huge pile to clean.
    Dirty Dishes!
  • It’s nerve racking to cook in a new kitchen, but after we set out to work the nerves settled.
  • Close the oven quickly after you put something in so you don’t drop the temperature. Convection ovens cool down much more quickly because the fan is blowing air around.
  • Don’t panic. Just ask for help from a classmate.
  • Time disappears when you’re busy
  • Read your recipe fully until you know the steps well.
  • Even though our class is small, we’ll be pushed to do most if not all of the recipes. Small class size is a blessing and a curse.
  • Critiquing others’ work was fun and informative. We all had different points of view, likes and dislikes.
  • Being critiqued by my classmates and the Chefs was constructive with lots of encouragement. We survived our first day.

First Post, Chef in Training!

Hello, and welcome. I created this site to document my study and progress towards earning the title of Chef. My love for cooking has often meant that I am called “Chef” in some form or another by family and friends which is fine, and yet it’s a title that I don’t feel I deserve yet. I know that I have a long way to go before I am deserving to be called one.

If you came here by clicking on a link from my other food blog, Culinary Agoge, you know that I’m going to culinary school at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in Cambridge Massachusetts. If you got here by other means, then thanks for dropping by! To quickly recap, I’m currently enrolled in the Culinary Certificate Program, although I am seriously considering continuing on and graduating the school after completing the full Culinary Professional Program. I’ve made it through orientation and am looking forward to embarking on this journey as well as sharing my experience attending a small and independent culinary school and what I am learning as I make it through the program.

Cambridge School of Culinary Arts Building

In addition to documenting my experience, I hope to keep things interesting by relaying key observations, facts and tips. This experience should be life-changing while also potentially weight changing if all the stories I’ve read are true. I’m curious to see if I will pack on any weight as an occupational hazard. Hopefully I can keep up with exercise during the week!

If you’d like to learn more about my self-study journey so far, the application process and decisions that went into applying school, my learning out of class or anything else, check out my blog, Culinary Agoge.

I will be attending school on Mondays and Wednesdays. On Mondays I have my Food Basics class and Wednesdays I have my Baking class and then a Seminar at night for a total of about 19 hours a week. I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves and start my first week’s classes (Food Basics – Vegetables and Herbs, Baking Basics – Fruits and Spices, Seminar – Knife Skills).

Lastly, check out the summary page I created that shows the full program at a glance, with links to the blog posts as I write them, documenting my full school experience.

Stay tuned and happy eating!

Eric