Tag Archives: School Seminars

Week 3 – Seminar – ServSafe Class 1

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)

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.



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


Tonic Water


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 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.


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.