Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Exam (It's GOT to be BYOO-ti-fullll)

Today began with an short-essay exam, the questions of which we already knew; it was less than easy to pound through thus. Afterward, we jumped into making a sautéed NY strip steak with pan sauce, blanched green beans and pomme persiade (pan fried cubed potatoes with garlic and parsley). Unlike Chef M, who assigned everyone a start time and a presentation time, Chef C just let us start and sign up for presentation whenever we liked.

In other news: Beans. The trick is to boil them in salted water for no more than 30 seconds, then rush them into ice water, then put them immediately onto paper to dry. Then throw them into a hot pan with clarified butter and salt to reheat, bada bing, bada bean boom.

The steak sat in a pan with clarified butter after being trimmed of fat and rubbed with salt. About 3 minutes on one side without moving, 2 minutes on the other without moving, then sat on the rack until the end. In the pan I fried up shallots, deglazed with red wine, then tossed in some veal stock to reduce. Strained for a fancy looking sauce.

Made a careful medium (1/2 inch) dice of potatoes, and added extra clarified butter to the pan to get a pan-fry going instead of a sauté. The potatoes were placed in cold salted water then brought up to a boil, then immediately taken out and dried on a rack. Thrown into the hot butter, and consistently moved until evenly golden brown. Drained the fat, threw in some cold whole butter, then garlic and parsley for the last 30 seconds (any longer and parsley will brown).

Plated the beans and the 'tatoes. The steak was quickly heated in the bean pan and plated north of the pool of sauce. Went to a private office with Chef C, where he graded. Steak was perfectly medium rare, potatoes golden brown and hot, string beans bright green and snappy but cooked. He asked me if I had any complaints, and I simply said it was a bit rough having chefs changed mid-mod with such different personal styles, and left it at that. I was eating by 10am, we were out by 11am.

The class had a good vibe, as no one had to work with each other and everyone worked at their own pace. Of course, Speedy was dead last. So endeth module 2. Next Monday, a new chef and a new direction.

Tomorrow night, I'm assisting Chef C in a "Signature Dishes From Classic American Steakhouses" recreational class. I do hope Dirty Kim comes, it's more fun with her. My team will be doing two dishes from Peter Luger: Tomato and Vidalia Onion Salad with Steak House Sauce Dressing and German-Style Hash Browns, as well as a skirt steak with red wine mojo and orange salsa. Damn, I've been eating a lot of steak lately.

Students are starting to go trail at restaurants to figure out where they might extern. I feel like such a wet noodle, just not sure if I want to swing it in a restaurant or go whole hog into media somewhere....or do the resto informally, and the media formally....

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, good granola with good milk, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5

AM TASTING: 10am, strip steak with pan sauce, pomme persiade, sauteed string beans, 1 bowl, hunger 3/5

AM SNACK: 11:30am, piece of coffee cream roll, piece of lemon cream roll, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
Dirty Kim & I snuck into a pastry class room to eat some student work.

LUNCH: 2:30pm, 1 slice streetza, .75 bowl, hunger 4/5

DINNER: 7pm, 3 ears corn with buter & salt, homemade pizza, water, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Sandwiches (Let Them Eat Tea Sandwiches)

Tired from the long day yesterday, but still got to school on time and had a productive day. After a short lecture about the nature of the sandwich, we got straight into it. Dirty Kim and LI Lolita did grilled chicken sandwiches and curry chicken salad, Dirty Dave and I went after the grilled ruben, smoked salmon tea sandwiches and Deviled Quail Egg Canapes.

Today, the last day of lessons before our exams for the module tomorrow, Chef C found his inner meany and started yelling a little bit at the other two groups, who were lagging and arguing with each other and misidentifying lettuces and breads, therefore coming up short on many of their recipes. Our team just floated back and forth, basically just doing the jobs in front of us and occasionally one asking if the other needed anything. Makes for a smooth, fun class -- but a boring blog-entry.

Putting together the Deviled Quail Egg Canapes did get me thinking. Here is a super-delicate finger food, with specialty ingredients, that only appeals to a small minority. Last night, at the James Beard House, the people for whom we were cooking were almost uniformly white, upper-class, or in the food media realm. The people in my program, and working in the kitchen last night, were almost uniformly multi-racial, young, poor, and struggling to get a foot in. Are we being trained to be servants for the rich? Is this a meaningful pursuit? Or just the necessary first step to get somewhere else?

The smoked salmon tea sandwiches (rye bread smeared with chived-creme fraiche on both sides, one layer of smoked salmon, cut into crustless rounds) generated silly amounts of waste, which was quite delicious but quite ridiculous. The Ruben was fun, and Dirty Dave even brought his own bacon fat to braise the kraut in -- that's a symptom of why it's great to work with people who really a) are prepared and b) want to be there as opposed to Explorers or blabber mouths. I assisted LIL on assembling the fussy curry-chicken salad canapes, tearing bibb lettuce to fit the breads (again, waste) and DK had her grilled chicken sandwiches with funky aioli on lock down.

We were the first to get our stuff out to the table, and the Rubens were the first sandwich to disappear. Chef C gave a lively little talk about team work, which made me think that by culling DD, DK, LIL and myself into one team, kind of let the rest of the class sink a little bit. Not that I'm complaining...if I ran a business, I'd cull us and fire everyone else.

Tomorrow, tests.

After class, I went back to the Fancy Food Show to do another shift with the D'Artagnon people. This was the last few hours of the show, and Chef Lee was stubble faced and a little beat up, but still cranking. The energy of the entire place was a bit low, and there was another student and a woman who taught rec classes in LI helping out. I got to wander around for 45 minutes during and ate a lot of random crap again, and stuck around to help Lee break down the kitchen onto palates. He invited me to assist him travelling around NJ cooking game meats for various producers and clients, but I had to say no due to school and work obligations. Still, a good contact to have for the future.

After that, went back to school and sat in on a demo of entire side of beef be butchered. After quite an involved day, it was nice to sit for 3 hours and just be passive. I wasn't so much listening as just watching the master butcher's very precise, silky-smooth knife handling as he simply drew his blades across the carcass and perfectly seamed meat would just fall away like magic. Having done some of this kind of work in class, I can appreciate the years of experience in his hands, how he makes something extremely difficult look ridiculously easy.

Today was the first day that I did not eat a meal -- just kept on eating where I was, first at school, then at the show, then samples of all the different parts of the cow at the demo. Not the healthiest, but the most, ummm, educationalist.

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, good granola with good milk, .5 bowl, hunger 3/5

AM SNACK: 10am, cuttings of a smoked salmon tea sandwich, .25 bowl, hunger 4/5

AM TASTINGS: 11am, half a grilled ruben, quarter of a grilled chicken sandwich, cheesy shrimp toast thingy, quarter of a freshly ground chicken burger, water, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5

PM TASTINGS: 2:30-3pm, random Fancy Food Show samples including cookies, chocolates, juices, a shot of Margarita, a gluten-free small pizza slice, etc., 2 bowls, hunger 3/5
I really gravitated towards sweets.

EVENING TASTINGS: 8-9pm, slices of several different parts of the cow from bottom round to prime rib, all grilled with salt and pepper, .5 bowl, hunger 3/5

Monday, June 30, 2008

Salad (No, not the particularly healthy kinds)

After a brief, rote lecture about the different kinds of salads (side, composed, grain & bean, potato, fruit) and the method of dressing (nothing swims), Chef C went and chose teams rather than depend on chance. I got matched with Dirties Kim & Dave and Long Island Lolita, who I sit with at morning lectures anyway. There were three sets of recipes for three different teams, but I wrote down all the recipes in my cards so I was set.

After working the Fancy Food show yesterday, going to go to James Beard House tonight and all the other things I'm doing, I'm starting to wonder if I'm going to learn more outside the classroom than in. With DK, DD, and LIL, there really is no need for a team leader -- everyone tells everyone what they are doing, everyone is competent, and everyone jumps in on each other's recipes when they got their own on locked down.

DD took the mixed grain and bean salad, a boring mix of pasta, chickpeas and lentils barely saved by an interesting hazelnut vinaigrette. LIL went on the Cobb Salad, basically a bunch of complementary piles of ingredients laid over a bed of greens, and DK went and made mayo, roasted and cut chickens, and assorted things to support the team.

I made American Potato Salad, which I actually kind of despise -- always too much mayo, always hard boiled eggs hidden in a way you can't really pick them out. Placed waxy red potatoes in cold water, brought to a simmer until tender. Cooled, sliced, mixed with fresh mayo, diced onion, celery, and hard boiled eggs; seasoned with mustard, salt, and an extra helping of Worcestershire sauce. Everyone was saying how rocking it was, even Chef C said it was perfectly balanced, which is nice, but it just tasted like starch floating in mayo to me.

If I were rewriting the recipe, I'd dice the cooked potatoes, halve the mayo, replace onions with scallions, replace eggs with firm tofu (same consistency as hard boiled egg whites), and replace the mustard with a pinch of cayenne. Maybe a squirt of honey, too. Or crumble in some honey-bacon. Damn, July 4 is almost here, maybe I should kick it then.

Our team whipped off a Cesar salad at the last minute, as the dressing just called for dropping stuff in the robo coup, tearing up some romaine, and dressing some bread cubes in oil, salt, and grated parmesan before sticking in the oven for a couple of minutes. While the other two teams struggled with each other, all three of our dishes plus and extra was ready and out on the presentation table.

Chef C gave a little moral-boosting talk about team work, then we dug in. Funny thing about team work, it works best when everyone on the team rocks hard -- there is no space on a good team for a Dora the Explorer, no amount of team work is going to make that work. If we had same teams today, I was planning to take the leader role and basically try to separate DtE from the rest of the team by having her work on one recipe for the entire time, and let her sink or swim on her own .

Tomorrow, sammichez! Wednesday, the practical and written exams for the end of the mod.

During the last hour, an externship advisor pulled each student out one by one to talk about The Future. I had spoken with her before, but I sat down just to check in and tell her everything I've been doing -- and so far she seems to think I'm doing everything right. As Norbit came out of his time, I overheard him saying, "Everyone in my group hates me!" Uhhhh, he he he.

Spent my afternoon and evening assisting in the kitchen of the James Beard House with visiting chef Michelle Bernstein and her 6-member team from Miami. It was really cool seeing a well-run team crank out 100 appetizers, 100 pastas, 100 firsts, 100 mains and 100 desserts within 2 hours. It was a lot to take in and digest, perhaps more on this later.

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, good yogurt with honey, vanilla, cashews, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5

AM TASTING: 11am, caesar salad with croutons, tabouleh, various potato salad, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5

PM SNACK: 1:45pm, 20oz gatorade, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5

PM TASTINGS: 8-10pm, watermelon & tuna ceviche with truffles, truffled fresh pasta with gremolata, prime rib with truffles, truffled french fries, french toast fried in olive oil, water, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Weekend Report (Toquin')

How often do you see busts sculpted in solid hummus? On Sunday, I went to the Fancy Food Show at Jacob Javitz and sampled some great products (who knew that two juices I despise, mango and carrot, would taste so great together?) while others just tasted like toothpaste water.

I arrived at 8am as a volunteer in the open kitchen of D'Artagnan on the floor of the convention. At first I was a bit concerned, as the chef was running around freaking a bit because he didn't have everything and was just figuring where everything was, but soon he got it in order, a few more students arrived, and he became much more laid back and on the ball. I was given a toque to wear, the tall kind of chef's hat that one expects, for the first time in my life. The four hours flew by in a hot second, and we were just starting to crank out appetizers, samples, and formal plates for the V.I.P.s when my shift was up. They were really cool and gave me a goodie bag that included their cookbook and an Amex gift card. I'm going to rearrange my schedule and volunteer for them again on Tuesday -- good people, good product. Wonder what I could do as an extern for them...

After spending a few hours wandering around the floor (Paul Prudhomme lost a million pounds! Fried cheese is delicious! Most foods marketed as 'healthy' don't taste very good!) still wearing my chef's whites and toque -- several vendors called me 'Chef' and chatted with me about their products -- cool, but I felt a little fraudulent.

Hauled ass by bicycle to Williamsburg for the Unfancy Food Show, where friends with beers greeted me with open arms. About 15 booths in a small backyard beneath the Willamsburg Bridge, some really good Bronx-made veal and foie pate. In particular, talked to the peeps at a booth for Tastebuds, an informal social network for foodie-leaning types, gonna check out their thing at some point

Just chilled after Friday night's rec class. Took the mountain bike up to Tarrytown, skipped going out to a shmancy restaurant and just read in bed with the Wifey from 5pm till sleep.

BREAKFAST: 8:30am, school-made Israeli couscous, 1.5 bowls, hunger 4/5

SNACKS: 11:30am & 1pm, 1 homemade power bar each, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5 Keeping calorized while on the mountain bike between Yonkers and Tarrytown.

PM SNUNCH: 2pm, 1 slice streetza, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5

PM SNACK: 4pm, homemade chocolate soy icecream, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
Even though Lady Wife had lots of sweets at a bridal shower earlier in the day, when she saw me take out the ice cream, she flipped and ate a double portion. Oddly enough, she felt ill after and we cancelled our reservation at a nice restaurant later in the evening. Everybody comment and put the shame on B!!

DINNER Pt 1: 5pm, large green salad with Italian dressing, small amount of low salt corn chips, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5

DINNER Pt 2: 8pm, singapore chow mei fun, shrimp toast, wonton soup, fizzy grape juice, 2 bowls, hunger 4/5

BREAKFAST: 6:30am, large portion of chocolate homemade icecream, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5

AM TASTINGS: 8am-noon, foi gras, foi truffle mousse, hotdogs made of duck, buffalo, beef and pork, duck and venison bacon, sausson sec, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
While helping at the D'Artignon booth.

PM TASTINGS: noon-2pm, lots of different chocolates, juice concoctions, cheeses, weird meats, a beer, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5
At the Fancy Food Show

PM TASTINGS: 3-4pm, veal-foi pate, ice cream, chocolates, a beer, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
At the Unfancy Food Show

DINNER: 5:30pm, shrimp and grilled veg tacos, a beer, 1.5 bowl, hunger 4/5
Mexican in Williamsburg.