I trimmed the string beans with my new luxuriously long chef's knife, put them into rolling salted boiling water, then into an ice bath behind me. That could be held until ready to sauté, which takes 3 or 4 minutes. The broth got on the fire, and I cut a round of parchment to fit in the pot that would hold the fish under the liquid. The veal stock was put into a nice small warming pan to reduce. Mushrooms thinly sliced, shallot minced, fish portioned into three manageable pieces.
Canola in 2 sauté pans, fire. Fish dropped into broth, covered with parchment then put on the lid -- low simmer. Rubbed sea salt into pork, then into oiled pan to brown. In bean pan, threw in shallots to soft, a little salt to help it, then the mushrooms. Turn pork, browned nicely. Drained beans, threw them in pan, snap crackle. Pork onto drying rack with towels underneath to let the meat rest. Drained off some oil, keeping brown bits. Threw in shallots, soften, hit it was a splash of sherry. Flambé for a second, then reduce to dry. Then added reduced veal stock, then let reduce more. Shook the beans around, hit them with a tablespoon of good quality butter. Tasted. More salt. Tasted. Dropped in the last of the stock to steam up and cook the beans a little bit more. Tasted, done. Spooned out fish, cut to test, well-done like B wanted. Plated beans and fish, presented to the wifey. Plate more beans with the pork, top with the well-reduced pan sauce. The pint of stock yielded about 2 tablespoons of thick, delicious gravy.
I try to imagine what this meal would have been like without my experience at culinary school. I would have pan-fried the beans in sesame oil and lots of garlic with the idea of being 'Asian', and the dish would have tasted like sesame oil -- not beans. Garlic would have burned or gotten crunchy, adding a musty overtone to the proceedings. Fish, would have done like my mom's, put under the broiler with butter and minced garlic. Would have been ok, a little bland. The pork, he he he, would have been pan fried to smithereens, no sauce, a bit like shoe-leather. I probably wouldn't have bothered with the pork because, well, I don't like to eat shoe leather.
The meal I turned out tonight was not restaurant quality -- the beans were a little undercooked (though it just occurred to me that's exactly how my dad liked them), the pork was slightly overcooked (it was medium-well, which Chef C said is the appropriate American way to serve pork because of people's fears, though I prefer medium-rare with a nice line of pink in the middle), and I forgot to check the fish for pin-bones. On the other hand, the sherry in the pan sauce and the stock reduction screamed LIQUID SEX DO ME BIG BOY!!! all over my tongue, it masked the slight dryness of the meat, the fish had a wonderful bronze caste from the broth that contrasted healthily with the tan color of the fish flesh, and the white and green beans had the color locked in perfectly from the blanching and shocking. Because of c-school, I pretty much know what I did wrong and why -- I have a road map to making this meal better the next time I do it. And I didn't use a recipe, I just did it. I didn't make or prepare or process: I cooked.
I can now cook. I'm not a chef, which is basically a term for 'boss', or 'boss of the cooks'. I don't know if I can cook professionally -- this coming Tuesday, I'm starting as a staggiere (intern, assistant, what have you) at a high-end pizzeria in Brooklyn for a few months to complete my formal education. However that goes, I'll still be able to cook food to order for my wifey. And do it with my kids when they rear there lil' butterbean heads.
Am I glad I went to c-school? Unequivocally yes. Will I pursue cooking as a career? Unequivocally I do not know. Will it help me along a path to a healthier lifestyle? Undeniably affirmative. Just as I'm happy I got to do a cross-country bike ride in this lifetime, I'm also grateful I was able to attend culinary. For both, I must thank first and foremost my parents, without whose emotional and financial support this would all be moot. Thanks to my wifey for sticking with this somewhat meandering dude, thanks to Ilsa for putting a flashlight in the dark forest to a few of the paths available, thanks to the chefs I had teach me: Chef M, whose disciplinary ways drove home the point of the basics of knife skills and basic concepts, Chef C whose laid back demeanor poorly hid an incredible store of knowledge, skill and advice, Chef K whose demos were notorious but tender enthusiasm helped me make pasta as good as Batali's, Chef G for giving me sugar headaches everyday for months and reminding me why I never want to eat 3 deserts a day again, and Chef Al for, well, for only slightly killing me when I presented poached fish in court bouillon as a dish -- I knew enough not to present the fishy poaching liquid to B this evening!! And last but certainly not least, the 13 others who I spent every single friggin' morning with for the past half a year....
At some point in the first few months, I revealed to most of my fellow students that I was keeping this blog. Some cared, some didn't, those who cared just wanted to see what smack I was writing about them. With a few notable exceptions, I didn't talk sh@t about anyone because really, who the hell am I to judge? However, I do have a fondness and bond with my new friends, so for those following along and honoring me by reading my rants, here is a roll-call of all my fellow students and my deep, dark, secret opinions of them!
- 2nd Language Girl: Probably the crappiest nick name I gave, should of named her Spanish Martha Stewart or Quiet Wonder. Despite the language barrier, 2LG showed herself to be the most naturally talented cook in the class. Her children are extremely lucky, they must eat unbelievably well.
- Chef Jr.: He comes from a family of chefs, he looks like he's 12, and probably has the strongest work ethic in the class. He has the focus, he can cook, I hope he gets the opportunity to travel the world cooking.
- Dirty Dave: Homeboy & wifey hauled ass from a life in Arizona to do the culinary thing up in this not-easy city. He's externing at a very reputable cheese monger to hone his knowledge for his idea of a beer & cheese bar. If I were to open my own place, I'd want someone like DD as a partner.
- Dirty Kim: Perhaps the only person in class with a certain mixture of talent, natural skill, personality, ego and drive to someday become a Chef-Celebrity with a fleet of restaurants, a TV show, a line of frozen goods and a regular appearance in the gossip columns.
- Dora the Explorer: Her extreme incompetence was only matched by her arrogance when she was confronted by our various chefs. Between her lack of comprehension in both English AND Spanish and her lack of hygiene while cooking, her presence underlined the crassness of culinary school -- it would have been better for everyone involved if the school booted her and refunded her money the first week.
- the Long Island Lolita: Though she initially seemed like the kind of sorority girl I avoided assiduously in school, I enjoyed the opportunity to work in teams with her -- she really showed herself to have a serious passion for making (and eating) good food.
- Natasha: A sweet 18 year old kid who is finding his way. People underestimate his intelligence because he's still developing. He can cook, and has an interesting palate, especially with his sorbets (that winey sangria sorbet was off the hook!)
- Norbit: Weird guy who definitely talks too much when hes nervous, but as everyone got to know each other, he mellowed and was a good dependable team mate who can cook the hell out of a side of just about any animal.
- Roundhead: Very quiet. He was definitely competent. I didn't get to know him well, but he seemed to be well-liked by other students.
- the San Francisco Kid: He came into the class mid-term, and came to class late almost everyday. Asked a lot of silly questions.
- Speedy: Motherf@cker needs to stop thinking so much and just do it. Do it. Do it. He has the most wonderful quality -- an extreme attention to detail -- but needs to not doubt himself when the pressure is on and get the friggin' dish to table on schedule. Definitely has the right personality to go far in the cooking biz.
- Squarehead: Sweet kid, needs to sharpen his tools.
- Stalker Kowlowski: Felt a certain empathy with SK, we're both of a certain age, both coming out of media careers, both a bit travelled and established in who we are. However, he's definitely a better natural cook than me.
My previous blog, "I Am What I Eat -- I Eat What I Wish to Become" (what a snappy title! NOT) was a personal diary-like thing that centered around what I ate and my thoughts around eating. By giving focus and thought to everything that passed my lips, I found myself healthier, happier, and wanting to know how to do it better -- hence, culinary school.
School is definitely more of a beginning than an ending. Now with the externship upon me and some other major life changes, I feel like I'm learning a whole new set of basic life skills needed to take me into this new chapter of my life. When your tiny, you learn to read. Now that I'm pushing my later 30s, I'm only now really learning to feed.
If you want to continue with me on this semi-anonymous journey, please set your bookmarks to:
Thanks for reading! Go cook some good food in your home for a loved one, especially if that loved one is yourself.
One more thing: Vote OBAMA!!
BREAKFAST: 5:45am, organic cheerios with good milk, .5 bowl, hunger 3/5 AM SNACK: 7am, half a large good quality chocolate bar, .25 bowl, hunger 4/5
AM SNACK: 11:30am, piece of vegetable focaccia, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5 From the farmer's market at Brooklyn's city hall.
LUNCH #1: 1:30pm, Singapore Mai Fun noodles, small wonton soup, water, 1 bowl, hunger 4/5 Mediocre vegan food on Montague St. OK, it's a $6 lunch special, but no proteins in the noodle, and almost no veg? Lame. As the old joke goes, such bad food....and such small portions.
LUNCH #2: 4pm, large green salad, small portion of broccoli risotto, 1.5 bowl, hunger 4/5
DINNER: 7pm, 2 small slices of John's Pizza, water, .75 bowl, hunger 3/5
BREAKFAST #1: 5:30am, good yogurt with nuts, .5 bowl, hunger 3/5
BREAKFAST #2: 11am, organic chex with good milk, .5 bowl, hunger 4/5
PM SNACK: 1:30pm, cupcake, .25 bowl, hunger 4/5
Out and about with B, at Sugar Sweet Sunshine.
LUNCH: 2:30pm, fresh onion & garlic knish, seltzer, 1.25 bowl, hunger 4/5
In the movies with a Yonash Shimmel knish for snacking.
DINNER: Oh you know, like it said up there. I can't believe you read this post to the end!