Thursday, October 8, 2009

First time teaching, nobody died or stabbed anyone!

Today went by in a flash. Woke up to a good fishy breakfast with sable I got from Russ & Daughter's yesterday. I spent the morning writing my first lesson plan and revising two recipes to fit the content of what I was teaching. By the time my momma-in-law came to take over Baby Birdie, I was getting nervous.

I shoved down a piece of rugellah then rode the bike through 50mph winds to a far corner of Brooklyn -- reminded me of the day in my cross-country trip riding through Kansas -- except those winds were steady across a plain, and I had to ride 50 miles through it, not 3.

I arrived early and helped the supervisor load in today's produce, which he got at a discount from a local market based on a list I gave him a few days earlier. A kid volunteer (not in the program) washed the bowls and utensils for me while I set up and checked things, then showed the kid how to use a wet stone to sharpen a knife. Soon, the kids arrived, I sat them down in the dining room, got them in aprons, and off we went.

The class went by in a quick fashion -- I had piled a little too much into our agenda, which meant constant activity....which, based on the feedback from the kids at the end of the class, was probably their favorite part of the whole thing.
We started with a lecture about food and kitchen safety: the definitions of physical, chemical, and bacterial contamination; and how touching a keyboard, a door knob, your face, your hair, or your ownbutt were all ways to get sickness into the food. So maniacal handwashing it was. The kids wanted to get into the thick of it, not hear a lecture, so I kept this lecture mercifully short.

Into the kitchen, basics of kitchen safety -- announcing yourself when passing behind someone, sharps, hots, how a hot pan should exist on a stove top (handle in, towel on handle if handle is hot). Everyone washed their hands and I noticed a bunch of dirty paper towels on the counter and floor. I had to channel Chef M, my mod 1 instructor, and barked, "I don't care you dropped the towels, but someone has to pick them up RIGHT NOW." And just stared at everyone until it happened. That's about as hard as I had to get.

First I demo'd a smoothie -- the basic flow of the class from here until they get comfy is: Me, doing a demo; then everyone mimics me. The curriculum had a horrible smoothie recipe involving juice and ice, thus I substituted my own:


Yield: 1 pint

Banana, ripe one
Mixed fruit* 1 cup
Greek yogurt ¼ cup
Whole milk ½ cup
Vanilla bean, scraped ½ bean
Salt to taste
1. Peel banana, break into 2”pieces and drop into blender
2. Drop fruit into blender
3. Add yogurt, milk, and vanilla to blender
4. Return lid to the blender jar and puree the fruit and liquid until very smooth
5. Season to taste
6. Serve immediately

*Use frozen fruit. If using fresh fruit, freeze the recipe’s ½ cup milk in ice cube tray

I had them all taste the smoothie before salt and after salt, and right there I saw I blew most of their minds. I think I won their trust at that point. All the kids used different combos of fruit; each smoothie came out differently. Using only two blenders for 9 kids, this took some time and cooperation, but I quickly got the idlers on dish and cleaning duty. Everyone was happy with their smoothies and when the supervisor came down, he said that compared to last cycle, these smoothies were vastly superior! I don't know if he was blowing air up my butt, but I'll take it!

After a bit of fiddle faddle tasting each other's smoothies, I went over knife safety -- how to hold, how to pass, how to carry, how to cut, then demo'd a simple salsa cruda.


Yield: 2 quarts

Tomatoes, chopped 2 ½ pounds
Jalapenos, minced 8 ounces
Garlic, minced 2 cloves
Yellow onions, diced 12 ounces
Cilantro, minced 1 ounce
Red wine vinegar 1 fluid ounce
Tomato juice 8 fluid ounces
Salt to taste

1. Mix the tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, cilantro, red wine vinegar and tomato juice.
2. Season to taste

This was a bit tricky to demo because though I requested one we had no scale. Salsa being a forgiving recipe, I eyeballed everything -- it was really about the knife skills anyway. By then we only had an hour left, so I put the hammer down. Two kids to dice tomatoes , 2 kids to dice onions, 2 kids to mince jalapenos, 2 kids to mince garlic, one kid to mine cilantro. I went around and corrected each as they went and approved each batch before being put into the communal bowl. I added tomato juice, red wine vinegar, salt and poof! Two gallons of fresh salsa.

After cleaning, I got the kids out into the dining room for chips n' salsa, as well as a cheese plate of 10 different cheeses, everything from Parmesan and mozz and cheddar to morbier, camembert and tallegio. Had them eat it both with french bread and a crisp, sweet apple. A few of the kid's minds were blown once again. Got a lot of compliments from both the kids and the supervisor, who popped in from time to time to see what was happening. Good times.

The kitchen is clean but a bit lacking in equipment. Though tighter in space than my culinary school kitchen it's a heck of a lot more space than any kitchen I've worked in. All the kids were pretty psyched to be there, and still seemed psyched by the end of class. Everyone helped with the clean-up, and a few just started sweeping and cleaning surfaces even though I didn't specifically ask any one to do those tasks. After the kids split, the supervisor and I finished putting the room away. Then we talked about how the first day went. He seemed really happy -- he was around at the end for the tasting, and was really pleased to see all the kids asking me questions, getting involved eating the cheeses, and sticking around even though we were 20 minutes after the ending time.

Next week, vegetable cookery, maybe some sweet fruit cookery too...