Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sauces: Part Dux

Week 3, Day 12- Another Serve Safe lecture followed by sauce lecture part 2. We learned about thickening agents and finishing the sauces. I hadn't realized how many thickening agents there were, I'd really only heard of flour. However, you can also use arrowroot, waxy maize, instant starche, bread crumbs, vegatable puree, or a liasion (egg yolk and cream) to thicken various sauces. A reduction is also a way to thicken, by reducing the liquid in a sauce by simmering. This is a popular technique today because no additional starch is added. A sauce should be thick enough to cling lightly to food or a back of a spoon, if you are testing it. It should not be pasty or heavy.

All sauces need be finished in some way or another. Straining to create the smooth texture desires, deglazing remeining food from the bottom of your pan, or enriching a sauce with butter or cream are typical techniques. Finally, seasoning is the last step of a great sauce. Yesterday, I mentioned the five primary sauces and that all classical sauces are derived from them. There is a string of modern sauces that are made quite differently from the traditional sauces those might include; jus, puree, cream reduction, salsa, relish, chutney, and flavored oil. I am told we will learn more about these in later classes.

Lab: Included a Chef demo of a veloute sauce, a white stock sauce, and we practiced more cuts.....

At the end of class I was chosen to be one of the Sous Chefs for the day. That means myself and another lucky individual got to be responsible to make sure the kitchen was clean, everything was in its place (mies en platz), and everyone pitched in. As usual, the class did a great job. At this point, we are three weeks in, and most people just jump in and start helping out. It's pretty cool really.

Bad Day at the Office

Week 3, Day 11

A typical Monday for me that just got worse as the day wore on. I left my new house to fend for it's self this week. Rhys was sick with some sort of weird rash over the weekend. My work email was still down from last Thursday. I had a wrap up meeting for the Bike to Battle Cancer committee that ran a bit long and I didn't leave the office until after 12:30pm. I rushed to St. Louis from Springfield for a special demo the school was hosting on Fois Gras (more about that in a later post) that started at 4:00 pm. Needless to say I was a little late, by the time I changed and got into class. I hate being late....

I moved straight from the demo to class where we discussed a serve safe chapter, listened to lecture on sauces, and watched Chef Sara demo a bechamel sauce. In classical cooking there are five basic primary or mother sauces; Bechamel, Espagnole, Hollendaise, Tomato, and Veloute. From these sauces other sauces are derived. The Bechamel is a white sauce traditionally made by whisking milk gradually into a white flour-butter roux (equal parts clarified butter and flour by weight). Most primary sauces have very little flavor because they are the base for making other sauces. We will cover a sauce a day this week.

So, following the demo we were asked to take a short break and get our stations set up for practicing knife cuts. Easy enough. During the break I proceeded to pour coffee down the front of me without noticing. Nice, right? Chef Eddie had to point the incident out to me during our in depth discussion of chef footwear. Then to top it off, I finally cut myself. While getting out my knives I was attempting to replace a guard that had fallen off my pairing knife and I sliced right into my index finger. I thought, given the circumstances, it was a good idea not to practice tournes today.

Interesting factoid from an F2 student: Risotto is not a type of grain, but a technique in which a grain is prepared. I had no idea!!

I've had better days....

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Here Fishy, Fishy, Fishy

Week 2, Day 10

Not much going on today in class. We received our first papers back and got overall grades thus far for the two classes. We also learned how to make both fish stock and vegetable stocks. Again, a bit difficult with so many students all trying to help make one item. Everyone got one little job to do and that was it, your part was done. Some personalities are beginning to come through during the production, pretty funny really. I just did my little job (made the sashet) and stood back and watched the ciaos ensue. Eventually, I had several others join me as we enjoyed the show going on before us. Hopefully, it will all shake out and as we get into the more advances classes we will be working in smaller groups or individually. We finished up the week with some more knife cuts, check out Jarrod's work below. I am finally getting faster and more accurate at basic cuts (YEAH!), but I've taken a break from tornes. They seem to be getting worse. I'll try again next week.
Jarrod's Tornes

Fish Bones for Stock
Tasting the Stock

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How many culinary students does it take?

How many beginning culinary students does it take to make chicken stock? Apparently 24. After finishing our first practical exam on knife cuts (I got at 96% BTW- stupid tournes) we strained the veal stock from the demo yesterday and placed it in an ice bath. It should be illegal for stuff to smell this good so early in the morning. The veal stock looked disgusting, but smelled awesome.

Chef Sara, then turned us loose to make chicken stock as a group. It was like Lord of the Flies!!! There were, let's just say, too many Chefs in the kitchen. Come on, I couldn't resist. LOL. We conducted a recipe conversion to ensure we were going to yield the appropriate amount of stock per our instructions. Some students cut the mirepoux, some measured out chicken or spices. I got to bundle up the spices and make the sachet. Ta-da we had ingredients for chicken stock and then again we ran out of time so Chef Sara took care of putting it all together for us.... until tomorrow.

Practical 1

Weighing chicken
Straining veal stock

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

No Rest for the Weary

Week 2, Day 8-
To start off the morning we took our two written tests. Boy, I've been out of school a long time. Things have definitely changed. Who remembers the old purple copies made on the big drum that you cranked to make your copies. What was that called? And then we moved to scan-trons with number 2 pencils. Today we took the tests on HP Netbooks right in class. It was kind of cool because we got our grades instantly! No more waiting a week or longer for an instructor to grade them. I received an A and a B for the first go around, stupid Serve Safe....you'd think I could have aced both of them.

No rest for the tired and weary. We imeadatley headed in to a long lecture by Chef Bruce on stocks and their production. Class finished up with a veal stock demo. Yes, we actually used the ovens and cook tops today!! We began making the stock by roasting the veal shanks and a saute of the mirepoix (mixture of 50% onion, 25% celery, and 25%carrots). We next prepared the sachet d'espices of bay leaves, thyme, black peppercorns, and parsley stems. Unfortunatley, we ran out of time today, so Chef Sara will combine the ingredients in to a HUGE stock pot and leave it to simmer overnight. Stocks should cook a minimum of 16-18 hours, but good ones cook for up to 48 hours. We'll get to see the results in the morning.
Bundling up the Sachet d'Epices for the stock

 Preparing the veal shank for roasting

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

....And Now With Carrots

Week 2, Day 7-
We reviewed for our two written tests to be administered this week by playing Jeopardy in class. The tests will cover four chapters of Safety and Sanitation and various sections of the Professional Cooking text. Additionally, we also listened to a lecture on menu development and creation and finally more knife cuts.

Menu development is a bit more complicated than one would think. Once you really start to break things down like your menu, your kitchen layout, your customer base, required equipment etc... it's no wonder so many restaurants fail. There are a lot more things to consider than just what type food you want to serve.

Did you know there are six types of menus? I guess, I knew there were several types, but I had no idea what they were. It's pretty interesting really. Here are the basics; Static menus offer the same dishes each day and may change at intervals monthly or seasonally. A chain restaurant would be a good example of this. A Cycle menu changes daily for a certain period of time and then repeats, like a school's cafeteria. Ruth's Chris steak house is an A la Carte menu. Where each individual item is listed separately with it's own price. A new trend in some restaurants in response to the economic down turn is a Table d'hote menu. A fixed menu is offered, a complete meal at a set price where you can choose from 3 salads, 2 appetizers, 3 entries for $20. Applebee's two for $20 would be an example of this type. Prix Fixe or fixed price is where one price is given for a selection from each of the courses offered. And finally a Tasting menu may have 5-6 courses are served in small portions. These generally may cover a restaurants entire menu or may be special dishes the chef as picked out. Food for thought....

During the lab we mimicked our practical exam we are taking on Thursday.  We were given 1 1/2 hours, one potato and two carrots. We were to complete nine of the cuts we've learned so far. Surprise!!! We haven't even used carrots yet!! Well, crap! Believe it of not, they are a bit more difficult to get the right size out of them as they are smaller and more fibrous. The fibers of the carrot can make the cuts a bit wonky sometimes. This could get interesting...

Sample Practical #1- Knife Cuts

Second Guess

I've been a bit down the last few days after spending last week away from Rhys, and reading this article sent to me by a friend didn't help. It just reconfirmed that little knat of doubt that I carry around. The information in the article from a Seattle based news forum was not really much of a surprise. It basically discussed the concept of for-profit culinary schools charging exorbitant tuition fees to students, whom upon graduation, will be lucky to make $10/hour. What was a surprise was that the students of the Western Culinary Institute (a Le Cordon Bleu school) were suing the school in a class action lawsuit claiming, among other things, that they made no more money after attending the school than before. Kind of ridiculous really. Potential students should know that most likely they are not going to be the next Top Chef or Food Network Star just because they go to culinary school.

For many culinary students, their education might amount in an excess of $30,000-50,000. Once they get out of school that would amount to over $500 a month in loan payments. At $10/hour, the odds of paying off the loan debt is definitely stacked against them. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. This was a fact that I understood very well before taking this leap of faith to go to school. Several local chefs, Anthony Bourdain, and my ex-husband all informed me that the numbers just don't make sense. And maybe they don't. Maybe going to a local technical college is the way to go, as is suggested in the article. It's cheaper after all. But I don't just don't feel that the education, theory, and instructors are the same quality (at least in my neck of the woods). To prove my point, while at the restaurant this weekend practicing my knife cuts one of the local CC graduates asked me what that little potato thing I was cutting was. Granted, a tourne has little practical use in the "industry". But, practical application is not the only reason to go to culinary school. If I just wanted practical application I would have gotten a job at Chili's.

Second guessing yourself always sucks. I've made a lot of sacrifices to make this whole thing happen and I'm enjoying school thus far. I have a ton of ideas of what I want to do when I get out. It just might be tight for a while, but hey, that's what makes life interesting right? So watch out naysayers and negative Nellies I'm out to prove you wrong.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect

Week 2, Day 6-
You'd think knife cuts would be fairly easy once it's explained how to do them and when time really isn't a factor. But, the measurements that are required for each cut are so exact it's annoying. In the ballpark for size and shape, pardon my pun, doesn't cut it for a good grade. So, I spent a few hours at the restaurant on Sunday morning practicing knife cuts. The staff got a ton of hash browns for breakfast. Mmmm.... Sunday was also my first time cooking on the grill at the restaurant. Funny how things perceptions change. For some reason, now that I'm in culinary school, I'm now qualified to cook. Even though we haven't even gone near the stove yet at school.

In class tonight; we did, you guessed it, more knife cuts. One of the instructors, as he was watching me tourne, asked if Chef Bruce assisted in the morning class I usually attend. I responded with "Yes, why"? He said Chef Bruce had a very specific technique and my cuts resembled his. I'm not sure if he intended the comment to be good or bad, but I took it as a compliment.

We have 3 tests this week, one practical and two written. So it's more practice, practice, and more practice for me.

Looks like practice does make perfect

Practicing at Nonna's

Saturday, August 21, 2010

An Apple What!?

Week 1, Day 5- The day started off pretty well. We have to do a line up uniform check each day before class starts. I received extra props for wearing my name tag from our substitute instructor. Chef Sara was out sick so Chef Nate was taking the class. He was a bit more strict on the uniform this morning. I was one of three with their tag on. No one had really told us it was a requirement of the uniform, but why else would they give us one if we weren't supposed to wear it? And if you know me at all you know I HATE name tags. Yea for me!

Today we worked on more knife cuts, the apple swan. Yeah, an apple swan and a tourne of potatoes. Needless to say both of these cuts are pretty advanced. Nothing like jumping in with both feet. I'm pretty sure my mom would not be proud of the profanities that left my mouth while trying to cut these things.

An apple swan is what it sounds like, and would basically be used for a decorative piece for a catering dish/display. A tourne could be used as a decorative garnish made from a potato, carrot, or even a squash. It can also be used as a starch or vegetable accompaniment on a main dish. Here is a video on how to do the cut, my pictures of my first attempts are below.

I also turned in my first paper in 15 years. The assignment was a two pager on a foodbourn illness outbreak. We were to discuss the outbreak and the type of pathogen, possible causes, possible steps that could have prevented the outbreak. I chose the peanut butter salmonella outbreak of 2007. Conducting the research on all these outbreaks was pretty gross and was a definite reminder to ALWAYS wash your hands properly and keep a clean kitchen. YUCK!

Apple swan w/ the stem :0)
Potato Tourne 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Water-proof Mascara Anyone?

Week 1, Day 4- Finally got some new shoes last night. The shoes from the school still hadn't come in and I was tired of wearing my tennies. I had a gift certificate from Dillard's as part of a going away gift from my old job so I headed over to the mall to get some new shoes. After perusing the shoe department for a while, I decided on some Dansko's. They are not very cute, but they are a typical chef/nurse type shoes and you are supposed to be able to stand for a long period of time in them. I think I would have preferred some Berkenstocks or something simular, because they are a bit more my style, but my options were limited. So Dansko's it is! Bonus factor is they make me like two inches taller!!!

In class today we discussed weights, measures, and conversions and did a ton of knife cuts. The idea of more cuts both sacred and excited me! Knife cuts are the foundation of a chef's training, but I really felt I was behind the curve just getting started in my 30's. No matter, it was time to put my big girl panties on and belly up to the prep table. I began the lab portion with a ciceler of an onion. Now, granted I've cut tons of onions in my experience of cooking at home, but generally it's not quite this fine of a chop. Needless to say half way throuh processing the onion my eyes began watering like a fountain. I had put on a bit of mascara that morning, BIG mistake! I had huge streaks of brown running down my face and I couldn't see anything. Pretty embarrassing really, Chef Sara (our instructor) was laughing at me. Apparently some people have more sensitive eyes than others, and I am one of these lucky individuals. I guess I need to invest in some water-proof mascara....

Some other cuts we did consisted of  large and medium dice potatos, rondelle of carrots, minced garlic, and chiffonade of basil. Funny thing was I have been cutting basil in a chiffonade cut since I was in collage. I had no idea it was an official knife cut. One of the managers at Nick N Willy's, a take and bake pizza joint I worked at, taught me to cut basil by layering the leaves, rolling them like tabacco, and cutting the tube into small strips and voila! Chiffonade. All of my cuts turned out pretty well. We are given a set of plastic models that our cuts should resemble in both size and shape. So it's a good place to reference as we are practicing our cuts. Looks like I'll need a bit more practice on the large and medium dice potatoes though.
Tray of sample cuts for today.
The model kit of our cuts we'll be doing.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Always Taste Everything

Week 1, Day 3- We learned a lot about the difference between flavor and seasoning and how to taste. Seasoning is to salt. Salt draws out the water and magnifies the natural flavor of the food. Usually, it's done at the end of the cooking process. Flavoring can be added at the beginning, middle or end of the process and typically consisits of improving the taste of the food by adding herbs or spices.

After seasoning or flavoring the food, proper tasting is just as important. You sould always taste eveything! Never use your fingers, use a clean/sanitized spoon. A good taste consists of about 2 tablespoons of product.

The biggest surprise today was while discussing the physiology of taste. Everyone knows the main tastes four- bitter,salty,sweet, and sour. But a fifth, called Umami, is now used. Think of the Kikkoman comercials... Umami means Delicious. It refers to the richness, fullness or savoriness of a food.

At the end of class we meet with the Carreer Services department to work on our resumes. They distributed HP netbooks to us all and we hooked them up right there in the kitchen. It was quite a site with all the cords and routers all over the place. The cool part about the Career Services dept is our resumes are up loaded in to the system and are available for all 13 Le Cordon Bleu locations for help in job placement and a multitude of employers also have access to the site. In some cases, you could be contacted by an employer before you contact them.
Getting hooked up to the web

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Culinary Foundations 1

That's what our first course is called. It's a basic introductory class. We will learn basic principles of cooking techniques, history of food service, culinary terminology, standards of professionalism, and organization of working kitchens. The course will also cover chef tools, commercial equipment, basic food science principles and an introduction to the elements of taste and flavor. And finally, we'll get the foundation for Le Cordon Blue stocks, sauces, and soups. Seems like a lot in 6 weeks. It will be super quick that's for sure.

On day 2, I had a short turnaround from the night before. Class starts at 6:00 am, I leave my Mom's at about 5:15 am. I got home from Monday night's class at 10:00 pm then I had two chapters to read and my uniform to iron. When I finally went to bed at 11:45, I dreamt about forgetting my hat and apron at home, and I was not admitted to class over and over again. I was so paranoid about messing something up. Needless to say, I was a bit tired on Tuesday.I also had to take out my nose ring. I was ok with it. I just didn't feel it was worth the trouble of taking out or covering up every day.

In class we covered a good deal of history of the food service industry beginning from the middle ages through the formation and organization of today's culinary arts. History is really one of my favorite subjects so I really enjoyed this part!!! I learned a bunch of cool facts so I decided to add a fun facts section to the blog. As I learn interesting facts I'll add it to the scroll (Thanks Jessica!). My AM Class instrustor is cool and she gets super excited talking about food, it's fun to watch her share her energy, especially so early in the morning.

The second part of class consisted of us getting to get our knives out for the first time. It was so cool. I've never had super good knife skills, in fact, they are horrible. I had no idea that it would actually be pretty easy if you have a good knife. I mean WOW! What a difference. Amazing. We started off with a batonnet cut, a 1/4" square by 2" strip and that is easily converted to a small dice by cutting the strips in 1/4" sections. See picture below.

The different small piles represent my attempts at cuts, that way I can track my progress.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

First Day of School

All crisp and white!
I was so nervous going to the first day of class. It's been 11 years since I was in school and 15 since I was a "freshman". Talk about weird!!! I had missed the orientation that took place on Saturday (I was on vacation) so I came in early to pick up my uniform, ID, and other supplies. They gave us a ton of stuff: 4 chef coats, 3 pairs of pants, 3 aprons, 4 neck ties, 4 beanies, and a pair of shoes. But of course, they had run out of my size on Saturday, so I wore a pair of size 9 mens for the evening. Talk about a clodhopper!!!! We also received 2 books; Serve Safe and Professional Cooking by Gisslen, and a knife kit. I've attached pictures of 2 of the 3 sections of the kit, we will use this kit every day while we are in school. It's pretty cool and packed full of everything you could possibly need to use in a kitchen.

The evening instructor was very laid back and a pretty funny guy. He was 37, if you've lost track I'm 35. He has been in the "industry", as it is called while you are in school, for 20 years. Needless to say, I have a little catching up to do. But no worries. I may not have the time in the kitchen- which is important- but I feel all my travels with exposure to some of the best restaurants and chefs, knowledge of owning a restaurant, and management experience will help in the long run.

Basic tools of the trade
Class in general was typical for a first day. We went over the syllabus, class expectations- a lot of expectations, the strict uniform requirements, a brief history of the school, and a tour of the school.

By the end of the evening I was not so nervous and feeling OK with
everything. I was excited about returning back to school early the next morning. But first, a stop by WalMart to get a notebook, sharpie, and pack of plain white tees, read 2 chapters in my text books, and iron my uniform.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A new chapter starts today!!

So, school starts today. However, I'll be doing my fist official post tomorrow. I am attending class on Mondays from 6:30 pm to 10:00 pm so I can spend a bit more time in Springfield with Rhys over the weekends. Class on Tuesday through Friday will be at 6:00 am - 9:30 am! I know!! Super early. It will be like going to early morning swim practice all over again, except I won't have to dive into freezing cold water and over exert myself. However, I will be handling sharp knives....

I recently chose to move my class to the early morning, because I had some flexibility in my schedule and the mid morning class (9:30 am-1:00 pm) was full to capacity (32). So, I figured I'd have a better quality experience by moving to a smaller class size. I hope my hunch was right.

On the work front, my old job has decided to keep me on for a while. Good for them and better for me. It looks like I'll still be working quite a bit and going to school for the next few weeks. Which is good, because I could use the cash. Until tomorrow....