Monday, January 31, 2011

I think I might hurl!!!

Phase 4, Week 1, Day 4

Lecture: Bread
Demo./Production: Peanut Butter Cookies and Brioche

Today we covered a lot about dough for bread making. There are 2 basic types, lean and rich dough. Lean doughs are made for breads like French and Italian loaves, pizza dough, and whole wheat breads. They are typically low in fat and sugar, have strong gluten development, and are hard crusted. In comparison, rich doughs contain higher levels of fat and sugar, need less gluten, and are soft crusted. Examples of rich doughs might be challah, brioche, or sweet rolls.

There are also a few different methods to mixing your doughs. The straight dough method is essentially the dump and run method, where the yeast and water are added together to dissolve the yeast and then the flour and salt are added and mix. The modified method for rich doughs is a combination of the creaming method and the straight method. Finally, the sponge method  uses a preferment or starter. A starter is added on top of the yeast and a slurry of the other liquids is added. A preferment gives you a head start to the final bread fermentation stage. Pate Ferments, Biga, and Poolish are all types of doughs made from this "old bread." If you are familiar with Amish bread, this is the same concept. But what I didn't realize is that it is a common practice for most bakeries to save a piece of dough from the day before's bread and use it for the next days batch. Cool!

Today we made peanut butter cookies a type of molded cookie, cut our brownies from yesterday, and we also made brioche dough, a rich French dough.

When all was said and done, I had consumed 2.5 brownies and 2 cookies. I felt so sick and had a HUGE sugar rush and felt crappy all day. So much for not gaining any weight back....

These brownies were frigging awesome!!!

A decent PB cookie

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Cookies, biscuits, and brownies oh my!

Phase 4, Week 1, Day 3

Lecture: Cookies
Demo./Production: Cheese Biscuits and Brownies

Did you know there are seven types of cookies? AND that brownies are a type of cookie? Weird! Today we discussed the various types including:
Dropped- chocolate chip
Bagged- spritz
Rolled- sugar
Molded- peanut butter
Sheet- brownies

For you home bakers out there here are some tips for your cookies.
1) Crispier- You want low moisture and high sugar and fat. A longer baking time and a small and thin shape.

2) Softer- More liquid, less sugar and fat. Add an invert sugar like molasses or honey, under bake, and have larger or thicker shapes.

3) Chewier- Higher in sugar and liquid, lower in fat. High proportion of eggs and strong gluten development.

Our production today consisted of Cheese Biscuits using the Cut In or Biscuit method with cold fat and Brownies. Jeremy and I added peanut butter to ours. Yummo!!! The biscuits were fabulous! The brownies will need to chill for a few hours, we'll get to eat them tomorrow.

Chef Karen performing the biscuit method 
Flaky Cheese Biscuits

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What the heck is a gluten ball?

Phase 4, Week 1, Day 2

Lecture: Quick Breads
Demo: Muffins and gluten ball.

Today we discussed gluten development in breads and it's importance in most and pastry products. In most cases over mixing batters, quick breads and muffins can produce a though and irregular shaped end result. To demonstrate this we made gluten balls. Basically a dough made from flour and water. Once the dough is formed we worked and squeezed the dough  in buckets (lexons) of water. The water became very cloudy, which was the result of the starch being squeezed from the dough. We changed the water and repeated the steps, until the water became clear. The dough was then cooked off and the result was a hard, tough, rock like bread with huge long holes running through it. These holes are called tunneling. Cool.

Following the gluten balls we learned about various mixing methods; Cut in or biscuit, creaming, and muffin. I'll run down with the muffin method since we made blueberry muffins. The easiest method, the muffin method is used for pancakes, waffles, quick breads, coffee cakes and muffins. This method uses liquid fats and basically adds the liquid ingredients and dry ingredients together and mixes until moist. The batter should be lumpy. You then pan and bake and you're done!

Finally, some breakfast food for breakfast! Unfortunately, the muffins weren't so great. Sadness. At least they looked good.

So, so blueberry muffins

Baking and Pastry

Phase 4, Week 1, Day 1

Finally, I've caught up on posts- sort of, well at least I'm now in the same class I'm blogging about. LOL. I am very excited about this class and I hope to learn a lot. I'm glad we are given the opportunity to learn a bit about baking and pastry in the industry because it is so important, although it seems as if the pastry Chefs are not always given the same respect at savory Chefs and they defiantly have a different personality type. Besides often being female, they are more precise and detailed orientated. It must be because their craft is less forgiving than savory cooking. I am looking forward to finding out more about it.

In this phase we will learn about the fundamentals of the baking ans pastry arts including terminology, technology, equipment, measurement, and formula conversions.We will be producing a variety of rich and lean doughs, laminated doughs, cakes, icings, cookies, tarts, quick breads, custards, frozen desserts, chocolates, and plated desserts. Man, I hope I don't gain back the weight I've lost so far....

Today we went over the precursory syllabus, expectations, and projects for the phase. We then jumped right in to a lecture about the functions of flour in baked goods. We also discovered the importance of scaling and weight versus volume. All measurement is not created equal. Fun fact for the day. The only ingredients in baking that can be measured out in volume are milk, water, whole eggs, and egg whites. All other ingredients should be scaled. Who knew?

Strap on your seat belts for a ride through Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory......

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

DONE!!!! FINALLY!!!!!!!

Phase 3, Week 6, Days 27 & 28

Ok- Let's say I'm pretty much done with this phase. Christmas break starts this week and I'm off of work at the club after my shift on Friday night. Needless to say I'm tired and done with having a practical every day. Our last two days, although we've done our final already, we still have regular practicals to do.

Day 27
Plate 1- Seared Bass with Sauce Charon and Quinoa Salad
Plate 2- Bass Pauppiets with Sauce Vin Blanc

Day 28
Plate 3- Lobster- choice of preparation
Plate 4- Oysters- choice of preparation

Both days were conducted the same way with a demo the first half of class and production the second half. The days ran very smoothly, without incidence or anything amazing happening.

Seared Bass- Good. 98%
Pauppiets-  Good, nice presentation. 100%
Lobster Risoto- Risotto a bit under done. 100% (just for showing up....)
Oyster- On the half shell with lobster and white wine sauce. Should have poached the oyster in the sauce prior to service. Who knew? 100% (again, just for showing up)

Overall, I got a 91% in the class. I barley overcame the deficit I received from the two days I missed the first week. Crazy! I can't believe some kids miss a day each week or more and still pass. Amazing.

Seared Bass, not my favorite....

Bass Paupiette

George, the lobster, and Jeremy

George and Risotto

Monday, January 24, 2011

Adapt to Change

Phase 3, Week 6, Day 26

So, basically whenever anything unexpected happens at school the instructors always say, "You have to be able to adapt to change in the industry." This is a true statement, but also a cop out for when the purchasing guy messes up. Usually, it's no big deal. Today, it was a bit of a deal. Apparently, our bass that we needed for today's practical would not arrive until after 7 am. So Chef Bruce decided we'd just preform our final today and do the bass tomorrow. Our final, 15% of our grade, for this class is a mock American Culinary Federation certification test. We take the practical test that the ACF administers for a Certified Culinarian. It consists of breaking down a chicken into specified parts, starting chicken stock, various knife cuts and the completion of a dish with chicken entrée, a starch, veg., and sauce all with in the two hour time limit. It's all based on a Pass/Fail scale. In general this would be no big deal. Except, the entree part. With no warning we had not time to scout ingredients.  We are also at the end of a phase before the school closes for two weeks. Therefore pickings were slim in the walk-in and in the pantry. Argh!

The timer begins, and I begin to break down the chicken. Done. Pass. Do my knife cuts. Done. Pass, although the Julianne carrots we a bit inconsistent. Stock started. Done. Pass. I still have no idea what I'm cooking!!!!!

I head back into the walk-in..... I find a small container of capers left over from the tartar sauce from a few days ago and a lemon...the bulb goes off! A few weeks a go I threw together chicken scalipini with a lemon caper sauce for my Aunt, one of her favorite dishes. Chef Tim was able to scrounge some parmesan cheese from CAC and I grabbed the last 4 stalks of asparagus. I'll make baked chicken with a lemon caper sauce, parmesan rossito, and grilled asparagus. 

We have a plan!!!

I set to work. I had no major issues in the process and voila!, I finished with 25 minutes to spare.

"A classic dish." Rossoto, was good. I needed to slice the chicken. In banquets (where I generally work), you serve the breast whole. I fine dining, you'd slice it. Sauce was good. Bonus, Chef Bruce like capers (thanks Aunt Terrie). 98%

I love it when a plan comes together!

A classic dish

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Phase 3, Week 6, Day 25

We took our written final today (80%- ouch!) and prepared two more dishes and neither of them French. Which is interesting for a French cooking school. We do a lot of non European cooking in our last class, CAC, but you'd think being a Foundations class we'd stick to basic French Cuisine. Not today, we are doing an Asian dish and a primarily Middle Eastern dish.

#1- Calamari, tartar sauce, and vegetable tempura.
#2- Lamb Kabab, cucumber raita, and grilled portobello.

Again, both fairly simple to prepare. I have to admit I was a bit squimish preparing the calamari. We were given small octopi and requited to skin them, remove the quill, beaks and eyes. Popping the eyes out was pretty gross, even worse than processing the rabbit. Otherwise easy peasy.

Chef Bruce called me "Country Club" when I presented my first plate today. Not sure if that was a compliment or not.

Plate 1: Chef Tim liked the presentation, one suggestion was not to place a fried food on to a sauce. The sauce will immediately begin to make the food soggy. Tempora batter was a bit too runny, as the extra moisture in the veggies made it difficult to get a good coating  on the sticks. Otherwise good. 96%
Plate 2: Kabab was a bit rare, but very flavorful. He liked the way I chose to  separate the vegetables on the skewers. Both the kabab and portobello had nice grill marks and the sauce was good. 96%

Just 3 days left!!! I'm getting tired of having to present dishes all the time. But I guess that's what being in the industry is about. People judging your food on a daily basis....

Lamb Kabobs and Grilled Portobello

Calamari and Tempera vegetables 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Last one, fast one

Phase 3, Week 6, Day 24

Last one, fast one was a saying an old swimming team mate of used to say at the end of a hard set. I always remember that when I'm trying to get to the end something. This is the last week of class before two weeks off on break and also serves as the half way part of the program.

Today was all about lecture and demo and our final test review. So, nothing big.

So, I thought I'd take a moment to talk a bit about the Club and my experience there over the last two weeks. I am still somewhat intimated when I go into work, there are a lot of amazing things coming out of the kitchen and I am still such a novice. I am trying to learn as much as I can and do the best job I can. Each day I go, I become more confident, but I still have so much to learn. Some days I get into a groove and do very well other days I can't seem to do anything right. It's nerve wracking.

I've gotten to do a lot of prep work of course, especially with all the holiday parties. Peeling 7 cases of asparagus, capping 6 cases of mushrooms, making 200 pot stickers, making 300 mini crab cakes, among the regular prep work of preparing banquet veggies. I am actually getting to cook things now too. It seems like I've earned their trust this week, or the guys just don't have time to to everything themselves, whichever the case may be, I'm getting more experience. I am learning lots of little industry tricks, which are so helpful. I'm actually also getting to work on the floor a lot as well. I've worked a lot of pasta and carving stations at all kinds of holiday parties. The best one I have to admit was an "open house" for an ex-ambassador who lives in St. Louis. The party was for 400 and we served some pretty awesome foods. Including wild boar pate, chicken Suzette, dover sole, and a bunch of other stuff I didn't get a chance to check out. Chef even called in several special chefs to help work stations out on the floor. It was a pretty cool event. My work schedule will taper off after the holidays so we will see how things shake out in the new year in that respect.

After several months at the club I still get kind of scared when Chef comes around to check out things or do projects. There are somethings that only he or his sous chefs are allow to cook. I try to keep my head down and do a good job. I had to do an assignment where I observed a working kitchen for class and I did my observation at the club. I also interview Chef and asked him about how he got to St. Louis. I found it interesting that very few people in the kitchen knew anything personal about him. So I just asked. This is what I found out.....

The St. Louis Club is a private dining club that was established by local business leaders in 1964. These men saw the need for a luncheon and dinner club in the ever westward expanding city. Today, the club offers a fine dining restaurant, The St. Louis Room, a more casual restaurant, The Backdoor, and three floors of meeting and banquet space.
The St. Louis Club is well known for it’s fine cuisine which often conveys the city‘s French heritage.  

Chef  Pierre Chambrin has been the club Executive Chef for 16 years. His curriculum vitae is quite impressive, including a stint as the Executive Chef at the White House. I was curious to know how Chef Chambrin got from France to a club in St. Louis.  In the beginning, Chef Chimbrin was not inspired to cook by anyone in particular, in fact, his mother was a terrible cook; he said with a smile. He simply had always loved cooking. He began cooking at home when he was 12 years old and made the move to a professional kitchen when he was 15 while attending culinary school. Chef Chambrin rose up through the ranks in kitchens through out France during his years as an apprentice. He made the leap across the pond in 1969 when he was hired by an American restaurateur  to help set up a small operation in Massachusetts called, Picot‘s Place. After two years of developing a strong foundation for Picot’s, the Chef spent the next 20 years at various restaurants up and down the East coast. 

In 1990, following a failed attempt at owning his own restaurant in Arlington, VA., Chef Chambrin was asked to become the Executive Chef at the White House during the George H.W. Bush administration. He stayed at the White House until a few months after the new Clinton administration took over. Disparagingly, he departed the position . At that point in his life, Chef Chambrin had teenaged children and did not want to stay in Washington or return to New York. The St. Louis Club contacted him and he has been in the mid-west ever since.

Chef Chambrin is a bit of an enigma. He is very direct and to the point. He does not waste time beating around the bush. His temper can flair at the drop of a hat. I am scared of him, and yet, at the same time I like him. Most of the kitchen staff do not know anything about him personally. I thought that was interesting. When I sat down to talk with him he was eating dinner in his office, always the multi-tasker. I wanted to use this time to learn more about him, so I covered the basic questions required by the assignment, then I used the remainder of the time to investigate a bit more. Here is what I found:

Me: How do you start your day?
Chambrin: I believe that the dinner service is the most important event of the day. So, many times, unless there is a banquet in the morning, I come in later in the day and stay until the restaurant and banquet areas close.

Me: What are your daily duties you perform?
Chambrin: I do all the scheduling myself. I review the six menus we use each day. The menus are submitted by the Department Manager and I approve them. I also do some ordering. The ordering is split by myself, and the AM and PM Sous Chefs.

Me: What makes a good chef?
Chambrin: That is a tough question. A chef must not only cook well, but first and foremost be a good organizer.

Me: Being a classical French chef, what is your opinion on modern culinary trends?
Chambrin: I let my Sous Chefs worry about that when the are designing the dishes. Food must first be good, then attractive. It should keep balance between modern and classic and not be too extreme.

Me: What do you look for in an employee?
Chambrin: That is not answered easily. I have found that although an applicant has good technical knowledge/skills on his resume, he still may not be a good fit. I look for a good attitude. I generally just have a feeling about someone. 

Me: Do you still cook?
Chambrin: I have found I can not cook at work anymore. I would continually get pulled away to do other things, but I still cook at home.

Me: Do you miss it?
Chambrin: Yes, a bit

Butternut Squash soup w/ fois grais
Dessert Sampler
Appetizer tray 
Scallops w/ veg of the day

Sausage Madness II

Phase 3, Week 5, Day 23

Ok, sorry for the crude post yesterday. In all seriousness, Sausage making and the preserving of meats is actually an art form called Charcuterie. Derived from Char meaning flesh and cuit meaning cooked, charcuterie is the process of salting, smoking, or curing meat. The ancient Romans actually regulated the trade of charcuterie and in 15th century France local guilds regulated tradesmen in the food production industry. The guilds that produced charcuterie were those of the charcutiers. The members of this guild produced a traditional range of cooked or salted and dried meats, which varied, sometimes distinctively, from region to region. The only "raw" meat the charcutiers were allowed to sell was unrendered lard. The charcutier prepared numerous items including pâtésrillettessausagesbacontrotters, and head cheese (brawn).

Charcuterie is a dying art form, in culinary circles you will still find die hard individuals who prefer to make their own sausage and dry their own meats. But these people are few and far between. Chef Bruce is one of these individuals, he had a great passion for explaining the heritage and methods of this art.

For production today we made:

Plate 1: Over easy egg, with hash browns, and sausage patties
Plate 2: Sausage links, Polenta, and Tomato Sauce.

Again today, no issues. It all fell into place and I finished the dishes very quickly. The longest part really being the fact we had to make the tomato sauce from scratch. I did have to remake my baby hash browns because I got distracted dorking with Jarod's egg and I burnt them. Oops!

Plate 1: Upside- "Aw, look at the cute little presentation you made." Downside- totally over salted the the hash browns. Dang it! 92%

Plate 2: Chef Tim said "I have no negative criticism of your dish." 92%. I would have thought with no negative criticism the score would have been higher. Go figure.....

A "little" breakfast

Sausage and polenta w/ sauteed peppers and onions

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sausage Madness

Phase 3, Week 5, Day 21

Today Chef demoed sausage making. Have any of you ever seen sausage made? Have any of you witnessed it being made while surrounded by a bunch of grown men with the maturity of a 13 year old? Well, now I have. There was no getting around all the innuendos from today's lesson. It was impossible. If you take a look at Chef Bruce while he is filling the casing you can get the drift of what I'm talking about. Here are some actual phrases/words that are used in the production of sausage. I mean, really!?

Natural Casing
Synthetic Casing
Among Others.

This is not to even mention the appearance of loading the casing on the shaft and then pressing the forcemeat into the casing while keeping it lubricated. Let's just say the class was on the floor laughing. We even got to Chef Bruce on a few of the comments and he turned red and giggled. Too funny. I figured he would have heard everything by now.

Chef Bruce making Sausage

We produced our own sausage at the end of class and we'll cook with it tomorrow. I'm not sure I will be able to look at a bratwurst the same ever again.


Phase 3, Week 4, Day 19 & 20

Day 19 was a demo day of Veal Cordon Bleu and Rack of Lamb.

Day 20, Practical.

Menu: Dish 1: Veal Cordon Bleu with Bearnaise, Potato Anna and Tourne of Glazed Carrots.
Dish 2: Rack of Lamb, Dauphine Potatoes, Brussel Sprouts Paysanne with a balsamic reduction.

At first glance, the veal was going to be challenging because it was not a very pretty dish. Even Chef served it up truck stop style. It was going to require some creativity. The lamb dish shouldn't pose any real problems.

The day started off pretty well. Started off with the preparing the Anna potatos because they take the longest to prepare, and worked on getting half way descent tournes. They are event harder to get a descent one out of carrots because they are so fibrous. Ended up with 3 ok ones. The actual veal would not take very long to prepare so I moved on to dish 2 by getting the lamb ready and seared off and put to the side. Back to dish 1. In this version of Potatos Anna we were required to flip them so the top would get tosty as well. A maneuver that requires some balance and fast action or potatos and melted butter would go flying. Result; success! Yea!

It was time to finish us Dish 1. My solution to the presentation problem was to stack the potatos, veal, ham and cheese. Kind of making a tower. Prior to searing off the veal, I cut circles out of the filets. I bread them and seared them and then stacked the cutlets with ham and cheese and put them in the oven to warm. The veal shrank a bit more than I would have liked, but I pushed on anyway. I then cut out a circle of potatos and stacked the whole thing on the plate......

Veal Cordon Bleu
Result: 94
Chef liked the presentation, good flavor overall. I forgot my garnish for the dish and herb in the glazed carrots.

Time to finish up dish 2. The lamb would get coated with a ground hazelnut mixture and go back in the oven. Veggies got blanched. And began the Dauphine Potato process. We learned a shorter version of making these potatos yesterday than the one we learned last phase, I hope it works out. This dish was weird from a plating aspect. The rack could be split or left intact, the sprouts are like little marbles, and the potatoes are fried. Talk about a weird combo.

So I though I'd play around with the shapes a bit. Chef demoed a quinell of the Dauphine Potato yesterday, in F2 we had piped them out into little logs. So I thought it'd be fun to make a nest of the potato by piping thin strips of the mixture into the fryer. It kind of worked but kind of not, it actually looked a lot like funnel cake. So my nest didn't quite work out. So I just took a part of the nest and used that.

Rack of Lamb, Sprouts, and Dauphine Potatos
Result: 90
Chef was not amused with my potatos. Apparently the quinell was required. Oops! Lamb was a little rare as well. Not my best showing.

Final note: 
You always have to be on your toes in the kitchen. Not only paying attention to what you are doing but also what everyone else is doing. Today, my partner, Jeremy, got a little heavy handed with his oil while searing his veal. His pan actually caught on fire and POP! I got splattered in the face with hot oil. I received a descent sized burn. I hope it doesn't scar.

My burn the next morning.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


WOW! It's been over a month since my last post!!! Not to worry, nothing tragic has happened. Thanks so much to several of you that have hinted around via Facebook and email that I was a bit behind in my posts. I know. At this point it's like digging yourself out of quicksand. To sum up; the last two weeks of Phase 3 were crazy. Along with class and finals, I was also working 30+ hours at the Club, taught a children's cooking class, and wrote articles for Needless to say, I ran out of time during the day to keep up on my posts. Which is sad because some pretty good stuff happened over those two weeks. Once school finished up for the Phase we broke for the Holidays.  I spent an entire TWO weeks at home in Springfield! I spent the entire time with my son at home and I actually got to live in the house I bought back in August. The few times I sat down to write I found trying to write a cohesive sentence with a three year old hyped up on cookies and presents is not an easy feat. Thus, the only computer work I did during that time was two more articles and checked my email.  Additionally, for extra cash I also washed dishes at a restaurant in town. It was fun, but humbling. The one big thing I learned is you can never take your dishwashers for granted, with out them your ship will sink like the Titanic.

Last week I returned to St. Louis for Phase 4, Baking and Pastry. However, I was without my computer, as it was on loan to my Ex for the week. So, here I am, now a full three weeks + behind in posts. I will do my best to include as much detail as I can in the posts to make them a bit more authentic. Please bear with me as I begin to bust them out...........beginning tomorrow.

Happy New Year!!!!!