Friday, May 29, 2009

i wouldn't change a thing

Here is our mise en place platter for the day, including our knife skills items and things for our soup. 

Today we made french onion soup. It was really surprising how even though we all used the same recipe, 15 different students made 15 completely different tasting dishes. I have to thank my dad and mom for this one. His love of onion soup and my moms piaz dagh (a Persian caramelized onion that starts practically every dish) trained me for today. Though the method seems easy enough: caramelize thinly sliced onions in clarified butter, deglaze with brandy, simmer with stock, it is still a science as most dishes are. There are many variables that can ruin the dish. Firstly, if you didn't slice your onions uniformly, then the level of the flame, or if you stir your onions too much, these are factors that can lead to your demise. We all did really well, I was proud of some who had never made onion soup before and it tasted good. Though some students burned parts of their onions or over reduced their stock, there weren't any fires, and that seems good enough for our second recipe.

Here is Chef Viverito demonstrating the soup:

Here is my soup mise en place tray, ready to cook:

Here are the onions when you first put them in the sauce pot (or rondeau): 

And again when they're nearly caramelized (I think the patience thing kicked in a lot here, some students had the heat up too high which leads to some burnt pieces and other white ones):

Here it is bubbling away with the sachet, which is a bouquet of herbs that add flavor as the soup simmers (made up of bay leaves, thyme, garlic, peppercorns and parsley stems):

And here it is all done:

Here are the croutons for the top layer. You have to "waterproof" them with some clarified butter so they don't soak up the broth too quickly when you put it on top of the soup:

And topped with parmigiana reggiano and Gruyere cheeses:

And plated up for Chef to taste:

That was nerve-wracking to say the least. Chef Viverito tastes all of our dishes and gives us feedback (though not as much as I would have liked). After tasting mine, he simply said "i can't say anything... it's excellent, i wouldn't change a thing, it's perfect." It was a good day.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

i dont eat mammals

Today we actually used stoves on our own, hurrah! We made a few different things, including chicken glace, beef and vegetable soup, and clarified butter. Chicken glace was basically 32 ounces of chicken stock that we reduced at a gentle simmer until it was 4 ounces. This is done so it can be a flavoring agent in sauces or soups. A small portion of glace has an extremely concentrated chicken flavor and adds body to sauces. Clarified butter was made by simmering butter to release the water and separate the milk solids and butterfat. It's a completely clear butter matter that results and can be heated to higher temperatures without reaching the same smoking point as whole butter. This way you can use it for saute items without worrying about it burning. 

Here is our daily knife cut tray, I still wasn't perfect on the cuts, but improving and the sizes of julienne were correct, so that was exciting. Each day we get less time to produce the tray with more cuts in order to work on accuracy and speed.

Here is my mise en place for my soup. Mise en place is having all the ingredients/tools prepped and ready to go for making the dish, so you aren't running around the kitchen missing ingredients halfway through the dish.

Here is my completed soup. Definitely not the best thing I have made but chef liked it, at least the broth anyway. He is also the fish ID instructor and refuses to eat beef, saying that he "doesn't eat mammals." The look on his face after tasting his own soup was priceless.

Here is Chef Viverito demonstrating how to create clarified butter. This demo was probably the best example to date of what type of chef I learn most from and what type of chef I aspire to be. It may be simple to give a demonstration about clarifying butter by telling us there are 3 parts of butter: butterfat, milk solids, and water, and its necessary to release water and milk solids to get pure clarified butter. But the manner in which Chef Viverito did it made me understand where his passion lies, in the method of doing it. He explained how all 5 senses are being utilized, you can see the water bubbles coming to the surface, and hear them steam up and release air, or you can smell if it starts to brown. Something as simple as clarifying butter may seem trivial to many chefs, but the passion with which he demonstrated the importance of using all 5 senses or the science behind it helps us get excited about cooking. We learn about why certain things are widely practiced and how to become better utilizers of all of our skills instead of just one or two.

It has been quite a long week and though I love skills, I'm looking forward to finally getting some sleep to fully get over this cold I have had. Tomorrow I will be back to training for my 60 mile walk that is approaching rapidly! 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

leaning tower of potatoes

Even though the cuts we are learning everyday seem trivial, for some reason I find this class incredibly relaxing. The repetition of the cutting, how I feel when I'm holding my knife, the quiet atmosphere when everyone is prepping their knife skills tray, there's something therapeutic about it all. And I know many of my peers are terrified of Chef Viverito, but I know that the more harsh the chefs are, the better we learn (up to a point of course.) Because we don't always receive immediate feedback, I find myself approaching the chef and asking if my cuts needs improvement and etc. Today we all finished our knife skills tray early (given that it was simple things like 1/4 inch julienne of onions, 1/8th inch diced onions, minced shallots, garlic, and parsley, concasse of tomato, and a bouquet garni,) so the chef rewarded our speed with a 50 pound bag of potatoes that he taught us how to tourne.

Doing tourne'd potatoes is probably a lot of chefs least favorite prepping methods, since you are turning a round potato into a seven sided torpedo shape. Although it is a bit hard to grasp at first, after some practice it becomes quite fun (I will probably be the only one to say that much.) I spent part of the lunch hour practicing these with my pairing knife in order to hone my skills and get into the habit of how it feels to tourne potatoes. 

Here was our first tray (not exciting but documented nonetheless):

And some of my potatoes tourne (no where as good as the chefs, but not horrible either):

Another part of our skills tray was various cuts on a potato. We did battonnets, julienne, and 3 different sized cubes. (1/4 inch, 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch dice) It is quite intimidating when the chef gets out his plastic kit and measures your cubes against the model for consistency in size and shape. And believe me, if they are not perfect squares or the right size, they're not good enough.

Some of our potato cuts (surprisingly hard to get perfectly sized cubes):


And with the repetition in cuts, I find myself learning about the knives more, my hands more, how I hold and interact with my knife. It's something you probably don't think about at all, but when holding a knife for hours on end, I try to find ways to make the movement flow instead of being choppy. To date, one of my favorite things to do is watch professional chefs cut. To me, it's very telling about their attitude towards the job, whether they care or not, and how they feel that day. I saw it in meat class with Chef Schneller, the way every cut came so naturally to him, he knew where all the muscles in the animals would be from years of repetition. Thinking about it, I even remember watching Chef Marcella, Chef Andrea, or Chef Max in Italy cut items. The way they get into a zone where it's only them, their knives, and the item they're cutting. I think it's one of the great marks of a chef. Chef Thomas Keller, one of the most famous in the country and world, is known for having spent everyday for 2 years practicing making a hollandaise sauce until it was perfect. Some of us can't even do the same cuts two days in a row...

Anyways, enough rambling, my right wrist is kind of tired because the french knives I'm used to aren't as heavy as the CIA knives, so I'm still finding my way with them. 

Everyday, one of the outputs from our kitchen is stock (chicken, beef, veal, etc). I really do love how this school was set up. In the meat class, they learn how to cut the chicken off the bone, then our kitchen gets the bones to turn into stock, then various kitchens at higher levels get the stock to make soup or sauces. It's a pretty great system. Here is some from today's stock production:

Chilling the stock on ice before putting them in the fridge:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

there are lot of dirtbags around this school

Today we started Skills Development I, where we learn all knife cuts, mother sauces, stocks--basically the fundamentals of cooking that we will carry with us throughout our careers as chefs. We have Chef Viverito, who claims to hate teaching this course (probably because it's so elementary.. we 70 mins scheduled to cut mirepoix, 3 shallots, 3 garlic, and some parsley stems... it took about 15min). Chef Viverito is the type of chef I hope to be someday. He mentioned how he travels constantly for cooking (just got back from Thailand) and how he used to be a private chef on yachts and a personal chef. I have at one point or another wanted to literally be all three of those. I hope to learn a lot from him in the kitchen and as a mentor regarding my career in the future. His theory is that being a chef is about knowing the ratios, the functions, instead of just recipes. It's been hard to express this to people in my life. They always come to me asking for recipes and get frustrated when I give them the method instead. 

Chef Viverito is a clean freak, to say the least. His term for messy people, "dirtbags" is a phrase we hear often in class. Did you know that 70% of pico de gallo in the US has traces of fecal matter in it? It's because people don't wash their hands. dirtbags!

The pictures of today aren't that exciting, especially given that I'm still sick (ugh), but here are a few.

Here are my pretty knives and tools all ready to go:
This is the basic layout of the kitchen:

We made some stock today:

I didn't have much of an appetite so I went down to the storeroom to poke around and see any new products. I looked at the list of items they had (over 37 pages long!), so I'll probably order some items not normally found in the Hudson Valley area.

Here are a few of the asian products:

I'll write more tomorrow, hopefully I'll be back at 100% by then...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

you're playing monopoly with a businesswoman...

What a long week. After being constantly on the run either studying or in class, I was excited to finally get a few days off. Friday was exciting because my parents and sister Pegah came up to spend the weekend here. It was my dad's birthday so we all just spent some low key time together, which was much needed. I felt bad that I was sick but it was nice seeing them all. We played some monopoly (so non-persian of us) and went out to Le Petit Bistro in Rhinebeck for my dad's birthday. Today I took them all to Eveready Diner, which has been featured on the Food Network. Now I'll try to unwind a bit and get organized for Skills I on tuesday. 

I wasn't the frontrunner... but soon enough, having all 4 railroads, 4 houses on boardwalk, and 2 on park place brought me to victory :-D
Some of the food from eveready:

Now onto D block, Skills Development I, which will be tons of work but lots of learning. Happy memorial day everyone!

Friday, May 22, 2009

caviar used to be the same price as beer

I just turned on my tv for the first time this week. The couch hasnt been sat on, and mail is scattered on my counters, it feels like I haven't been home in days. You can tell it's the end of another block. It surprised me that I was so busy I didn't even get a chance to attend the grand buffet this week. Luckily, it happens every three weeks so I'll go to the next one. 

This morning we had our fish class final exam. Like our meat exam, 10 different fish were put out and we had to identify them and other facts about them including what family they belong to, their activity level, if the bones are good for stock, what type of cutting method used to fillet the fish, etc. Though I felt prepared, I still had some apprehensions going into it, but it ended up working out well. Another important portion of all our exams here is a yield test, we calculate what percent yield we get from a fish being fabricated into a fillet. This tool will help us set menu prices, determine food costs, and other costs required to purchase raw material inventory. Finally, we take a written exam which encompasses all the lectures we had throughout the week. It was nice to get all of it out of the way before fabrication and lecture for the day. We fabricated filets again today, but the tasting was especially exciting since we talked about caviar, including Iranian. :-D

The end of class was bittersweet. All week I loved just listening to Chef Clark tell his stories, the years of experience shining through. It was nice to just listen to his words of wisdom and I'll be sad that I won't have that after today. I am very excited to move onto Skill Development I, one course out of three that builds our fundamental techniques and skills. 

Here are some pictures from the fish room:

These are the bins in the walk in cooler:

Here are some flat fish:

And the general layout of the fabrication room:

Our lecture room is through the glass attached to the fabrication room:

Some of the caviar:

Our tasting plate of different caviars including: 3 types of ostera from the caspian, russia, and the US. Pike fish roe, white fish roe, salmon & trout roe. The other eggs are not allowed to be called caviar because they don't come from the sturgeon:

The value of each of our plates was over $100

And these were our smoked/cured salmon:

Oh, just another week at the culinary, I absolutely LOVE this place!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

jimmy was a blue crab

Today we covered shellfish such as lobsters, shrimps, and etc. As usual we filleted lots of fish for the schools' kitchens (that we will be moving to next week). Today we filleted a fish named Barramundi, which is part of the bass family (identifiable by the shape of the gill plate which looks like a Hershey kiss). Here are some pictures from the fabrication room:

Gutting some hybrid striped bass (you know its that type because the stripes are broken and uneven):

Barramundi fish:

And its fillet:

Chef Clark with a male and female lobster (you can tell them from the geophone on the male or the swimmerets on the female):

What a mahi-mahi's back bone looks like.. pretty cool, eh?

Soft shell blue crabs:

Here are the crabs cooked:

This is our crab and lobster tasting: (Did you know it takes 9-12 years for a 1.5-2.5 pound lobster to grow to that size?)

And here is a tasting of black tiger shrimp, and white shrimp cooked 3 ways (peeled, peel on, head on.) Obviously the one cooked with the head had the most flavor. If you find black spots on the shrimp  you buy, it means that during harvest when they were cutting the heads off the other shrimp, the gut juices got on some and they didn't wash it off quickly enough. An important quality factor to keep in mind.

I don't have much time to write since we have a final tomorrow on tons of fish stuff, but will catch y'all up soon. Have a great memorial day weekend!