Feb 17, 2009

recently i've been blown away at how lucky i am. to have the opportunity to be pursuing something i am so passionate about, to have family and friends who support me so wholeheartedly, and to have a husband who buys me kitchen appliances for gift giving occasions. i've received a meat grinder, multiple knives and a kitchenaid mixer from my fabulous husband, and for valentine's day he surprised me with a beautiful 14 cup cuisinart. i am a lucky lucky girl.

last week i had a terrible time with roux in class - i rushed and screwed it up and it threw me off for the entire evening. so i left class for the week feeling slightly defeated, questioning my purpose and ability. i spent the weekend without cooking much, which simultaneously relaxed me and wound me up, and i showed up at class this monday tired, weak, and praying the night would fly by.

last night in the kitchen we each made a beef consomme from beef and duck stock we made last week. consomme is a broth that is clarified by egg white and ground meat, flavored by additional vegetables and herbs. i have to admit that i'm not entirely convinced that consomme is worth the effort and is any better than a really good quality stock, but i understand the reasoning and uses. chef tasted mine and my neighbors and praised us heavily. i cleaned up my station feeling much better than last tuesday after the roux disaster.

after our consommes were tasted and critiqued, chef called everyone to his demo table, explaining that we would now make crepes. i have never attempted to make crepes, being afraid of the thin delicate batter and seemingly difficult execution required for quality crepe making. we watched chef effortlessly swirl and flip and stack, and then he sent us on our way, saying, "you have the recipe but you will not measure, just make it good." oh, ok.

( i've come to adore chef's little sayings, looking forward to them after each demo, and he keeps sharing new ones with us every week. "you can have a good time now" when sending us off to practice the technique just demonstrated to us, and "just make it good" when someone asks how much salt to add to the consomme, and "it is cooked when i say that it is cooked" in response to a question of how you know when the roux is ready.)

so we went to our stations and i cracked my eggs and added a few heaping spoonfulls of flour, then a few more, until the thick ribbony consistency of chef pierre's batter was achieved. then in with butter, salt, sugar, then the milk, whisking and analyzing until it looked thin and silky like his. i poured a 2 ounce ladel of my batter into my little buttered skillet, swirled and smiled. it looked beautiful. "pear-fect, em-ay-lee!" i heard as chef approched the stack of crepes on my cutting board. "every one, em-ay-lee made pear-fect crepes! come here and look at em-ay-lee's crepes!" as i was turning red i was also grinning, i was reassured of how pear-fect this new career is going to be for me, and reminded of how lucky i am to be experiencing this right now.

Feb 12, 2009

i came down with a bout of food poisoning related sickness last week. again. it was either guacamole at frontera, tom yum soup at a thai place near my work, chicken from a catered work lunch, or snacks at nacional 27. i am eating out too much. i don't know what it is about my stomach, but it's becoming rather sensitive. i'm generally a healthy eater, but for some reason my body is reacting rather violently every couple of months. maybe i'm just lucky.

i went to the doctor's office monday morning and when they weighed me the nurse said, "wow, you've lost a lot of weight since your last visit!" well, i've had food poisoning twice. that's one way to do it.

i'm back to normal this week, in time to taste some duck leg confit and duck rillettes in class. tasting continues to be my favorite part of this education.

we made roux on tuesday night, and for the first time i failed miserably. i've made roux and sauces plenty of times at home, but i guess i was having a terribly off night. overcooked, overfloured, and underthickened sauce. gross. hopefully i'll have my game back by next week.

Feb 10, 2009

last night was my first culinary school exam. we completed our introduction to professional cookery course, culminating in a half written and half practical exam. as chef was grading my dice, battonet, and tournet, he looked up and raised his eyebrows. "zees are pretty good, em-ay-lee," he said as he turned the tournets around in his hands. he checked the length of my battonet, fingered through my onion dice, giving me the maximum points for each. he then spent about 30 seconds scrutinizing my medium dice of potato. "i have to find somesing here. nobody is perfect. not even me." as he scribbled a 19/20 next to the medium dice on my grading sheet. 20/20 for professionalism and i walked away with a 99%. that coupled with missing one question on the written exam means i walk away with an A. so that's that.

after 5 weeks of classes i've realized that this program is not exactly the most intense program i could be enrolled in - chef pierre is not very hard on us. i expected to be cutting mounds and mounds of potatoes, having chef tell me to try again because they weren't PERFECTLY square, but that hasn't been the case. he's content if we can just understand and implement the gist of the technique or concept. i go back and forth between wishing he was more of a hard ass on us and being thankful that i don't have to spend hours upon hours studying and worrying that i'm not memorizing the acidity levels of different grapes and practicing my knife skills until i have blisters.

the good news: i'm learning a lot. the bad news: i'm realizing i will never learn it all, but i'm coming to terms with that. it's probably ok. even the best chefs don't have their brains wrapped around EVERYTHING. they specialize in one thing or another, they spend their time trying to learn everything they need to make one cuisine or technique perfect. i need to do some culinary soul searching about what my concentration will be. i've dabbled around and have become decent at a wide range of techniques and cuisines, but not great at one. i have this rennaisance man complex, i need to be able to at least make one item from every category, and i need to maybe let some of them go. this is going to take more practice.

Feb 4, 2009

part 1. fini.

next monday is the final in my first culinary school class, intro to professional cooking. we'll be tested on our basic knowledge (how many ounces in a pint, what is a straight sided sauce pan called, how many ounces of clarified butter does a pound of whole butter yield, etc), and then chef pierre's boss, will test us on our knife skills. he will watch us make a medium dice, battonet, and the dreaded tourne (little football shapes). we practiced our potato tourne-ing skills both days this week, and frankly, i'm bored with it. i can do a pretty decent tourne, but it doesn't excite me like the other things we've been learning do, like fileting fish. or deboning a chicken. or clarifying butter! or making a garlic anchovy butter for escargot that we get to eat! in class!

this is, without a doubt, the most satisfying learning experience i have ever pursued. i hope it keeps up. i'm having a blast, even with the damned tourne of potato.

Feb 3, 2009

top chef.

so i've now lost count of the number of times people have asked me when i'm going to be on top chef. i appreciate your enthusiasm and belief in my skills, but it's probably not going to happen.

or is it?

last week we did a little quick fire style challenge with our bass filets - chef pierre told us to save a section of one of our stiped bass filets for something he would explain later. so we iced it and went on to our flatfish and another demo and some cleaning up - and forgot about the filets.

then, out of nowhere he tells us to cook them. quickly. with a sauce and a garnish GO! all hell broke loose as people were searching the cooler, the spice rack, the freezers for ANYTHING that would make their dish remarkable. as my classmates were rushing around grabbing milk, capers, spring onion, rice, mushrooms, and tomato, i blanked. i had no idea where to start with my fish. i am a planner, i like to evaluate and take my time. i am not a quick thinker, but there i was, with time clicking away and people already starting to plate. so i grabbed a shallot, butter, a lemon. some parsley. found the white wine. discovered some flour. i did a simple dredge, pan fried the fish, and started on a lemon butter wine sauce.

as everyone was congregating at the tasting table, i sampled my sauce and to my horror discovered that it was terrible. awful. i added more butter and some pepper and let it simmer vigorously as i started to panic. the wine needed to cook off - it was way too pungent. chef pierre was beginning to his tasting and commenting going around the table to each person's plate and i was still cooking my sauce. at the last possible minute i poured the sauce, dropped the fish on top, garnished with some lemon slices and pushed my way towards the table to put my plate down, which drew all eyes my way. chef reached out with his spoon to taste it as i hid behind a classmate and cringed. "this one is simple. but good." really? he went on, praised some, criticized some, and then we were left to taste for ourselves. i went to mine first - and it wasn't half bad.

simple. but good.

Feb 2, 2009

last week we butchered chickens, ducks, poussin (baby chickens), striped bass, and sole. i'm finding taking apart animals comes naturally to me...once you have a vague understanding of the anatomy of an animal, taking the meat off its bones is pretty easy. i'm learning a lot about my fellow classmates as we're going through these exercises as well. there are a few squeamish people, a few who don't think they need to learn how to disassemble a tiny bird from the inside out (and stuff it with a mushroom rice stuffing and wrap it in bacon and eat it! yum!), and a few who are also quite good at taking the bones out of things. i actually find it calming. like methodically taking apart a puzzle. last weekend i bought three chickens just so i could take them apart at home - my freezer is full of beautifully butchered airline breasts and quarts of chicken stock. i also made the stuffed boneless deal, but with a full grown chicken's boneless thigh and leg quarter. here's what it looked like:

it tasted divine. if you're nice, i'll make one for you sometime.

i'm starting to feel a bit restless in class - i want to do more, bigger, harder things. i want to debone a turkey from the inside out and stuff it with a duck, stuffed with a chicken. seriously, i am feeling the urge to flex my crazy inside out deboning knowledge and make a turducken.

chef pierre praised my poussin deboning, saying "SOMEBODY did a good job, em-ay-lee!" that is my favorite thing to hear so far.

*i realized i didn't link to my friend's culinary school adventure blog, so here it is. enjoy comparing out stories.