Thursday, August 31, 2006

Day Eight - Some pictures to share

Ok this is my current partner Scott. We're making Bolognese sauce and French Onion Soup.

This is how the line looks. We have 2 students on each station. Each station holds 4. We have a total of 12 stoves that would accomodate 24 students. (We have 21) As you can see (or at least I hope you can) each station has an LCD screen so we can see what the chefs are doing.

This is Chef Rorschach. Her intensity is incredible! She has such a passion for food, but more importantly you can feel her passion for the students to learn. There is nothing that gets past this woman.

The beginning stages of my French Onion soup (which I nailed). If you like French Onion Soup from Campbells...I feel sorry for you. This is one recipe that takes a LONG time to make, but it is SO worth it.

We also made our pasta dough. This will be used to make several pasta dishes over the next 2 days. (Thur and Fri we eat!)

The key to all these dishes - start with good stock. Yes stock takes up to 24 hours to make. But if you make a big batch you can freeze it and use it all year. I bought myself one of those food saver machines that vacuum seals food. It's one of those devices I now say "how in the heck did I ever live without it?"

Chef Knight organized us a bit differently tonight and it worked out fantastically. Some who use to run all over grabbing their ingredients are now more organized. Now she has us all Mise out (to gather our ingredients and chop/slice etc) everything, clean our station. Then we cook. Whereas before it was grab ingredients, start cooking first dish, while that was cooking folks were grabbing their next set...chaos.

We got out early tonight, one of those few rare treats that I so love.

Until tomorrow :) Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Day Seven – 2 more sauces and 2 soups

Ok I officially know why it’s so hard to get 2 basic sauces done and 2 soups by 10pm…utter chaos.

See at home ones ingredients are all relatively close. Not to mention when you make your vegetable soup, when was the last time you weighed all your ingredients? Yeah…we all just go “Ok I’ll chop some onions, celery, carrots, potatoes etc..” Not so in school. Allow me to elaborate….

5:50 pm – All students enter the lab and begin setting up their stations – cutting boards, pots and pans et al.

6:15 pm – Chef Instructors begin their lectures and demos.

6:45 pm – The ingredient cupboard is brought out from the walk-in. This contains 80% of what we will need. Spices are usually above us on our prep shelves or over on a counter clear across the room.

6:50 pm – 21 Students make a dash for said cupboard on wheels.

6:51 pm – The first toes are stepped on…no I mean literally.

7:00 pm – Most have their ingredients – But wait they must all be weighed. The food is here and the scales are way over there! The cold stuff like milk is in yet another refrigerator. It gets better…there are only two ounce scales for 21 students all weighing numerous items – 4 oz onions, 2 oz carrots, 2 oz celery, that’s for the first dish. Then you need another set for a different recipe. Let’s not forget the flour, the oil, all must be measured or weighed. No eyeballing here! This can take an eternity!

7:25 pm – While preparing the first dish the chef begins to demo the next dish. Time for multi-tasking! You have to make the one you’re working on while watching the LCD monitors so you can make darn sure you didn’t miss a special technique. Nothing worse that hearing the Chef call out “Ok? So you do that you’ll be marked down. Is that clear?” and we all yell out “Yes Chef!” and ask the person next to us…what did she just say? Hoping they were paying attention. I mean come on! I have 2 pots on the stove, prepping veggies for another 2 recipes and measuring and weighing…..and I have to listen too?

7:45 pm – Chef yells out that it’s 7:45 to monitor our time, no dishes presented after 10pm and you still have 3 dishes to make – “Yes Chef!” we all yell enthusiastically.

8:00 pm – Everyone desperately trying to get their first dish ready to present.

8:10 pm – The first crash is heard. It’s a pot that fell on the floor from the dish station because someone was too lazy to rinse and wash it and just left it there along with a MOUNTAIN of other dishes. Needless to say we’re all awake now!

8:30 pm – First dishes are being presented and judged. It’s a mad scramble back to your station to start your next dish. But before that you have to take your dishes to the wash area and clean your station. Your station must be free of clutter and debris.

8:45 pm – There’s measuring, chopping, slicing, questions, dish grabbing, stirring, sautéing, more questions, whipping (of sauces not students), straining (again food related not nerves), pureeing, blending, cleaning, plating, eating (if we’re lucky), demo’s, station checks, tasting, sweating (both students and veggies), caramelizing, weighing….and this all happens in about 15 minutes. I would like say breathing…but at this point it’s too much effort.

9:00 pm – Chefs are calling out we have 1 hour to present our dishes! There is like 3 second pause while everyone looks at either their watch or the clock on the wall to verify and then frantic cooking continues.

10:00 pm – All dishes (hopefully) are presented and the clean up begins. We have some on dish duty, some on stoves, and others on station checks to make sure they have everything for the next day. (Would be nice if the class before us did it for us….but that’s what makes us cool and them..well not so cool). And then there are a few who just sit around and don’t do anything and watch us all bust our humps. (Karma baby….just remember karma will come for you…)

10:45 pm – A debriefing by the Chefs and we all say goodnight.

11:00 pm – Mass exodus for the door.

11:10 pm – For me…1.5 hour drive home.


Tonight we made Bechamel Sauce, Veloute’ Sauce, Cream of Tomato Soup and Cream of Mushroom Soup. I got high marks on all 4. The highest you can get is a 20 and no 20’s have been handed out yet that I know of. But I love a good challenge! I got a 19 on both my soups. I don’t know about my sauces because they were not taste tested by the Chefs. They were looking for consistency because we needed the Bechamel for our tomato soup and the veloute’ for our mushroom soup.

I think I shall save my mushroom soup and use that this weekend. I’ll add some braised beef done in a merlot, pearl onions and make a heartier soup out of it.

All in all fun night, busy, but fun.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Day Six – 3 Sauces, 1 Dish and in Need of a new gym equipment…

Well Day 6 started off with a test of what we learned last week. 20 questions in all, all short answer type questions. I feel I did pretty well with the exception of 1 question. The question (as I read it) was “What 4 things did you do to prepare?” They have been beating into our heads to be prepared for class, have your daily scheduled made, make sure we’re ready i.e. trim nails, clean uniform etc. So that’s what I put as my answer. Well after the test is over everyone is anxiously asking each other “what did you put down for question X?” I hear someone ask “on that question about the 4 things we’ve done I put down chop a lot of carrots.”….Huh? Wait a minute….that doesn’t sound right. So I ask someone else what they put down and they said the soups, the veggies and I’m like “You did that tonight to prepare for class?” They respond..”No I did that last week” (of course giving me this quizzical look of has she lost her fool mind?) Seems the question was not ‘what did you do to…’ but rather ‘what 4 did you...’ DOH!!! I just know the chef instructors are reading that going “what in the heck was she thinking?”

Next it’s time to mix us up a bit. Everyone had their partner switched and we were put at new stations. I am now partnered with Scott, who, as it turns out has a lot of restaurant experience. But he too is there to learn.

Demo’s are done and we’re cut loose to set forth upon the bounty of ingredients to make our 3 sauces for the evening. Espagnole, Tomato and Hollandaise.

First up is tomato as it takes almost 2 hours to cook. This was a team assignment and I must say we pulled it off brilliantly. Well more so Scott as I don’t think he was wearing ¼ of it on his uniform like me. (For the record polka dots are not flattering on a white chef jacket) Next we’re on to our individual sauces – first for that is the espagnole as it takes about an hour to cook. This sauce gets its base from veal stock. And is yummy. Up next is the hollandaise. Now for those of you that have never made hollandaise from scratch allow me to give you a heads up. Start working out on your shoulder muscles now. I’m serious…this sauce would put most major baseball pitchers in the locker room with an iced down shoulder. First you whip the egg yolks together with your reduction (wine, vinegar and shallots – strained). Then you put it over a bain marie (hot water bath) and you really start to whisk…on the heat…off the heat…on the heat…off the heat….DO NOT STOP WHISKING! As your shoulder begins to wake up and wonder what in the heck all the movement is your brain is laughing mechanically at the shoulder “hahaha it’s your turn!!! I had to work to memorize all this now you get to do the rest!! Bwahahah!!” And I sit back watching it all like the Brady Bunch Movie when Janet went all demented. A quick splash of hot boiling water on my hand instantly brings me out of my reverie. We’re whisking and whisking….WooHoo my soft peaks have form!! (I feel like it’s Tuesday already and not still Monday evening) It is now time to add my clarified butter (that took a bit of doing) one small ladle at a time. When I say small I mean like an ounce or so and I have 12 ounces to add in. (Yes feel my whisking pain….) Now, the really fun thing is that during all this whisking you better be stirring your other sauces so they don’t burn or stick. I am pondering what type of steroid will assist me in growing 2 additional arms. As my hollandaise is close to being done I put my asparagus on the steamer. My shoulder is now numb.

**Now this is where we need that new equipment piece at the gym. I’m thinking a whisk hooked up to a tension line that can be adjusted to build up those muscles. You just go in a whisk for 20 minutes. Works out your arms and let me tell you your cardio too!**

My hollandaise is presented and gets good marks. So does our tomato sauce (though I am concerned that it reduced quite a bit, about 2 cups more than anyone else). My espagnole sauce is excellent as well. Now it’s time to start on clean up….

At both sink stations there is a mountain of dishes. This was the night that every pot and bowl was used. It took 10 us almost an hour to get them all done. (And when I find the yahoo’s that are bringing their dishes over and just dropping them off and leaving and not even rinsing them! ..ggrr)

I keep forgetting to take pictures. I guess when every last brain cell is focused on getting dishes done that can happen. I even wrote in bold red letters on my daily schedule “Pictures” but still my brain blocked out. I will keep trying.

Until next time…..

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Day 5 – Sautéed Spinach, Haricots Verts Amandine, Mayo

Funny that we did spinach only because I had never cooked or eaten spinach until about a month before school started. I made a decision to try as many different things before school started so that at least I’d have an idea of the item when school started.

The spinach was cooked in butter and garlic and must say very tasty. My presentation was very good and chef said my use of garlic was excellent. Next up was the haricots vert, which in English translates to green beans hahaha. This is a recipe I cook at least once a week but I always called it brown butter green beans. This dish is extremely tasty because of the flavor of browned butter (not burned). You add the sliced almonds to the butter as it’s browning thus adding another layer of flavor. The beans are BSD (blanched, shocked and drained) then added to the butter and heated through. Mine came out very good in flavor and presentation, but they weren’t as crisp as chef wanted.

Next up was the mayo. I’ve always wanted to make homemade mayo. This is one dish the chef will not taste, so you are graded on look and texture. The reason for this is because of the raw eggs present in the dish. If you have never had homemade mayo, make some. It takes about 20 minutes but the flavor cannot be beat. It will last in your fridge about 2 weeks.

This night went pretty well for everyone. At least no fires. The Juniors brought us over some of the dishes they were preparing. Slow roasted pork cheek (don’t cringe this is one hell of a tasty dish), saffron risotto, a duck/fig salad (I now love figs) and an inverted apple tart with homemade vanilla ice cream. I think this was the first night I actually ate very healthy because I ate my spinach, then the pork and rice and desert.

The down side? Well since we got done so early we had plenty of time for some deep cleaning. (wait…cleaning..not cooking? Yes cleaning) Of course there were the few who just stand around with a rag in their hand walking around but not actually doing anything. But the rest of us cleaned the stoves, changed the tray liners, cleaned out sinks, wiped down all shelves, restocked all condiments at all stations, all utensils and some things I can’t even remember.

Next week we start making pasta. My favorite!!

Until then…

Day 4 - Carrots and Soups

Well day four was our first day of timing everything and putting out three full recipes –

Glazed Carrots
Carrot Soup

I have my own system of reading all recipes the day before and creating a chart so I know exactly what I have to pull to my station. (Mise en place) I also put my recipes in order of how they need to be prepared. In this case I started on my vichyssoise first since it needs to be presented chilled and will need time to cool down. Then I began my glazed carrots so I can present those and then use them for my carrot soup.

My glazed carrots got high marks, my vichyssoise got very high marks and my carrot soup got good marks. I forgot to heat the bowl for the carrot soup and I forgot to strain it so there were air bubbles. Well needless to say I won’t do that again (I hope).

We had one mishap with one student who burned their carrots very badly and another who caught their cartouche (a lid of sorts made from parchment paper) on fire. I think the chef instructors need to remind students not to panic and to just cover with a lid to snuff the fire out. Instead they used tongs and pulled the flaming cartouche and carried it to a sink. I shudder to think if they had brushed up against anyone and caught their hair on fire.

Most got all their dishes presented and there were a few who didn’t manage their time as well. One that didn’t help was we only had two hand mixers for 21 students so there was a wait. There are also a few students who don’t clean up after themselves so instead of taking items that we all need and cleaning them for the next person they just leave it at the sink. I want to remind them this isn’t a competition or a contest as to who can finish first.

I can see by reading ahead in my book that we have some intense things coming up. Nothing I haven’t done before, but haven’t done them all in one night.

Let the Cooking Begin!!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Day 3 - Stocks

Well day 3 began with us gaining one student. So now our class is the biggest they’ve had 21 students.

Tonight we made stocks. Two actually a brown stock with veal bones and a white stock with chicken bones. Now I know what you’re thinking…the beef is what makes it brown and the chicken is why it’s white – Wrong! The brown stock gets its color because we roasted the veal bones in the oven, then covered them with tomato paste (the acid) to bring out more flavor and color. The chicken is the white stock, this time, because those bones were not roasted and just started in cold water, thus no browning.

I never thought that bones roasting in the oven would smell so good.

We also got to go over to the senior class while they prepared their first full line meal – yellow and red beet salad, grilled pork chops and butter and champagne glazed potatoes and then a hot chocolate cake. The service was horrible and slow, the food pretty darn good and I can’t wait to be up there doing the same slow, horrible service with good food. It was nice to see that while we’re screwing up just dicing carrots, even the seniors are still learning. All in all they did a fantastic job. They were in front of 21 newbie students, 2 additional chefs working their butts off.

All in all a fun night. Our first real night of cooking. Tomorrow is soup night.

Until then…

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Day 2 of Culinary School

Or as I like to call it – Day 2 in my personal asylum.

As the class starts we find that all 20 students have returned and are smiling…this is a good sign. We proceed to stand at our stations for 1.5 hours and listen to a lecture. At this point my back is talking outloud “Hello can you like sit or lean on something please? I’m getting cranky”. I ignore it and push thru. After the long lecture, which was interesting at least, it’s time for Sanitary Video Part II. This is a 45 minute video on..yes you guessed it – Sanitation. During this video my back got rude “Ok that’s it! You either lean or sit right now or I am out of here!” Problem is Chef has said no leaning, sitting on the edge or squatting. *whimpers softly*

Video is over and it’s time for a 15 minute break. I head right for the lobby and sit in one of the comfy chairs. My back let’s out a big AAahhhh. I know my back and feet will toughen up so not too worried.

On to the next phase….it’s time to start cutting again. Tonight we got 3 ingredients. Yes carrots was one, plus onions and celery. The room was fragrant with this mirepox. And tomorrow we’ll be using it to make stocks.

That’s about all I have for day 2. The real cooking starts tomorrow night.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Day 1 of Culinary School

Well not a whole lot to report about.

The first day we're introduced to our chef instructors (our class is so big-20, we have 2 instructors)

We watched a sanitation video. Lucky for me I'm already a hand washing freak. But boy it's apparent already that some are not.

Then we had a tour of our kitchen and common terms for some of the tools of the trade as well as appliances. (Low-Boy, Reach-In, Walk-in etc)

And with great anticpation (fan fare and drum roll please) it was time to start cutting stuff! Oh yeah. Chef Knight reveals the magic cart that is prepared for us each night and will contain many of the ingredients we will need for that evenings class. Oh..wait...for us I shouldn't say ingredientS it should have been ingredienT. Carrots. And lots of them. I haven't seen that many carrots even in the grocery store! Hell I don't think the carrot farmers have seen that many carrots in one spot.

And we learn proper knife handling (which is a good thing) and the cuts will be using for the next 2 weeks. Fine Brunoise (which in english means super fine dice), small dice, medium dice...gee I'm seeing a pattern. But learn I shall and find that if you paid attention while the chefs demo'd the cuts it was rather easy. So I grab my 3 carrots and go to town. I've finished one carrot and half way through my second when the chef comes over and taps me on the shoulder and says "You can stop cutting, you have it down." Yeah! I wish she had said that before my fingers turned orange. Oh you're laughing...remember what your fingers look like after you eat a bunch of cheetos? Yeah carrots do the same thing, only you can't lick it off.

So I clean my station (which I share with Matt who seems very new to cooking) and wash my dishes and then it dawns on me to look around the classroom. I'm not sure if I'm seeing this right..but there are some students who are still peeling their carrots. Now I know I can dice but I wasn't going fast at all. I was taking my time to ensure my cuts were up to the chefs standards. But still peeling? So there I stand..watching the class cut carrots. I have the urge to offer to help and have to literally squelch it - I am a student not a chef. So then I consider offering to the chefs "Anything you'd like for me to do?" but decide against that. I will not be viewed as teachers pet. I opt for reading my text book. My eyes weep when I see day two's schedule. Not sure if it's joy that it's not carrots or pain because it's onions.

I'm tired, my back hurts, my feet hurt and I find my appetite waning. I force myself to eat a sandwich as I post this and it makes me nauseous. But I must keep my energy up....those darn onions are going to rue the day I enrolled in Culinary School. I plan on getting a small digital camera so I can share some pictures here.

Here's to cooking! :)

PS - I forgot to mention that as we all left school for the evening, all the streets surrounding the school were blocked off by the police. Numerous squad cars, police tape of "Crime Scene Do Not Cross" were all over. As I looked down the street I see a body laying in the street. Looks like he came off a motorcycle but with all the police and whatnot I don't think it was just a typical accident. You just gotta love Los Angeles at night!