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Thursday, May 27, 2004
New York Times article on blogging
Now that my wedding cake is done I'm pretty much coasting... and trying to stay out of other people's way. I've had two cakes in mind to work on for some time now, but I just hadn't had a chance. Last night, start to finish in about 4 hours, I made the Queen Bee cake from the Cake Bible. I'll take pictures of it tonight for you all to see. It was actually pretty cute! I was particularly interested in it because it calls for nougatine for masking and since I've never worked with nougatine, let along honey nougatine, I thought it would be a fun experience. It was actually not all that bad. Honey buttercream (a little greasy at first, but the second flavors you get are nice sweet honey tones... not too sweat). Honey rum simple syrup. Genoise cake. Of course the honey nougatine. A chocolate plate with a few holes cut in it for the top decoration. Honey to fill the holes in the chocolate plate. And marzipan honey bees. OK, the bees. I definitely need practice making creatures out of marzipan. You'd think bees wouldn't be all that big of a deal, HA! I ran into Chef Amy and Chef Ken after dinner and I was telling Chef Amy about my bees. I made the mistake of saying that they totally sucked... of course, she couldn't resist reminding me of the Basic Skills mantra... "You don't suck, you just need lots of practice." It was good to hear. I should have asked for help. I'm sure Chefs' Ken or Bob would have been able to model one for me, but since I'm technically done with the class it seems like I'd be taking away attention from those students who are still working on the wedding cakes. It doesn't seem fair. If I were them I'd be bent out of shape... but that's just me.
Ah, joy, I had dinner last night... and plated desserts. It's been a long time since I've taken a dinner break... probably 4-5 weeks! The desserts were, well, mixed. There was a peanut butter cookie with peanut butter ice cream and chocolate sauce that was pretty good. The other one was a tuille that was supposed to be sculpted into a cup shape... small problem... they were in a bit of a hurry and the cookie didn't get cooked long enough, or cool enough, not sure which, either way the tuille was flabby. Not a great component by itself, but together with the rest of the dessert it wasn't too bad. The cup was filled with mascarpone cheese and strawberries that had been macerated in balsamic and then garnished with basil. Overall, good idea. The strawberries were outstanding, but the mascarpone cheese was, well, it was horrible. It had the consistency (mouth feel) of what broken buttercream looks like. Lumpy, almost like either the whipped cream or the cheese were over whipped and they broke... don't know, but it wasn't enjoyable.
Dinner was a pretty decent terriaki chicken. The flavor of the sauce was very good, unfortunately the chicken was over cooked. I'm tellin' ya, what is the deal with the chicken?!?! Either it's under cooked or over cooked... come on, I just want something in between! :) Well, it was dinner. Either way I was able to sit down and eat and talk about food and restaurants and cheese and plans for after graduation with Lauren, Desire and Barney. It was relaxing.
A little bird told me yesterday that the whole dining situation is going to change. Apparently only B&P students are going to be eating at Cyril's Kitchen (I think starting next week.). AOS students will be eating in the basement: sandwiches and soups and they'll have to buy their sodas from a vending machine. Thank GOD I'm in B&P, because if I was AOS, I'd be PISSED. Come on, that was something that was advertised during the tour, in the brochures and is considered to be part of our education... educating our palates (for better or worse, sometimes, as you know, it's a little hit or miss). I understand why they are doing it, but I'd still be a bit angry; this way those students working in Cyril's will get to focus on better food quality and proper plating procedures. Yes, it makes sense. We are not creating cafeteria workers, so there will definitely be benefits, but I won't be all that surprised if B&P students catch a bit of flak from AOS students... at least at the beginning.
After dinner I started working on my decorated Tiramisu. It's going to be so pretty... assuming I can pull it off! I should have made the biscuits last night, but I didn't have any mascarpone cheese, so I couldn't make the filling, so what would be the point. At least when I make the biscuits tonight they'll be nice and dry and crisp and hopefully soak up a ton of syrup. I may have to go down to plated desserts to snag some cheese, but we'll see. I did get a start on the colored chocolate I'll be using for masking the sides. I'll show you all pictures as soon as it's all done.
Well, sorry for no pics today. The batteries died on my camera and I need to get more (with any luck Noreen, or receptionist, will be picking up some for me, but we'll see) before tonight.
Wednesday, May 26, 2004
Culinary schools are drawing top talent straight out of high school in a nation hungry for fine dining
By MICHELE ORECKLIN
Monday, May. 17, 2004
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is considered one of history's great gastronomes. The 18th century Frenchman, however, spent years as a lawyer before openly pursuing his epicurean calling. It's a trajectory scores of Americans have traveled in recent years as they abandoned the corporate world and sought greater happiness at cooking academies. But if Brillat-Savarin were around today, he would probably skip the law and head straight to the kitchen.
The fastest-growing population in the nation's cooking schools is young people who refuse to do time as lawyers, orthopedists or even traditional college students but instead proceed directly from high school into culinary academies. In 1997, only 22% of applicants to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y., were recent high school graduates.
Today that number is 38%. At the California Culinary Academy (CCA) in San Francisco, nearly 20% of the 1,910 students in last year's incoming class matriculated straight from high school -- a marked increase from 2000, when that number was less than 5%. At Johnson & Wales in Providence, R.I., the most common age of culinary students has hovered in recent years between 17 and 19, and Meredith Moore, school spokeswoman, boasts that these applicants are coming in with high SAT scores and extracurricular activities that could easily earn them admission to top colleges.
The publicity generated by the Food Network and chefs with their own books, frozen-food lines and cookware helps explain why many young people view cooking not just as a way to make a living but also to make their name. And while for centuries chefs learned their craft apprenticing in the kitchens of great restaurants, some members of the new generation believe that a degree from a top school will boost their credibility in the profession -- and give them instant access to a wide network of alumni. "Being a chef now is like being a rock star," says Nancy Seryfert, vice president of admissions at the California Culinary Academy. Says Tim Ryan, president of the CIA, the nation's most esteemed culinary school: "We've arrived at a place where more young people than ever are interested in the profession. And perhaps more interesting -- and important -- so are their parents."
Even the most establishment-minded parents would be gratified to see how intensely students pursue their cooking classwork. While sophomores at traditional four-year universities skillfully avoid scheduling classes before 10 a.m., students at culinary schools willingly rise before dawn to laminate pastry dough. On their own time, they cheerfully practice the sauteing, flambeing and knife-wielding skills they have learned in class.
After two uninspired years at a liberal-arts college near his hometown of Akron, Ohio, Nathan Yanko, 22, enrolled in a two-year culinary-arts program at the CIA. He's now taking a 30-week baking and pastry program at the school's Greystone campus in Napa Valley, Calif. His family, many of whom are in the restaurant business themselves, had warned Yanko against the long hours endemic to the profession. But now that they have seen the 13-hour days he voluntarily spends in the kitchen, he says, and the delight he derives from making rolls and puff pastries, they support his decision.
Yanko says the young people at his school seem more intense than many of the career changers, who, in his opinion, are "going through the motions trying to learn a little bit here and there so they can entertain their friends and family." He, on the other hand, is consumed. "I'm planning on making my life out of it. So I need to be all in this all the time, just working night and day at it."
If the sheer joy on their offspring's face is not enough to convince some parents, the employment possibilities just might. As interest in good eating has grown, so have job opportunities in food preparation and service. According to the National Restaurant Association, while the overall economy lost jobs in 2003, restaurant jobs increased at a rate of 1.2%.
By 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of retail bakeries is expected to grow 16% and baking manufacturing 12%. Says the CIA's Ryan: "I'd match our employment rate against any Ivy League school. When they graduate, our students typically juggle seven or eight job offers." According to Kim Resnik, director of marketing for the Atlanta Art Institute, which has a culinary-arts program, her school placed 100% of its culinary students in jobs immediately upon graduation in 2002 (the last year for which the institute has totals) and the average starting salary was $29,591.
Most culinary schools offer two-year associate degrees in either baking and pastry or culinary arts (fundamental cooking techniques in a variety of cuisines). But to make themselves more attractive to parents and students -- and to make students more appealing to employers -- several schools, including the CIA, Johnson & Wales and a handful of the affiliated Art Institutes nationwide (like those in Atlanta; Pittsburgh, Pa.; and Chicago) have instituted four-year bachelor's-degree programs.
Whereas the associate degree is centered on food almost exclusively, the additional course work is geared primarily toward managerial skills and includes classes in history, culture and language, an acknowledgment that a career in the food industry is far more complex than simply creating dishes that arouse awe when they land on a table. (One thing the nation's top culinary schools share with the academic ones is high cost. The 15-month associate degree at the California Culinary Academy costs $45,000, and the four-year bachelor's degree at the CIA can total $70,000; both schools offer financial aid.)
One of students in my class brought this article in the other day. Very interesting. I was particularly heartened by the fact that bakeries are supposed to increase by 16%.
However, the little prat from Ohio needs some sense knocked into him. He said about career changer students: [they are] "...going through the motions trying to learn a little bit here and there so they can entertain their friends and family." He, on the other hand, is consumed. "I'm planning on making my life out of it. So I need to be all in this all the time, just working night and day at it." Aparently he hasn't taken the time to talk to any of them. I feel as driven, if not more so, than many of my classmates and I know I'm not all that unusual... I think he's just pulling a holier-than-thou attitude because he happened to find his passion before he'd started another career. Doesn't mean those of us that are career changers are any less dedicated... it just took us a little longer to identify and then persue our passion. At least it happened. Too many people never find it and die trying.
Thanks to didymoi for tracking down this article and posting it on his site... if you'd like to download it, feel free to go to his site and do so...
Culinary Schools: Food for Thought
The pictures below pretty much tell the story. I got in and started working on my cake. The fondant I'd made on Monday was by far the best batch to date. I was able to cover my 6" and 8" with the new stuff and I used the fondant from my mock wedding cake to cover my 10"... even that was pretty good. It's still not my favorite medium, but I think it's growing on me. I do really like the look of it... the nice smooth edges and surfaces, the way it looks like a soft thick cotton blanket is draped over the cake. I'm sure I'll get plenty of practice.
Applying the gold leaf was a challenge. I really wish I'd draped a cake pan in fondant and done a dry run, but oh well. Chef Ken turned off the hood over the ovens for me (unless you've been in an industrial kitchen you have no idea of the draft a good hood can create... good for keeping any smoke away, bad if you're working with metal only a micron or two thick.) and I started. Thank goodness I started with the bottom layer... no one looks at the bottom layer. The first sheet, silly me, I removed the tissue paper from the foil. Mistake. On the successive sheets I kept the tissue paper on and used it to apply the leaf and then pulled away the paper. Worked like a charm... well almost, it was still not all that easy, but I was pretty pleased.
At every step in the process I was sure I was going to irreparably screw something up. While I was stacking the cake I had visions of me losing my balance and sending a cake flying through the air, or equally as bad, flopping onto the table, fondant ripping and cake crumbling into a million pieces. Each step of the way went just like clockwork. The top cake should have had the fondant trimmed a bit more around the edge. When I stacked it the fondant wrinkled and bunched a bit and the gold got marred. I also had some difficulty with the actual stacking, both layers. How are you supposed to get the sucker from the table/cake stand onto the lower layer? I used one hand and an offset spatula. Set the cake down on the edge away from your body, remove left hand (now all the weight of the cake is resting on the offset spatula), then lower it into place and adjust, if necessary, to center on the lower layer, then pull out the spatula. Sounds easy, but both times I did it I wrinkled the fondant where my left finger touched the cake. Any ideas? It sure is a lot of work to screw things up at that stage.
The inner dome was a piece of cake (no pun intended) and the outer dome actually fit! I'd made two; the one you see and another one that looked very much like string. Chef Ken and Ryan both voted for the string version because it was more open, but when I took it out to put on the cake, it broke. Oh well... there was a reason I'd made two.
After I tracked down Chef Bob we went looking for a table and some tablecloths so we could have somewhere to grade. In order to grade the cake you can't see the cardboard cake round. Well, you probably could, but it's like seeing Miss America's slip hanging out of her evening gown... still pretty, but more than a bit tacky. So I had to transfer the cake to something. I'd looked at clear and white stands and they just looked tacky. Thankfully Chef Bob suggested the slab of marble under my desk. Perfect! The problem was getting the sucker off the cake board and onto the marble. Yikes! Talk about nerve wracking. I was all ready to pick up the cake and Chef Bob came over with a sheet of acetate. He wrapped it around the cake and pulled it onto the marble while I was pulling the cardboard out. Very slick.
After taking the marble slab out of the classroom for grading Chef Bob and I started critically looking at the cake. I, not immediately, volunteered what was painfully obvious... the bottom layer was about 1/2 inch shorter than the other two layers. Chef Bob and I also noticed that it didn't look like the gold band was even. (Now, in my defense, I'd asked one, if not both of the Chefs if they had any suggestions for applying the gold leaf. Any problems they could foresee? Any words of wisdom gained from years of making hundreds of wedding cakes. No advice. Grrrrrrr) He suggested that I could have taken a compass, set it to the width that I wanted the band to be, hold it in place and use the tip to mark the correct width of the band into the fondant. Now that was useful advice... would have been a heap more useful BEFORE I finished my cake, but hey, live and learn... I'll certainly be doing that next time!
When we crouched down to look at the sides (remember the main grading point is horizontal top, vertical sides) I started to notice some rather disturbing problems. The second layer was more of a parallelogram than a cylinder. It had a decided lean toward the back and the sides were not perfectly straight... much more narrow at the top than the bottom. The top layer was pretty good and the bottom layer wasn't horrible. I don't remember seeing the middle layer looking quite so bad (especially the lean)when I was working on it. I'm assuming I did it (or, more accurately, I didn't do it!), but I can't help but wonder, in all the moving around, if it didn't shift a bit. (probably not, but still... can't help but wonder.
Chef Bob said he liked my cake. Yea! That's about all I could ask for. Yes, it wasn't perfect. Yes, it was my first wedding cake. Yes, I was working with a difficult decorating medium. Yes, I designed it myself and didn't copy it from someone else's design. All that being said, I know I could have done better. In the long run, this was a great learning experience. In the short run I've impressed the HELL out of anyone who isn't a culinary student, and even some who are!
If I haven't said it before, I'll say it now, I think of every cake (those I sell and those I give away) as an interview. Lately I've been interviewing my butt off!
Sigh... done. The joy of finishing at 7:15 (cake done, graded, pictures taken) was that I got to go to the baseball game. (Talk about having your cake and eating it too! For one that's almost a literal analogy!) I got a great parking spot for cheap and Joelle pounced on me as soon as I walked into the box and made sure I got a margarita. Drinks, baseball, friendly people. What more could a girl ask for? (Oh yea, how 'bout money!?!?!) I showed the pictures around and everyone was pretty impressed! I also, finally, got a chance to talk to John about his favorite dessert (I've been wanting to find out each of the partner's favorite desserts so I can make it for them... again, always interviewing!). Turns out he likes all things chocolate and gooey. He specifically mentioned chocolate souffle (doesn't exactly travel well, so I probably won't be making this for him) and molten chocolate cakes! (Totally doable... I've even tried these out before! YEA!!!!) I also met his wife for the first time. Very nice! She kept going on and on about Chef Carissa and how she's heard such good things about me. I told he she could call me Chef in October, but not before, but then thanked her profusely for the compliments.
Overall, it was a wonderful time and I'm really glad I got to go. (The margaritas should have come with a warning label, but it all worked out just fine... I was still able to get into work without too much difficulty.)
Since I still have three days of class I'll be making Cindy's daughter's cake and the Queen Bee cake from the Cake Bible. I'm hoping to make cake and fillings tonight and then do assembly and decorations tomorrow and Friday. Shouldn't be a problem, it might be a little tight, but it'll be worth it!
Back to work!
Fondant (foreground), and crumbcoated cake (background)
Closeup of crumbcoated cake. Notice the nice horizontal top and the vertical sides. These were two of the main goals in this class.
Closeup of crumbcoated cake. Notice the nice horizontal top and the vertical sides. These were two of the main goals in this class.
Bottom cake layer with rolled fondant.
Bottom layer with gold leaf. I'm really glad I started with the bottom layer... there was quite a learning curve. Most of my problems with the cake were because of my inexperience with the gold leaf.
Me working on the top layer. 1) brush on clear liquor, 2) carefully add gold leaf, 3) burnish
Top layer and bottom layer. You can see the difference in the height of the two cakes (look at the fondant layer). I forgot to add the extra rounds to the bottom of the bottom layer to raise it up. Whoops!
All three cakes... leafed and ready to stack.
Oh yea, the gold dome. In process. (So the plan had been that the 1/2 circle mold that I covered in royal icing would pop out... well, not really.)
Finished inner dome. Only needed to be burnished after this.
Two stacked layer.
Stacks with the squiggle lace on the top surface of the cake.
Three stacked layers and gold dome.
Finished product. Thank goodness I made two domes... the first one broke!
Closeup of outer dome and inner dome.
Top down view of dome.
The setup for final evaluation and photos.
Thank goodness for a good camera and flash.
Trying to get a good shot.
Pretty decent picture. Centered. (Sure wish the backdrop was ironed!)
You can see the unevenness of the gold leaf on the left side of the top layer. For the most part it was quite even, but there were sections that were a little uneven.
Photo with side lighting.
Me and my cake. Proud as a mother hen!