Tuesday, August 31, 2004
(Thought for the day...)
Ryan and I were talking on Saturday night, and Katrina and Pam and I continued, about the phrase/question: Do you live to eat, or eat to live?
How would you answer this question?
To date the unanimous answer has been: Live to eat. (Speaking for me, I'd much rather have one amazing meal a day than three well balanced boring meals... or fast food. ick)
I'm predicting that the basic difference between these two camps is what separates culinarians from everyone else.
Monday, August 30, 2004
Katrina and Pam started with wine and I started with a nice little glass of Lillett which neither of them had tried before, so I let them taste mine. They both really enjoyed it. (Lillet is one of my favorite aperitifs. Light, citrusy, very refreshing.)
Katrina ordered a fig and greens salad and Pam had a lovely beet salad with, at least, two different kinds of beats. Very tasty. I didn't try Katrina's, but it looked very fresh and Pam and Katrina said it was wonderful. I decided to go with the Prix Fix and got the Duck terrine. Very tasty. The three of us all enjoyed the terrine.
Next, Katrina and Pam shared the lamb (Pam had gastric bypass two years ago and can only eat so much) and I had the skate. The lamb was done perfectly, I think it was a little fatty for Katrina, but it was very nicely seasoned and didn't taste gamey at all. The skate was served with jullianed squash and was a little salty. I don't think any of us ever considered visiting the salt cellar. I think the chef could have gone a little lighter on the salt, but overall the seasoning was delightful. I really wanted a glass of wine with my main course and felt married to white wine, but really wanted red. Pam and Katrina convinced me that there was no need to stick with white, so I decided to try a Chilean Cab. Nice cherry flavors, but the pepper and oak flavors were a bit overwhelming. I should have stuck with a California Cab.
For dessert we each ordered something different. Pam had the chocolate mousse parfait (sadly disappointing, there were chunks of chocolate in the mousse... it was like the chocolate hadn't been melted all the way before the mousse had been made. The three of us pretty much decided we're over Callebut, it's just not our favorite.). I don't think I mentioned it before, but Pam was a pastry chef/cook at Le Etoille in Madison and worked with Odessa Piper (one of the top chefs in the US and by far the most well known chef in the midwest) for two years. She had some very interesting insight on Odessa and her teaching/management style. I'm still interested in an internship through WCR, but after talking to Pam I don't think I'm all that interested in working at Le Etoille any more than the internship. (I kind of have an insurmountable problem with chefs taking all the credit for the work that their employees do - recipes and all. I've been taught to date that when a chef is complimented on the food that they defer to their staff... I mean really, without the staff would the dinner even be able to get to the table?) Katrina had, I don't remember what I was called, a fruit something that had a striking resemblance to a fruit crisp (berries and stone fruit). It was OK, but Katrina said that the ice cream that was served with it had ice crystals in it. (If I remember right, more milk powder would have fixed this problem.) I think my dessert was, by far, the best out there. I was a little apprehensive when it was called a French style "Panna Cotta" with fruit. Either it IS panna cotta or it isn't. Well, it mostly wasn't, even thought it did have dairy products and gelatin in it, but other than that it didn't really resemble any other panna cotta I've ever had (I'm kind of making it my mission to eat every panna cotta, at every restaurant in this city.). We had a lovely conversation with the waiter about my dessert. He said that originally they called it some sort of French Creme, but customers didn't really get the gist of the dessert, hence the quotes around the panna cotta. It's made with creme fresch, goat cheese, and milk. and served with some lovely berries and peach slices. There was the perfect amount of fruit for the dessert. The texture of the creme was perfect. Nicely creamy, a little grainy at the end (I'm pretty sure this was due to the goat cheese.), a little tart, but still nice fresh cream flavors. I asked the server how it was made because it wasn't molded like your traditional panna cotta. He said they made it in a hotel pan and then scooped it up. It was a delightfully large serving, but since it wasn't heavy it was TOTALLY manageable. (yea, like I can pass up a good dessert!)
Anyway, after dessert, as with the rest of the meal, we talked and talked about school and other restaurants and our impressions and likes and dislikes. It was delightful, I didn't realize that three hours had passed until I got into the cab and read the meter.
Good night for now, I can now go to sleep happy and satisfied full of good food and conversation.
For the main course Katrina and Pam shared the lamb.
Our little Italy sign... bad picture. And no, we didn't make the sign, Chef Alex had it left over from a previous Cultural Day.
The live station, pine nut cookies, apple cakes off to the right and hiding in the back is the pound cake.
Chocolate hazelnut kisses (sandwitched together with ganache - not nearly enough, but they were awefully tasty!), proscuitto and mellon, ugly but good cookies. In the back are the two drinks we made (home made Orangina and an amaretto soda) and off the the right are the components for the toasted pound cake.
Cultural Days photos... finally! This was the grisini tower I made. Zabaglione (sp) is there in the front and the personal sized foccacia are in the back right.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
Yesterday I was at school at 6. There is something terribly out of whack with me spending my first day of summer vacation at school at 6 in the morning. (Insight into my neighborhood: Did you know hookers are still working at 6 am on Saturday morning? They are in my neighborhood!) I got almost everything done that I'd hoped to. Tanya and I had chocolate souflees for breakfast. Now, if having strawberry mousse filled eclairs(last week) and chocolate souflees for breakfast is what being a pastry chef is all about, well, then I think I can handle that! I got my flourless chocolate souffles, fruit and chocolate tartlettes, coronett and happy birthday/congratulations checked off. I would have had my rue based souffles marked off too, but I got so caught up in writing in chocolate that I forgot about them and they overcooked and deflated. I was pretty sure they were going to flop anyway because the anglaise wasn't quite thick enough. Oh well, this is what school is about. I'm just happy that I got those check offs done and all cleaned up by 10.
At 10 I went up to Cakes to work with Chef Ken (heretofore know as Ken outside of class) and Angela, one of Ken's former students. Ken wanted to see how we worked together. Well, we didn't get a whole lot done, but I made this mistake of confessing that oatmeal raisin cookies were my culinary Achilles heal. Most of you don't know this, but I CANNOT make oatmeal raisins. Trust me, I've tried. I usually wind up making coasters, hockey pucks or door stops. After 5 years of trying, and 5 years of failing, and 5 years of trying again, I'd pretty much given up. So, after confessing this, Ken and Angela suggested I try again. I agreed since I had tried making them since I started cooking school. Decent recipe (even if it was in awful cups and tablespoons), small, but decent. I doubled the recipe and then weighed out all the ingredients so I'd have a nice scalable recipe and made it. Well, it seemed ok, until I baked them off. Well, they looked good. But, yet again, I made hockey pucks. Good grief!
Ken made risotto for lunch. YUM! After we cleaned up and wrapped the entire kitchen in plastic wrap (the school will be spraying for bugs over summer break, so everything had to be covered. What a nightmare!) we went home.
Ryan and I decided to go to the beach, but by the time I got home and changed into my swimsuit it was 4 and the fog was rolling in... we couldn't see the GG Bridge for all the fog. Change of plans. We went up to Washington Square park, one of my favorite places in this amazing city. It was perfect. Sunny, not too crowded. Perfect. There was a funky little concert and art show in the park. While we were laying there basking in the sun we heard the local of ruby crested parrots, just then a flock of at least 20 came flying over head. The banked to the right and the sun shown off their green wings and they just sparkled. It was enchanting. Only in San Francisco. As the shadows lengthened I realized I'd only had a couple of bites to eat all day (chocolate souffle, bowl of risotto, diet coke) and I was STARVED. We dumped our stuff off at the car and walked up to Mooses. We were definitely under dressed (I'd worn a skirt over my swimsuit and found a sweater shell in the car to throw over my swimsuit top and Ryan was wearing a tank and board shorts. Not exactly fine dining ware.) for Mooses, so we made a change in plans. I'd been hearing good things about Mattin Noblia's freshman endeavor, Illuna Basque and I knew it was in the neighborhood, so we tracked it down.
Chef Noblia and the hostess met us at the front door. I'd heard he was young (23), and that he had a baby face, but BOY, I couldn't imagine being 21 and owning a restaurant. The restaurant is tapas and small plates. Ryan and I started with three items and decided to reevaluate our hunger after the first three. We started with the Basque cheese sampler (manchego-smooth and creamy, an oaky mildy aged cheese, and a sharp dry aged cheese served with membrillo-quince paste- and roasted walnuts), green lipped muscles with a chive-y garlic pesto like mixture (the plate was covered in overflow of the pesto mixture and some lovely olive oil) and piperade (signature dish of the last restaurant that Chef Noblia's worked at... Gerard Heroyan's (sp) Piperade... roasted red peppers, amazing olive oil, some sort of broth, with a poached egg and seranno ham on top and served in a nice little cast iron pan). Everything, I assume, was to be eaten with the bread at the table. Now comes the critique. We ordered water in addition to our regular drinks, the lemon slices must have been leftover from the night before because they were well on their way to being dried, not too tasty looking. Now, the table bread. Oy. If your menu consists of 99% protein (the only two starches on the menu were fried shredded potatoes and white beans with pigs feet) and you assume that your customers are going to be eating bread with every one of your dishes, then, you should have a nice neutral bread. The bread that was served was on it's way to being stale and totally unfermented. I've gotten more flavor from Wonderbread. It was not great.
The cheese was flawless. I wish there had been more of the membrillo (the serving was about the size of one of the walnuts), but it was nice. The muscles, on the other hand, were a bit mature. Smaller, younger muscles would have been nice. Also, I'm not sure if this is something that can be taken into consideration when serving, but there were three large muscles on the plate and there were two of us. I would have been happier with four small muscles, that way there would have been an even number of bites per person, plus the smaller muscles would have had a more delicate flavor. The garlic chive stuffing was delightful. The tasteless bread was perfect for getting the left over sauce from the plate into my mouth. The piperade was flawless. The roasted red peppers were sweet, the broth was lovely. The egg was poached perfectly. I love poached eggs, but hate it when the eggs are all snotty. The seranno ham was crispy and had a wonderful texture. I've decided that piperade is the perfect comfort food for a cold, foggy day in San Francisco. Next time the fog is getting me down in the dumps and I just need something to make me feel good all over, I'm going to catch a cab over to Illuna Basque for some piperade. (Today is not going to be one of those days, the fog is already starting to burn off and it's not even 10.)
The second round was another mixed bag. We got the scallops with fennel, Spanish tortilla. Again there were three scallops, which are a bit more manageable than muscles, but there was another complication. There were two small and one large scallop. They must have all been cooked at the same time because the two small ones were overcooked and the large one was perfect. Disappointing. The fennel too was WAY too old. Old and stringy. It either should have been pealed or a younger version should have been used. The Spanish tortilla, was in fact, not a tortilla at all. It was much more like a little fritatta filled with young and tender spinach and some lovely, creamy goat cheese. It was served with a read and green striped sauce which was slightly spicy and had wonderful flavor.
For dessert we had the crunchy pineapple carpaccio. HUGE DISAPPOINTMENT! As if were weren't the worst critics out there, we are even more critical of dessert. First, when I read crunch pineapple carpaccio I assumed that it would be a nice thin slice of pineapple than had been pounded thin and maybe roasted or somehow caramelized to bring out the fresh pineapple flavors. Instead, what we got was, basically, a pineapple creme bruele. It wasn't bad, but it was a case of you think you're getting Coke and you're all geared up for a Coke and when it comes you take that first drink and it's actually root beer. It's not bad, it's just not what I'd expected. Secondly, the dessert menu is all the way at the end of the menu. The menu was bound at the top with silvery o rings to create a flip book. Not a bad idea, because you can combine the food and wine menus into one, but why break up the food? The Dessert menu should be clearly stated and should be just behind the Dinner menu. Next, the dessert was only $4.75. I would have been happy to pay $8 if I could have gotten a more satisfying experience.
Upon reflection Ryan and I came to two conclusions. 1) The food wasn't bad, but it was immature. The aspects that made it immature could easily be covered by... 2) If they don't have a person doing purchasing, they need to get one. (If they already do, then that person needs to be fired.) If the muscles were younger, they would have been better. If the scallops had all been the same size they would have either all been over-cooked or all perfectly done. If the fennel was smaller and younger it would have been more tender and not so stringy. The bread and dessert situation could be fixed by hiring a part-time pastry chef. If a nice ciabatta or baguette (maybe the cute little 6-8" long personal baguettes) would be a nice upgrade. In addition to the bread, the pastry chef could take the desserts to the next level. I'm tempted to go back tonight, right before closing, and order the rest of the desserts and talk to the Chef.
Overall the ambiance was nice. We were a little cramped fitting all the plates on the table, but it all worked out. We got a chance to talk to the two guys at the table next to ours about the food and about the chef and his background and our recommendations. That part was charming. (Ryan thought the tables were a little too close, but I like the ability to interact with the other customers... any chance to share my love of food with other is a delight.) The tables are clean lined dark wood with one large, roughly hewn table in the middle of the room for a larger party (table will seat a min of 8, maybe a max of 10). The salt and pepper shakers were rectangular towers that looked like they were made out of sheet metal. Very industrial. This industrial feel carried over to the bread basket. That industrial element actually played nicely off the warm wood. There are various pieces of art around the room that seemed a bit out of place, but somehow worked. My favorite feature was the big glass windows that surrounded the dining room.
With a little maturity and a bit more work on menu item naming and a closer inspection of produce and protein it could be a rival for any of the multitude of restaurants in the charming city.
Well, back to my movie, or maybe a nap. I need to head over to the stationary store at some point today, but I can do that later.
This next week may be a little light on the writing. I'll do a review of Le Petit Robert or Street after dinner on Monday and then the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company on Wednesday, but other than that I'll just be making ice cream like a crazy woman every night this week (Mom's open house is Sunday and one of the desserts will be ice cream sandwiches. YUM!)
Later! Happy vacation!
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Sometimes the lessons in our life come in strange costumes...Are we artists or just magicians that dress funny?Sometimes a mixture of the two, I love that saying...Patience and tolerance were two of the lessons that I hope you learned from this. This business is full of tests, and a lot of them are very aggravating...Lesson learned?
Patience and tolerance, although two of my previously strong suite can be severely tested in this environment. (I guess I still need to work on this.)
Magicians or artists? Well, I am constantly saying that I feel like I have to pull magic out of my butt, I think I'm going to stick with artists. It may seem like magic, but it's actually lots and lots of hard work. Anything done really well will look like magic to the outsider.
I'm also going to try to apply benefit of the doubt to all of last night. Maybe I was just having a bad night. Maybe that bad night wasn't just mine. People handle stress in different ways. I definitely won't be looking at my classmates the same as before, but tonight brought clarity and a new sense of faith in the fact that even though we might not like each other and we might not all work well together all of the time, we can still pull together and create good tasting, nice looking finished products and make customers happy.
Tonight was the first night of what has come to be called Tour de France. The savory stations were pretty nice. Bouillabaisse, beef Wellington, savory crepes (THE BEST!). The sweet stations were sweet crepes and flambeed fruit, baba, gateau Basque (mostly just cutting and serving), and glazing pate au choux with fondant. The live stations, with the exception of the crepes and fruit, were pretty two dimentional, but it was nice for students to see how the process works.
As I mentioned in my post last night I was chef tonight and Ryan was my sous chef. It's official I like leading. Of course, it's a lot easier to lead when things go well, but hey, let me bask in my success for at least a milli-second! You know how there are times when you just have to let go and let the supporting characters make their own executive decisions? Well, I did that quite a bit tonight. Yes, it was uncomfortable. Yes, my fellow students did things that I certainly wouldn't have done, but in the end, the job got done and it wound up looking fine, actually, a little more than fine!
I know I'm being a little vague, but it was actually quite a blur. Tracking down trays, where did all the linen napkins go?, what needs to be made for tomorrow, why are we out of coconut meal? can we get more?, how many napoleons do we need?, what time do we need to be set up by?, who is working the life stations?, are there enough burners?, how could we possibly be out of rum?!!!, what should be next to what?, what do you mean we're having four live stations, I thought we were only having three?, how much space do we have to work with?
One thing Chef Rob mentioned after Cultural Days was that we learned more about the process than about baking. I have to say, I learned tons, not only about leading and making sure all the details came together to meet the deadline, but that being the chef is really hard work. No, contrary to popular belief, it's not all just bossing people around. :) It's evaluating how much product is needed for the day. Who and how many people you have available to make more product for day two. How much space you have to work with and how you're going to fill that space. How are you going to arrange the food so that it's appealing (not just on the platters and plates, but also I also got the genius idea to use the cake decorating stands to raise some of the food up and get varying heights on the table... more visual appeal. Also you need to make sure you don't have bread,next to lemon macaroons, next to pear tarts... too much yellowy brown...not so visually appealing. It was also working with people standing around. I didn't ask them what they wanted to do, I told them what needed to be done, expected them to do it and then followed up with them to see how it was going or why it hadn't been done. (Boy did this give me additional insight into some of the students! Many were willing to do anything, eager just to be working. Others, no matter how many times you followed up with them, never got anything done and just kept commenting about how hot they were and how tired... trying to get sympathy from me on these two points is pretty much useless at this stage in the game... you know the saying, "If you can't stand the heat then get out of the kitchen."? Well, it's more than a saying here. It should be tattooed on all incoming students!
Overall, I was happy. We were working. We got lots of compliments on the desserts, atmosphere, and variety. I know there are things that could have been better, but, overall, I'm pleased with the turnout.
We even got out a little early! What a pleasant surprise!
Well, I'm going to go to sleep now. Happy, satisfied, and ready for another day of class! (One more day until vacation... well, I'll be working on Saturday too - 6-10 with Chef Alex and then 10-whenever with Chef Ken, but it's a good thing!)
I'll post pictures from Cultural Day tomorrow... assuming Desiree sends them to me. And, with any luck, pictures from tonight and tomorrow night will be posted over the weekend.
Speaking of summer break, I think Ryan put it best: "I'm not sure if I'm excited about getting a break from school or I'm just excited to get the hell away from these people." Sad state of affairs, accurate, but sad.
Part of me wants to scramble and try to regroup, but really, what's the point. I know these people and their work habits. I know that there is nothing I can do to make us come together as more of a team. I wish I could. If anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear them. Yes, I'm a little discouraged. A little frayed around the edges. I'm going to do everything I can to make tonight go well, but I'm certainly not going to let anyone get the impression that I regret what happened last night. I'm here to learn. Period. End of Story. Whatever gets me to learn, well, then that's what I'm going to do. If drinking 20 glasses of water in 7 hours got the job done, then I'd probably do that, but that's just not the way it works.
Anyway, enough beating a dead horse. Anyone who wants write me and yell at me, or tell me what they think I could have done better, or encourage me... well, feel free. I could certainly use insight at this point. I keep mulling last night over and over trying to think of what I could have done differently, or better and I'm just not coming up with any satisfactory conclusions.
Back to work.
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Consider yourself duly warned.
THOSE FUCKING BASTARDS! I've had it with my classmates.
So the day started, someone made ice cream and I was going to make two batches of sorbet and I asked her to clean it well before I made the sorbet (coffee flavored strawberry sorbet... not good). So she wanted to really really clean the machine so she used the bleach. Fine. She didn't put the bleach away. Fine. I waited and waited, but finally I asked her if she was planning on putting it away. (I'm so sick of people not putting things away. I know I'm not perfect, but really people.) So, unbeknownst to me, another student at the back of the classroom snidely said "Yes, Mom". Fine, Mom. When Ryan told me what he'd overheard I thought, "Hey, I'm actually fine with that. Six months ago I would have gotten my feelings hurt, but no, really I'm fine. If they need a Mom to tell them what to do because they don't have the ability to clean up after themselves, well, then I'm OK with that." So, after that I thought I was doing good.
Evening progressed, I got all sorts of goodies made for French Day. Chef was happy, I was reasonably happy.
OK, so Chef said that we could all listen to the critiques from all the desserts. So I have been, tonight was my third night. It was wonderful Very educational. So we're half way through the critique and Bridget come to the door and motions for me to come outside. She informs me that the rest of the class has noticed that I've been in for critique three nights in a row and that I wasn't helping clean and they would really appreciate it if I would come in and help. Grrrrr. Yes, I agree. I should help clean. And what they don't know was that I did an entire sinkful of dishes before any of them came in to class. But that isn't important. It shouldn't matter what they think. (But, of course, for some reason it does matter or I wouldn't be writing about it.) So I cleaned until there wasn't anything else to do and then I went back to the critique. They can just bite me for all I care.
Second, the level of unprofessionalism and general disregard for others has gotten to an all time high. So Ryan's group was on service tonight. The person who was calling the orders met Ryan at the door, grabbed his dessert and sent the garnishes flying in all directions. What the hell? Would they like that done with their desserts? I don't think so. So, Chef came over to show me how to form the coconut macaroons I was making and he asked me how it was going. So I told him. Of course Rosie and Rena heard me tell him about the flying garnish incident and they tittered (I'm sure, about what a bitch I am). Chef said he'd check it out and left.
I know I should get a thicker skin and these sort of things shouldn't bother me (water off a ducks back), but this time it just really annoyed me. The frosting on the cake was that Bridget left class early. Nice for her.
So, joy. That was pretty much how my evening went. Oh, yea and I made 6 dozen coconut chocolate tartlettes and a sheetpan of macaroons (which take forever to form!). By the way, I got wonderful critique from Chefs Ken, Amy, Renee and another chef whose name I don't know.
The utter irony of the whole thing is that at the end of the evening Chef was looking for a chef and sous chef for tomorrow, of course no one volunteered, so Chef named me Chef for tomorrow. Greaaaaat. That should be really effective with a class full of bitchy students. Oh well, guess that's the way it works in real life some times. I'll deal and it'll be fine. (Dear God, please make it fine. I just don't know how much I can deal with getting emotionally beat up after this week. -Insert Brave Face Here-) Oh, and Ryan volunteered to be my sous chef. With any luck we'll totally kick ass.
That was the night. I guess I still have a lot to learn. Patience. Thick skin. Know that there are idiots are out there and don't stoop to their level. (Which I didn't do, but boy did I stew over things I really, really wanted to say!) Any other lessons anyone else can think of? Part of me just wishes I would have blinked at Bridget and told her No, then turned around and walked back into the critique. But I didn't.
Sigh. Enough for tonight. Time for sleep. Tomorrow is a new day... Thank God!
Good night nurse!
If you visited the site earlier in the day I'm sure you've already seen the pictures of the desserts I served last night. What a mixed bag. For the first service I served the strawberry mousse. What a disaster! I tried stacking it like the drawing, but, for once, I'd taken the mousse and bavaroise out of the freezer as soon as I got to school, so they were the perfect consistency for eating, but CERTAINLY NOT firm enough to imagine stacking them like I'd hoped. I think Garth got the only one that was even remotely presentable and even his fell over twice. What a nightmare. So I took the sample dessert down, redesigned it and then resubmitted it. I was disappointed with the effort I put into it so, naturally, I was disappointed with the end product and the whole redesign nightmare didn't really help matters. Well, live and learn. When Chef critiqued it at the end of the night he said that it looked like two desserts (I agree) and that I should have done something with the mousse. He, of course, was referring to spraying the mousse with colored chocolate (which I am loath to do because the desserts wind up looking like primary colored children's play toys). There were so many things "wrong" with this dessert I was distressed that I even had to present it. (yea, I know, critique is useful regardless of what is being critiqued.) OK, that dessert is over and done with and now I can move on.
The second dessert, although it didn't turn out quite according to plan, turned out quite well. I wasn't 100% happy, but I did think I'd given it a good effort. Let's start at the bottom and work our way up. The rich pastry cream was nice, but ice cream would have been better... and was almost expected. (This critique from Chefs Amy, Ken and Renee.) I agree, the cold to balance out the heat of the apples would have been very nice. I'm not sure how I would have kept the ice cream from melting on the way to service, but there has to be a way. The caramelized berries were a bit of a surprise too. Chef Amy got one of the blackberries and it stuck to her teeth. Not exactly a pleasant surprise. Definitely some technical difficulties there. I mentioned that part to Chef Alex during the critique and he said some sugar and butter would have made the texture a bit nicer and would have kept the same general effect. Good to know. I was extremely pleased with the puff pastry. I made it. I didn't emulsify it. I didn't burn it (BIG YEA!!!). It was light and flaky and not greasy at all (a sign of emulsification). Chef Alex recommended that I sprinkle granulated sugar on one side, then turn them over mid bake, squish them down and then sprinkle 10x. This lends to caramelization (better flavor) and adds a sweetness to a rather plain pastry. The squishing down actually worked really well! I used the oven mit and just pushed the air out of the middle so I got a bit of a bowl shape, then, because it had to finish baking, it still poofed up a bit. I'll definitely use this in the future! mmmmm, new idea! these little puff squares with flambed peaches, a little fresh peach ice cream on the side! Yum! Total summer comfort food combo. (No, this isn't overly creative, but it is simple, clean, seasonal and tasty. Assuming it is executed well it could easily be the foundation for a very nice dessert!) OK, so that was the puff. I caramelized a small handful of apples then moved them into the puff and then rolled the three berries (always 2 black, 1 red) around in the remaining caramel/pan juice. I think this part of the dessert turned out rather nice, but if I'd been eating it I'm pretty sure I would have agreed with Chef Amy's evaluation. Again, the more I think about it I should have made ice cream. Finally, the caramel paste decoration. I'd originally intended to create three sticks and then kind of tent them over the top of the dessert, but after a made the sticks I just couldn't figure out a way to get them to stay up... certainly not with the al minute assembly. In retrospect I probably could have used little drops of caramel, but I adjusted the plan and went with the spiral design. It's a graceful shape without being too abstract or too contrived. The other nice thing was that I was able to make a base for the decoration that slid nicely under the pastry cream that the puff was sitting on. Boy are those decorations delicate! If I ever use them in real life I'll be certain to make at least 10 extras. I could easily see a server breaking a decoration on the way to serve the plate. (Not good!) Overall Chef really liked this dessert. He liked that the apples were caramelized al minute, even though he suggested an alternate, far better way to do this if I were to do it again, he like the design and the size. All good. He agreed that ice cream would be better, but HEY! it was his idea to do the pastry cream. Good grief! Oh well, we're all allowed to change our minds.
OK, little gripe. The first service is at our double door spot. Perfect. Plenty of room. No worries about bumping into people. Well for the past two weeks or so there has been a class meeting in the Academy Grill so we've had to move our second service into the hall. What a PITA!!! In order to get to the hall you have to walk by the chef's desk and there needs to be two callers (one to take the order, another to run to the kitchen and call it back. Grrrrrr. The chaos was compounded last night by people (on service and otherwise) just standing around by the door. COME ON PEOPLE! Have a little consideration! We've all been on service. We all know that it's a little nuts. A little empathy wouldn't be too much to ask for!
Grrrr, another gripe. What is with people? It's happening again. Last night someone was cutting orange supremes over a garbage can. I asked him what he was doing and he said that they created a lot of garbage. Yea, so. Have two bowls, one for the supremes and the juice, another for the trash. There is no reason to have the trashcan right at your work space. It's messy, it feels unsanitary and what about everyone else who needs to use the trash/walk through the aisle? Second gripe, tools keep disappearing. Chef's tools are disappearing, I was afraid this would happen, he locked up his tools 1/2 way through the night and I doubt he'll be sharing any time soon. What a pain! I was talking with Chef Rob about this and I told him that he was the perfect person to tell the class that if they were to take someone's tools they would get the crap beat out of them. Yea, you might get it on the way to your car at the end of the night, or it might happen later, but you JUST DON'T DO THAT! I can't even tell you how many things have gone missing. Sometimes they turn up, sometimes they don't. Right now I'm missing my chef knife. grrrrrrr It'll either turn up or I'll make it turn up. (Don't ask.)
Anyway, I've got to go pick up lunches for the office. I'll sure be happy when Noreen gets back from vacation!
TTFN! (Looks like I'll be adding the books tomorrow at the earliest.)
Another picture, I really wasn't all that happy with this dessert. In addition to having to redesign it on the fly I just wasn't happy with any of the elements. Not a really an auspicious beginning.
I really liked the sunset look of the sauce. Kind of caramelly, but with red and orange hues. It was really quite pretty. The crunchy puff pastry (slightly sweetened), the caramellized and berries and the @#($&@#$ caramel paste decoration. Yes, it was pretty, but what a HUGE @#($&* PITA! Not difficult to work with, but very very fragile.
Top down view of the dessert I called Caramel Apple. No, I did not sauce the plate, this just happened as a happy accident. More detail on this dessert to come.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
!!WARNING!!It's true that plastic wraps and saran wraps can withstand baking temperatures (as long as they don't come in contact with heating elements or other metals in the oven) the reason plastics are not used in baking is because toxic chemicals (granted in small amounts) and other byproducts can leach from plastics under heat. ESPECIALLY into fats.Use parchment instead, or at least cut yourself a round of parchment to put down for your blinds.Whenever using plastics under heat, do not allow the plastic to come in contact with the food. Ideally, this means limiting the plastic containers in the microwave as well.Soft plastics (wraps and such) are the worst. Even in the microwave, don't allow them to touch the food while being heated.If the plastic says Microwave safe, make sure it's not using DEHA as the plasticizer. That has been clearly shown to migrate to foods while under heat.Garth
OK, just had to get that little tidbit down.
Back to work!
Monday, August 23, 2004
To start, the apples I'd hoped for to make the apple/jalapeno/tequila sorbet won't show up until tomorrow... really not all that helpful for today, but who knows, maybe I can pull it out anyway. Just in case I decided to turn my puff pastry from Saturday into another plated dessert. Chef demo'd caramel paste decorations tonight, and they are a check off (added benefit), and since caramel goes so nicely with apples then they seemed like a natural combination with apples and puff pastry. So, I did a little sketch and consulted with Chef to get some feedback. So here is the design: rich pastry cream, puff square sprinkled with sugar and baked off, mid way through baking, turn the puff upside down and sprinkle w/ 10x and squish the pastry. Cool pastry and fill with sauteed/ caramelized apples and a couple of fresh raspberries for color contrast. Then, to give the dessert visual interest and height, top off the dessert with a tepee type structure with three sticks of caramel paste. It should be interesting. I've already shown you the drawing of the second dessert, but even though I'm going to serve it, I'm not all that thrilled with it. If I have time, I might make up the sorbet too, maybe I'll serve it on Wednesday (no one ever said that you can't do multiple days of service... it's not like we've been doing anything during our Production assignment.
So that was desserts, let me back up. So during lecture today Ryan and I were getting fed up. The more we talked before class, over the weekend and at other times, the more we realized that Chef is teaching us more French pastry, than plated desserts. Yes, French pastry is a wonderful subject to learn. Very valuable. But we're paying 5 grand to learn plated desserts and, to date, we haven't. Yes, we are learning basics that are components of plated desserts (and sometimes, just basics, plated desserts aside), but we need to be instructed on plated desserts. Period. So we kept pushing. I'd already broached the subject with Chef and felt rather unsatisfied, so this time it was Ryan's turn (I have to say, we're strangely in synch, he knew exactly what I was thinking, it was HIS TURN to push this subject). So, he pushed and I tried to clarify and tone down his questions. Anyway, after lecture we needed to get out of the classroom. We NEEDED to clear our heads before we started working. We let chef know where we were going and left. About 5 minutes later Chef comes out and comes over to talk to us. He looked at Ryan and said he thought he was upset. (Hhhhmmmm, wonder how he got that impression... maybe it was the seething hostility oozing from every pore.) So the three of us talked. We wound up ending the discussion, again, slightly unsatisfied, with the decision that Ryan and I will finish our check off list this week and Chef would give us additional things to do. Good. It's about time. I wish he would have suggested this when I spoke with him!
Anyway, back to class. I diddled around for a bit and then Chef Amy and Ken came into class we chatted for little and Chef Amy gave me a couple of book recommendations. (I'm not entirely sure when I'm going to get a chance to read them, but, who knows, maybe those extra hours in a day will magically appear over summer vacation... no really, maybe I'll be able to do a little reading over summer break, in between work and doing prep for Mom's open house. Speaking of which- MOM, I NEED A HEAD COUNT!!! NOW, REALLY! THIS IS GETTING RIDICULOUS!!!) Garth also stopped by. Well, quite a little bit of news. So he copied and pasted part of my post (maybe edited a little bit, maybe??? please, dear god, please?!?!) from Cultural Days and sent it to the Director of Admissions (Admissions Advisors are graded by how well their students do, and since I'm doing pretty well, that's a really good reflection on his ability to choose good students.). Well this is fine, but then the director of admissions sent it to, well, the director of Admissions (I think that's who it is) for the entire Career Education Corporation. Great. Well, at least he didn't mention that he got it from my blog. I'm pretty honest here and anyone who searched for California Culinary Academy and blog would find this one, but hey, you can't find what you aren't looking for. No, really, I don't mind at all. I liked the day I wrote about Cultural Days. It was a great couple of nights and we had a blast and I think the writing from that day really reflected that emotion.
So, that said, looks like I've started food writing a bit sooner than I'd anticipated. OK, so that was the middle of the evening... yea, it gets better.
So, Chef said that we could sit in on the critiques for the other groups. So, after Ryan and my conversation with Chef, we decided to sit in on today's Service group. Best move we could have made. I think I learned more about plated desserts in that hour of critique than I have from the entire class. It was great. Good critique on taste, texture, design, flavor, what to do differently to make the effect more powerful, portion size, flavor combination. Chef covered it all. Again, I wish this started from day one. Who cares if the students don't get it and Chef has to say the same thing over and over. The critique was wonderful, valuable and even though they weren't my desserts I learned a lot. It's about damn time! Very satisfying!
Chef Ken and I talked after dinner. I'll be working with him and a former student of his on Saturday. I need to think of something to make, preferably big, a stretch. What to make??? Well, Chef Ken wants to see how we work together, I think I've met this woman once and seen her maybe a couple more times. It should be interesting. I guess the whole interaction will depend on the project... maybe not, we'll see. So since we're supposed to get together at 10, I'll probably get to school at 6 again and crank through a few more check offs. If I don't get them done this week, I can do my soufles on Sat morning. I'll have my caramel paste decorations checked off tomorrow, and I should be able to get the happy birthday's and congratulations and the parchment paper cone marked off the list. That'll pretty much leave me with napoleons and at least one other. That should be manageable by the end of the week. (Of course that means I'll need to make another batch of puff... of well, it's not like it's hard! - at least not any more!)
Well, that was tonight in a nutshell. I'm going to bed very happy!
I'll post pictures from tomorrow's desserts Wednesday morning.
TTFN... good night for now!
On Saturday for my practice practical I made strawberry mousse and white chocolate bavaroise. Since they don't travel all that well I didn't bring them into work, so I might as well use them for my Service day tomorrow. To the right is the dessert I'll be making to incorporate them into one dessert. Instead of real, traditional shortbread, I'll just be making a pate sucree in a sheet pan, marking it off and then breaking apart the pieces after it's been baked. Should be a piece of cake!
Garth sent me this picture from Cultural Days. These are the girls doing the taiko drums... very cool! Thanks Garth for the picture.
Saturday, August 21, 2004
As many of you know I've been using the soli.org email address for several years, but the time has come to cut my final connection to that relationship and move on. Going forward, please send all emails to sfdough_girl#yahoo.com (replace the # with an @).
Thank you all!
I've been reading a new site thanks to Chef Michael... restaurantedge.com...in particular the section where Chef lets you get a peek inside his mind. Very nice. Anyway, I'm still reading (lot to read... anyone who has talked to me knows I READ A LOT! How often have I said something - food fact or otherwise- and one of my friends/fellow students ask, "How do you know that?" and I answer simply, "I read A LOT." Frequently I can't remember where I read it, just that I did and that it was interesting. If I need to track down the particulars that's what Google is for!) so I'll probably comment more later.
Anyway, while I was reading I remembered that I was going to tell you all something. Chef Alex recommended that we all go take a look in the library at the Journale du Patisserie. WOW! Boy do I feel like an amateur. Very humbling, but inspiring at the same time. If you've taken a look at any of my dessert ideas then you know, my desserts tend to consist of two or three elements, maybe as many as five if you count the garnishes. Weeeelllll, these desserts had closer to 10 elements. WOW! Example (I've just made this up for illustration sake.): Fruit mousse with something buried inside, on a layer of something which sits on a layer of something else, the whole thing is covered in something else and something else is embedded into the sides of the mousse, there is a tuille on top that isn't actually a tuille at all, but a tuille base that has something else crusted on the outside and that is actually supported on one side by balls of something else. Not too descriptive, but then again, it was two days ago that I read it and it was in French and since I don't know French (but was surprisingly able to pick out quite a few elements... go figure!) I thought I got a pretty good grasp. After looking at those pictures I had to ask myself, "When is the search for elegance in simplicity just being juvenile?" This, of course, is balanced by my urge to say, "At what point is more, just more." As I type this I think of the analogy of a child's coloring book. Yea, even the best coloring job is still pretty juvenile compared to a Monet. I think I need to start thinking a bit more three dimentionally and creating desserts that have more elements. I'm not sure America is ready for this. I've eaten dessert at some of the most widely praised restaurants in this city and none of them have had anywhere near the number of elements that these French pastries embodied.
Toward the beginning of class Chef Alex said that his mentors constantly designed desserts that they didn't use. They just knew that their audience wasn't ready for them. He applied that principle to my strong resistance against using bright, primary colors (sprayed onto desserts from ice cream to mousse to chocolate) on the desserts. Of course, he tends to convey the idea that if it's not French, then it's crap. Of course, I, being relatively nationalistic myself and even more stubborn, fought this idea tooth an nail. This is San Francisco. This is California. Land of California Cuisine. Land of the educated palate and consumer willing to try anything and everything... at least once! I've always had the opinion that a good chef is also an educator, not just of their staff, but also of their patrons. Tastes CAN be nutured and developed (who would have thought I would have liked pink grapefruit and Pernod sorbet... I hate licorice!). So, to bring this all to a point, I'm going to try harder to produce fewer, but increasingly more complex desserts. Yes, the drawings will take more time. Yes, when it comes to production the cost and labor will be greater, but those will be balanced by being able to create desserts that are not only a joy to eat because that are new and unusual, but also because, hopefully, the consumer won't find them everywhere else. Let's see if I can wean myself off the coloring books and start working with layers of color and light. Let the education begin!
Well, epiphany over, back to reading.
I know the kitchen was, pretty much, empty but I was really quite pleased with the amount of product I was able to produce. Here is a list (if you are interested): lemon sorbet, chocolate ice cream, creme anglaise, puff pastry (6 turns): 10 twists, 10 floron (sp), 10 bouches, French meringue (1 sheet pan of hand dollopped kisses and several smallish bases I could use as components in one of the plated desserts), short dough (pate sucree), white chocolate bavaroise, strawberry mousse, pate au choux, pastry cream, cookies. yea, it was a lot! Here is a little detail on the above: lemon sorbet (when I first tasted it out of the machine I felt like I'd just sucked on a lemon... it was WAY too tart! Tanya suggested mixing up a pint of simple syrup and adding it to the machine. This fixed the flavor, but in retrospect I threw the sugar balance out of whack and the sorbet wound up not setting quite as solid as I would have liked.), chocolate ice cream (yum! A success! I made the basic anglaise base and then added about a 1 pt. container of chopped couveture to the hot base to melt. After I tasted it I was thrilled! Creamy, thick, very tasty. I layered the ice cream with fresh raspberries in a pint container so that when I use it as a component in my plated dessert I can make a scoop and get ice cream and raspberries in one scoop. I'll get my co-worker's critique on Monday, but I have a suspicion that it'll work splendidly. The only down side was that the chilled chocolate base was so thick it was like getting pastry cream into the ice cream machine. A bit of a pain, but manageable. I think next time I'll wind up adding a little milk.), Creme Anglaise (I got close to overcooking the creme anglaise, but poured it into a cold bowl to stop the cooking, post haste and stopped the cooking. Wound up perfect. Now that I think of it, I may have forgotten that base in the fridge. I'll have to check on Monday! Whoops!), Puff Pastry (Without incident. Tanya flattered me by saying that it looked like it came out of a sheeter. I over cooked the finished product - it was the end of the afternoon and I got wrapped up with cleaning and forgot about them... another whoops! - but my bouches finally worked even though they were overcooked!), french meringue (I ran out of pastry bags and since I'm too pooped to pop and the supply store closed at 5 and their closed tomorrow I guess I'm going to have to buy more from school... what a PITA! Anyway, I know Chef like's the free form look and finds spoon dollaps more attractive than piped forms, so I thought I'd give it a go. The proverbial necessity being the mother of invention. I think they wound up tasting I mean looking lovely, we'll see on Monday when I get them out of the auto cham.), bavaroise (I made it white chocolate and it turned out ok, for bavaroise - which is not one of my favorites - but I molded it into mini tartlett pans for use in my plated dessert), strawberry mousse (yum! I couldn't have been more thrilled with the outcome. Ryan made some chocolate pastry cream to finish off his cream puffs, and then there was my mousse so we filled some eclairs, some with chocolate and some with mousse and had a breakfast that is probably illegal in 28 states. Oy Vey! So this is what it means to be a pastry chef! :) ), short dough (I'd never made pate sucree before, and Chef hasn't demo'd it yet so I pretty much went off what Chef Rob told me. I used 3" tartlett pans, but according to a student who had this class last round I should have used the mini tartlett pans, Oh well. It used more dough than it should have so I wasn't quite able to make as many tartlettes as I should have, but it all worked out. I used Chef's great trick for blind baking - plastic wrap filled with rice... did you know plastic wrap was oven safe? me neither... very cool! - they came out a little blonde, but they held their shape and didn't shrink, so I was pleased with how they turned out. I also took two, slightly different shaped tartlett pans to make shells for the chocolate raspberry plated dessert.), with the left over tart dough I used my bench scraper and chopped in some pecans so I could make some pecan cookies (one of the items on the list is two different kinds of cookies, I figure that since I've got to made macaroons anyway, I might as well use the leftover tart dough to make another kind of cookie, actually, I can also take the same dough and make little dime sized cookies and sandwich them with raspberry jam and top them off with powdered sugar... should look GREAT! and with little to no extra work... I have to say, I couldn't have felt more cleaver if I'd finished the practical in 6 hours!), OK next, that was everything I needed to make for my day one plan, and I had all that done by 10:30, so I moved on to day 2. Pate au choux (I got these made - eclairs and puffs - but I didn't get them filled or glazed. I'd like to be able to take in some nice glazed ones for Monday, but heavens knows where I'm supposed to find poured fondant on a Sunday, even though this is San Francisco I'm still trying to track down where I can find everything I need!), Pastry cream (boy is this stuff easy! I can almost make it with my eyes closed now.... which is particularly ironic since I've made it less than 20 times in my life! I used the cream to fill the tartlettes and then topped them off with raspberries, blackberries and kiwi, none of the strawberries looked good enough to put on the tartlettes, so I just left room for them. I'll swing by Whole Foods or the Ferry Building tomorrow and pick up a pint, that ought to do it.).
So out of a list of 24 items that need to me made and I didn't do the following: pate au choux - swans, nothing filled or glazed, that translates into no points for any of the pate au choux, macaroon - not even started, not filled, no points, missing 1 cookie in the assorted cookies, I think I'd have gotten partial points for the one cookie that I did do, Italian buttercream - didn't even get started. Other than that, I'm pretty pleased. This exercise is going to be a heck of a lot more difficult when there are 30 people in the classroom. I'm hoping some people don't show up, give up, run out of the room crying, or have nervous breakdowns mid way through... anything to give us a little more space, more oven time, fewer people opening and closing fridge/freezer doors, and fewer people to share the ice cream maker/kitchen aids/burners with. I know this sounds horrible, but when you know there are people who don't really care about this exercise and there are people who made pate au choux 3 times on Friday before they got it to succeed, and another person who made pastry cream 4 times and still didn't get it to work, well, you just have to shake your head and wonder. I know it will be a good exercises... being able to do well in spite of all the wack jobs in the class, but it will still be a little stressful (apparently only for me, but we'll see when the actual day comes). I got all the components for my two plated desserts made, but I didn't plate them up. I was just running a little too short on time.
The Saturday after we get back from Summer break I'll do another dry run. I already have modifications to the task list, so that's a good thing. I'll definitely wind up making a triple batch of anglaise after the sorbet (1/3 for the ice cream, 1/3 for the anglaise check off, and 1/3 for the bavaroise.) I'll also probably try to bake off everything on day one. That way I can just assemble, decorate and set up my buffet on the second day. (It would be nice, but I'm not holding my breath.) I think if there were two things that I could skip without them having too much of a negative impact I'd probably stick with the buttercream and the macaroons.
Tanya gave me some good advice. She said that Chef only lets of have 9 plastic containers for measuring: 3- quart containers, 3- pint containers, 3- cup containers (Funny, there are people in my class that don't even know that these containers correspond to quart, pint and cups. How sad.). She said that we can bring in containers from home, so I think I might just do that. She also recommended that I bring in my own trash can, get my hands on a milk crate for organization and the day before save aside a few blue towels 3-wet and 3-dry. Other than that, she said I should be fine. Now lets just see if I can hustle enough to get this done (and done well!) without keeling over dead! I think one more dry run will make me much more confident.
Well, enough of all that re-hashing!
I came home today to a couple of wonderful, and very encouraging, emails from Chef Michael Hayes. Hi! Chef! Speaking of which, I don't think I ever said Hi! to Chef Amy! Hello! I know she's been reading (from the beginning, wow!) because we've had a chance to talk about a couple of my posts.
Well, I'm going to wrap up for now. Thanks for listening to me yammer on. I think I got a litte more clarification on the process by writing all this out. I've been home about 2 hours now and hunger is starting to set in (the only thing I've eaten today has consisted of coffee, two eclairs, and a couple of tasting spoons of sorbet/ice cream... no wonder I'm hungry! I need protein! mmmmm Thai is only 1/2 a block away tempting!) and I haven't showered yet, so I'm going to go.
Talk to you all later!
Friday, August 20, 2004
I wanted to give myself the full 10 hours that we'll be getting for the practical, but if I'm at the school at 6am and work until 1:30, well, that's just not quite enough time, but it will certainly give me a good idea of what I'll be able to do in the set amount of time. I also concocted my two plated desserts for the practical. They should be tasty and use several of the elements needed for the practical.
Anyway, Chef asked us last night if we were anxious about the practical and I think I was the only one who raised my hand. I looked around the class and told my fellow students to stop lying. I've heard them say that as long as they show up and get even one point they will pass the class. That's just not good enough for me. After looking at my list, I have a suspicion that I won't get everything done, but that's ok too, as long as I get a sizable chunk done and that chunk is done well.
Well, I'm off to finish up the rest of my laundry and get dressed for school. Wish me luck on my dry run!
PS: BTW, the second day of Cultural Days last night was just as much of a success as the day before. I'm a little disappointed that I over estimated how much food would be eaten, but at least we didn't run out! :) I had three amazing career talks with a couple chef instructors. Chef Ali, Chef Steve and Chef Rob. More on those talks later!
Thursday, August 19, 2004
The latest creation. I was going through old emails and I ran across a couple of idea files. This is the first of several. I'm still mulling this one over, but I've been wanting to do something with the pink peppercorns for a while (they're just so darn cute!). Any and all ideas/critique (you know how I LOVE critique!) are welcome!
Try to imagine the scene, we started serving around 4:30 and within minutes it was like the biggest, most crowded cocktail party you've ever been to. The 5:00 dinner service at Cryl's served 15 people... they usually serve between 250 and 300. Hmmmm, I'm guessing they were a little grumpy! :) HA! Take that! hee hee
Chef Alex was so proud at the turn out and how everything came together I thought he was going to burst the buttons on his chef coat.
OK, let me sketch for you. Sweet and Savory stations from about 10 countries. Countries included Germany, Norway, Italy, US (mostly southern specialties), Japan, Singapore, Latvia, Mexico, Vietnam, Philippines and Greece. There were live stations for almost every country, everything from meat carving stations (corned beef and such), pasta, sushi, curry, and enchiladas. It was pretty damn impressive. Just to put it in a little perspective, the curry station (Big Thank You to Chef Brenda and her two students) used 35 pounds of noodles, tonight they're bringing 40.
Liz's granddaughter plays tayko drums and she and one of the other girls from her dojo came in to play. These girls are, maybe, 10 years old and when they started chanting and then playing the entire room (easily 200 people) froze and stared. I was so moved I almost cried, Ryan got goose bumps and Kyle got the shakes. It was amazing. I've never heard anything like it and these girls were GOOD! At one point the Dean of Academic Affairs came down and stood at the top of the stairs and stared. What can you say/do? These loud, very impressive drums are pounding away and its just moving. Apparently the Dean was in a meeting on the first floor and when the girls started they were wondering what the heck was going on. At first they thought the noise was coming from outside, but then the realized that it was coming from the basement. This was certainly an amazing beginning for Cultural Days!
After the tayko drums you would have thought things started slowing down, but the Japan station had animee playing on one TV, Latvia had some sort of cultural video going on another TV, Mexico had Santana playing on a radio, and there was another TV, but I have no idea what was playing there. Greece should have had a TV with the Olympics going, but I'm not too sure about the scheduling or reception, so that might have been why they didn't.
As I've mentioned before, my group is Italy. We wound up with 7 desserts, 2 breads, and 2 drinks and we easily served over 1000 servings last night. It was absolutely FABULOUS!!! Ami, the dear, wound up making up another batch of Ugly but good cookies and another batch of zabaglione just to make sure we'd have enough for tonight too. We should be rockin and rolling tonight! Our station was draped in green and red fabric on top of white table cloths. In the white we had a little sign that said which country we represented. I had three piles of nuts on the table: pistachios, almonds and pine nuts. There were four bundles of purple grapes. I bought 9 sunflowers that I cut down: there were two bouquets of 3 and then there were 3 singles spread out and tucked under plates. I also took a bundle of rosemary and stuck twigs of rosemary into various spaces. I also made a little vingnette out of a bottle of Chianti (it was in a pretty bottle, but you'd be pretty hard up to actually drink it... for $2.60 it pretty much epitomizes the whole you get what you pay for principle), one of the little bouquets of sunflowers, and a tower of grasini. I used one of my vases from home and created a tower out of the super long breadsticks and then I took some of the shorter ones and added them in horizontally. Very nice.
There have been times when Cultural Days went until 8 or 9 because it 1) wasn't all that impressive 2) was terribly spread out - in the past it has been separated between the second floor and the basement 3) there was little to no publicity. We had, I mean HAD, to close at 7:30 because we ran out. Most of the stations wound up dipping into their reserves for day 2 and several people had at least one team member in the kitchen making more.
With all that, Chef Bob/Ken's class was working on their wedding cakes (with any luck, those who finish will be able to come down tonight), Chef Doug's class was finishing their 3 day chocolate sculpture projects, and Chef Amy's class was doing their first practical. So I'm hoping tonight we'll get even more B&P students. Not to mention that Chef Brenda's class' live station was in the perfect spot for the yummy smells of curry to waft up the stair well. Chef Alex said he could smell it all the way up the the second floor. (For a school filled with all sort of smells... good and bad... that's really saying something!)
We were all very pleased with the event.
After we closed and cleaned Chef talked to us again. Chef's Alex and Rob both said that we did well working as a team, both as a class and in our individual groups. People kept asking Chef how long it took us to prepare for this event and when he said 2 days they were blown away. It really is amazing what can happen when we pull together. That being said, I still think we could have done better. I know, I'm looking from the inside out. Its like when you make a wedding cake and you can see every flaw and you know there are at least a dozen things you would have done differently that would have made it better but to everyone else it just looks amazing. Anyway, it turned out great.
New subject. So I was talking to Katrina last night (I don't think I'm mentioned Katrina much before, but she is one of the few students who are planning on staying in SF and we get along great. She's smart, interesting, has an obvious passion for baking and is mature enough to manage work and school and the physical/emotional exhaustion that tends to go with that... she's currently working at the Bay Boulangerie a couple of days a week.) and we were talking about Chef Alex's lecture the day before (critique will start next week). I mentioned that I did an optimistic calculation and that, on the outside, I'll get 6 desserts critiqued and how I wasn't happy with that. She told me that her group has only done service once. That blew me away! How could we have been in class for three weeks and her group has only done service once? She was pissed... and rightfully so. I'm tellin' you, if that was me I'd be marching up to Chef Mattingly's office and demanding to take the class again... FOR FREE!!! (Frankly, I'd consider taking this class again anyway... if it weren't for the money!) I'm afraid I added fuel to the fire when I mentioned that we'd paid almost $5K for this part of the program. On a more constructive note we discussed the attitudes in the class and determined there are four types of students in our class: 1) those who love the class and don't think there are any problems 2) those who are enjoying the class and are learning in part BECAUSE of the problems 3) those with bad attitudes because of the problems, but realized they had a bad attitude and made the necessary adjustments to make this a constructive experience 4) those who have bad attitudes, don't care, don't know they have a bad attitude and are the proverbial bad apple than can spoil the barrel. I see myself in group two, Katrina put herself in group 3.
On a similar note, there are two other points that are concerning me. Because this is our last stop in a production kitchen I'd like to know a few things: When I come into work every morning, what do I need to do to set up my station? Right now I don't have a clue. I'm sure, based on a menu and a quick look through a production fridge I could get an idea, but when the chef asks me what my par levels are how am I supposed to respond? What MEP are needed for a night? What is a a standard pastry line like? Similarly, there must be theories on plate design and structure. How do we develop these? Not just from a design side, but also a deconstruction side so we can be shown a dessert and, in our minds pull apart the components and then re-create it/ assemble it just the way the chef wants us to.
Ok, let's end today on a high note. I had my informational interview with Chef Jenn Creager from Farallon yesterday afternoon. (First, I know it's totally silly, but she looks like she's 12! And then she starts talking and it's obvious that she's very knowledgeable, skilled and passionate.) I was encouraged and a little disheartened by our discussion. I was encouraged because we were totally on the same page about desserts: simple is better, seasonal (they have a woman who does purchasing/receiving/schedules maintenance and she goes to the farmer's market every week so they get a lot of really fresh, highly seasonal items for the dessert menu). She said that the pastry team is pretty enthusiastic and they talk about food all the time. Everyone winds up bringing in recipes and talking about food they had or new ideas. It sounded like a great work environment. She also said that Emily (Lucchetti... the executive chef) is pretty much more executive than chef. She does a lot of publicity and is currently working on a new book (Passion for Ice Cream) and even though she has been on the east coast for the past couple of months she calls weekly to check in with Jenn and see how things are going. They collaborate on new menus and Emily give feedback or tweaks certain elements. It sounded like a good example of a chef knowing she has the right people to do the job and then letting them do what they do best. Very encouraging. When I asked Chef Jenn if she had any favorite restaurants for dessert she mentioned Town Hall. I've only ever read their dessert menu, but my impressions (confirmed by Jenn) were that the desserts were classic Americana, kind of Midwest, homey, just plain good desserts. The note that Jenn added was that they have very good execution. She mentioned the irony that you can have an extremely simple dessert but if it's executed well then it will be an amazing seller. (Case in point: Farallon had an individual blueberry pie that was just a pastry crust and blueberries and they were so good that customers we accusing them of lacing them with some sort of highly addictive drug. They just couldn't get enough and got a little indignant when the chef told them what the ingredients were... they thought she was holding out on them. BTW... this is exactly what I aspire to! Perfection in simplicity!) So it looks like I'm going to be hitting up the Rosenthal brothers for an informational interview (well, not them actually, they have pastry chef that I've been looking at for the last month... another woman!... Janet Rikala Dalton). OK, now for the discouraging part.... you know all the questions I mentioned above? Things I haven't learned? Well, many of those are things I realized I knew nothing about while I was interviewing Jenn. That and she mentioned that when she's looking at new candidates she likes to see some experience even if it's on the savory side. She mentioned the value of understanding how a line works and how much that experience can contribute to overall success for the candidate. Well, at least I'm learning what I need to know BEFORE I start my job search! Overall it was a very valuable 20 minutes. (Funny, I was talking to Desiree about the whole thing and she wants to do a little info interview with ME to help her understand in a bit more detail how to conduct an informational interview, what questions to ask, how to make the contact...etc. I kind of got a kick out of it, so, of course, I agreed! Poor dear has never interviewed anyone and has no experience with any sort of cold call...I, on the other hand have more experience than even I would like!)
OK, back to work. I think I'm going to take tomorrow off and work on my plan for my practical. I haven't checked with Ryan, but I'm pretty sure we're on track for doing our dry run on Saturday. I'm pretty excited. With any luck we'll get a good feeling of how long things will take and what order to do them in.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
I made 6 large loaf pans of pound cake for cultural days last night. Helped Desiree decorate her pine nut cookies (most of which I wound up burning while I was working on the foccacia... yea, don't get me started, I was totally disgusted, but felt a bit too stretched... yea, I know, I should have set a timer, but the cookies were microscopic and I just wasn't sure how long to bake them for... I should have had Desiree do them when she got back from dinner.... this is what happens when you try to do it all. Lesson learned.), mixed and decorated the apple cakes with Desiree, went up to garde manger and learned how to use a slicer (very cool!) and sliced the prosciutto for the melon and prosciutto and learned how to clean the slicer (what a pain!). I also got, most, of the pound cake depanned and broke all the foccacia up and decorated all but two pans. God bless Tiffany for getting me some rosemary and onions before she went to dinner and Ryan for trying to track down some olive oil. If I would have know it was going to be like pulling teeth to get olive oil (particularly the crappy stuff we use that's an olive oil/cannola oil mix) I probably would have brought in my own... just like with the Moscato that we needed for the zabaglione. Anyway, Amy got the zabaglione done and it looked awfully runny. Hmmmm, so after some consultation with Chef we agreed that she would make a frozen zabaglione using the same small tasting cups that Desiree used for the panna cotta. She took the runny mix, folded in some whipped cream and then filled the cups and froze. Perfect. It did taste pretty good, so I'm not really all that worried. So we've got 1) pound cake with mascarpone and an amaretto/apricot sauce 2) pine nut cookies (Desiree, the dear, made another batch to replace those that I burned) 3) zabaglione w/ strawberries 4) ugly but good cookies 5) chocolate filled hazelnut cookies 6) bread sticks 7) 3 sheet pans of rosemary & salt foccacia, 4 sheets of onion 8) panna cotta w/black and raspberries 9) prosciutto & melon WOW! That should just about hold us!
I got a surprise call Monday night (I got the message on Tuesday AM) that my cousin, whom I hadn't seen/spoken to since I left IL) was in town and that she and her family wanted to have dinner with me. On top of that, last night was Dad's night in town. We were supposed to have dinner in the Careme Room but the last service was at 8 and they didn't wind up showing up until almost 8:30. Good grief. That girl (ok, woman... she is 41!!!) would be late for her own funeral! So I worked through dinner (hence the burned cookies) and when Desiree and Ami came back I left. I was worn out, very annoyed at burning 3 sheet pans of cookies (even though they were just about the ugliest cookies I've ever seen), still a bit deflated from the whole Chef Alex discussion. I felt so irresponsible! Leaving at 8:30 to go have dinner with family! Well it couldn't have happened on a worse (or more desperately needed!) day! After relocating to CPK (California Pizza Kitchen) I ordered my favorite salad and a beer and started yaking just like old time. We were in stiches in no time and the worries and stress from school was washed away. A perfect ending to a less than perfect day. Ahhhhh, there is balance in life.
I crawled into bed and fell asleep talking about food... the last thing I remember is not getting a response from Dad (he was already asleep)... the next thing I know the alarm is going off. Boy are these long days! I really couldn't ask for more!
Well, after one of the longest posts in recent history, back to work. I've got my interview with the Pastry Chef at Farallon today, so wish me luck! (Garth, I did speak with Chef Ali and he did give me one, very good question to ask. Thank you for the recommendation!)
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Our class has gotten a bad attitude. I'm not entirely sure exactly when this happened, but it has. Prior to plated desserts there were the requisite two to three people who were just not helpful, moved WAY too slow, were inconsiderate of the needs of their classmates, and in general weren't really adding to the class. This phenomenon has spread like a cancer. Now I think it's safe to say that a good half of the class is operating on the me and mine principle. (As in, if it doesn't effect me and mine (friends) then I just don't care. ) It's really bad. Actually, bad is not a nearly strong enough adjative. It's horrible. We need to be thinking like one big 30 person team. Not easy under ideal circumstances, but can you imagine what it's going to be like when we do the practical? YIKES! Really, really not good. I've talked to the class ahead of us and they've mentioned several problems that occur during the practical: the freezer gets opened and closed so many times that the ice cream and sorbet melt and the puff pastry won't chill. Inevitably the ovens don't heat fast enough (because people keep opening them up!) to cook everything in the ideal time so oven space is at a premium. These things can be over come, but there needs to be a certain amount of consideration... and we just aren't there any more. I'd really love to talk to the class and tell them to get the butts in gear because this class isn't going to get easier, only harder.
All that being said, I don't think Chef Alex is really helping the situation. First, I can't remember seeing him taste any products since we've been in class. This is just not acceptable. If the product being checked off looks even remotely passable he marks it off. There is little to no critique. In addition, there is no critique of the plated desserts that we serve. Chef occasionally talks about texture, but there is never any discussion of complimenting/contrasting colors, shapes, or structures. I feel like I have a distinct advantage because Mom and Dad always pointed out aesthetics and on our trips to museums we discussed art principles like color, texture, balance and juxtaposition. But what about translating these concepts to food? How am I supposed to know how to improve my designs? I try to show my drawings to Chef, but there is so little time, and I feel like I'm interrupting so frequently that it's extremely difficult and when I do ask questions I'm never sure if he really understands what I'm asking. Case in point: last night I showed him a drawing. I wanted to make a chocolate plaque for Cultural Days. The top 1/3 would be green, the middle 1/3 white, and the bottom 1/3 red and then within each of the colors would be the outline of the MAP! of Italy and it's two major islands. Pretty straight forward. Well, first he told me to use cardboard. I wanted to make the whole thing out of chocolate, but for my non-edible purpose, a cardboard base would probably be easier and more straight forward. So I agreed. He said I should spray the base with white chocolate and then freeze and then cut out the stencils. Ok, sounds easy enough. I took the cardboard, used the paint sprayer to spray a thin layer of chocolate. Into the freezer. Another thin layer. Into the freezer. I went to add yet another layer and the chocolate was flaking off. Hmmm, not a good sign. I saw Chef and asked him what the deal was. He said he'd told me to SPREAD. OK, with the accent, spray and spread sound pretty darn similar. Good Grief! Anyway it was at that point that he totally took over. Now, second point of failure. He either didn't listen to me (doubtful) or didn't understand me (highly likely, even thought I showed him a drawing of EXACTLY what I wanted) but I wound up with a white background and the colors of the flag are now inside the shape of the country. Yes, it looks fine (or it will as soon as I finish it up), but it wasn't what I drew and it wasn't what I asked for. Period, end of story. Anyway, rant done.
I think I'm going to speak with Chef about the critiquing thing. I'm willing to do drawings of every dessert before I make them if he's willing to review and critique, but I need specifics on why something wouldn't work or creative alternatives that would make it work but maintain the integrity of the design/flavor. sigh. Part of me wishes it wasn't like pulling teeth to get the most out of an education, but where there are people in your class who'd rather take your mixer than ask, it only goes to show that you have to fight for everything you really want. What a PITA!
I'm having a really really bad, crazy, hectic day, so I need to get back to work. Hope class tonight is somewhat better.
Monday, August 16, 2004
Friday night Desiree spent the night so we could get up early and be to the school by 8:30 to catch the bus for the Copia trip. For the first time in years (at least 5) my alarm didn't go off... and I slept late. I woke up at 8:50... YIKES! Talk about a crappy way to start the morning. I woke up Desiree and called Ryan who was working in Chef Alex's class. The sweetheart ran up to the waiting bus to let them know that we were on our way and would get there as soon as possible. Thank goodness we found a parking space for Desiree on my block! We threw on clothes (ewww, I was still wearing the shirt I slept in!) and ran out the door. Desiree dropped me off in front of the school and while she was parking I went in to the student store to get the two biggest cups of coffee and OJ and Snickers. I know, breakfast of champions... or the considerably late!
We got to Copia around 10, got a tour, went to a demo, walked around the gardens and then had lunch. I had expected far more from lunch. It wasn't bad, but for some reason management/service decided not to allow the servers to bring wine/mixed drinks out to the patio area where we were seated. Kind of silly for a place where wine is one of the three main premises for it's existence. (The others being food and the arts.) Anyway, I went inside and got the Oregon white wine flight. Not too bad. I saved the wine to go with my food... good grief... I could have made the wine in the time it took for our food to be served. We were sitting at our table for 50+ minutes before the food showed up (the salad... even more time before the entree came) and one of the guys at our table said that he saw all the chicken waiting to be plated when we walked up. Hmmmm. Our table was never asked if we would like anything to drink. Overall, I wasn't overly impressed with the service. I had the chicken with mashed potatoes and squash. It was ok. It's hard to get excited about something you routinely make for yourself, but hey, any food I don't have to make or pay for, particularly lately, it a good thing. Dessert. (insert pregnant pause here... that or a motherly clucking tongue) Sad. When I spoke with Terri, one of the pastry cooks at Farallon, she raved about the pastry chef at Copia. I wasn't all that impressed. The concept was good, and it looked good, but that's about all the praise I can muster. Bay chocolate sauce on the plate, meringue placed on the sauce and chocolate chip chocolate mouse quinelle on top with a fresh bay leaf to top off the tower. Now. I love chocolate, but we're in the middle of summer and Copia is all about seasonal fruit and veggies. I would have expected some sort of seasonal fruit to be the star of the dessert. Silly me. Maybe it was a cost thing, I'm not sure, but it was disappointing. That being said, if the dessert had been tasty I probably would have raved and not even thought about the seasonal fruit thing. The bay chocolate sauce and the chocolate chip chocolate mouse were good. No complaints (besides being boring). But the meringue. Oy vey! I've had lots of meringues... they are one of my favorite desserts. The perfect combination of ease, pastry and confection. This one was atrocious! It was salty! I asked around to see if others agreed and we all did. Too bad. I've been thinking that there might be something else that I'm confusing with salt. It's a pretty basic flavor, so I doubt I really am confused, but this isn't the first time I've tasted a dessert and thought it was overly salty. Hmmmm. I'll have to think about this some more.
Anyway, the Copia trip was good. Probably a good one time visit, but I don't anticipate going back any time soon, but, then again, life is full of surprises, so who knows.
The bus ride back was hell. No exaggeration. Desiree wanted to sit in the back. Great. The air conditioning broke, so we were in a giant oven on wheels. We got stuck in traffic, so instead of getting back at 4, we got back a 5:45. And to top off all of that I got so horribly car sick I thought I was going to puke. As if that wasn't enough we had students who convinced the bus driver to turn on the radio. It was loud and obnoxious and the students seemed to have forgotten the concept of professionalism. (One of the twits wanted to take a picture of me sleeping... thank god Desiree wouldn't let them.) I told Desiree that if I'd been awake, and not so nauseous I would have reminded them that this was not a party, that it was, in fact, a school outing, and that we needed to remain professional until we got back to the school. Call me a party pooper. Whatever, it was just plain rude and inconsiderate. (End Rant!)
Saturday evening and yesterday I made profiteroles. Yum! I'd made pate a choux in class on Friday for a check off and gave a ton of the extras away, but I still had a lot so I took them home. Saturday I filled them with vanilla ice cream and topped them with caramel. Sunday same general thing, but I topped them with chocolate sauce. YUM! I wish I'd made the vanilla ice cream, but Haggen Das is still pretty good.
Saturday night I got all the recipes re-typed and scaled up for cultural day. We should be made in the shade by Wednesday. We'll be making a toasted pound cake with mascarpone and amaretto, strawberries with honey zabaglione, apple cake, chocolate hazelnut kisses, pine nut cookies, ugly but good cookies, prosciutto and Melon, panna cotta, grasini (bread sticks) and foccatia. Whew! That ought to cover it! Since my group is doing Italy, we've been paired with a live pasta station too. This is the first time we're going to be doing sweet and savory together. It should be interesting... hopefully fun, but that will mostly depend on my group mates.
Well, back to work. I've started working on my practical plan. I didn't get nearly as much done as I'd hoped, but at least I have a rough idea. Ryan and I will be doing a test run this coming up weekend. That should be interesting too.