One To Go

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind of excitement and hard work. I’ve completed IPP, passed my practical, and am now recharging, as I enjoy my winter vacation.

In my last entry, I recounted my feeling of being hit by the barreling locomotive that is IPP (Individual Production Pastry). Though flattened like a pancake, it was certainly a necessary and beneficial experience that simulates what we are likely to find in the field. A product is a reflection of a baker, and in a kitchen, we are extensions of the chef. It is our responsibility to produce items the chef is proud to put their name on. This means it is imperative to follow their directions to the letter. This was a fact we were reminded of over and over again.

fullsizerender-1  Due to where this class fell for us in the year, our calendar was a bit unconventional. Rather than have a full 15 days of class, the winter vacation shortened our block to 13 days. Two of these days were devoted to the practical, meaning we only had 11 days of actual classes. That certainly didn’t prevent us from learning though, as we crammed topics together and produced exquisite works of edible art, the most impressive, in my opinion, being the petit gateau.

fullsizerender-2    Each group was assigned a mousse and insert to produce, which were assembled in a variety of molds, creating these gorgeous geometric desserts that are so perfect looking it almost feels wrong to eat them. My class partnered with the contemporary cakes class to produce a large selection of miniature petit gateau (or perhaps petit petit gateau) to be served at the Bachelor’s graduation. We actually wound up serving them during the reception, fielding questions from inquisitive (and ravenous) guests. It was my first experience with front of house work, and one of many things I am happy to have done in this class. All around, it was difficult but informative, strenuous but rewarding. I learned a lot about precision and artistry, and in retrospect, it will probably be one of the most important classes I take at The CIA.

img_3098 The practical exam which took up the last 2 days of the second week of class, proved to be one of the most stressful tests I have ever taken. Every little detail of every item needed to be taken into account. If the fondant on your éclairs dripped down the side, fail. If you lacked chocolate on the top of your cake, fail. Though I sort of feel like I fell with style through the whole thing, I, along with a handful of my classmates, managed to pass on the first try.

With the stress of the practical out of the way, I’m off to 2.5 weeks of bread and then externship. It has been a crazy year, but it has gone by in a flash. There’s many more exciting things to come.

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Yes Chef!

If I were to choose an analogy to describe my time at The CIA thus far, I would compare it to a rollercoaster. Techniques was the slow, steady climb to the top, Café Savory and Basic and Classical Cakes were the straight away at the peak, and Individual Production Pastry is the gut sucking, terror inducing plunge to the bottom.

This point in the program is where you are either made or broken. It’s much more intense than previous classes and you are held to far higher expectations. Walking in on the first day was a bit like the opening scene of “Saving Private Ryan.” The doors of the bakeshop opened to all out pastry warfare. Our habits of talking through class and meandering through production were instantly admonished as our new chef’s expectations were laid out for us preceding production. It’s a class that operates as if it were a professional bakeshop, meaning professional standards apply. As chef laid out in her presentation, unlike other classes where our products would be thrown in the blue bin (food waste) at the end of the night, everything we make was to be served at events at the school. This means they all needed to be absolutely perfect.

img_2992We started the week by making a variety of different opera cakes and chocolate mousse cakes. My team was responsible for a mousse cake consisting of chocolate decadence (a dense brownie like cake), and chocolate mousse. The other teams made either coffee, pistachio, hazelnut, or gingerbread operas. This first day was spent on production of the product, while the second day was spent on décor and portioning. This seems to be the typical schedule for the class, as it remained consistent through the rest of the week’s productions.

IMG_3006.JPG     As the week progressed, we used the pate a choux recipe we learned in Techniques in new exciting ways, as we piped and filled Paris Breasts, Religieuse, and much more complex variations of éclairs.

The week concluded with the production of components for verrines, a parfait like layered cream dessert assembled in a glass. As always, we are all making different flavors, mine being comprised of coconut tapioca, diced pineapple, and lime curd. It’s sure to be a delicious combination.

IPP is incredibly intense, sometimes overwhelmingly so. Though it will be both IMG_3035.JPGmentally and physically draining, I am sure I will learn a lot of valuable information that will help me while I’m out on externship. This upcoming week will be exceedingly stressful as I will be taking my second term practical, a comprehensive exam I must pass in order to go out on externship. Although I am prepared, I will still be nervous heading in. Fingers crossed I’ll have some good news to share in next week’s post.

Piece Of Cake

After weeks of being out of the bakeshop, we’ve finally dusted off our rolling pins and gotten back to work. This week marked the start of our 3 week course in basic and classical cakes. This class is a sort of review-plus of our culinary techniques class, taking what we learned and building upon it. As of now, it pertains mostly to decorating, but I’m sure we’ll be adding to our repertoire of production techniques in the coming weeks.

After a brief rundown of the class and review of some basic techniques, we launched img_2846right into production. The first items of the week were raspberry cheesecakes and a variety of tarts. The cheesecakes were more like a warm up, acting as a sort of refresher for the motions of the bakeshop. They were a simple production with a delicious result. For the tarts we utilized the creaming method as we had done previously with cookies and pound cake. We made 1.2.3. cookie dough, or pate sucree as it is also known, which was rolled out and molded into tart pans. Each group was responsible for a single kind of tart. These included, apple, fresh fruit, pear, plum, and img_2844walnut varieties. My group produced the Hawaii tart, which consisted of a thick layer of caramel and macadamia nuts, covered in a thin layer of Kaluha ganache. As is the norm for our productions from this point forward, our desserts were sliced up and served to students dining in Farquharson Hall for dessert.

After cheesecakes and tarts, we moved onto layer cakes, starting with a refresher of the vanilla butter cream cake we had been tested on in our baking techniques class. Despite everyone in the class being required to produce their own cakes, we were only allowed to make one recipe of buttercream per group. This supplied each person with half the amount we had previously been allowed to use. To me, this seemed like an impossible task, as I had very nearly run out of butter cream when frosting my cake in the previous class. Amazingly, after watching our chef’s demo, I realized just how much ingredient I had been wasting. In the food industry, product is money. Learning how to properly assemble this showed me I was throwing away what would equate to half my profits. Everyone managed to frost their cakes, though the combination of us being out of practice and utilizing new techniques lead to some less than desirable results. At the end of our class, we were asked to do a self critique of our cakes. If we deemed them sellable, they would be served in Farquharson hall the next day, If not, they would go in the blue bin (food waste). There were no buttercream cakes to serve for Farquharson the next day.

img_2861Chef assured us that this happens with every class, and that the next day’s
production, a mocha butter cream, would be 100% better. Needless to say, he was right. Although my cake was still rough around the edges, I definitely felt more comfortable with the motions. At the end of the day, our class of 19 had 19 sellable cakes to be sliced up and served.

Moving on from buttercream, we tackled a slightly different beast, frosting with whipped cream. This technique would be utilized in the construction of Black Forrest Tort, a German classic consisting of Kirschwasser soaked img_2870chocolate cake layers, cherries, and whipped cream. The frosting technique was the same, and chef informed us that some would find it easier to work with it while others would find it more difficult. I fell into the “more difficult” school of thought. Although whipped cream is easier to spread, It deflates as you work it, making it near impossible to correct mistakes.

Week one concluded with carrot cake frosted in cream cheese frosting and topped with marzipan carrots. Next week moves away from the standard frosting procedure as we head into mousses and creams. The program has really kicked off now and I can’t wait to get back into the kitchen next week for some pre Thanksgiving fun. Till then, I’ll be practicing.

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Goodbye Savory, Hello Sweet!

Three weeks of Café Savory and I’ve already come to the end. Though short in length, it was rich in content, leaving me with a new found confidence and understanding of the kitchen.

img_2516 To start the week off, we went over one of the most basic of meals, roast chicken. Simple yet flavorful, roast chicken has always been a go to meal when looking for a quick dinner solution. Our chef went over a few tips and tricks to help ensure our roasts achieved optimal texture and flavor. These included such things as stuffing the skin with butter, and tying the legs in towards the body to ensure heat and moisture retention. He also made sure we were liberal with our seasoning, as according to him you can “never over salt poultry.” We used the rendered fat and vegetables the chicken was roasted atop to make gravy. To accompany the dish, we made Duchess Potatoes, which were something akin to baked mashed potatoes.img_2539

From there, we moved onto fish. As we gathered around the bench for a demo at the beginning of class, our chef lugged a huge, whole striped bass onto the work space to demonstrate proper filleting technique. After removing one side of the fish, he portioned it out for us to use in our Fish Provencal, a sautéed fish tossed in a pan gravy of tomatoes, wine, butter, and olives. In addition to the fish, each team was tasked with producing rissoto, which we were given the freedom to flavor as we wished. My group chose to make mushroom.IMG_2556.JPG

After fish day, we moved onto international street foods. Each group was assigned to produce a variety of tasty finger foods from various countries. My group was tasked with the Chinese assortment, consisting of scallion pancakes, spicy Asian chicken, and Asian slaw. All of our food was put out for family meal for a delicious multi-cultural buffet. The next day expanded img_2573on this concept, with a full-blown international meal day. Rather than finger food, each group was required to produce multi dish meals, such as Pad Thai with Thai curry and chicken satay, and stir fry beef with vegetable dumplings and dipping sauce. My group was in charge of producing seafood paella with manchego fritters and romesco sauce. With such a huge selection of food, no one left hungry.

The final class was a breakfast for dinner theme, concluding with our final exam. In the few short weeks I was in the culinary kitchen, I managed to pick up way more than I expected to. In being taken out of my comfort zone, I have learned new skills that I will continue to develop throughout my life as I produce delicious meals for my family and me. As my transfer credits have allowed me to bypass the art class I was scheduled to take next, I am now on a sort of semi-vacation till the next block starts. Upon returning, I will be back in the bakeshops for Basic and Classical Cakes. I can’t wait!

Cafe Savory – Week 2

After being thrown into the culinary frying pan last week, I’ve started to find my rhythm in the kitchen. Although it still feels like a foreign language, my culinary skills have started to develop. My knives no longer feel like dangerous objects to be feared, but more along the lines of extensions of my hands. It’s exciting. As someone who hasn’t done a lot of cooking in his life, it feels good to be delving into this other side of things.

fullsizerender-1  We started the week off the classic potted dish, chicken fricassee. This flavorful chicken is braised in stock and white wine. It’s then removed from the pan before adding heavy cream to the pan juice. The emulsion is then reduced to nappe consistency, before being tossed back with the chicken. The end result is an incredible, velvety tender meat, with a beautiful rustic appearance. To acompany the dish, we made glazed carrots, and utilized the leftover rice from the previous week to make fried rice.
img_2402 The next class was spent discussing proper pan frying techniques before, moving into pastas and cheese. Each group was tasked with making a filled pasta of their choice, along with a batch of fresh cheese for the filling, and fresh mozzarella to be served on the side. The fresh cheese was made by adding vinegar to boiled water and agitating. This caused the whey protein to separate and cheese curdles to form, which were then filtered out using a IMG_2413.JPGcheesecloth. The end result was something akin to ricotta cheese albeit slightly more acidic. The pasta was made with a durum flour based egg noodle recipe. My team chose to make a simple and fresh dish, consisting of ravioli, garnished with a tomato brochette and balsamic reduction. The chef was pleased, and so were the team’s stomachs. The next day was somewhat laid back, as the chef demoed shellfish cookery and had everyone grill steaks for dinner.

With the breakneck speed of the program post fundies, I only have one week left of Café Savory. Pretty soon, I’ll be back to the bakeshops, and then on to externship. This final week is sure to be filled with many more delicious things, that I will be certain to post about.

Life In The Kitchen

img_2204 “You’ve gone over to the dark side,” said a passing chef to one of my classmates
earlier this week as we stood outside K-19, our home for the next 3 weeks. After completing Fundamentals last week in a rather spectacular fashion with our Showcase, we have officially moved into our second semester, starting with a culinary crash course called Café Savory.

Café Savory is designed to give us bakers, the basic skills necessary to ultimately produce the savory food offered by the Apple Pie Café. After spending a week as a cook, I’ve got to say, I am quite far outside my element. Whereas baking is an exact science with a clear beginning and end, cooking is a chaotic and random art form. It’s like the difference between classical music and jazz, or Jackson Pollock and da Vinci. As someone who values schedules and precision, cooking is a bit too anarchistic for me. I certainly value the end result, but unlike baking, it feels foreign and unnatural.

img_2251 We started the class discussing our knives and basic cuts, before jumping into practicing them on onions, carrots, and potatoes. As someone with an aversion to sharp things, it was a bit terrifying, but as I practiced the skills more throughout the week, the motions became more fluid and I got the hang of it. The veggies we cut were sautéed by our chef and turned into tomato sauce, which was served over pasta for family meal.img_2280

The next day we learned about stock, which became a sort of central element that
was built upon for the rest of the week. While the stock cooked, we used potatoes that we had chopped the previous day to make gnocchi. Each group made sauces to accompany the potato dumplings, which we ate for dinner.

The next two days were devoted to soups. First we IMG_2304.JPGproduced French onion and minestrone, splitting production of each among our group. The second day, we made cream of broccoli and consommé. I was in charge of the consommé, which was a rather interesting yet disgusting looking production. The end product is an extremely clear and flavorful broth, but getting it there requires the production of a scummy looking raft of meat, eggs, and vegetables that settles on top and filters the impurities. We also learned about vinaigrettes, producing salads to accompany our soup dinners.img_2328

On the final day of the week, we learned about the mother sauces, vegetables, and starch cookery. My group made chicken veloute, while the other groups made a variety of others, including béchamel, which was turned into cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese. In addition to our sauce, we produced a batch of rice pilaf, learning about different grain lengths and cooking methods.img_2340

Although I’m certainly not a cooker, I can appreciate the other side of the culinary world. After completing the first week, I feel a little bit more comfortable with these new tricks of the trade, and I am cautiously optimistic about what’s to come in the rest of the course.