Dining With The (Michelin) Stars

IMG_5288Well, I’m not quite sure I’ve ever actually eaten food before dining at Daniel earlier this week. Thanks to a birthday gift from the most thoughtful, generous girlfriend on the planet, I had the pleasure of experiencing Daniel Bouloud’s two Michelin Star flagship located in the heart of Manhattan.

Calling Daniel exquisite almost feels like an understatement. From the moment you step through the threshold off the city street, it’s as if you’re transported to another place. It exudes this sense of opulence that for the uninitiated, like myself, borders on being intimidating. Though at the same time, it seems welcoming. Inviting you in with its European flair.  Traditional titles are replaced with “Monsieurs” and “madame”. The entire production makes you feel special.

Our reservation was the first of the night, meaning we arrived a bit before dinner service. The dining room was kept behind closed doors while we waited in the lounge for its grand reveal. Even the simple act of the staff opening the doors felt fine tuned and rehearsed. Ushered to the outer edge of the dining room, we were seated on the same side of the table  overlooking the main dining area. It was the perfect view of the ballet like operation of a typical night at the restaurant.

IMG_5290Each staff member seems to have their designated spot, with people stationed at each corner of the room. Everyone keeps busy, keeping a constant watch on every table. For the two of us, we had the attention of five employees throughout the night. It’s not possible to feel neglected.

After having the menu options explained to us, we chose the four course meal, consisting of two dishes from the appetizer side, one from the main course, and one dessert. Everything looked
amazing. After placing our orders we were promptly treated to an amuse-bouche of herbed ricotta on a Parmesan cracker. Simple as it sounds, it set the bar for the night, leaving our jaws on the floor out of sheer astonishment at how flavorful it was. The meal IMG_5300continued with one hit after the other. A second amuse-bouche of carrots prepared three ways, and then our first real course. I started with a melon soup, a cold soup consisting of a melon blend, prawns, lemon coulis, and espelette pepper oil. The prawn was cooked “ishiyaki,” coming out sizzling on a hot stone, carved up and plated tableside. It was as much a show as it was a meal. Attention was paid to every detail. My girlfriend’s seafood salad was held back until mine was plated, at which point they were placed on our table simultaneously. Their IMG_5307service is down to a science.

Next came the gnocchi with chanterelle mushrooms, fava beans, parmesan, and lamb’s quarter and the lobster tail a la plancha. Each subsequent bite was better than the last. We didn’t even feel full till the very end of our meals due to our focusing so much on the flavors. Our main dishes, the suckling pig and Wagyu beef continued to astonish, taking us to our area of expertise, dessert.

IMG_5312Throughout our meal, as our waitress checked on us and brought us our courses, she had the chance to converse a bit. She asked us if we were celebrating anything special, to which we explained it was a birthday dinner. We also took the time to tell her we were both pastry students at The CIA, and were incredibly impressed with our meal. She took our order of the Kidavoa (Madagascar Cacao, Selim pepper chocolate sable , star anise caramel ice cream, and banana – lime confit mousse), and the Bolivie IMG_5319(chocolate dentelle, cru savage bavaroise, roasted cocoa nib, ma khan berry ice cream, and smoked Mexican vanilla – chocolate cremeux). When she arrived back at our table with our order, she presented us with a third plate of the Rhubarbe dessert, explaining that the chef wanted to give us a taste of one of their fruit options, as we had both ordered chocolate. The plate was also inscribed with a chocolate “Happy Birthday” and was adorned with a white chocolate birthday candle. It was an incredibly kind gesture and a perfect example of hospitality at its finest. At the conclusion of our meal, we were given IMG_5324an assortment of petit four, consisting of fresh madeleines, mini tarts, and chocolates as well as personalized printed birthday menus containing every item we ordered. It was a wonderful way to commemorate an exceptional meal. As we prepared to leave, our waitress approached us to let us know we should stick around, as the Maitre D’ wanted to give us a tour of the kitchen. We graciously accepted the offer and remained seated.

When he arrived, he greeted us with a handshake and asked about our education. We explained where we stood in the program as he led us to the back. Seeing a Michelin kitchen in action was an eye opening experience. It peels back the layers and lets you see where the magic lay, in the hands of the cooks. We were brought station to station, and given a rundown of their production. It was truly the perfect way to cap off an unbelievable experience.

I left the restaurant in awe. Both my dining companion and I giddily walked back to Grand Central, recounting the dreamlike night we had just had the pleasure of enjoying. It set the bar for what we could attain. This is what we are capable of. This is the standard that we have to hold ourselves to. I had never experienced anything quite like this, and I hope it won’t be the last. It was the perfect way to celebrate, and I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity. I eagerly await the next time I will be able to visit again.IMG_5338

The Contemporary Cake

IMG_5133Flavor is perceived differently by everyone. It’s one of the things that makes food so cool. In the same way art is subjective, people have different food preferences. Something that could taste terrible to one person may be another’s favorite treat.

Flavors and the way they work together were a huge component of my most recent completed course, contemporary cakes. Each class, we would build entremets (cakes consisting of numerous layers of custards, creams, cakes, and mousses.) Each layer had to work with the rest to create a unified flavor. Interestingly enough this sometimes included flavors that you would never dream of incorporating in desserts to enhance undertones in components you never knew existed.

IMG_5008One cake in particular consisted of blueberry compote, basil cremeux, and lemon mousse. The addition of basil was something I would consider relatively outside the box, but it fit perfectly with the flavor profile. When you break the cake down layer by layer, you can see these sort of flavor crossovers. By this, I mean lemon works with basil, which in turn works with blueberry. Everything in the cake works with another component making for a well-balanced dessert.

Each cake was expertly crafted with this in mind, utilizing different mousse techniques while teaching us efficient production methods to ensure a perfect product. We were also required to conceptualize our finished products in advance of class, giving us our first real opportunity to customize the design of our products.

IMG_5193The final project of our class had us create cakes of our very own, designed around an assigned flavor profile. Each cake had to have at least five layers, two of which had to be the assigned flavor. My group was assigned blueberry, which we utilized as both an insert and exterior mousse.

IMG_5195Trying to make it as interesting and varied as possible, we designed a cake consisting of puff pastry, marmalade, buttermilk cake, blueberry-lavender compote, ginger-orange cremeux, and blueberry-cream cheese mousse. We named it “Violet Bauregarde” after the character from Roald Dahl’s classic novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Much to my delight, my cake was one of the best received in the class. I (very happily) took half of it home to show off to my family. We finished off the class producing and serving desserts for the AOS graduation.

IMG_5214Contemporary cakes was a step up in intensity from the last two classes I’ve taken since coming back from externship. I feel like it really got me re-acclimated to the production environment and strengthened my flavor pairing and entremet production skills. With this class completed, I am down to the final 6 months at the CIA. It’s been an incredible journey thus far, and I can’t wait to see what it has left in store for me. Till then, I’ll be bringing it.

 

 

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.

Go Nuts For Donuts

As week 8 comes to a close, the campus has shut down for summer break. For theFullSizeRender-3 next 3 weeks, students will be catching up on some much needed rest and relaxation. It’s strange seeing this place that operates like a finely tuned machine year round come to a screeching halt, yet after the stress of last week’s exams, I cant say I’m entirely upset about it.

With my mind focused on my first skills test last week, I failed to discuss my new classes, Nutrition and Introduction to Gastronomy. Both classes are exactly as their names imply. In Nutrition, we learn about the current nutritional guidelines and how the nutrients in our food effects our bodies. In Introduction to Gastronomy, we learn about how our tastes and food habits are shaped by society and our surroundings, as well as world cuisines and customs. I’m finding that I am enjoying the academic classes just as much as the hands on cooking classes. They are truly fascinating, and offer a deeper look at food than what one can get in a kitchen.

IMG_1521            In my production classes this week, our schedule was shaken up a bit. Our syllabus originally had us on track to make the practical cake, but our chef decided that with break on the horizon, it would be better to hold off on it till after we get back. The practical cake is a layer cake consisting of genoise sponge and vanilla butter cream, topped with chocolate décor. We will be tested on it during our second skills examination, so it certainly seems like a good idea to wait till everyone is back in a school focused frame of mind. Our lesson on yeasted and fried dough was moved up to this weeks slot instead. We made cake and yeasted donuts, as well as braided coffee cake and sticky buns. We started the week’s work on Tuesday, with the production of the cake donuts and sweet dough that was to be used on Thursday for the cake and buns.

The difference between the cake and yeast donuts boils down to their leavening FullSizeRender-1.jpgmethod. Though both rely on the blending method when making the dough/batter, the cake doughnuts use a chemical leavener in the form of baking powder. The baking powder releases C02 upon contact with moisture, creating bubbles in the batter. When exposed to the heat of the oil, a secondary reaction occurs, adding an additional increase in volume. The yeasted donuts on the other hand rely on yeast for their leavening. After making the dough, it is put in a proofer to facilitate FullSizeRender-4the fermentation of the yeast. Fermentation is the process in which the yeast consumes and breaks down the sugars present in the dough. As the yeast consumes this sugar, it produces C02, increasing the volume of the dough. The proofer is a temperature controlled box that provides an environment with the optimal temperature and humidity for yeast fermentation. It leads to a very puffy and airy product. The yeast donuts made on Thursday were lighter in weight and texture than the cake donuts. Though they’ve never been my favorite dessert, both types of donuts were delicious.

My favorite thing we made this week was actually the braided coffee cake, made fromFullSizeRender-2.jpg the sweet dough we produced on the cake donut day. Everyone was required to fill it with cheese filling, but we were given the option of adding either apple or blueberry as well. I chose the blueberry, which was the perfect contrast to the semi-salty cream cheese filling. The finished product was yeasty in flavor, tasting almost like a stuffed challah.

The lessons on frying and yeast doughs were very interesting. I had worked with yeast only a few times before, and these classes definitely helped further my knowledge on the subject. In 3 weeks time, I’ll be back in the thick of it. In the meantime, I will spend my vacation practicing my recipes at home, trying out some new restaurants, and looking for some culinary adventures.

A Walk (And Bite) Through The Big Apple

Growing up in the suburbs of New York has had its fair share of benefits, one of which has been the close proximity to New York City. New York is widely considered to be the culinary Mecca of the country, playing host to a wide variety of prominent chefs, pastry chefs, restaurants, and bakeries. As a student at the CIA, we are constantly encouraged to try new things and broaden our creative pallets. With that in mind, I set out to make a sugar filled pilgrimage to America’s culinary capitol, to sample a selection of desserts from some of the most well known bakeries in the world.

FullSizeRender-5      I made a list of bakeries I wanted to visit, and luckily enough, they all happened to have locations near Central Park. With my game plan set, I took a ride to the city, making my first stop at Maison Kayser. Maison Kayser was founded by French chef Erik Kayser in the mid 90’s. After garnering critical acclaim with his first location in Paris, he expanded, opening 80 locations across the world. There are nine in New York alone. Erik Kayser is known more for his breads, but his stores feature a large selection of pastries as well. In addition to their display counters, they offer FullSizeRender-6indoor seating where people can have a sit down meal. I was on a quest though, so I placed my order to go, taking with me a selection of brioche rolls, a macadamia/chocolate chip cookie, éclair, apricot tart, petit four sampler, and a St. Honore. I also got a flourless cookie for a gluten intolerant family member. After getting everything boxed up, it was off to my next location, Francois Payard Bakery.

FullSizeRender-7           This shop happened to be situated right across the street from Maison Kayser. Francois Payard is a James Beard award-winning chef who moved onto the NYC scene from France in the early 90’s. Prior to opening his shop, he had a notable career, working at some of the world’s finest restaurants, including Le Bernardin and DANIEL. In the late 90’s, he opened his first shop in NYC on the Upper East Side. Since then, he has opened numerous stores throughout the city, and expanded worldwide. I would have loved to visit his flagship shop, but unfortunately, it seems to have permanently closed. The Francois Payard Bakeshop was more modest than Maison Kayser, closer resembling a traditional bakery that most would be familiar with, rather than the restaurant style FullSizeRender-8utilized by Kayser. The front of the store featured a case containing dozens of macarons, inviting passersby in with their alluring rainbow of flavors, but a relatively small selection of pastries within. I had looked up their offerings online, and was excited to try them in person, but found very few of the online items in store. I purchased a small selection for comparisons sake, walking away with a chcolate eclaire, Papa Payard tart, gourmandise, passion fruit mousse, and a flourless chocolate cake. I also bought a salted caramel macaron ice cream sandwich to be shared between my traveling companions and me on our walk to the next location.

FullSizeRender-9   We decided to check out another Payard bakery in hopes they may be a bit better stocked. Luckily, there was one a few blocks down, located in the Plaza Food Hall. I had never been there before, but I’m glad I stumbled upon it. The Plaza Food Hall is a sprawling food court located underneath The Plaza Hotel, containing a huge selection of booths from some of the top eateries in the city. They have everything from bakeries and restaurants, to a fully stocked and operational market. After concluding our business at Francois Payard’s stand, we made our rounds through the hall to check out some of the other booths, the busiest of which was Lady M Cake Boutique; a shop dedicated to individual slices of traditional cakes. FullSizeRender-10Towards the back was Epicerie Boulud, another crowded bakery/café, serving up traditional lunch fair with European style desserts. In the center was La Maison Du Chocolat, a Parisian chocolate shop with elegant truffles and bon bons. I was focused more on the desserts, but the savory options equaled the sweet. I didn’t have the time for a meal, but I definitely plan to head back to the hall when I get the chance. When we were finished, we departed for our final location, Laduree.

FullSizeRender-13  Having first opened in 1862, Laduree was the oldest patisserie on our self-guided tour. This one, of course, being a satellite location was not quite that old, but kept the traditions instituted by the original. Laduree is most famous for their modernization of the French macaron, taking it from what was originally just a single meringue shell, to a double-decker sandwich cookie. This bit of history makes them “the” place to go to for macarons, a fact which they fully embrace. The store is covered in macaron FullSizeRender-14decorations, and the cookies have become the centerpiece of their offerings. They actually carried very few pastries beyond their macarons, which were stacked in mountains across their lengthy countertop. The store itself was beautiful, decorated as if it were a 19th century tearoom with pastel walls, velvet drapery, and matching seating. Even the packaging looked the part. We left with an assortment of their macarons, as well as a few of their pastries.

Once home, we delved into our takeaway, dividing everything into small bites, allowing us to get a taste of all of it. It was really interesting comparing similar items from different bakeries to each other, as well as to what we’ve produced in class thus far. It was an incredible experience that I would recommend everyone give a try next time they are looking for something to do in the city.