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.

Skills Exam 2!

Like lightning, the Skills 2 exam has come and gone. A stressful affair without a doubt, but I leave it behind gaining confidence in my abilities. It’s amazing to think how far we’ve all progressed. Our first class, we labored through the process of making chocolate chip cookies. After 14 weeks, simple techniques like that feel like second nature.

I set out for the kitchens, fueled by a pre test ritual of punk rock and caffeine. I had constructed my timeline and planned to stick to it hard. I entered the kitchen and my nerves soared, as the class before us ran late in their clean up, setting back our start time. I waited for my station to clear out before assembling my tool kit and making a break for the dish room. I grabbed my supplies and started my production.

I chose to start with my puff dough, as that would require the most hands on time throughout the day. I mised out my ingredients, made the dough, and rushed it to the refrigerator to firm up. I grabbed the butter and beat it into submission. By the time it had reached the proper temperature and shape, it was time to lock it into the dough and roll it out. I blasted my way through the first steps on my timeline, and managed to get out ahead of schedule. Next I started on the genoise, beating the eggs and setting them aside to stabilize. From here I went back to the puff dough, doing the second of the four folds. By the time I finished that up, I was back to the genoise, finishing the mixing of the batter and getting it in the oven. After the third puff dough fold, I moved onto the production of my crème anglaise, leaving it to cool in an ice bath after cooking to silky smooth perfection. It’s here I ran into a bit of a crisis. All the ice had been claimed by other people, leaving a mostly melted, soupy mess at the bottom of the bucket. I took what I could, but it wasn’t very effective at cooling down my product. Luckily, one of my classmates was kind enough to lend me a handful of cubes.

img_2162            After cleaning my station, I moved back to my puff dough, rolling it out and performing the final fold before wrapping it up for the second day of the exam. With time running down, I moved to my final item on my timeline, the Italian meringue butter cream. I managed to finish and get it wrapped up with only 10 minutes to spare before the kitchen had to be clean and we had to be out. As I scrambled to do the final clean up of my station and assist in the clean up of the kitchen, my crème anglaise finally came down to the proper temperature. Unfortunately, we could not get the kitchen clean in time, going 5 minutes over and losing the entire class 2 points for the first day.

Despite really only being half way done with the exam, I felt relieved after leaving the kitchen. Though there were some issues with my product, chiefly the disappointing height of (or lack there of) my genoise, I had managed to complete the majority of what was required for presentation at the end of the exam. All that stood ahead was the assembly of the cake, which consisted of the genoise and butter cream I had made, and the construction of the apple strip using the puff pastry. I went home and used the day off in between exam dates to construct my timeline for part 2 of the test.

The morning of the second part went much the same as first, coffee and rock n’ roll. Focused and pumped up, I made my way back to the kitchen to complete the exam. As the construction of the apple strip required just as much hands on time as the production of the puff dough it’s made of, I chose to start there. I rolled it out, trying to fit the supplied template, but somehow managing to over roll its length. It was useless and had to be tossed. Luckily, an apple strip only uses 1/3rd of a puff dough recipe, meaning I had a backup supply from the dough produced on the first day of the exam. I hastily grabbed another 1/3rd, rolled it out, and got it in the freezer to stiffen. I grabbed my butter cream and began the process of re-freshing it on the mixer. As it churned, I cut my genoise sponge into 3 layers and grabbed the simple syrup and raspberry jam I would need to brush each layer with.

I sped through the cake assembly, spreading a generous layer of cream on each layer and stacking them into an even tower. I lathered the outside with a thin, translucent layer of butter cream to lock the crumbs in and prevent them from blemishing the finish of the cake, and got it in the refrigerator to set. On the way back to my station, I grabbed my rolled out puff dough to cut to shape and continue assembly. After getting the base together, it was back in the fridge. I grabbed my cake to continue the frosting, completing another round of culinary musical chairs. I finished up the cake and set my sites on finishing the apple strip.

I sliced up my apples and fanned them out on the dough. I brushed them with butter img_2157and sprinkled them with a generous dusting of cinnamon. After egg washing the sides, it was straight to the ovens. I was done with my production early, though I must admit to taking some short cuts. I cleaned my station and hit the dish pit to assist with the load. Unfortunately, clean up ran about a minute overtime, leading to another point reduction, but I had done it. I completed Skills 2!

I left the kitchen feeling invigorated. Though I still have my showcase ahead of me, this really felt like the capstone to my baking fundamentals. I’m on a journey, and the first part of that journey is rapidly coming to a close. I’ll take all the lessons I’ve learned in this class and build upon them for the rest of my career to come.

Waiting And Waiting

I sit in nervous anticipation of my second skills examination. In just 24 hrs from now, I, along with 9 of my classmates, will be furiously working through our production for the first day of our two part skills examination that will take us to the end of the CIA’s Baking & Pastry fundamentals. I can’t believe how fast this first part of my culinary education has gone by. It feels like orientation was just yesterday.

I’ve spent weeks practicing, trying to perfect my speed, accuracy, and technique in img_2095preparation for this exam, and I feel confident it will go well. Similar to the last skills test, the class is being split into two sections that will each go in separate rounds. Last week, we practiced our production, which includes, the practical butter cream cake, apple strip, and crème anglaise. Unlike the last exam where we all struggled to complete the productions with a full class during the practice day, we all managed to complete it with plenty of time to spare. It just goes to show how far we’ve all come as individuals and as a single unit.

I’ve written up a timeline to help me streamline my work tomorrow, and have made sure to take stock of what tools I will need. If all goes as planned, I will pass with ease, be one step closer to the end of my first semester. Stay tuned for a full write up of skills test 2.

We All Scream For Ice Cream

img_1998  I am into my final two weeks of fundies classes, and we’ve run into something of a lull before the storm that is exams and showcases. Soon I will be slicing and dicing in a culinary kitchen, taking a month long break from pastry, but until then, we’re using this week to relax a bit and indulge in some frozen treats, perfect for these waning summer days.

We were given the choice of producing either img_2004raspberry or mango sorbet in addition to vanilla ice cream base. Ice cream base needs to chill overnight in the refrigerator in order to allow the proteins in it to absorb the excess fluid content. Doing this prevents crystallization when churning it. Sorbet on the other hand is mostly sugar and does not require any maturation time. Due to this, we spun the sorbet the first day of class and saved the ice cream for the second. We also used our class time to experiment with a wide variety of edible vessels to serve our ice cream in.

img_2012  Each group was assigned a vessel to practice, such as meringue, chocolate, cookie, and tuile. My group was assigned the chocolate, which we molded into little cups using a silicon dome mold. Chef informed us that after Thursday’s class, we would plate and present our ice cream for the other kitchens as art of a mini showcase.

On Thursday, we churned our ice cream, and used the extra time to practice our apple strips again. Unfortunately, we ran into some trouble as the kitchen was running a bit hot. We were unable to keep the puff dough as cold as it needed to be in order to manipulate it, leading to some difficultiesimg_2040 in assembling it. After finishing baking the strips, we separated the class in two, each taking separate shifts for the showcase. One went before dinner, while the other went after. I volunteered to be part of the first group, and we had the unfortunate experience of dealing with some learning curve. Our ice cream hadn’t had enough time to solidify in the freezer, leaving it a bit soupy. We also didn’t know about sauces we had at our disposal, leaving us minimal time to plate our desserts properly.The second group seemed to fair a bit better than us.

This week was a fun break before the rigorous skills practice coming our way next week. I’m going to be a bit sad leaving behind bakeshop 1, but I’ll enjoy every bit of time I have left there.