We have been making lots of good stuff over the past few weeks – just thought I would share a few highlights.
Sorry for the delay in the blogging – I guess I have been busy-busy and not making time to blog. Fortunately the Olympics are over, so now I can get to sleep at a more reasonable hour each night….somehow they were able to keep me tethered to the TV until the last event each night – you know how good they are at building up that story to keep you watching – I’m the sucker that falls for it. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted, but I will say that I am glad they only come on once every 2 years. Apart from the Olympics – I have been pretty much focused on school, cooking and work – it has been a great few weeks and I am really loving the program. Lots of lessons learned in the last few weeks, some great guest speakers who came to talk, teach, inspire and cook with us, our first field trip and another “menu” night where we make and plate 3 courses throughout the class, oh and an elective class on making macarons…which was fantastic. For today’s post though I want to focus on what might be the next step for me in this process.
For the last few days, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about where I might like to stage, (French word short for stagiaire). Stage is pronounced with the same ending as you would mirage (I am terrible at French so these tips help me). Anyway, the gist of it is you go to a restaurant and you work for free – doing the bottom of the barrel tasks, picking herbs, cutting onions, juicing lemons, what have you….the hope and intention is that while you are doing said tasks you are learning how the kitchen operates, gaining an understanding of the day in the life of kitchen, seeing how the ingredients are taken from their original form to the way they are served. All the while you are getting faster at your tasks and taking on more and more and thereby impressing the chef in hopes that perhaps the next time you come in you might get a different task, or be able to learn something new, maybe ask some questions (most every article I have read about staging says not to ask questions unless clarifying in nature about your task at hand, especially at the start). For those of you who know me, and let’s be honest that is everyone reading this blog, you know this will be tough for me, I am known to not only ask a lot of questions, but to ask them in rapid-fire succession. It was only years after I became close friends with one of my co-workers that she told me that she considered moving desks when I first started since I was constantly asking her questions….needless to say, this part will be tough for me. So why you ask am I considering working in a restaurant where I will be the lowest man on the totem pole, doing the crappiest jobs, not really expected to talk other than to say yes Chef or no Chef, and not make a dime in the process? Well, the hope is that I will learn the ropes and practice and fine-tune my skills as an aspiring cook, with hopes of one day being an aspiring chef. This will be a humbling experience for me to say the least – it already has been – and one that I think will open my eyes to a world that I am still wrapping my head around. I am hoping to try staging at a few places to get a well-rounded picture of how many kitchens operate and learn new skills from each one. Stay tuned for tales from a stage….
I can’t really believe I am about to start week 5 of culinary school – it is going by so quickly already – I think I want to slow down time so I can enjoy it even more. I have to say I am glad I am doing the part-time program which is 8 months in the classroom, versus the full-time which is only 3 months. I can’t imagine already being one-third done, I feel like I am just figuring out how to get from my street clothes to my chef uniform to set-up my station in less than 10 minutes – turns out, it’s harder than it seems. Good thing we have all bonded quickly and there is absolutely no hesitation for me to make a quick change into my chef pants with all of the rest of the students standing right there – oh and yes, they all do it too, not just me.
This first few weeks has been a lot about vegetables, soups, cooking techniques, a little bit of plating and a few guest speakers. Since my time is short right now, and let’s be honest, no one wants to read a really long blog, let’s take it to the list. The top things we have made, some cooking tips/tricks/methods I have learned and a little bit about our guests.
First Up….The Food:
1. Artichokes Barigoule – also known as awesome braised artichokes – with bacon. Yum. See recipe below.
2. Mushroom Toasts – see photo below
3. Shortcakes (not a vegetable, I know, but delicious) – oh and a fun fact, they are called short cakes because the gluten strands are literally short, hence the flakiness.
4. Braised Fennel with Bacon – or Braised Fennel in orange juice and butter.
5. Slow cooked green beans
1. Braising – the main cooking method of 3 of the above recipes, clearly we are onto something here. Slow cooked, small amount of liquid, goodness. Here are some tips on braising.
2. Potatoes – there are tons of varieties, but they all pretty much fall into either high starch (russets), medium starch (yukon golds), low starch (fingerlings) or new potatoes (which are any potatoes that has been harvested before it reaches maturity – like red creamers).
3. Taste – more to come on this in the next list – but the key lesson here is that we really can only taste 5 things – sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami – the rest of the flavors that we are tasting are coming in through our nose and sense of smell.
4. Try as I might – I don’t like okra.
1. Craig Stoll – the awesome and inspiring founder of Delfina, Delfina Pizzeria and Locanda. Also a dean and advisor to the SF Cooking School. He came in to give us a pep talk about joining the food industry, he was candid, honest and real with us – welcoming us to his world, letting us know that there is a lot of work ahead to get to where he is and most importantly making himself available to us to answer our questions (both that night and going forward by email). Unfortunately I could not muster up the courage to ask him what he puts in the pizza sauce, Tammie is pretty certain that it’s crack. Here’s a little bit about Craig.
2. Barb Stuckey – a food developer for Mattson and author of Taste, a fascinating book about how/what we taste. She spent the whole evening with us doing a series of activities, tastings, and tricks to see how we taste things. Really interesting stuff – she’s got a few of her experiments on her website – take a look.
3. Galin Garretson of Town Cutler – he came in for a knife sharpening workshop. He is a badass and self-described knife nerd – I really enjoyed the time with him and learned a lot about how to sharpen a knife – and I got my first knife sharpening stone, so I will be doing my own knives going forward…except the serrated ones, those are going to him.
We have a lot of fun upcoming guests including the chef/owner of Nopa as well as a panel of food entrepreneurs in SF. Also I had the chance to be a Teacher’s Assistant for a pastry fundamentals class with Kim Laidlaw, she was awesome and inspiring and someone I hope to work with again in the future.
So as quickly as the 4 weeks have gone, it also feels like I can’t believe I have done so much in just 4 weeks – makes me excited for all that lies ahead. More to come soon…
I am psyched about this list, I have tried many of these things, but will be “forced” to do so again so that I can get credit for the Curiosity Crawl, there are several that have been on my to-try list for a while and still some that I had never heard of (or thought would make this list). I am looking forward to trying as many of these items as possible (I will be crossing them off as I do them). Also I will be looking for co-tasters along the way. We all know, food is so much better when shared with friends/family.
Fried Artichoke – Locanda
Bloody Mary – Zuni Cafe
Porchetta Sandwich – Roli Roti
Carnitas – Nopalito
Burger – 4505 Meats
Fried Fish in Chile Pepper – Spices II
Onion Pancake – Old Mandarin Islamic
Brussel Sprout Chips – Marlowe
Octopus Stew – La Ciccia
Kougin Amann – b. patisserie Rebel Within – Craftsman & Wolves
Chicken with Explosive Chile Pepper – Z & Y
Ice Cream – Bi-Rite Creamery
Pho – Turtle Tower
Burger – Mission Bowl
Breakfast Potatoes – Plow
Tuna Tostada – Tacolicious
Spaghetti – Delfina
Chilaquiles – Primavera
Oysters – Swan Oyster Depot
Charcuterie – Fatted Calf
Baguette – Acme Bread
Laminated Pastry – Four Barrel Coffee
Honey Cake – 20th Century Café
Tea Salad – Mandalay Bahn Mi – Siagon Sandwich
Fried Chicken Sandwich – Bakesale Betty’s
Fattoush Salad – Insalata’s
Brunch – Camino
Hummus – Terzo
Pizza Slice – Golden Boy
Focaccia – Liguria Bakery
Lion’s Head – Shanghai Dumpling King
May Wah Market (amazing Asian market)
Mushroom Section at Berkeley Bowl
Used Cookbook Section at Green Apple Books Line at Tartine Bakery Chocolate Making at Dandelion
Let me know your thoughts on the list in your comments….what’s missing? what have you tried? where do you want to go with me?
Update #1: The 7×7 2014 Big Eat List came out today (Feb 3)! Lots of the above items are included plus more! Check it out.
Update #2: Still plugging away at the list….hit up a few more of the eats – our visit to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday (2/22) helped to cross a few more items off the list
It’s funny being a culinary student, everyday I am asked “what did you learn?” or “what did you make today?” I usually start my answer off by explaining that we are just starting with the basics and that so far we have only made sauces, some soups, cut lots of vegetables and then I keep adding more and more to the list of the things that we have done so far and the things that I have learned. It turns out that learning the basics, leads to new discoveries, new techniques and the opportunity to appreciate a really simple preparation to make something delicious. Delicious – is a word my chef instructor uses a lot – and I love it – the way it comes out of her mouth when describing something is awesome, I can feel her passion for it and can almost taste whatever it is she is explaining. Passion – such an overused word – I know it, I read it in resumes at work all of the time and think of it as cliche – but sometimes it is hard to find another word to sum up that feeling. Then someone comes along and helps you do just that.
This past week, the pastry chef instructor made a quick guest appearance in our class to talk about a new fun project/challeng for all of us culinary students. She described being a chef of over 20 years and how there are times when she feels burnt out and over it, but more often than not she feels
passionate, no curious. She is driven to discover all that is new and interesting and different than what she knows and has done before. So the challenge before us is the “Curiosity Crawl” as a way to learn and take advantage of all that the Bay Area has to offer in terms of the food scene….a list of about 40 things to taste, 10 places to see, and 15 recipes to discover. Do these things and take a selfie along with a SF Cooking School logo in the shot – the first one to complete the list is in for what i am guessing will be a pretty sweet prize. Most of these things to see, do and taste are in SF proper, so with being in Marin and working almost full time, I might be hard pressed to make them all happen, but I will be trying my best to get to as many of them as possible – of course the allure of the prize is one thing – the real prize for me though is to get out there and discover new things. I am also really excited as this is going to be a great way to incorporate Tammie and other friends/family into my culinary education – it will make it way more fun and perhaps save me a few pounds along the way. I will soon post the list and the selfies I take along the way.
In the meantime, here are a couple of food pics from the first couple of weeks…
What an awesome first week! This was definitely the right decision for me – I went back and forth, over and over and over again trying to decide if I should do this – taking a leap of faith into a whole new world, the unknown of what I will do on the other end of it all, the financial impact and more swirled around in my head for the last seven months – and now one week in, I am confident that I am on a path that will lead me to my next best place. I have a ton to learn and with the knowledge of knowing there is so much out there for me to gain from this experience, I am feeling a renewed sense of confidence in myself, of being in the right place and of course a ton of excitement for all of the fun that this is sure to be. No doubt it will also be a lot of hard work, but in the best possible way.
The first three classes were full of lessons, lots of talking and the further into we got, more and more hands-on cooking. Here are the top five lessons of the week and the top five things I learned (or re-learned) to make.
1. Knife skills are going to take a LONG time to master.
2. Standing for 4- 6 hours at a time is tiring. Don’t lock your knees when you are standing still for that long – turns out that can cut the flow of blood and cause you to pass out.
3. Don’t be afraid of salt – it is a good thing.
4. Taste your food and season along the way….it helps to build depth and structure to what you are creating.
5. I am gong to break stuff, spill stuff, cut myself, burn myself and mess stuff up along the way. I am planning to learn from my mistakes.
1. A french omelet (with no brown spots) and a bit of softness inside.
2. Soup – lots of it. Root vegetable, curried carrot, potato leek and my favorite one: Lettuce & Pea Soup – yep, lettuce in soup and it was delicious.
3. Clarified butter. Oh and some delicious croutons cooked in it.
4. Slaw (finely shredded cabbage) with cilantro, lime, oil and toasted seeds (pumpkin, cumin & sesame).
5. Stock – chicken and vegetable. We will be making this on a regular basis as it is the base for many other items.
I knew I was excited to go back to school, but I don’t think I really realized the extent to which I was going to feel invigorated and inspired by this experience. In her introduction, Jodi, the founder of the school, said something to the effect that all of the students in the class come from different background and different experiences, but that we are united by the passion and love we have for food and for sharing that food with others. I love to cook, always have, but for some reason had not really thought of it in the context of taking care of others, which struck a chord for me. As we went around the table and shared our reasons for enrolling in this program, I found that something that each person said resonated with me, including those who said “I have always dreamed about going to culinary school” – turns out, I have had this thought in the back of my head for at least 15 or 20 years….if not more. Needless to say, I am thrilled to be starting down this path and it seems that I am in good company with my 12 classmates and our Chef instructor.
I shared this photo with some close family and friends and was super touched by the responses I got of encouragement for following my dream, taking a leap of faith, oh and of course the comments on sweet knives behind me – talk about a well stocked kitchen (we will get to that soon). It really struck me that I would not be here without this community of support behind me, encouraging me along and inspiring me to go for this. I thank you all for that and look forward to sharing more of this experience with you.