Archive | October, 2011

Days 80-86: The big buffet and Level 5 start

30 Oct

Day 80 was our final day of Level 4 and our second buffet. I loved this buffet! The theme: Spain, with a little Asia and charcuterie thrown in for good measure. I refuse to call it fusion because it wasn’t meant to be, but some students really wanted to do Asian, so Chef Ryan was accommodating. It ended up very impressive and it was a lot of fun. Thanks, Chef Ryan!

As I mentioned in a previous post, my dishes included octopus tiradito (which is sort of like ceviche, except we quickly poached the octopus first and then kept in court bouillon in the fridge overnight); roasted chanterelle and oyster mushrooms with garlic, white wine and sherry; squash empanadas with a sour cream-ancho-chipotle dipping sauce; vegetarian paella; and lime sorbet with espelette (a yummy red pepper).

I learned a lot, especially by working with octopus. There is such a debate about the best way to cook/serve octopus if you don’t want it tough. I don’t think I necessarily succeeded in making it succulent, which was my goal, but many people gave compliments, I think mostly due to the marinade it was sitting in when served (orange, lemon and lime juice, sherry vinegar, sugar, salt and dash of Anne’s scallop marinade – thanks, Anne!). We tried woking it on very high heat for just a couple of seconds, but the octopus immediately seized up (we = Chef Ryan and I collaborating on it to try to make it the way I envisioned it).

We also tried massaging daikon into it which has been suggested by a couple of chefs as a tenderizer. I don’t think the daikon did anything. I think in the end, had I just sliced the tentacles very thinly (which I did) and let them marinate in the “ceviche” juices, it would have been equally as tender as it was after the daikon treatment and poaching. We felt the tentacles at each stage and I felt, saw, and tasted no measurable difference at each stage just in terms of toughness. Why I look so happy to be butchering this smart animal is beyond me. I’m a goofball.

At any rate, below is a snapshot of some of the rest of the dishes and Victor and David’s carving pieces.

So, onto Level 5 which is practice for the restaurant and then actual stations in the restaurant. Days 1-6 in Level 5 were practicing and getting used to the expediting system that the chefs will use to call out orders in the restaurant. I liked having Chef Rogers in the classroom for 6 days. He is tough and I need it. He does a great job of walking around and showing each of us different techniques to make our lives easier in the kitchen. And, Chef Tim is super mellow, which I appreciate in someone who expedites. I don’t like chefs who yell. I don’t think it serves any purpose since if I do something wrong, it works better if you just look disappointed at me and calmly tell me what I did wrong. To be sure I’ll feel terrible and probably won’t make that mistake again as I hate to disappoint people.

David and I were on garde manger and it was pretty boring since our dishes were not at all complicated to prepare and easy to plate expeditiously. Here is a photo of the pork belly, which was delicious:

I’m looking forward to being on the fish station with Bobbie all next week!

In the meantime, I’ll be enjoying some Halloween activities and working on my menu project.

Day 79 – Shepard’s pies and buffet prep

20 Oct

Today’s focus was prepping for tomorrow’s Spanish-inspired buffet. It’s a very ambitious buffet. I’m making 5 dishes solely on my own: Vegetarian Paella, Squash stuffed empanadas with spicy sour cream, roasted wild mushrooms in a shallot-garlic-sherry wine-olive oil reduction, Octopus tiradito (sort of like a ceviche, but the octopus has been “tenderized” in daikon and salt, then blanched for a few seconds in a court bouillon first), and finally a lime sorbet topped with espelette. The picture above is Chef Ryan talking to Rachelle about tempering chocolate for her chili truffles (which I sampled and were awesome!).

I think we have 28 dishes planned and they all have to be ready by 11:30 a.m. Prep started yesterday, so hopefully we can pull this off. There are just so many last minute details (and some dishes we haven’t even started – like my vegie paella).

So, it was a good thing that family meal today was pretty easy. We used the leftover mashed potatoes from yesterday’s “Thanksgiving” (and we intentionally made more than we needed), so that was one less thing we needed to make. Ian and I made a really great vegetarian Shepard’s pie if I do say so myself. I think it was much tastier than the meat version. The base was ancho chili and chipotle pepper spiced lentils (with lots of garlic, onions, carrots and celery, of course), topped with roasted spaghetti squash, and finished with mashed potatoes. Delish and super easy – a great use for leftover potatoes.

I didn’t have time to take many pics today, but here are the ducks Anne has been working with over the past few days. She hung them to dry a few days ago and today she baked them and made a red wine reduction sauce. They look awesome. Can’t wait to try them.

On the duck theme, one of the principals of Hudson Valley Foie Gras came to speak with us Monday after school. He showed us how to cut out the “foie” (liver) from one of their ducks, and then he fed us (although I had to leave prior to the eating of the foie). Here it is – 2.5 pounds. It’s crazy how big that is!

I was pretty impressed with his propaganda on how they humanely raise the ducks. I’m not a big fan of the taste of foie gras, but I do understand the appeal, especially among those who appreciate and engage in nose-to-tail cooking. If I wanted to make foie gras, I would definitely buy from Hudson Valley. Alas, the big controversy over force feeding and factory caging practices has made raising ducks for foie gras illegal in many states, and California’s ban is about to go into effect in 8 months. We’ll see how that goes. In some states, laws banning the raising of ducks for foie gras have been overturned due to chef outcry. Can you imagine the French ever banning such a thing? Nah.

Days 71-78: Many family meals and a white clothes picnic in Golden Gate Park with 3500 people

19 Oct

Okay, I’m lame. I have not posted in 8 school days – yikes. I’d like to say it’s because I’m busy – and I am – but I think most people are these days, so I’m just going to say I’m lame.

So, what have I been up to? Family meals have been pretty fun, for the most part. Chef Ryan gives us a lot of latitude to incorporate our own recipes and/or change the ones that no self-respecting French Chef has any business writing (seriously, who puts white wine in red Thai curry beef? That’s not fusion, that’s just not right).

Friday after the charcuterie buffet, we did pizza day. We made 26 pizzas. Crazy. I made a ham and sauerkraut pizza with our leftover charcuterie. Everyone at school was dubious that sauerkraut could be excellent on pizza, but we Minnesotans know better! It was a hit. I also made prosciutto, blue cheese and fig pizzas, which were a hit also. I love pizza as I think there are really no rules. You start with a base of dough – how can you go wrong?

Here are the pizza servers:

Ahhh, so many other great family meals we’ve put out – Korean-style bbq chicken with nori rice cakes; steak with chimichurri; pulled pork sandwiches with Chef Udo’s German coleslaw; and Thanksgiving (today!).

I don’t usually like American coleslaw as it’s mayo-based and I don’t love mayo (except for Carnet’s homemade olive oil mayo). So, I asked Chef Udo to give us a “light”, vinegar based coleslaw and his recipe is awesome! Here it is:

Chef Udo’s Coleslaw:

Green cabbage (thinly sliced), white or yellow onions (thinly sliced), white wine vinegar, salt, sugar, canola oil, and caraway seeds. Yep, that’s it.

Directions: Combine the thinly sliced green cabbage and onions. Make a “vinaigrette” with the remaining ingredients, reserving the caraway seeds to add at the end. You’ll have to decide the proportions of vinegar, salt, sugar and oil, but in this, I suggest less oil than a typical vinaigrette. Then, using your hands, squish (a very technical culinary term, I know) the cabbage and onions as you mix in the vinaigrette. The object is to somewhat breakdown the cabbage which will allow them to denature a bit and the soften. When you have the vinaigrette to your tasting desire (you can always adjust by throwing in a pinch or two of this or that as you go along), throw in a couple of tablespoons of caraway seeds. These really make it refreshing. This cole slaw is a great accompaniment to a richer meat dish, as it’s nice and light, or it would go well at a summer/fall picnic or potluck.

Onto food outside the classroom… this past Friday, Mark and I went with my friends Simran and Ramesh to San Francisco’s first pop-up picnic – “Le Diner a San Francisco” – which mimicked Paris’ largest outdoor picnic (see  3500 of us were told the “secret” location on Friday afternoon. The rules: wear white, bring your own food and wine/beer, as well as white tablescapes.  It was a perfect San Francisco night – warm, clear, sunny.  The location was near the fountain in between the De Young Museum and the CA Academy of Sciences – awesome.   Here are some pics of the evening:

The 4 of us:

The fountain:

Mark setting up our table and another tablescape (way more elaborate than ours):

And, another lovely pic of the evening from Ramesh (thanks, Ramesh!):

Okay, off to bed! Getting ready for another buffet on Thursday, this time with a Spanish-theme. Stay tuned…

Days 67-70: Charcuterie Buffet

7 Oct

Today was the big day – Day 10 of Level 4, which means our big charcuterie buffet. We made several different items from the pig we butchered, a salmon we cold smoked and several different condiments and breads to accompany the foregoing. Pictured at top is one of our featured charcuterie platters. Starting from the left is a country pate, salami, chicken gallantine with roasted macademia nuts and golden raisins, and a duck terrine with cherries and pistachios on the far right. Rachelle and I made the chicken gallantine. At first, we were suppose to make a rabbit terrine, but the rabbit smelled funky, so it was composted.

So, what is a chicken gallantine? Well ours was essentially making a mousse out of the dark meat, adding in chives, nuts and dried fruit, wrapping that around seared chicken breasts cut into 1 inch wide strips, and stuffing and rolling that all into chicken skin. Then, we poached it in chicken stock for about 1/2 hour until it reached 140 degrees F, then we cooled it overnight and seared the outside to get a crispy skin before slicing it into rounds. The mousse is really simple: the ratio of cream to meat was essentially 1 cup of heavy cream to 1 lb. of meat. Then, we put it in a food processor with some salt and blended it until it was almost a paste. Then we added in the fruit and nuts for texture.

Chef Ryan walked me through removing the skin from a whole chicken and making sure it remained 1 whole piece. It was not as hard as I thought it would be. Here are two pictures in the gallantine process: 1) skin in one piece (used for rolling the mousse inside and then searing the skin roll), and 2) the rolled up bundle in cheesecloth before it was poached.

Our buffet turned out fantastic! Below are more pics:

Bobby’s pretzel rolls stuffed with garlic sausage and grape-dijon mustard (yep, EVERYTHING was homemade):

Our cold smoked salmon (this was the bomb with pickled red onions!) and salmon mousse in gourges (puff pastry profiteroles):

Starting from the front right, Rachelle and my “blt” which was our maple cured bacon which we cured and then smoked, tomato gelee with sesame seeds in it (great addition Tomas!) on a piece of romaine,

Moving to the back right, Anne’s Foi Gras on homemade brioche with apple chutney. Back left: Ham on biscuits with onion marmalade. Front left: Bobbi’s Head Cheese (yes, head cheese is made from the head of the pig).

We made our own sauerkraut and the key to this was keeping the cabbage fully submerged in the brine and waiting until it came under the right PH to know that it was “done”. It was delicious with the different hams and bratwurst we made.

We did have some fruits and vegetables: radishes with piped butter and grey sea salt; green beans with an herb-creme fraiche-lemon dressing and oven dried tomatoes; and a gorgeous fruit platter and cute watermelon carved by David and Victor. We also had some desserts courtesy the pastry chefs and some awesome pickles (chard stems, cucumber, okra) and sauces (mustards, cumberland sauce) that I forgot to photograph. Again, everything was homemade – from the pickles to ALL the meat to the breads and sauces. It was fabulous! I’m still full.

I said to Chef Ryan that after I graduate I need to go back to being a vegetarian for awhile. My system is on animal fat overload (not to mention my caloric and salt intake is outrageous on a daily basis).

Although I’m not going to type out any recipes, I’ll post pictures of 2 bread recipes that were a hit this week: 1) a “naan” recipe (no, we don’t have tandoori ovens at school, but this was simply done over a grill, so any open flame will work), and 2) the pretzel roll recipe we made today for the sausage roll. The naan recipe is very simple and can be done easily at home. The pretzel recipe was also pretty easy, but you’ll have to decipher the written instructions. Credit for the naan recipe is given in the picture. Credit for the pretzel roll recipe goes to one of the FCI pastry chefs.

Tomorrow is pizza making day! I’m very excited. Then, tomorrow night, I’m off to Siana Lowrey’s apartment to meet Sean (her husband), Shannon & Fred, Busaba and Carnet for a cocktail and “heavy pupu” party Shannon and I are cooking for. Some of the pates and terrines are coming with me to the party. I can’t wait to hear what the other party-goers think of the FCI goodies.

Days 60-66: Level 4, family meals, a saw and a machete

3 Oct

Day 59 was the midterm and we all passed! It wasn’t nearly as nerve racking as I had originally thought it would be. I drew #3, which was a great number. Victor served first, then Bobbie, then me. Mark followed, then Tomas was #5. We all made consomme and the thick-cut pork chops with pommes darphin. Mark and Tomas’s consomme rafts didn’t work but they both saved their dishes by adding egg whites. Great showing guys! The other 4 students made crispy skinned trout and the apple tart (the easier menu, I think).

Day 60 was the start of Level 4, which is family meal every day for 50-60 people, and charcuterie! This is a very fun level for me because I have had almost no experience butchering meat or cooking it. This is a very meat-intensive unit and nose-to-tail cooking, which I love (even if I don’t love the taste of offals). Here are a few pics of the pig, me assessing where to cut the pig, and then me taking the hack saw to it.

Ultimately, I used the “Mac” – machete – to make the final cut lengthwise through the pig after the hacksaw cut through the bones.

Here are the tools:

I made chorizo from start to finish, stuffing half in hog casing and half in lamb casing. This was my first time making sausage, so it was great to see the process from the beginning. Anne made salami and both of our charcuterie are hanging in a what is a converted, large wine cooler with humidifiers in it.

Here they are as well as picture of the pig casing:

Family meal means that every day we have a different menu we serve for lunch, buffet style, to the approximately 50-60 students and staff. The 9 of us divide up different dishes and tasks, with 1-2 of us acting as sous chefs and usually focusing on charcuterie while the other students focus on preparing a great lunch by 11:30.

You wouldn’t think that I would feel like cooking at home after cooking all day at school, but some days I do. On Friday, I made dinner for FK, Jeremy and Carnet. We had a pink lady apple and fresh crab salad with a lime-fish sauce-garlic-ginger dressing; lamb chops with an Asian-inspired pesto, and a tart tartine. Everyone agreed that the pesto was amazing. It went so well with the lamb, but would be good on any meat. I think it might be a bit strong for fish, so I might not use it on fish. At any rate, it’s really easy to make in a food processor. It’s an adapted recipe from The Steamy Kitchen by Jaden Hair. I love her recipes. Many are so full of flavor and easy. She also has a great blog at So, here’s the recipe.

Asian pesto recipe:

Yield:1-2 cups

3 cloves garlic
1/2 to 1 chili (I like red thai chilies)
3/4 cup roasted and unsalted pistachios
1/2 cup cilantro
1/2 cup Thai basil or any sweet basil
1/2 cup mint
1-2 limes, juiced. Start with 1 and you can always add more
1 teaspoon coconut sugar (you can use regular sugar)
1-2 teaspoons salt (start with 1 teaspoon, you can always add more)
1/2 cup olive oil or canola oil (don’t use really good EVOO – it will add too much olive flavor)

Directions: Put pistachios in food processor and process until finely chopped. Add all ingredients until it’s a coarse paste. Adjust salt and lime to taste.

Off to Locanda Osteria for dinner with Igor. Happy Sunday!