Archive for September, 2011

September 30, 2011

Stock Making

Well… good news and bad news. The good news is I finally got a classmate to snap a photo of me in my uniform. The bad news? There are no words for how it makes me look, so I’ll save that for the end.

Last night’s class wasn’t that eventful, because we were learning the process of making stock. We learned about and made the four different types of stock: brown, white, fish, and vegetable. It was a lot of vegetable chopping and waiting around, with a little bit of chopping slimy, bloody fish carcasses. yummy.

cutting up the fish carcass
It was pretty gross, but not as gross as I thought it would be. Maybe because all the guts were already taken out? It was way harder to chop through the fish bones than I would have imagined. I had to really lean on my chef’s knife with all my weight to cut through the thicker portion of the fish at the top. The thinner parts could be chopped into small pieces with scissors. I probably shouldn’t admit this because it makes me sound like a real sicko, but it was kind of fun cutting the poor thing into pieces. I’m weird, I know.

Anyway, the chicken stock, the fish stock, and the vegetable stocks were all done by the time we left class because they take much less time to cook. The marmite (a white beef stock colored brown by simmering blackened onion halves in it) and the veal stock (made brown with roasted baby cow bones–poor little thing) take a lot more time, and actually have to simmer overnight so someone else is straining and labeling those for us today. Here’s a picture of my partner and my fish stock:

Fish Stock
I’m planning on making ratatouille for dinner tonight to practice that recipe (plus, it was so good!). At the end of the level we are all going to have to cook a few dishes, so I have to make sure that I can recreate the dish on my own. I think it’ll be easier to do that as I go, rather than make a million dishes the week before the practical exam. I’ll share the recipe and some photos on Monday.

And now I’ll leave you with the most attractive photo of me that has ever been taken. My mom said it brought tears to her eyes (she tried to convince me they were happy/proud tears but I know they were really from fright).

September 28, 2011

Tournage and Lamb’s Tongue

Week two of classes started last night with tournage. Now, tournage sounds pretty, but it’s anything but in the beginning. Tournage is the classic French technique for shaping and turning vegetables into a seven-sided “football-like” shape. There are five different sizes: the bouquetière, 3 cm; the cocette, 5 cm; the vapeur, 6 cm;  the château, 7.5 cm; and the fondant, 8-9 cmBasically, it’s miserable. Did I already say that?

Chef warned us on Saturday night that last night’s class would be frustrating, but I didn’t quite understand how frustrating. Each duo had to turn two potatoes, two carrots, and two turnips into at least 10-12 cocettes from each type of vegetable. During his demo, Chef made it seem so easy. I actually fooled myself into thinking it was no big deal. Wrong.

I got the first step down pretty quickly, cut the vegetable down to a triangle of the approximate size and then cut off the points with a slightly curved knife stroke. But then I was totally lost! Chef had said to then curve the ends of the flat sides since nature had already done some of the work for you. It had made so much sense watching him but, as I stood there at my own station potato in hand, I thought…uhhh, what? I pretty much stared blankly at this little nub of a vegetable for awhile and then just started hacking away. Some of them were so embarrassingly bad that I snuck them into the scrap pile to hide them from view. Others, seemed to be surprisingly close to what I was supposed to achieve.

With zero consistency, it took a lot of extra effort to get the amount of veggies we needed (and my hand was basically stuck the way you are supposed to hold the knife for this technique) but we eventually got enough that we deemed somewhat presentable. Guess everyone I know will be eating a lot of carrots, turnips, and potatoes until I get the hang of tournage…

We practiced our a l’anglaise cooking techniques on the turnips we turned and by adding a step in which we let the pot brown (kind of like what I did with the carrots when I wasn’t supposed to…), we learned a new technique called a brun. We cooked pearl onions a brun. We also practiced the l’etuvee technique we learned on green beans and peas. Are you following? Because my head was spinning. I feel like each class we are being asked to do more and more steps, which is good because it means we are advancing, but my head was spinning!

Anyway, we also took the choke out of an artichoke and cooked it in a special solution that helps it keep its pretty green color instead of oxidize and, with the potatoes, we made pommes rissoles. Pommes Rissoles are basically a fried potato (sorry French chefs!) that has way too many steps–first boil the potatoes, drain, let air dry, saute in a lot of oil until browned, put in the oven for 15 minutes, then put a heap of butter and salt on top, and put back in the oven for another few minutes. Really?!  They were SO good though.

Once all of this was done, we arranged it into a platter called “garniture bouquetiere” (I do not know how to pronounce this–perhaps I should learn).  It’s basically an intricately arranged side platter of vegetables that takes a lot of time to construct (then again, maybe I’m just slow still?), but looks pretty. You put the prepped, choked and cooked artichoke in the center of the plate and then use it as a basket to hold peas. You then place the pearl onions and turned carrots, potatoes, and turnips artfully around the plate and sprinkle with parlsey.

At the end of class our assistant chef, who had been prepping something else for another level of students during part of the class, offered the bounty to us. We all eagerly ran up thinking FREE FOOD! (not that we don’t get enough already) only to find out it was lamb tongue for level 2’s organ meat day. Yes, lamb tongue. I wrapped it in a paper towel and brought it home for a very unsuspecting friend. He threw it in the garbage. I guess I’ll not only be cooking but also eating that not too long from now.

Note: I ALWAYS forget to take pictures in class. My camera is on me during every class, so I am really going to try harder. I think right now I am still so overwhelmed and trying to get things done and served to Chef quickly! I’m also planning on doing some of my own recipes/redoing some recipes from school for the blog on Mondays, Tuesday, and Thursdays when I don’t have any stories from class. We’ll see if I can find the time…

September 26, 2011

Chef Likes My Palate

Saturday’s class was very fun and exciting—despite missing a few fun social events. I started the day off with a few friends at a popular beer garden here in NYC for a friend’s birthday, but kept things calm so I wouldn’t cut my hand off the first night of real recipe making.

We got a quick demo from Chef and then we were turned loose to make our own ratatouille. Chef likes us to work with different people each night, so that we can get to know all of our classmates and learn what it’s like to work with a variety of different people. Tonight I happened to be paired with a classmate that I first met at a meet and greet the school had for us the night before orientation. We couldn’t be more different, but we got along nicely and worked well together.

I’d never made ratatouille before and, to be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever really ordered it anywhere either? Either way, between the two of us, we executed the recipe without any major fiascos. At one point, I thought the veggies had gotten stuck to the bottom of the pan, but I gave it a quick stir and turned down the heat a bit and things were fine. Thank god. It really can be quite stressful with everyone running around the kitchen grabbing ingredients, chef yelling that said ingredients are now all over the floor and that we are messy. I can only imagine what it’s going to be like when we get into the complicated stuff—this is supposed to be the easy part!

Chef liked our ratatouille, even though I thought there was a bit of liquid running from it that made the appearance of the plate not-so-pretty. His opinion matters more than mine right now, but I guess I’m a bit critical of my own work. Who isn’t?

Our second dish was a roasted beet, goat cheese timbale with apple and vinaigrette. Basically, it’s chopped beets topped with a layer of seasoned goat cheese and garnished with frisee salad dressed with an apple shallot vinaigrette.  I LOVE BEETS, I LOVE GOAT CHEESE, and I LOVE VINEGAR so I was really excited for this dish. Right up my alley.  Anyway, this dish required more precise cuts, but it was much simpler to prepare.


Beet and Goat Cheese Timbale with Apple and Vinaigrette

When we brought this dish to chef, he said he enjoyed it and that it was plated nicely but he did suggest having more beets with the amount of goat cheese we used—the ratio should be more long the lines of 80 to 20. He also said the bite from the vinegar was a bit strong—something he likes but that French chefs would be opposed to. But then came the ultimate compliment. Chef told us we did a very nice job with our recipes and that he “liked our palates.” I have to admit, I’m kind of hanging on to that one for now, even though I know he might hate my dish or my palate tomorrow night!

September 23, 2011

The Sick Girl in Sanitation Class

In class last night we spent most of the lesson learning about kitchen sanitation and personal hygiene. It’s not necessarily engaging information but, I have to admit, it’s obviously very important to know the information—especially if you’ll be serving the public.

Actually, it kind of made me really paranoid about the practices of the establishments of places that I visit. Shigella (food poisoning from eating something that has somehow come into contact with human you know what) or salmonella (bacteria from mishandled poultry products)? Noo thank you.

If I wasn’t already obsessive about washing my hands, this lesson definitely made me even more of a hand-washing maniac. You might even catch me scoping out the employees at anywhere I frequent. Yikes.

Unfortunately the two nights spent out until 5:30 a.m. last weekend changing season has definitely caught up with me, and I’m feeling pretty under the weather this week. Kind of ironic—the sick girl sitting in the kitchen at school during the sanitation lesson that told us not to be in the kitchen or handle food when you have any kind of illness. Oops. With such a strict attendance policy and so much being taught at each class I just really don’t think it’s smart to miss if you can help it….

After class I managed to fight the fatigue and went out for a drink with three of my new classmates. Even in class I can tell that people are starting to warm up to each other and socialize a bit more, but it was really nice to get to know a few people out of the kitchen.

I have a lot of prep work to do before Saturday’s class (reading and practicing knife skills), but I’m really excited for the lesson. We’ll be making our first dishes: vegetable ragout and a beet and goat cheese salad.  Hopefully I can take a few pictures of the result!

September 21, 2011

I Burned the Carrots

My first day of culinary school is officially behind me.

When I first got to school yesterday I exchanged my uniform – the XS was a bit snug and, considering there is sure to be a lot of food involved, I thought I should have at least a little bit of wiggle room. We were then paraded to our assigned lockers and instructed to change for class (you’re never allowed to wear your uniform to class – basically it’s against health code to sit on a grimy subway and then cook up a dirty delicious meal).

My locker is the smallest little box you ever did see on the bottom row. I basically have to lay down on the floor to even open the thing. oh well. Changing into my chef uniform wasn’t as easy as you might think. Who knew you wrap the apron tie around your back but then tie it in the front? And how am I supposed to know how to tie a neckerchief? Thank goodness our Chef Instructor patiently demonstrated for me and the other clueless ones in the bunch.

I’ll spare you all the boring details, but we started the lecture with sanitation/hygiene and a tour of the kitchen/overview of equipment. Once upon a time I thought a pan was a pan. Boy was I wrong. I learned a lot and, even though it seems to basic, it’s gonna take some studying and experience to remember which is the sautoir and which is the russe, and so on. My head is spinning from trying to soak in all foreign (literally, considering a good portion of the vocabulary is French) information.

But now for the fun part: Chef  instructed us to open our knife kits to go over what goodies were waiting inside. He demonstrated a few different french cuts (check out this sampling from for an idea of what we were doing). Even though I nearly sliced my hand off more than a few times, I somehow escaped unscathed and my cuts were much better than I would have imagined. I think?

Guess I was getting a little ahead of myself because next thing I know, I’m burning the carrots. Well, not quite burning, but definitely doing exactly what Chef told us not to do. After we chopped our veggies, we learned two classic ways to cook vegetables: a l’anglaise (ahead of time in highly salted boiling water and then shocked in a bath of ice water) and l’etuvee (cooking in water, butter, and salt until the liquid evaporates and leaves you with a nice, buttery glaze).

We cooked the turnips we had chopped a l’anglaise, which was not as troublesome – though Chef did suggest our turnips should have been cooked more. Before we cooked the carrots l’etuvee Chef said “watch very carefully and don’t let the pot brown.” Easy enough. Not so fast. I thought I was watching very carefully, but all of the sudden I looked under the parchment paper lid and it was very brown. Oops.

Chef showed us how to stop the damage, but there really isn’t a real fix for this. Once the pot browns, those poor, poor carrots will never be bright orange – like everyone else’s.

I guess I’ll be eating a lot of carrots and turnips this week. I took a few of each home to practice, practice, practice.

September 20, 2011

Big News: The French Culinary Institute

I’m excited to share some big news with anyone who might happen to be reading along: Today is my first day of culinary school at the French Culinary Institute.

I’ve been interested in attending culinary school ever since I completed my undergraduate degree, but it never really seemed like the right time. As a graduate of business but an aspiring journalist, I made the decision to get my master’s in journalism so that I could pursue a career in magazine writing. After I finished my graduate degree in Chicago, I moved to London for a few months to get some work experience at a prominent news agency before moving back to NYC to work at a women’s magazine. After working for a few months, and really enjoying the food content our magazine has, I started secretly looking into culinary school again. Coincidently, I was out to dinner with my family around the same time and, after ordering ink squid pasta with clams, my grandma said something along the lines of “you have such interesting taste, you should go to culinary school.” Really?

That was about all the motivation I needed to dive head first into intense research. I went to open houses for two schools here in NYC, audited a class, and talked to a few of the editors here at the magazine I work for.  Next thing I knew, I was at orientation receiving my uniform and meeting my new classmates.

I’ll be working while I attend school, so I’ll be at work Monday to Friday and in school Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday nights (yes, Saturday nights)! I know I’m gearing up for a busy year, but I couldn’t be more excited about it, and I’m really looking forward to sharing all of my culinary school adventures with you. I hope you’ll read along. 🙂