Saturday, December 20, 2008

11 hours and 13 minutes

Yesterday was the longest day I've spent in a kitchen thus far. I'll be honest up front, I really don't feel like writing much or trying to put any creative spin on it either. I'm tired. I have what promises to be another busy night ahead of me tonight and I volunteered to work on Sunday, which I would normally have off, to cover for one of the other cooks who requested the day off. My parents come into town on Monday and then Christmas strikes. I haven't bought so much as a single card and I sort of don't intend to. I just want to cook food for my family and relax a bit. Last week when I was off Sunday and Monday, I was bored out of my mind and couldn't wait to get back to work. I do love my job. Today, I've really got my eyes set on making it through tomorrow night. Tonight for my amuse bouche: garlic tzatziki on pita crisps. Last night was a beet and red onion salad with red wine vinaigrette on cucumber slices, topped with parmesan cheese. I seem to always come up with something that will leave your breath stanky...

Quick note: I'm beginning to hate blogger. I plan on switching to typepad or something else soon but I'm feeling too lazy at the moment to explore the idea any further.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Busy, but for how long?

We are pretty slammed at the moment, but it is really due to holiday parties. We are in a nicer part of north Colorado Springs, surrounded mostly by corporate offices, commercial and some industrial. Plate has a decent size banquet room so it makes for a nice location for the nearby business to have their Christmas and New Year's parties. I'm a little worried, however, how the restaurant will do after this season is over. Even in late november, as we were gearing up for this busy time, there were nights in the middle of the week that we would do less than 20 covers and I would get cut by 7pm. No business = no hours = no pay = I'm keep my eyes are ears open for other opportunities, if any arise and should be needed in early '09. It's not all Plate's fault. The economy is hurting everyone and it seems that finer restaurants in particular are taking a heavy toll. I'm sure just about everyone in America has or knows someone who has lost their job, and if they haven't, they likely will soon (bailout or not to bailout?).

Tonight for my amuse bouche: lobster nigiri-zushi with mango coulis and wasabi tobiko

Friday, December 5, 2008


don't worry, i'm still alive. since I finished working at the credit union, and we don't have internet access at home, I haven't been able to really doing any reading or writing online. here's what's going on:

the saute cook (and a good one at that) was fired early last week for giving his opinion when asked for it by the GM. now, he did sort of insult the exec. chef in doing so, but it was still a pretty lame thing to happen. it sucks that he's gone but on the bright side it has opened up some opportunities on the line. i'm currently training on the section they call "middle." it's on the line between saute and grill. it's sort of a filler position and does most of the hot veg and plating. it's an awesome step up and one i didn't expect so soon; i haven't even been at the restaurant (which is my first kitchen job) for a month yet.

on a not-so-good note, the restaurant is doing poorly. most casual fine dining places have been hurting the most during these financial troubles that our country has been going through. many similar scale restaurants have been closing. at least it's the holidays and we are busy with parties. tonight we had a 60 top, a 35 top, a 30 top, and a 14 top. that pretty much maxes out the restaurant so we were basically closed to the public except for bar seating, which saw some business as a result. we were absolutely slammed; it was as busy as Plate will really ever get. the good thing is that because it was all preplanned parties, it was also preplanned menus. only the 14 top was al la carte which meant we knew way ahead of time what was needed. this made for some busy prep time but when it came time for service we were locked and loaded and everything went down smoothly. the chef gave us all a big thanks and the end and the GM passed out beers, which is alwasy a pleasant way to end a shift.

i've also received my first paycheck from my new job. ouch. the paycut hurts but i have zero regrets. i love what i'm doing, i'm learning a lot, i'm moving up more quickly than i thought i would, and it is awesome experience. if i can train quickly to jump on saute or grill (our grill guy is currently looking for work elsewhere) then i can also ask for a raise and will have solid hours; and again, it will be awesome experience. i know it will happen, it's just a matter of time. i think hard work, reliability, and a tactful expression of my opinion when asked for will make the difference. it's a fast moving business with a good amount of turnover.

i'll try to get some pictures of the restaurant and the food we make soon to show everyone what i'm up to.

the only other thing i have going on is school. i'm just taking one class this trimester: adv mgt/restaurateur. it's been getting off to a slow start but the entire class is basically one big project, which is to go through the steps of opening a new restaurant. choosing a site, raising/collecting funding, owner arrangements, hiring staff, and of course the fun stuff - design, menu creation, etc. it will be a fun project and i hope to learn a lot.

if you want to read some cool stuff (because i don't feel like i'm divulging anything of much interest), check out

that's it. i'm tired. a few more beers, maybe some leno/conan, and then bed. night.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Spring Rolls

I got bored last night (no school, no work, and no wife at home) so I grabbed a few things at the store and rolled up some spring rolls while drinking beer and listening to music.

The beer I drank.

The music I listened to.

The finished product.
The pictures are of the cold spring rolls but I actually like them better after frying them in a bit of canola oil. Inside there is Napa cabbage, carrot, celery leaf, mango, and crab meat. I need to tweak the sauce a bit though, it was too acidic.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Garde Manger

It’s Saturday night. You’re in the cusp of the night’s dinner rush. You’re mise en place is locked and loaded but it’s early, you still have a long way to go. On top of 25 or so reservations on the books, there’s a 70 top at $85 a head coming in at 6pm. Earlier, during your prep, the chef and sous got into a bit of an argument and the tension in the air is still palpable. Everyone is setting into a good pace and everything is moving smoothly so far, but every person in the kitchen can tell that one mishap could throw the whole service into a tailspin. It seems more like a recipe for disaster rather than success. The dishwasher isn’t bringing you plates quickly enough to keep you comfortable so you mention something to her. It’s no big deal yet, just a slight annoyance. You word it tactfully and say it with a smile because, after all, she’s an 18 year old girl and one of the managers’ daughters.

Apps have gone out to the 70 top everything still moving like a fragile ballet, pirouettes on the edge of a knife.. You clear some counter space and get ready to plate salads for the party. Greens, dressing, parm, sliced tomatoes, and plates at the ready – it’s all there, just waiting for your willing and able hands. You dunk your head in the cooler to double check what you already know is there: backups of everything. You nod to yourself and turn back to the counter when…


The ballet freezes and everyone stands silent and motionless for a minute. There are broken dishes all around your feet and all over the counter where you were prepared to plate the salads. The dishwasher is standing next to you, eyes wide and starting to swim. She was bringing the plates you asked for but tried lifting too heavy a stack up to your overhead and dropped the lot. She dives for a broom and dustpan but everyone knows the real harm that’s been done: there are broken shards all over the place and who knows if any got into the salad mise en place, it can’t be used. You can’t risk serving something that might harm a customer, not to mention cause a law suit and shut the restaurant down.

The chef doesn’t blow his top, but he’s pissed and the atmosphere becomes severely uncomfortable. He doesn’t hesitate to order all the salad prep 86ed. He starts barking out for you to start from scratch. Luckily, there are a few extra people staffed tonight and they’re on top of taking care of the party. The next few hours are a whirlwind of intense focus mixed with anxiety and chaos. The printer is screaming orders for regular diners and walk-ins so you switch gears and try to find your pace again.

Fast forward… the night’s over. You only had to stay 30 minutes over your scheduled shift, which you spent joking around with the dishwasher while you help her finish up (she was buried, again). The GM gets you a beer and a few verbal pats on the back from the chef have you feeling pretty good.


Above is a description of what happened Saturday, my fourth night on the job. I have to say that I am absolutely loving every minute of it. I’ve never felt so alive or so focused, but I’m trying to keep myself grounded. I haven’t made any catastrophic mistakes yet so I’m trying to keep my skin thick for when it happens.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Late arrival

A native told me yesterday that this was the first time in 30 years that we didn't have snow on the ground during Halloween. Well, it came late but it's here. I actually love the gloom, I think it's beautiful. But oh the joys of icy roads...

From the credit union entrance

View from the corner office window

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Soup and Salad

I worked my first night at Plate last night. It was nothing less than great. I'm on pantry, handling soups and salads, but the great thing about working pantry at Plate seems to be that the chef encourages this station to daily come up with a new amuse bouche (The term is French, literally translated to "mouth amuser" [for bouche = mouth; amuser = to amuse, to please]. The plural form is amuse-bouche or amuse-bouches; a single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre). This gives some room for creativity and is a way to show the chef something. It's a way to rotate product (while the ingredients are still good, mind you) and to keep the menu different and interesting for regulars. Saute and grill both come up with specials too, though I'm not sure if they do it daily or not.

Last night I was trained from 2 til about 4:30, then my trainer left and I ran my station with the help and instruction of the sous. It was great that I got to just jump in there, I kind of feared that they would just have me shadow someone for the first few nights and have me just watch. This station is easy though. I'm right on the end of the line so I can watch the saute and grill cooks. I'll be taking a lot of mental notes because if the opportunity to jump on one of those stations comes up I want to be ready to take it.

Okay, so here's what I'm responsible for on pantry:
Wedge Salad - bacon, blue cheese, red onion and a balsamic vinaigrette (entirely unexciting)
Spinach Salad - chevre (goat cheese), walnuts and a maple, bacon vinaigrette (entirely delicious)
Endive Salad - grilled endive, roasted beets, Roquefort cheese and truffle vinaigrette (awesome and beautiful plating)
Lobster Bisque with Cognac Scented Creme Fraiche
Insalata Caprese (which they simply call Tomato and Mozzarella Salad) - Slices of tomato and fresh mozzarella with basil, balsamic reduction, and olive oil (another really nice plating)
I also do an item on the Bar Menu: Ahi Poke - this is a Hawaiin dish with sashimi grade raw tuna, cucumber and daikon (asian radish) sprouts with a sweet and spicy chili sauce
Pantry also handles the desserts, which I won't attempt to list in detail from memory but there was a pecan pie/cheesecake, bread pudding, tiramisu, apple pie, sorbet, creme brulee... all very pretty and delicious looking.

I haven't been able to sample much yet but you better believe I'll be working on that; I love the menu. Mainly, I was very impressed with how calm, clean, and organized everything was. I understand that it was a relatively slow night, even for a Wednesday, but it was good first experience just the same. My station is a breeze and I'll have it down by the end of today so I can concentrate on impressing everyone with my amuse bouche creations. It was a great first night.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Big News - Plate

Who needs a week off??? I got a call from the Executive Chef, Todd Wells, at Plate World Cuisine yesterday out of the blue. Plate is a fine dining restaurant that I've been popping my head in to over the past few weeks at the advice of Chef Dave, my instructor at Paragon Culinary School. Chef Dave put in a good word for me with the souf chef and I got to talk to Chef Todd last week briefly. He told me that things were rough and that he'd be lucky if he didn't have to let someone go, let alone hire a new body. Well, as I said, I got a call from him out of the blue yesterday and he offered me a job. (YES!!) Man, I'm so excited to be working at this place. I'll be starting off in the pantry, but he said if I work hard that he'll move me up quickly. We'll see, hopefully I can start cooking on the line within a 2 or 3 months. That would be sick.

I'll try to get some pictures, but only if I can do it incognito. I don't want to look like the idiot new guy culinary student who is so happy to be working in a real kitchen, even though that's what I am. In the meantime, check out their website:

Monday, November 10, 2008

Final Final

I had my last of four finals, a practical exam, Saturday morning. It went very well but I'm kicking myself for the few things I could've done better. Before I go on complaining too much... I got a 99% on the final which left me with a 99% as my overall grade for the class. Okay, so I gotta be happy with that. But then I think about what I could've added or done differently. We were to create and execute a three course menu: soup course, appetizer/salad (our choice), and entree (protein, carb, and veg). Here are pictures of what I made -

Soup Course: Zuppa Pavese (poached egg soup)
We only had a brown chicken stock left to use. Ideally, a very clear chicken stock, or better yet, consomme, would be used so that you could see everything in the bowl. The Christmas wreath looking thing is a parmesan cheese touille made with some parsley. This soup is fairly simple in concept but is actually quite difficult to make and the result is absolutely delicious. Cracking that yolk just makes the soup so rich and creamy. It's a wonderful thing.

Appetizer: Antipasto Plate
Chef really loved this one. Three Prosciutto and mozzarella cheese crostinis, each with a different topping: artichoke heart bruschetta, kalamata olive tapenade, and fire roasted pepper tapenade. I garnished with a little more of each topping and some herb oil. I could eat a mountain of this stuff.
Entree: Pork Tenderloin alla Napoli (really, it's not alla Napoli - I decided to omit the green olives and use artichoke hearts instead, I'm just not a huge fan of green olives)
Here's where I really could've done things differently. First and foremost, I poured the sauce on top of dry pasta. Not only is that not Italian, but who the heck wants to eat plain pasta?? I should've tossed the pasta in some of the sauce to coat it, then plate it. Secondly, asperagus is great, but I don't think it was the best choice for this dish. Broccolini would've been nice but we didn't have and weren't getting any. Thirdly, the dish was just plain missing something. I'm thinking a secondary sauce would've really made it pop. Like a balsalmic or sweet red wine reduction of some kind. Hmm... will have to revisit this one, I'm not settled.

Well, like I said, I can't really complain. I'm happy with the way things turned out but it's almost a little bittersweet being so close to a perfect score. I imagine it's something like placing second in the World Series of Poker.
I won't find out my grade for World Cuisine until next week, but I know it's a solid A. This class is pretty much impossible to ace. There was just so much information that you are bound to overlook or forget some minute detail, especially when you are cooking food of a cuisine that you are completely ignorant to.
I have this week off from school then I start the next trimester. I know I will be taking Service and Wine and, if I decide to double up again, I will probably be taking Advanced Cookery as well. My plans for this week? Cook, eat, read, and play lots and lots of video games. My wife is so thrilled.

Friday, November 7, 2008

3 down, 1 to go

I've completed 3 of the 4 total finals for this trimester of school. Each class has a written and a practical exam (2 classes). I've taken both of the written tests and got a 98.5 on one of them and a solid A on the other. I studied my butt off for these tests so I'm glad that I did well. I also had my World Cuisine practical last night and got a solid A on that as well. I won't know the exact grade until Nov 17th. My last practical exam, for my Foundations class, is tomorrow morning at 8am. After I get off work tonight I'm going to buy a few groceries then go home and practice. I should be able to get some pictures so I'll try and post them this weekend. I'm really excited about my menu for the practical so I just need to think about plating and timing. (see previous post for the menu)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Late night ghetto dinner

What I cook for others: grilled NY strip marinated in herb oil served with pumpkin coulis, spicy fried potatoes and wilted greens.

What I cook for myself: ghetto breakfast tacos

I'm getting better... I'm not as lazy about what I cook for myself as I used to be, but I still have my moments. For me, a big part of cooking is to bring other people pleasure and enjoyment. When I'm just feeding myself, I do whatever is quick and easy. Last night I didn't eat dinner until after 10pm and was very hungry. I just fried some corn tortillas then topped them with cheese, potatoes, onion, an over-fried egg and some hot sauce. Don't get me wrong, it was good, but it was a kind of ghetto good. Haha, I just looked at my plate after I finished making them, laughed, then took a couple of pictures thinking, "you go, culinary student."

Thursday, October 30, 2008


I didn't realize until just now that my post had way too many pictures on it, which caused annoyingly long load time of the page. My apologies; I deleted several pics so if the captions don't make sense, that's why.

Tonight we are going to a restaurant called Silver Pond for some (according to chef) legit Chinese cuisine. I'm excited but I'm also still broke, so I'm expecting a bittersweet experience.

I've decided on a menu for my Foundations class final exam. Here's what I'll be making:

Soup course: Zuppa Pavese (Pavia Soup) - this is a fairly simple soup but has a great presentation quality and will be really tasty. You toast bread in a pan with some butter then put it in an empty bowl. Crack an egg on top of the piece of bread then fill the bowl with boiling hot chicken broth, poaching the egg. Top it with some extra pepper, grated Parmesan and minced herbs on top and that's it.

Second course (appetizer/salad/amuse bouche/whatever): Antipasto platter - I'm going to make some Prosciutto and Provolone cheese crostinis and serve them with three toppings: artichoke heart bruschetta, kalamata olive tapenade and three pepper tapenade.

Third course (entree): Pork Tenderloin alla Napoli with Broccolini and Penne.

I'm feeling pretty confident and excited about this. I making some things that are very different from what the other students are making so we'll see how it goes but like I said, I'm excited.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sushi Den Photo Gallery

Not the Sushi Den... Ya Hala!! Y'all heard?


Self-gratifying place setting

Japanese Eggplant (after being mauled)

Udon Noodle Soup w/ Duck

Top to bottom: Spicy Tuna and Salmon, Spider (softshell crab) roll, and Shrimp Tempura

Firecracker Roll (tuna with cream cheese and jalapeno, what's up with that plating?)

A sampler: tuna, salmon, yellowtail, crab, octopus, shrimp, and scallop

Eel (one of my favorites)

Group photo (missing Rachelle). Left to right: Jose, Keith "Old School", Matt Jr, Matt Sr, me, and Chef Victor Matthews (Kelsey didn't make it on the field trip)

Big Eye Tuna (wrapped around avocado)

Shrimp, Scallop, and Octopus Ceviche

Duck Breast

On the left: Spider Roll, on the right: some specialty fish. I forget the name but it's a white fish and is one of the specialty items they have overnighted from Japan. The owners pick up the fish at the airport in the morning to serve that night = hardcore.

Tiramisu. This warrants some explanation. Apparently, one of the owner's wives has been trained in French pastry. The menu is an interesting collaboration of real deal sushi and European sweets.

Had to get teh Mochi Ice Cream for Matt Jr (we all shared, though)

The owner's had to open a restaurant that basically serves as "overflow" for Sushi Den. This is a partial shot of the bar at Izakaya Den.

The entrace (from the side, within)

A sweeter sake, kept chilled on ice. I've only had hot sake before but, according to the bartender, that's really just done with cheap or low-quality sake, to hide the impurities or inferior flavor. I'm quite an ignoramus when it comes to sake.
An awesome tapas plate. From left: duck crostini, seared scallops with white truffle mashed potatoes, and kobe beef tenderloin with watermelon mint and edamame. Delicious.

Front of the house.

Sushi bar + chefs.

Friendly and knowledgable bartender.

My dog, Dakota, burried with pillows.

I have to keep my shoes someplace up high or this happens.
So, the Sushi Den. Anybody who travels anywhere remotely close to Denver needs to visit this restaurant. You don't have to like sushi to love this place, but if you do, you will swear by it. Everything tasted amazing. I was a little confused by some of the plating but I think it was just due to how busy this place was. The Sushi Den seats roughly 250 people and on the Thursday night when we went the place was absolutely packed. When table cleared up it would be re-seated immediately. This continued until we left to check out Izakaya Den at about 9pm.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New Culinary Feat

A new height in the culinary world has been reached. Follow the link for recipe and more info:

Bacon Wrapped Hot Digs in Maple Bar Donut Buns

I think you're gauranteed a heart attack with every three bites.

Soup on a cold night

Potato Leek Soup (served cold = vichysoisse)

White Bean and Ham (we used more bacon than ham)

Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Tomato Soup with Parmesan Touilles and Savory Whipped Cream

And then this was just a random amuse bouche type plate. From the top going clockwise: olive tapenade, fire roasted pepper tapenade on a waffle cut potato chip (I forget the French name for this), more olive tapenade on a chip, stuffed mushroom (these were AWESOME), fire roasted pepper tapenade by itself, and a sort of chicken salad mixture thing on a chip, with fried leek strings and savory whipped cream in the middle.
Last night was such a perfect night for this. Winter has just started to hit and it was below 40 outside, so it was nice to warm up with so many wonderful soups. We also made a butternut squash soup but my camera died and I didn't get any pics of it. I plan on spending some time this weekend seeing what soups I can whip up at home with stuff we already have. We're pretty broke right now so I'm going to have to get creative over the next few weeks. And, to add insult to injury, we have a field trip tonight in my World Cuisine class to a really nice sushi-ya up in Denver. Chef said $30-$50 minimum but that you could easily spend $100/person if you get drinks and really heat well. I plan on drinking water and watching other people eat... maybe someone will feel sorry for me and share. :)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


There's a pretty interesting Alice Waters post followed by an extremely heady conversation in the comments, if you dare...

Sushi Snow Angels

>>My brother posted my niece and nephews prayers from the other night. It's just too good not to post here also (this is the Angels part of the title):

“Thank you for Jesus and God and Mama and Daddy and me and Cosette. Thank you for Jesus and Little K on the tv at church. Let Cosette and me and mama and daddy have no bad dreams. Dear Jesus’ name. Amen” -Connor (4)

“Jesus loves me so….Bible tells me so….Jesus loves me so….Amen.” -Cosette (2)

>>Last night we had a guest instructor schooling us on some Japanese food. We made miso soup, soba noodles, fried tofu, vegetable and shrimp tempura, and (oh yes) sushi. Okay, so I loooove sushi and had never made it before last night. It was awesome. I realised how easy it is to throw sushi together, but I also realise now how difficult it would be to truly master. Not so much for flavor but sushi is all about presentation. Perfect cuts, perfect arrangement, perfect rolling (or nigiri-squeezing), etc. I wish I would have had a nicer plate, something square and dark colored maybe, but at least I have pictures this time!

Not bad for my first time, eh? It all tastes wonderful, my favorite was the spicy tuna handroll. I think I've got the bug... I could totally see myself a few months from now with all my own stuff at home to make sushi, and with the new Asian market that just opened down the street that sells everything I would need (including sashimi grade tuna-maguro), it would be all too easy.

In case you're interested, here's what on the plate: the roll is a California Roll (sushi rice, sesame seeds, crab, avocado, cucumber, tobiko [fish eggs], and nori [seaweed]), shrimp nigiri (the butterflied shrimp has a dab of wasabi on the underside to help it stick to the little palm of rice that was squeezed, which is what nigiri means), tuna nigiri (or nigiri maguro), and the yellow one is nigiri tamago (tamago is egg, it's kind of like an omelet but the eggs have a little salt and sugar in the mixture and is cooked in a square pan in thin layers of egg that you keep folding over - this was really cool and I think it's a great example of how the Japanese take something simple like scrambled eggs and cook them and present them in a way that is far superior and beautiful), and lastly, the spicy tuna hand roll (my favorite) which was tuna mixed with rooster sauce (I don't know the name, but it's that chili sauce with the picture of a rooster on the bottle), a little mayo, and green onions; also in the roll is the sushi rice, avocado, and a leafy green called shiso (similar in flavor to basil, actually).

>>Okay, now for the "Snow" part of the title... yep, winter is here. Last night we had our first snow. It's very pretty, just a light blanket of snow over everything. It didn't affect the roads at all, which is good because I really, really need to go get some new tires...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Playing with Curry

Last night we moved to Thailand in our studies of curry and then had some fun in the kitchen experimenting with different curry pastes. I made a potatoe curry with green curry paste, some dried Japanese hot peppers, and a good splash of coconut milk. I also made a chicken curry with the prik khing curry paste. They were both pretty freaking good, but honestly, I don't have much basis for comparison; the chef seemed to like both of my dishes. An ENORMOUS new asian market opened up down the road and it has all kinds of crazy stuff, including these little cans of curry paste, which are a couple of bucks each. My wife sure paid the price of me eating a bunch of curry last night... hehe.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tired concept

Okay, I've been using the same plating concept for a while now and I need to stop. I just wanted to play with some of the colors and textures a bit but I also want to stretch my imagination a bit and see what else I can come up with.

I also finally got a braised pork that I'm actually happy with. I want to work on the seasonings/flavorings some, with the desired end result of Carnitas like I used to get back at Super Mex in Cali. There just isn't any good, hardcore Mexican food here in Colorado Springs. At least not that I have had yet.

If this bowl equals one serving then I'd say I have about 30 servings or so more, yielding from the pork shoulder that cost me less than $11.00.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pizza n' Steak

This is the chicken garlic parmesan pizza I made two nights ago

Same pizza but covered with mozzarella

The pizzas were really freaking good, and I'm getting a little faster and better at making my own doughs.

Last night was NY strip, sauteed and basted with rosemary garlic butter. It's sitting on top of a carrot mash and tomato mushroom gratin. The steak was great and the veg was tasty, but looked a little like baby puke. I like the tomato gratin but I'm thinking I should concasse the tomatoes first, there was way too much liquid.

My beautiful wife, Nikki came home last weekend with a 1.75 liter jug of Jameson's. I loved her and despised her in the same moment because I knew what this would do to me, especially being that I have the week off from school. I make a point not to get sloppily drunk anymore, but it's been six days since she brought the jug home and it's over half gone...

Trouble in a bottle.

On top of that, she'll be up in the mountains this weekend on a retreat. I plan on doing a lot of reading and cooking, but it's just not as fun (or maybe purposeful) without her around. I've always said that I started cooking because I love to eat, and boy do I. But really, I'm not sure how true that actually is. When I'm home alone I'll just do whatever is quick and easy. I get excited about cooking when I'm cooking for others. There's no better feeling to me than to see someone else bite into something that I made, roll their eyes back in their head, and groan about how good it is. Nikki does this pretty much every time I cook. I think it's more out of love and support than anything else, and she's fairly easy to please when it comes to food. It may not be the most advantageous critique in terms of helping me develope as a cook, but it sure is edifying.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Saturday was an eventful day for me. We didn't have class on Monday due to the Tulsa trip, so we had our mid-term practical on Saturday morning. All I could think about on Friday was the practical: what I would make, how I would make it, what order I would get my mise en place in line, etc. I was so focused on being ready for the test that I totally neglected the fact that this was my Saturday to work! The practical went from 8am to about 1pm and as usual I showed up early. About 10 minutes after 8 I got a call on my cell. I recognized that the number was from work and immediately realized my error. Luckily, when I answered it was my buddy at work. I thought "well at least it's him and he'll be cool about it." I sheepishly explained the situation, told him how sorry I was to leave him flying solo on a Saturday, and said that I would be there as fast as humanly possible once the test was finished. There was no way I was going to leave my practical, school is a much higher priority for me. I called him back later to give him an update on what time I'd be done and to see how he was doing. He said it was totally dead and it was no big deal that I wasn't there, which I was thankful for. He also told me that he was sorry but he had to call the boss on me. Okay... I know it was totally my bad. I know I screwed up and left him hanging and it was completely on me. But call the boss?? If the tables were turned I wouldn't have even considered calling anyone. It would have sucked, sure, but I would have covered for him. Oh well. I can't really be upset about it because again, it was my bad. I just figured we were buddies and that he would've helped me out. Today (Monday) is supposed to be my comp day for Saturday but since the boss new I was 5 hours late I came in today to make up the time. He hasn't said anything about it yet so I don't know how much trouble I'm really in, if any. It's not like I really care. Even if they fired me I'd be more grateful than upset. But they wouldn't do that. At worst I'll probably get a written warning or something like that. I've never had issues before.

Oh well, on to what really matters: the practical. Here's what I made for my entree.

We had to make two courses, a salad course and an entree. I was originally assigned chicken for my protein and saute for my method but when I got to school the chef decided too many people had chicken and he wanted more variety so he switched me to beef and told me I could cook it however I wanted. For a split second I was thrown off because I had really prepared myself to saute chicken, but really there's nothing I enjoy more than grilling some steak. So I grabbed a NY strip, threw it in some herb oil to marinate and then got to work on the salad and prepping the rest of the entree. For the salad (sorry, forgot to take pics) I used spring mix greens, cantaloupe, crisp raw onion, and a Thai vinaigrette, which turned out pretty nice, I thought. I garnished it with some minced lemon zest, parsley, cilantro, and red pepper. For the entree I made a pumpkin coulis (basically a puree), fried potatoes, and wilted spinach. The garnish was just scallions and bell pepper for color. Here's what I thought could've been better - the pumpkin coulis had a touch too much salt; the potatoes could've been a little crisper; and I felt like I used too much shallot with the wilted spinach. Here's what the chef though:

ACE!! Yep: 100%. He gave me a 10 out of 10 on everything. It's kind of funny how critical you can be of yourself and your own handiwork but then turn around and get a critique like that from a professional. Obviously, it made me feel great and the whole work issue just didn't matter to me anymore. It was a nice way to finish off before the fall break. Now I have a week and a half of no school to relax, read, cook at home, or whatever. My wife will be happy since I'll be cooking for her and I also plan on finishing The Physiology of Taste and writing a report on it (chef said he'll give extra credit and it's a phenomenal book anyway).

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Back from Tulsa

I got back late last night from my trip to the OK State Fair in Tulsa, which hosted the national Sugar Arts Show and competition. Chef Heidi, who teaches pastry and baking at Paragon, competed, as well as a student. Although the trip was more about drinking and partying, I did see some cool stuff at the fair. I will try to get the pictures up soon, particularly of Chef Heidi's cake, it rocked.

There are many colorful and interesting stories I could tell from the overly eventful weekend, but for now you get just one: the cyborg. Yes, we did indeed encounter a cyborg at the Select Hotel in Tulsa, OK. I'm not sure how he infiltrated our group but apparently it had to do with another student speaking to him in German, which caused the machine-man to develop an afiinity for our entourage. As you know, cyborgs are multi-lingual. He was proud to share with our group that he had duped an unknowning human, who was also staying at the all too elegant Select Hotel, into an arm wrestling match, scheduled for precisely 12:30am that evening. The silly homo sapien had pushed a wager and would be into the cyborg for half a million dollars, should he lose. The cyborg told us of his plans for future upgrades in biofuel and hydraulic technology, to be installed by scientists in Japan in February of 2009 in return for 12.8 million dollars, but he was certain that his current system would be able to handle the engagement without fail.

After paying $20 for two cigarettes (apparently his lung system was equipped to filter nicotene), he noticed the arm of another member of my group, bearing a birthmark on the inside forearm, starkingly alike in shape, color, and location to a mark on his own arm (of course this was not a birthmark but most likely a scar from a prior battle or a manufacture flaw, of some sort). He immediately recognized the significance of this similarity: the cyborg was indeed an android replication of the student, sent from the future.

I swear that this was a real person, who really said all of these things and much, much more. I wish I was making it up...

Things I learned and/or realized from this trip:
I need sleep
Battered and fried Winsconsin cheese curds are insanely good
The spider-lady is a bitter person/arachnid
Cochin chickens have silly looking afros
Jesse breaths like he has a turbine engine in his chest when he sleeps, but doesn't snore
Non-stop episodes of The Sopranos in the back of an Escalade is the ONLY way to ride to Tulsa

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

As promised:

Last Sunday night I cooked dinner for my wife, her coworker, and her coworkers fiance. They were my guinea pigs. I used the opportunity to practice the dishes for the French section of my World Cuisine class.

chicken pate with red onion marmalade
(this ish rocked)

brown stock I made from chicken and veal bones, used for the beef bourguignon

blonde roux, used to thicken the bechamel for the pommes dauphinoise

brown roux, used to thicken the pan juices for the finished bourguignon

beef bourguignon, just before going into the oven (the carrots are hiding)

beef bourguignon, right out of the oven

pommes dauphinoise, right out of the oven

wilting spinach in garlic oil with shallots

plated dish. gotta love the maple leaf parsley garnish, guh...

brie en croute, I didn't pinch the dough tight enough, hence the sea of cheese

(reminds me of Primus)

there was enough brie still in the dough to be delicious,
I just topped it with a mixture of seedless blackberry jam and orange marmalade
there wasn't a bit of it left after we were done

Couple quick notes about last night's practical:
I drew (at random) beef bourguignon and camembert en croute (same as the brie dish, but with an even better cheese). Obviously, I was stoked, having just cooked both of these dishes Sunday. I got an 8 out of 10 on the bourguignon and a 9 out of 10 on the camembert, giving me a combined 8.5 out of 10: solid B work. I was pretty disappointed. Chef said the sauce for my bourg was top notch but that the meat needed to be a little more tender. I could complain about having to serve a slow-cooked braise in a limited amount of time, using a less than desireable cut of meat, but what good would that do? I should've just let it cook. He wouldn't really be able to say anything because you just can't speed up the process. Oh well. I served the camembert with a lemon-blueberry compote sort of sauce and an apple caramel sauce, and I garnished it with some candied lemon rind and apple peel. He said it was eloquent and delicious and would've been a 10 out of 10 if I had used a little less lemon in the compote. Again, oh well. I'm trying not to be too bummed about it. I'm just really striving for perfection, or at least a freaking A. The real kicker is that I took in some of the pate I had made over the weekend and he said it would be a 10 out of 10 for the practical, if I had gotten pate. He almost just let me run with the grade, but was talked out of it. I understand, a practical is a practical and I need to make the stuff there, under the gun. It just sucks thinking I could've had a much better grade.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

French Practical Tonight

The second practical exam for my World Cuisine class is tonight, covering our studies of France. As with our Italian practical, we will draw dishes at random and have a certain amount of time to complete and serve them to the chef. Here are the possible dishes for tonight:

Beef Bourgiugnon
Pommes Dauphinoise
Brie en Croute
Carrot Jus Lie (one of chef's creations)
Chicken Pate
Salad Nicoise
Chicken Nouvelle (there's a lot more freedom with this one, we just need to display the characteristics of nouvelle cuisine)

The bourguignon and pate take hours to make so I'm not sure exactly how that will work out. If he gives us the full class time, 4.5-5 hours, then no prob. We'll see how he wants it. A couple of the dishes are simple, like brie en croute and ratatouille. If we draw one of the easy/quick ones then we might also have to cook another dish to accompany it, or we might have to get all Thomas Keller on it (like the ratatouille made in the movie by the same name, it was designed and created by Keller) and really try to impress the chef.


My eyes are stained red from lack of sleep; time enough for it in the grave but people have made comments. I almost always drink a full bottle of wine, and more, when I drink wine now. It's getting expensive. My dog still craps in the house on a regular basis, but according to my wife she's "gotten better about it." I don't iron my shirts for work anymore and I wear my slip-resistant kitchen shoes to the office, but I don't think anybody cares or has noticed - yet. If I keep this pace up, I will graduate culinary in 16 months. Might be better to kick back my class schedule, switch to mornings, quit my job with the credit union, and get into a kitchen somewhere. Right now I'd much rather be prepping veg than to fund another freaking loan. This way I'd have several certifications and a good amount of real world experience under my toque by the time I'm done, but I wouldn't be able to keep all my lovely corporate benefits up until graduation. We shall see, we shall see...


While macerating a bunch of garlic last night I let my attention wander to the person next to me who was telling me how they do it differently. When I looked back I found that my left index finger was missing a good portion of its fingernail and I was about to get blood all over the garlic. I grabbed a paper towel, wrapped my finger up tight and then finished the garlic. I got a bandaid for it later but I wanted to be sure the garlic was ready when chef asked for it. It's kind of funny looking and only really hurt when I went to shampoo my hair in the shower. I'll take a picture and post it, with pictures from the dinner I made Sunday night. I promise, pics are coming.

Monday, September 22, 2008

French Dinner

Wow... didn't realize how long it's been since my last post. Guess I've been slacking off.

I used the weekend to practice the French dishes we've been learning about in World Cuisine. We have a practical this Tuesday and we haven't had any really opportunity to practice during class. My wife invited a coworker and her fiance to come over for dinner last night and the three of them were my guinea pigs. This was the menu:

Appetizer (was too much to be called an amuse bouche)-
Chicken Pate with Red Onion Marmalade
Soup Course-
Chicken Glace
Boeuf Bourguignon, Pommes Dauphinoise, and Wilted Spinach with Shallots and Garlic Oil
Cheese Course/Dessert-
Brie En Croute with Blackberry Coulis

I took pictures of everything, they'll get posted later. It was a lot of fun cooking all this food. I didn't run into too many problems except that I didn't have a food processor. I called my chef at school and he said it was okay to swing by there and use the Robocoup, which worked out well for the pate. Speaking of which, the start and end of this meal featured my two new favorite things: pate and brie en croute. This is a problem, though, because they are both loaded. I call pate a "heart attack loaf." And baking a big wheel of cheese in pastry dough and smothering it with jammy sweetness? Forget about it... Not that the beef or potatoes were any better. The sauce/gravy for the beef is thickened with brown roux, which is just butter and flour, and the potatoes were baked in a bechamel with a ton of gouda and gruyere cheese. But hey, we had spinach, right!?!? That's healthy! You gotta love the French. It's all about butter, cheese, and cream. At least for cuisine classique. We didn't dive much into nouvelle because chef is a haute kind of guy. I believe our studies turn to China after the French practical exam so hopefully that will be a little kinder to my arteries.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Movie marathon

I cooked a bunch of stuff Friday night and played poker on Saturday (ended up down $23 at the end of the night), but the rest of my weekend was spent on the couch watching movies. I haven't been that lazy in a long time. Usually I'll at least go for a hike or do some cooking; not this time. I feel really well rested, at least. I watched: Clear and Present Danger, Anchorman, Heat, Matrix Reloaded, Big Night, and some others I can't remember - the weekend was pretty much a cinematic blur.

On Friday I made risotto Milanese (w/ saffron), chicken glace, and sauteed chicken breasts with beure blanc. I have pictures but I'll have to post them tonight. We continue our study of sauces tonight in Foundations and tomorrow we continue through our Study of France in World Cuisine. I really hope we dig deep tomorrow night because, after one week of studying France, I don't feel like I've learned much of anything about the country.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Practicals and more wine

I got my grade from my Foundations practical: 91%. I was hoping for a little bit of a higher grade but I'm still happy with getting an A. Like I said before, I/we lost 4 points as a class for the stocks and safety and sanitation. Not much I can do about other people not putting their hair up or what have you. I suppose I could've played the sani-police but I'd rather lose a few points than to have people hate me. The other points I lost were a few for my knife cuts, which were uniform but my bias cuts were a little too long, according to the chef, and for my beure blanc sauce. Chef said my sauce was great in every aspect except that it was a little to dark in color. Oh well. We've switched instructors in World Cuisine, which I also had a practical in, so I haven't been able to find out my exact grade on that one but I'm pretty sure it was also an A and probably higher than the Foundations. We'll see.

Last night we started off with another wine tasting. The purpose of this tasting wasn't really to analyse the wine but rather to practice how we taste and to continue to develop a platform that will help us identify wines. The guest sommelier was great. He really explained everything in a way that you could see, smell, and taste what he was talking about. I'm going to keep a copy of my notes from that class in my truck so when I go out and have some wine I can refer to it and keep practicing my tasting and developing my palate. We had a Cotes du Rhones and a Bordeaux, which were both great but I prefer the Bordeaux for sure.

After the wine we went into the kitchen and made Arrancine, which is Italian. Don't ask me. We're supposed to be studying France but the chef has other more important priorities, apparently. He's a great chef and I love his classes but I don't really feel like I'm learning anything about France yet, and we only have a few more sessions to cover the country before we have a practical and move on to the next country. He keeps saying that we're really going to bust through some hardcore French stuff soon. I hope so. I really want a grasp on France the same way Chef Matthews gave us a grasp on Italy.

Anyway, here's to the weekend. I'm going to clock some hours helping out for an event at school to help pay down my tuition and do some cooking at home as well. My b-day poker tourney is tomorrow also, so it's going to be a busy weekend, but it should also be a lot of fun.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Leading Sauces / Basics of Taste

This was the header from last nights class. My hand is still cramped from trying to keep up my notes with the chef, and I still didn't get it all down. Hopefully he'll be willing and able to e-mail a copy of the notes so I can fill in my gaps. I'm sure we'll have a test next week on what we're discussing now so I want to be sure to really absorb everything, plus it's pretty interseting stuff.

I was a bit early to class and the chef walked in while I was talking with another student. I was telling him what an awesome read The Physiology of Taste is. On the first page of the first chapter Brillat-Savarin discusses the senses. He names the traditional 5 senses we all know and then he defends his idea of the 6th sense: phsyical/sexual desire. His defense runs along the lines of purpose. The function of all the senses is to allow us to interact with the physical world as well as to gratify us. Physical and sexual desire does this a way unique from the other 5 senses but is still very powerful and so should be put into it's own category, according to him.

Anyway, my brain is tired so that's all I've got for now. We've been crazy busy at work and I just smashed all my old records for number of loans and dollar amount funded in one day. Time to recoup a bit for the next hour and a half before heading back to school.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I ain't got no class

Last night I got a call from a lady at the school office telling me that "there was an accident up the street and we don't have any running water so there's no class tonight." I was a bit bummed because I look forward to going to school, especially since we are starting new sections in my classes this week. The good news was that I was able to go to the BYOM (Bring Your Own Meat) BBQ that the men's group at my church have once a month. We watched football and I played Rock Band for like 4 hours. It was fun but hopefully they fixed whatever needed to be fixed at school and I can go tonight. If we meet, we'll be starting our study of France in my World Cuisine class. Good times.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Today was another lazy weekend day of cooking. However, what I did today did not represent how I felt. There was a huge Polish wedding at the school this weekend. The reception was a two day event (Sat. & Sun.) and the family has a friend who is a chef. He was preparing traditional Polish food, whatever that is/means, and students were encouraged to volunteer. Friday was my birthday, I don't see my wife much during the week, I needed to catch up on sleep and reading, there were lots of chores to do around the house... I don't know. They all just seem like petty excuses to be lazy and meanwhile, miss out on a great opportunity. All day yesterday and today I was telling myself I should just go and then I would let my wife or myself talk me out of it. If I had gone then I would've missed my wife a little more (and that's important, don't get me wrong), I would've still been tired, and I wouldn't have done any reading, etc, etc, etc... but I also wouldn't regret how I spent the weekend, and I'd probably have some pretty cool stories to tell. Instead, I'll just show you some pictures of what I cooked at home. It was a good and very enjoyable weekend, I don't want to sound like a total downer. I'm just wishing I would've went at least one night to help out with the wedding to know. Now I don't know what I missed. Oh well, here are some pictures.

tilapia marinating and
chicken with a dry rub

chicken on the que

finished tilapia,
should've gotten a few more
fish taco fixin's

low country fish stew-
I used the fumet I made with the fish bones, and chunks of the meat that I scraped from the skin and carcasses, along with some basic mirepoix, to make this soup. It probably cost all of $3.00 to make when you break it all down. I used too much fennel, though. sadness

Like I said, I wish I had some much cooler pictures and stories to relate from some crazy Polish chef and a rediculously huge and cool wedding reception prep, but instead my weekend was just relaxing and easy. So those are the kind of pictures and stories you get. Next time I'll work the dang reception.
Tomorrow we start leading sauces in my Foundations class and on Tuesday we start our study of France in World Cuisine. I am charging forward with fervor and anticipation. Besides, I'm eager to know my scores on the practicals. :)