Saturday, August 30, 2008

Weekend Cooking

I had high hopes of rest, relaxation, and gastronomy for this 3-day weekend and, being one day in, I am not disappointed as of yet. I got some whole chickens last night and butchered them. The yield vs cost is so good that I feel stupid never having done this before. This is how much I got from $13 worth of chickens:

This picture doesn't include the 2 chickens breasts and 2 tenders that I cooked for last night's dinner, along with some rice and a rustic chicken gravy (I'm not sure if it counts as a veloute because although it had butter and flour it didn't technically have roux). I could've strained the sauce to make it smooth and look a little more elegant but it was delicious just the same:

I took the leftover chicken carcasses and made a white stock, with some mirepoix, herbs, and a sachet, of course:

I didn't get a picture of the finished stock yet, but it looks pretty good. It's colorful but not cloudy and it smells and tastes great. I'm going to reduce some of it for a glace that I'll turn into a real veloute to accompany the chicken roulade I plan on making tomorrow night. The rest of the stock I'll keep on hand for whatever else. This is the first time I've made stock at home and again, I feel kind of stupid for not doing this sort of thing before.

For dinner tonight I practiced making my own pizza dough from scratch and made pizza margherita. I threw a stone in the oven and cranked it at max temp for a few hours before I was ready to actually cook the pizza, so it was nice and hot. Here's a picture of the finished product:

There was a little hole in the dough that caused the tear but other than that minor blemish it was pretty spot on (and no, I didn't cook it on that cheesy perforated pizza pan - I just used it to rest the pizza). Next time I'll need to add a little more salt to the dough, it was kind of bland. I think I'll also dice the tomatoes instead of slicing them. The slices looked nice but when you bit into them you would end up sliding a lot more cheese and tomato off the pizza than you planned to. The crust was the perfect consistency, though. It was just slightly chewy in the middle but it also held it's shape very well, as thin as it was:

It was super tasty. Gotta love that fresh basil - just be sure to add it AFTER the pizza has been cooked. If you bake the basil with the pizza it will at best lose some of the quality of it's flavor. At worst it will blacken and turn bitter.

Tomorrow, as I said, I plan on making chicken roulade. We're going to have some friends over for dinner and they are going to be my guinea pigs. I'm thinking that I might serve pan friend jalapeno polenta cakes alongside the roulade and, if I'm feeling up to it, I might make a risotto for an appetizer just to keep practicing it. Maybe even go the milanese route with some saffron? We'll see... I'll be sure to take some more pictures of whatever I end up doing. The wife said she'll make some dessert crepes, too. :) It's been great to actually have some time to cook at home. With two practical tests next week at school I want to be sure I get all the practice in that I can.

Friday, August 29, 2008


I had a great time cooking a bunch of fun stuff last night. The chef for my World Cuisine class turned us loose in the kitchen to practice whatever we wanted the whole night. I made a couple of batches of risotto to really familiarize myself with the technique. He said it was the perfect texture and that it was really good. The only advice he had was to reduce the stock a bit more before incorporating it into the arborio to give it more flavor and make it even more rich. The other problem was the only wine we had around was a bottle of Sutter Homes White Zinfandel... total crap. That stuff is closer to Koolaid than wine. It ended up making the risotto have this kind of sweet tone to it. I tried to hide the sweetness by adding some more acid (lemon juice) and increasing the salt. It worked somewhat but you just can't hide crap like that. Hopefully next Thursday when we have our practical there'll be a decent, dry white wine available. I also made a spicy polenta. I cooled the polenta and cut little 2" cakes out. I dredged the cakes in flour and then pan fried them in some butter and oil. I took the leftover fats in the pan and reduced some veal stock with it and used it as a sort of gravy that I drizzled over the polenta cakes. The chef said he loved these and that if I would've reduced the sauce a little bit more and served the cakes alongside a duck breast or something like that then I would've been "in the money". I had kind of wanted to practice a pizza or too as well but the oven needs to be on for at least a day to get the kind of heat needed to make it properly so I scratched that. I feel pretty solid on my pastas and pizzas anyway. I'll probably practice them over the weekend along with fileting fish, making fumet, and some other things for my Foundations class. I'll be sure to take some pictures of what I make this weekend and I wish I had taken some last night. Everything looked and tasted pretty darn good.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Next week I have two practical exams. My Foundations practical will be Wednesday and I'll be required to butcher or filet a chicken and/or whole tilapia. Then, as a class, we will prep a chicken stock and fumet (fish stock) with the left over carcasses. After the stocks are going we will split back up again and individually prepare a dish, chosen at random, for the chef that will feature a chicken breast or a filet of tilapia and one of the sauces we've covered, most likely a veloute or beure blanc. The only part I'm a little sketchy on is fileting the fish. Last night we went over fileting fish and making fumet. We watched the chef filet one whole tilapia and then we each got one fish to practice on - and next class will be the practical exam (no class Monday due to the holiday). It would just be nice to be able to practice a little more before being tested on it. I think I'm going to grab a few tilapia over the weekend to practice. Last night I did... okay. I fileted one side pretty well and was happy with the result but then I flipped the fish over and made a complete mess of the other side. I accidentally cut right through the vertibrae instead of edgeing along it and it was pretty much irrepairable. I should have time to practice a few this weekend, though and then I'll use the carcasses to make my own fumet. At least the wife and I should be eating well.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Risotto di Amore

Oh so good... tonight Chef Victor went over polenta and risotto and he demonstrated several dishes. We explored polenta for its simplicity and absolute diversity and we studied risotto for its complexity and absolute decadence. They are both truly great things with room for so much creativity, but of course we took special interest in the risotto, known to be one of the great hallmarks of highly skilled cooks.

We started with polenta. It can be cooked two different ways and served two different ways, creating four basic dishes that provide a foundation for endless variations. The cooking methods are: plain polenta (cooked with water, maybe a bit of cream or milk, and salt) and flavored polenta (cooked with stock, ingredients like mushrooms, onions, jalapenos, and so on). The serving methods are: warm and cold (polenta becomes quite firm when cooled, creating more potential for serving alternatives). So - plain, flavored, warm, and cold. Sounds so simple, and it really is. But the posibilities within these are literally without end. For example, the chef made a creamy, buttery, porridge-like warm polenta, a cooled, cornbread-like polenta with onions, garlic, and jalapeno, and a rich parmesan polenta. They all took just a couple of minutes to make and were delicious, easy, and simple. It was just a peek, a small window into the opportunity for creativity with polenta.

Then we moved on to risotto, polentas polar opposite. Risotto is made one way and one way only (proper risotto, anyway). There certainly is plenty of room for creativity with flavoring, but it must be cooked correctly and served immediately to be considered a legitimate risotto. Chef started with a classic risotto (I'd say basic but even with just four or five ingredients it's anything but). He began with finely diced onion, sauted in oil. He added the arborio rice and cooked it with the sweated onion until it was opaque, signifying that the rice was well coated with the oil and flavored by the onion. Then he added acid (white wine) to perforate the rice. He explained that this gets the rice to a point that the high content of starch in arborio will be released slowly and evenly. Arborio is extremely high in starch and a properly made risotto will be rich and creamy without any actual cream added (that would be cheating and people who know risotto will know the difference). After the wine was cooked out he began adding a reduced chicken stock (which was made in my Foundations class and was rock solid) one ladel at a time, keeping the heat high, allowing the stock to reduce further and be absorbed by the rice as it released its starches into the liquid. This process was repeated several times until a nice al dente was achieved with the rice and the liquid was thick and creamy. Just a touch of seasoning at the end and a bit of shaved parmesan and parsley for garnish. That's it. It was amazing. Just rice, right? Right...

Then he got crazy. We had some time left and he got to work on a second batch: curry risotto. This stuff was nuts. It had onion, carrots, jalapeno, red pepper flakes, curry powder (a really great spice mixture), fresh cilantro, and just a dab of tomato paste. It was spicy, rich, a bit more firm (which is how Indian people like it, according to the chef), and just incredible. I can honestly say I've never had anything like it before in my life. And he made it look all too easy!

Thursday will be a practice day where we can work on anything we want from what we've studied out of Italy - fresh pasta, sauces, pizza, polenta, and/or risotto. I figure I've got a good enough handle on most things because I have some experience with them and they can be winged, more or less. I am going to work on risotto. I've never attempted it before and I want to make sure I at least have some understanding of its preperation. Next week on Tuesday we will relax with a night discussing and sampling Italian wines, then on Thursday night we will have our Italian practical exam. Apparently we will draw a dish at random out of a basket and prepare it from scratch to present to the chef for grading. Good times, I am looooving this class!

Tulsa Pastry Competition

Some of the chefs and students are making arrangements now to go to the National Pastry Competition which will be held at a fair (apparently one of the nation's biggest) in Tulsa, OK. I just reserved my seat in one of the chefs cars, an Escalade :), and requested the time off from work. We'll leave before noon on Friday, Sept. 26th, attend the entire fair on the 27th and 28th, then head back early on Monday, Sept. 29th. Some of the others are going to go Friday night and come back Sunday so they don't have to take any time off but that just sounds like it would be stretching things too thin and I'd like to be rested and enjoy the entire fair. Several of the students and the chefs go every year (the baking/pastry chef, Chef Heidi, competes every year) and say it's a great time, whether you're into baking or not. The trip will only set me back $200 or less for everything including gas, hotel room, entrance to the fair, and food. I could go out drinking and eating at nice restaurants with some of the others but I don't really want to spend the money. We'll see how well my will holds...

Monday, August 25, 2008

Back in action

I had an awesome time up in the mountains this last weekend with the men's group at my church. I was a freakin wreck by the time I got home yesterday, though and took today off from work to rest up. I was so tired that I couldn't even fall asleep when I had finally made it home. I did, however, make it to class tonight and we worked some more on sauces. We made a kind of bastardized marinara/tomato sauce which we then made into a tasty espagnole (brown sauce) by adding some reduced veal stock and brown roux. Wednesday we will have a quiz on the five leading sauces: veloute (white stock and blonde roux), bechamel (milk and blonde roux), brown sauce or espagnole (brown stock and brown roux), tomato sauce (tomatoes and liquid - water or stock), and Hollandaise (butter and egg yolks). Some others that the chef deems notable but aren't categorized with these "Escoffier leading sauces" are: butter sauces (beure blance, rouge, etc), cream sauces (such as Alfredo), pestos, emulsions (such as vinaigrettes), chutneys, and more. Sorry to bore you with the details of my note taking, I'll leave it at that.

I also did some more reading and am now about half way done with "Down and Out in Paris and London" by George Orwell. It's a great book. I would almost venture to say that other people might find it a bit boring but Orwell writes in such a way that it really takes you in. I sort of feel grimy and in need of a shower after I read some of the chapters where he describes the absolute squalor and desparity of living penniless (or sou-less, or pence-less, you know - dead broke). I find it to be an easy yet engrossing read. It certainly lends some perspective, it's just hard to come back to my all too easy desk job and listen to some of my coworkers complain. I hope that as soon as I finish with it that my copy of "The Physiology of Taste" by Brillat-Savarin (I forget his first name but he's noted as being the first famous food writer, he is to writing what Escoffier is to cooking) will arrive. The chef offered extra credit for a book report on it but it promises to be a fantastic read anyway.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Find the fish. Fishy, fishy

Last night the chef demonstrated making pizza dough and a classic pizza margerhita. He got the oven almost 700 degrees F with the help of some granite slabs and baked the pizza in about 4 or 5 minutes. The crust was thin, crispy on the outside and just a little bit chewy inside. He used thin slices of tomato and fresh mozzarella then topped the pizza with chiffonaded basil after it was done baking. It was nothing short of absolutely delicious. After we all tasted the pizza he said "okay, have fun" and we got to work on making our own pizzas using whatever inredients we wanted.

I decided to make a cream sauce with parmesan. I had to thin it a bit with warm water to be usable as a pizza sauce, but it was really rich and tasty. I topped the pizza with super thin tomato slices and caramelized onion, then a garnish of parsley. The other ingredient I used, which I regretted, was anchovies. I minced one filet and put it on after the sauce, under the rest of the toppings. My thought was that it would pair well with the other ingredients and add a nice, natural saltiness. The problem, and this is the really stupid part, is that I don't like anchovies at all. It was so silly, I don't know why I even put them on the pizza. The flavor was so fishy and overpowering (duh). The chef said that anybody that likes anchovies would love this pizza. Most people don't though, myself included. I'm going to make the pizza again sometime and I'll do the same thing except I will leave out the anchovies (obviously) and instead of parsley I think I will put the caramlized onions on top of the sauce then arrange a leaf of spinach with half of a slice of tomato on top. Dang it... it would've been perfect if I had just done that to begin with.

In about two weeks we will have our first practical test in this class, after we learn about and how to make risotto and a few other things. Apparently what will happen is we will all draw the name of a dish from a basket and we'll have a certain amount of time to prepare the dish from scratch and service it to the chef. An example would be: spinach fettucine with aglio e olio pomodoro, or pizza margerhita, etc. We'll have to make the noodles, dough, sauce, or whatever completely from scratch and then we'll be graded on the final product. It sounds like a lot of fun, I just hope I have some time to work on my techniques a bit before test-time comes.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Tonight we transferred the chicken stock from the pot that the morning class started and then got to work starting our own stocks, chicken and vegetable. While the stocks got going we made chicken roulade and veloute sauce. It was my first time making a roulade and the chef said mine was perfect, which meant a lot to me. It's my highest priority right now to please the chefs at Paragon and live up to their standards. We made enough for the baking class to have some also and in return they shared their nights work with us. I have no idea what it was or how to pronounce/spell the name but it was delicious. One of the guys in that class is a total prick, though and I watched him lie straight to the chef's face twice tonight. It really bothers me but its not my place to say or do anything unless it could really hurt someone or something like that. I just know that I don't trust the guy any farther than I can throw him and if his behaviour affects me directly I won't mind calling him out (he's scrawny anyway and I could totally take him). I couldn't care less about what he thinks of me.

It was a fun night and tomorrow we are practicing fresh pastas some more as well as making pizza. I guess we'll have a couple of practical tests coming up here in the next week or two so I hope I get a lot of hands on time at school and some time to practice at home as well. I don't want to just pass anything, I want to totally ace all tests and really impress the chefs.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I may never buy pasta again

Tonight we made fresh pasta and a plethora of sauces (mostly southern Italian style, Aglio e Olio variations for their freshness and fast cooking nature). We had a bit more lecture on pastas, sauces, regions of Italy and American-Italian cuisine, in all its perversions. After that we took a short break and then dove into the kitchen to practice. I made tagliatelle with salsa rosa (not southern, but just a bit of tomato paste, water and cream to kick it up) and basil chiffonade - so delicious. On thursday we will do some more pasta with central and northern sauces (bolognese, cream sauces, etc.) and we will also make pizza - real Italian pizza, no BBQ chicken, bastardized American variations, although they can be tasty, I'm not knocking them for that. We're talking pizza margherita, baby. Chef set up some granite (or some kind of stone) slabs in one of the ovens and turned it on this morning, full blast, and will leave it on for the next few days. The slabs will absorb and radiate the heat produced by the oven and will actually increase the temperate to somewhere between 600-700 degrees F. Real Italian pizza should really be cooked at 800 degrees F or higher, but this is about as good as we can get with a gas oven that normally only pushes 500.

A quick shout out to Tarin - you were right about the pronunciation of bruschetta. Not sure why I doubted you, considering you've spent reasonable time in Italy and speak the language to a degree, unlike my ignorant, unilingual selft (not to mention you were best man in my wedding and have never lied to me before, to the best of knowledge). Sorry I let all those hack-celebrity chefs convince me otherwise. But hey, we're always in the process of educating ourselves, aren't we? Forgiveness is divine.

At any rate, I may never buy pasta again. The fresh stuff was so delicious and so fun to make. I really, really, really want a chest freezer to be able to make batches of the stuff. The only time I may actually buy dry pasta would be for tubes like penne or rigatoni, the wife loves them. Those would just take too much time and be too much of a pain to make by hand. And the sauces! So incredibly fresh, tasty, and quick! My favorites are the aglio e olio pomodoro and peperoncini. The key is really great quality ingredients (because there aren't many in the sauce) and to never, ever burn the garlic. As Chef said "it's the second worse taste in the world." I'll have to let him tell you what the first is...

Monday, August 18, 2008


Tonight we butchered chickens. I know it's a fairly simple process for experienced cooks but to truly get a good yield and have neatly trimmed pieces takes a bit of practice. Hopefully I'll have some time this week to buy a few chickens and work on it. Then I'll use the carcasses and wings for stock and the breasts and hind quarters for something yummy. But again, that will take time, which is not something I've had an excess of lately. We'll see. I'll be gone this coming weekend on a retreat so I'll need to find time during the week. I'm guessing we'll have a practical test on butchery next week or the week after so I want to be sure I am solid. I want that freaking free dinner at the Bear!!

I'll still need a chest freezer to store all this stuff in too, which reminds me - I also need to go pick up a knife sharpening kit, a couple of instant-ready thermometers, a pair of kitchen sheers, a peeler (apparently they keep disappearing from the school's supply), and some other odds and ends. Oooooh, and a 6" boning knife...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The difference of 1 hour

Yesterday was fun, although tiring.

I volunteered for my first banquet at Paragon. It was a wedding reception that was scheduled to start at 5:30pm. I got to the kitchen a little after 10am and got to work prepping some mirepoix and other veggies for garnish, etc. The rest of my time line gets blurry because I rarely looked at a clock other than to gauge cooking times (the rice pilaf needs to go in the oven in 20 minutes, the chicken will need 15 minutes in the oven then it goes in the warmer, things like that). The reception was plated, not banquet style, which makes the timing of everything a bit trickier. I grilled the chicken, getting it nice and crispy with some pretty grill marks, then threw it in the oven. The roast had been cooking for hours and was at the ideal internal temp. The salmon and pesto, which only takes a few minutes, was in the warmer finishing off. The rice pilaf was minutes from being light and fluffy and ready to go. We had all of our bain maries set up and our meez was rockin for plating. We only needed the green light to plate salads and finish off the entrees to be plated as well. We were ready.

Unfortunately, the 5:30pm go time we all knew and understood (and as it was printed on our summary) turned out to actually be 6:30pm. Guests didn't even start arriving until after 6. Apparently there was some miscommunication between the parents of the bride and our facilities administrator. 150 people toasted the union of the lovely new husband and wife over plates of dry chicken, overcooked salmon, and far-from-rare roast. What could we do? When we found out that nobody was there to receive our perfectly cooked entrees we had to hold them and then fire them again just before serving (that ended up being closer to 7pm) so that the food was hot, which resulted in gross overcooking. Not that any of them knew it, probably. No food came back, there were no complaints, but there also weren't any rave reviews or left over champagne being passed to the kitchen. Who knows, they were probably happy as pigs in slop, but we weren't. We knew how good it was and that we were ready when we were told to be.

Not bad for my first time in a service kitchen, eh? At least I got to get my hands dirty. It wasn't just diced carrots, celery, and onion. I got to cook. I sauteed the mirepoix, grilled and cooked the chicken, made the 3 vegetarian plates (which tuned out pretty nice, filet of green, yellow, or red pepper, quartered red onion, and mushrooms - all grilled and then doused with balsamic vinaigrette - it looked nice and tasted good, even to a carnivore), and plated salads and entrees.

I plan on working as many of these banquets as possible. It's 11 or 12 hours of hard work without pay on my only real day to sleep in and relax, but when I go looking for a job in a kitchen at least I'll have more to say than "I'm in culinary school!" I'll have some real hours of experience behind me and I won't be a complete Mel (thanks Chef Bourdain). Hopefully...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Well Technique

Something I've always wanted to do but just never have.

Last night we discussed Italy at length, particularly norther Italy and the differences between northern and southern Italy. The keyword for Italy is: passion. After the lecture and some discussion, the chef demonstrated the well technique. He titled this segment of the class "3000 recipes in 1 hour," and he wasn't exaggerating. This is the basic technique that creates all breads, pastas, crackers, etc. Just by tweaking the ingredients and the cooking methods, the possibilities are literally endless.

I'm trying to convince the wife to let me buy a chest freezer so that I can make roux, stocks, sauces, pastas, etc. in bulk on the weekend and store them in the freezer. I don't have much, if any, time Mondays through Thursdays but this way I can throw some fresh pasta in a pot and reheat some sauce and presto - delicious, homemade meals in minutes (and no, not 30 minute meals... hack).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Almost perfect / Depends

I really shouldn't complain about getting 108% out of 100%, but since there were 10 points of extra credit that means I fell 2% short of a perfect score. It turns out I sort of misunderstood the question. It just bugs me that I knew all the right information I just wasn't able to give him the exact answer he was looking for. Oh well, I'm over it.

Last night was fun. There is a group of old people that go to the banquet hall every other Wed night to have dinner and then play bridge. One of the senior students kind fo runs the show in the kitchen by himself. I don't know if he was behind or if it was just simply too much for him to do alone, whatever the reason the chef declared "crash course!" and we all went back to plate salads, chicken, etc. It was just a miniscule taste of an actual service although it was pretty easy and no stress, I'm sure a real dinner service would be a thousand times as intense, stressful, etc.). After we got all of the food out we went back into the classroom and took our test. The banquet room and classroom are separated by a curtain so in the middle of me answering "What are the six types of contamination?" I heard the, I presume, leader of the elderly group get up and crack some jokes in a psuedo-speech. They went something like this: "don't criticize someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes, that way you have their shoes and you're a mile away when they react," and "never test the depth of water with both feet." You get the idea. The other, much funnier situation I was not fortuntate enough to experience first hand. We were cleaning and eating in the kitchen while the chef was in the front grading out exams. Apparently a very elderly, decrepit woman was leaving the banquet hall and passed by him. About 10 feet from the exit, so he says, she dropped a "shook my wine glass" sized dump right in her depends. Oh man, hehehe... good times.

I almost fogot the other good thing about last night - the chef said that because of my good test score and how I helped with the dinner that he'll give me the green light to volunteer for banquets and receptions at the school. There is one Saturday so I'm looking forward to getting in there and actually being part of a real service.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

S&S Exam Tonigth

I have the Safety and Sanitation exam tonight. I found out that the free dinner I mentioned in an earlier post applies to all exams EXCEPT this one. Of course, I find all of this out after I memorize my notes completely. Oh well, it's good stuff to know (but boring as all get out). After the exam we will begin on knife skills. I'm hoping to prove myself advanced enough to the chef that he will let me start helping out with banquets, wedding receptions, etc. that are held at the school banquet hall. If all goes well tonight I'll be in there for the banquet this Saturday.

Dark Roux/Gumbo

I'll probably end up saying this a lot over the next few months, but I LOVE my World Cuisine class. Last night we finally got into the kitchen and Chef whipped up one of his specialties: gumbo. He made creole style gumbo, which means it was with tomatos, the cajun/creole trinity (onions, celery, and peppers) were cut into a medium dice (for the sake of presentation, as opposed to cajun style that would dice the trinity fine to be sure to extract all the nutrients), and there was a good amount of seafood in it (clams, oysters, and shrimp). The best part, and the trickiest part, was making the roux. In case you don't know, a roux is equal parts flour and fat (usually butter). If not cooked you have yourself beurre manie but as you stir it over heat and the flour breaks down you get roux. It took somewhere between 30 and 45 minutes to make and when it was done it looked just like dark chocolate syrup; after it cooled you wuold swear it was ganache. It was a lot of fun watching him make it and I took like 8 pages of notes in my little memo pad just on the roux. Then he started making the gumbo, throwing ingredient after ingredient in, letting them all cook a bit before adding the next thing. {Side note - andouille sausage is love.} He saved the roux and shrimp til the end, after it simmered for a while with all of the other ingredients incorporated. It was delicious. We ladeled it into bowls and garnished it with rice. And to make things even more wonderful, there is an Advanced Baking and Pastry class that meets at the same time and last night they made regular corn bread (with whole kernals of corn which my wife hates but I love) and jalapeno corn bread (which I REALLY love). It was perfect with the gumbo.

When we all finished eating I made sure that I was the first person at the dishwashing station and I busted my ass cleaning everything from both classes. I want to make a reputation for myself and I want the chefs to see that I'm not a pencil-pushing, cubicle worker who's afraid to get his hands dirty. I'm going to do everything I can to be the hardest worker and the best cook at that school, freshman or not.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Exam - Free Dinner at Black Bear

Tomorrow I have my Safety and Sanitation Exam. I nailed the quiz and feel plenty ready, but I'm going to really grind through my notes and try to over study. The chef said that anybody that scores a perfect 100% on any exam, whether written or practical, without extra credit will be invited to have dinner with he and his wife at Black Bear. Black Bear is 4 star fine dining restaurant up near Woodland Park. It is Chef Matthews' (the dean of Paragon) restaurant and I hear nothing but rave reviews. Apparently, instead of ordering from a standard a la carte menu, after your order your drinks one of the chefs will come to your table and basically ask you what you don't like. After a little discussion they will go into the kitchen and prepare a 6 or 12 (depending on how much you want to spend) course meal. I would LOVE to experience this kind of dining, especially being that it is the dean's restaurant. I can't wait to nail this test!

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Day In The Life

Anybody who entertains the idea of working as a chef or owning a restaurant should read A Day In The Life, a chapter in Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential." The entire book is entertaining, if nothing else, but this chapter in particular will tire you with the details of a single day in chefdom. No wonder so few are successful...

Save The Food

Paragon offers some overseas trips to Italy, Japan, and another yet to be announced location. The Italy and Japan trip cost $3,000 and are educational in nature. I would love to go on one, if not both, trips but certainly do not have the funds to do so. I'm trying to brainstorm some fundraising ideas to get me onboard.

At first I thought about preparing food to bring to work and sell to co-workers but the work vs return may not be worth my while. I might make a few hundred dollars over the course of the next few months, if I do it right. But in that case I might as well get a second job on the weekends.

The other idea I've been bouncing around in my noggin' is an actual fundraising event. This might just start off as a car wash/BBQ where I flag people down off the street and try to hustle a few bucks. But I also am envisioning an annual event that would involve, in addition to the car wash and BBQ, some carnival games and attractions, live music from local bands, an art gallery for local artists, and booths where local purveyors, farmers, ranchers, resterauteurs and the like can promote their businesses to the community. I've written a synopsis/proposal and am going to run it by some of the chefs at my school to see what they think. The idea behind this mothership would be to "Save The Food" in Colorado Springs. The concept is to get the community to support the education and training of up-and-coming chefs. The funds raised would help to offset the costs of these trips, allowing the students to benefit from training directly under the master chefs of the world and experiencing other cultures and cuisines first hand.

I compare it to music. In order for a young, budding virtuoso to create and perform truly great music he or she must first know what great music is and experience it at the hands (or mouth, or fingers, or whatever) of great masters, both past and present. The advantage somebody studying music has is that they can pop in a CD or DVD and hear Bach or Beethoven or watch Phillip Glass, etc. They can listen and know how the history of a culture affected its composers, and how they in turn communicated through their music. How does somebody studying food gain this sort of enlightenment? We can't listen to a masterpiece. It must be tasted and experienced. Also, musicians and conductors travel the globe, performing to the masses. Chefs do not. They work from their restaurants and any time spent traveling is not to cook banquets for eager to learn students. We must (and should) go to them and experience their culture.

I'll post more later after I get some feedback from the chefs at school. I know I'll get some "how cute, the little wanna-be chef wants to start a fundraising carnival" smirks and some odd looks, but I figure it would be at the very least a learning experience and at best my ticket overseas for some awesome opportunities to learn.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Mexican Pizzas with Herbed Goat Cheese

This is the recipe, as far as I can remember...

2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb lean ground beef
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried parsley
salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup canola oil (or as needed)
8 corn tortillas
1/2 cup tomato sauce
8 medium sized crimini mushrooms,
each cut into six slices
6 oz herbed goat cheese, crumbled
4 oz diced green chiles
12 grape tomatoes, halved
1 green onion bunch, sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Melt butter in saute pan over moderate heat. Saute onion until translucent, 2 minutes. Add garlice and saute for another minute. Add ground beef and cook until just browned but not fully cooked. Add seasonings and stir. Remove pant from heat.

While the meat is cooking, in a 6" skillit heat canola oil over moderate heat. Cook corn tortillas one at a time for 30 seconds, turning once, until just starting to get crispy but not browning. Set tortillas on paper towels to drain.

Assemble each tortilla with some tomato sauce, ground beef, mushrooms (arrange in a pinwheel shape), goat cheese, and green chiles. Bake pizzas on foil lined baking sheets for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melting and tortillas are crisp. Garnish with tomato halves and green onion.


The Golden Corral

Utter disappointment even to a guy with low standards. The mashed potatoes were cold, despite being held in a bain marie. The macaroni and cheese was bland, despite being 90% butter and cheese. The fried chicken wasn't crispy, despite being breaded and deep fried to kingdom come. The apple pie was soupy and the rice-crispy treat was stale, despite being mircowaved right out of the box. You get the idea: I would have had a better meal straight out of a 7-11 convenience store.

I remember enjoying visits to the Corral when I first moved to the area, but that was back when I ate more for cost effective quantity, not quality, lovingly referring to myself as a "human garbage disposal," which certainly was not a far cry from the truth. Not that much has changed in the 9 months following, only having read a few memoirs of actual chefs and spent a whole, entire week at culinary school. I suppose the down trodden, sub-middle-class, vanquished-spirit mothers of screaming children had something to do with my mood. Or maybe it was that my parents were on their way back to CA after their week long stay and I spent, at best, a few hours with them. I remember feeling hungry as I went in, and full as I left, but everything consumed in between I'm trying to forget.

The only saving grace for the meal (of course) was my beautiful wife and I laughing at the disfunctionality of the mother-daughter combo sitting to the side of us, and (also of course) my unrelentingly adorable niece and nephew. Conner, the latter, would suddenly lock eyes with me and belt out "you're a train!", the sheer comedic genius throwing him into a sharp fit of forced laughter. You just can't help but feel your spirit lifted in their presence.

My credo goes something along the lines of: good food, good drink, and good company. One out of three tonight... (I had water)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Not sure what to do with myself...

Just finished my first week of class and tonight was my first chance to relax and actually cook this week. I almost don't know what to do and I'm actually kind of bummed I didn't have class. I suppose I'll just do some research, reading, and reviewing. Here's what I made tonight-

Heart-Healthy Alfredo:

Ya right! Butter, heavy cream, and lots of both! I sauted onion and garlic in butter, then added some crimini mushrooms and let them cook for a bit. Then I added the cream, shredded parmesan, and seasonings. It was oh so tastey but I could literally hear my arteries clogging. I've been eating healthier for a while now and I think it just kind of shocked my body. Mmm, it was good though... will have to add some blackened chicken or shrimp and adjust the ingredients a bit next time. And I forgot my camera so no picture - sorry!

Thursday, August 7, 2008


I am finding Chef Matthews (the dean of the school who also teaches several of the classes) endlessly inspirational. There will be several classes that will help me develop technique and skills in certain areas, etc, but World Cuisine is turning out to be more intellectual and philosophical than practical or tangible, which I love. I'm still not sure exactly what my mark will be in the culinary world. How I will voice myself or what my identity in food will be is uncertain as of yet. I'm sure it will be something that solidifies over the next few years and will continue to morph as my life changes. For now I will just immerse myself and seek knowledge. I will try to absorb as much as I can and stay sensitive to any gravitational pulls, taking note of and exploring further areas I find myself particularly interested in. I can now define what California or Pacific Rim cuisine is and I see how this has influenced me. I am also realizing how much I truly love and enjoy Colorado. These parts of my life will carry weight in my expression through food.

I've made it through the first week of classes. It is a bit tiring but I find myself craving more. I'm a bit disappointed that I have no class to attend tomorrow night, but at least I will have some free time to actually cook. My Monday through Thursday schedule consists of waking up around 6am to go to work, getting home around 4:30, eating dinner and hanging out with my wife for an hour before leaving for school at 5:30, and getting home from school anywhere between 10:30 and 11:30. It's long days but the time seems to go by quickly and I'm feeling very alive in these pursuits. I'm enjoying it all immensly, except for the detestable student loan process that just doesn't seem to push through...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Safety and Sanitation

I suppose I won't always post once (or twice, as in last night's class) after every class session. But for now it pleases me to and it's my blog. So shut up and read...

Tonight was, as the next couple of nights will be, about safety and sanitation. Talk about a contrast to the mind rendering dialogue from my World Cuisine class last night. This is the boring stuff. 99% of it is common sense, which 99% of us already understand, but because that 1% just don't seem to get it we have to address it and make sure we cover all of the bases. I know this and am taking it with a grain of salt because I recognise it as a necessary bore (I would've said "evil" but cleanliness is next to godliness, right?).

In all seriousness, it's not that bad. It's just hard to switch gears so rapidly from last night's thought provoking discussions. Last night was: man eventually figured out that, instead of hunting an animal for food, he could trap a male and female, breed them, and never have to hunt again. This allowed him to stay in one place, which led him to create more elaborate dwellings for himself, which was the birth of civilation - all because of food. Tonight was: don't use bulging cans because someone could get Botulism.

Nevertheless, I will learn it and learn it well because it is an important aspect of my future career and life path. Eventually I will be training my own employees on safety and sanitation to keep one of them from serving food from a bulging can, killing a customer (God forbid), resulting in several costly lawsuits and my restaurant getting shut down.

World Cuisine (cont)

I'm having a hard time sitting still at my desk today. It's a good thing we're super busy and short handed. It will help the day go by and if I was bored, as I usually am, I would probably be going out of my mind right now or I'd say "screw it" and surf the web. I'm still kind of on a high from last night's class and I want to just let me mind wander and drift over everything we discussed.

The five cultures we'll be covering in World Cuisine this first trimester will be Italy, France, India, Chinese, and Japan. It would be impossible to learn all there is about any one of these cultures and it's food if we spend all three years studying nothing but it. Instead, Chef told us we will be focusing on the main aspect of the culture and it's contribution to food, particularly as it relates to us here in America.

From Italy we will learn about their passion for food. Italians don't care much for organization or structure because they feel it robs them of the emotion and passion that they have for food. From France we will learn the opposite: structure and organization. The French didn't create classical cuisine but they were the first to write everything down, give everything a name and record it all, so they parented cuisine for the entire world through their organization. India knows more about spice than any other culture could dream to. However, they don't worry much with technique. They cook a lot of things in a lot of similar ways and spend their time more with seasoning and spice. On the other hand, the Chinese are all about technique. Because there are so many people in China and so little resources they had to get very creative with how something was prepared, more so than what was prepared. And lastly, from Japan we will take the notion of perfection. Nobody is more obsessive about perfection than the Japanese. When you look at history and study Japanese sword making, calligraphy, even drinking tea, they perfect everything they do. Sushi is the perfect example. In a nutshell, it's just raw fish and rice. But the Japanese don't accept "just," over decades and centuries they have perfected sushi. Which fish to use, what angle and thickness to cut it at, even the vinegar rice has been (and is being) perfected to no end by the Japanese.

I can't wait to keep digging deeper... (and what will Wolrd Cuisine II consist of?!?)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

World Cuisine

Whoa... this is going to be an awesome class. I thought - it'll be fun! We'll go in the kitchen and make food with all these crazy techniques, using all these ethnic ingredients, and learning all of these cool things about other cultures food. Well... we'll probably do all that too but tonight was the first class and it was, more or less, a four and a half hour philosophical discussion about who we are as individuals, as a society in America, and as a world. Who we are, where we came from, what role food had/has in it all, why we do what we do, eat what we eat, look the way we look, and on and on and on.

There's no way for me to successfully or accurately regurgitate any part of tonight's class, at least not yet. My brain is tired and is moving all over the place (the similarities between slavery and prostitution, how India has such a deep understanding of spices but isn't as concerned about cooking techniques, why is our army still in Iraq, what is the definition of food and how Ferran Adria is alterring that definition, for example). What will my role be? Will I invent new cuisine? Will it be a fusion with regional cuisine I have yet to discover or learn about? How will my relationships be affected? I know God has led me to this, but how will He use me in the culinary world?

Tonight left me with many questions. Questions that I don't really want answers to yet. I want to let them marinate my brain. I want them to stew around inside of me and continue to create more questions and, more importantly, continue to inspire me. And to think, this was just the first night; this is just the beginning. If Paragon is good for nothing else, if the Chef's turn out to be hacks and the curriculum a joke, it has at the very least stirred something deep inside of me. My view of food is alterring big time. I feel as though I am ascending to a new plateau of knowledge, not technical, but philosophical and logical. Tonight I made some connections in the history of this country, our world, and my own life, and it all was tied together with food in one way or another.

I didn't want to leave class tonight...


I had my first class at culinary school last night: Foundations. It will cover everything from safety and sanitation to knife skills to stocks, sauces, and soups. The chef instructing the class is a crack up and seems very serious about the intensity of this course. His goal is to have us ready to work the line in a fine restaurant by the end of the trimester - a pretty lofty goal. There is a lot of information to be learned and skills to be practiced in each class. I'm very excited to be getting started and I will do my best to absorb every minute.

The first night was a lot of fun stories and information from the dean as well as getting the syllabus (the most bare bones syllabus I've ever seen) and general information about the class from the chef instructor. The next couple of classes will be about safety and sanitation, which means we will still be sitting in the classroom for quite a bit of the class duration. I'm really itching to get in the back and start cooking, but first things first. There will plenty of hours spent in the kitchen between this Foundations class as well as in my second class (tues/thurs): World Cuisine I.

It may be challenging at times, but I'm glad that I doubled up on classes. I want to completely immerse myself into the culinary world right now. Last night, after working a full day and going to school all evening, I went home and read food magazines for an hour until I couldn't keep my eyes open any more. I would love to start working in a kitchen alongside going to school but at the moment my income and benefits from my day job are too necessary. Hopefully by this time next year I will be working in a fine kitchen at night and continuing my classes during the day.

World Cuisine tonight! I can't wait!!