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Diary: September 15, 2002


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#1 Malawry

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Posted 15 September 2002 - 05:02 PM

Thursday, September 12

Despite my distaste for duck a l’orange, I am starting to find duck is a mostly agreeable meat. I think the worst thing about it is the fat on the breast, and as long as you render a lot of that fat off or avoid it altogether the flesh is reasonably tasty. Today’s lunch included a seared duck breast with green peppercorn sauce, and I managed to eat almost half the breast since it was cooked until almost crisp on the fat side.

My major contribution to today’s lunch service was carpaccio. Despite my squeamishness about cooking meat, I have minimal issue with the concept of eating raw flesh. I have always enjoyed raw fish, such as sushi, and the chemically cured sort like gravlax or ceviche. As a child, I enjoyed eating hamburger meat whenever there was any around, and I picked at meatloaf mix sometimes when Mom made a meatloaf for dinner. The carpaccio wasn’t something I’d choose off of a menu, but I liked it just fine. But then I didn’t plate a large amount for any of the people on my team. We happened to be serving Chef Peter and he whined about the small “vegetarian’s portion.” I told him to never let the ex-vegetarian plate the carpaccio if he wanted to be served the butcher’s plate. I was more interested in the arugula salad than in the beef, and my plating reflected this attitude.

Chef Peter mentioned the diary to me today sometime between the carpaccio and the duck breast. “How’s that coming?” I told him it was coming well and asked if he had looked at it. He hadn’t, so I gave him the URL. This is the first entry I have written while thinking about him looking it over.

Chef Francois taught us about furred and feathered game this afternoon. He told us a long story about how several years ago a young deer was hit and injured seriously but still alive near his home in Potomac. A policeman was working on getting the deer killed and moved from the road. A hunter happened upon the scene and offered to shoot it for the cop, and Chef Francois offered to take it home and eat it. The cop decided to allow the animal to be shot by the hunter and then taken home by Chef Francois. Chef Francois told us about how he hung the animal to relax and age it in his garage, and how it was some of the best meat he’d ever eaten.

He also told us about the tiny, illegal ortolan bird, and how their digestive systems get acidic from their berry-based diet. He explained that they’re eaten with a cloth over the head to capture the aroma. He said ortolans are served hot and eaten whole, and they are so hot that you have to gasp in cool air while you eat them under the napkin. He gesticulated and gasped to get across his point.

These two stories felt almost archetypal. I am really enjoying the stories Chef Francois tells about food he has enjoyed (they're far better than stories about food he disdains).

Friday, September 13

Chef Somchet had those who worked in pastry yesterday bake carrot cakes, and today we were assigned to send one person per team in to fill, frost and decorate the cakes. This is the first time we have made a frosting, and the first time we have worked on cake decorating of any sort. She showed us how to work with marzipan to dye and shape it, and she used a plastic tool to mark ridges on the orange-dyed candy. I ended up being the one on my team to go into pastry and decorate. Marta described making the marzipan carrots as “like therapy,” and I think she’s right. It certainly felt a lot like childhood messing-about. My carrots were pretty cute, and the finished cake looked good.

Saturday, September 14

The lunch entrée yesterday was goujons of flounder (basically a fish stick type cut) tossed with batons of potato and artichoke and topped with another beurre noisette meuniere type sauce. I’ve been thinking about this dish off and on since class on Friday. It tasted fine, but it didn’t look too good on the plate. I mean, part of the point of cutting all those goujons and batons is supposed to be so everything looks uniform on the plate. But the fish gets banged around a lot in the pan (it’s sauteed) and so of course the pieces curl and shrivel a little. The finished plate looked like a pile of random things surrounded with a small pool of brownish clear sauce with flecks of parsley. It’s not that pretty. Chef Peter’s plate looked the same way, so I don’t think Jonathan executed it poorly or anything. I think it’s just not a plate that can be dressed well. I don’t see much point to it over, say, filets of flounder plus round artichoke hearts and turned potatoes on a plate together.

This afternoon, I went out to buy a flounder so I could practice butchering a flat fish. I’ve cut round fish a number of times now, but have not yet taken apart any flat fish, and I’m concerned that there may be a flat fish on next Friday’s test. I want to be prepared. I went to Cameron’s Seafood Market, but the only whole flat fish they carried was butterfish. Butterfish are tiny and seemed too annoying to try and filet, so I went to the nearby Fresh Fields/Whole Foods Market to see if they had anything. They had a whole monkfish, but didn’t appear to have any other whole flat fish on display. The monkfish was on ice in a bucket out in front of the fish counter. I asked the guy behind the counter if they had any other flat fish and he said they didn’t, unless I wanted the monkfish. I didn’t think I’d have use for so much fish, but I wanted to see it so he came over and we chatted about it. I patted the fish with my fingers, and mentioned that the cheeks seemed large enough to be eaten.

When we were done chatting he offered to let me behind the counter to wash my hands since I’d touched the fish, and he went into the back and found a whole tilapia which he offered to sell me. He weighed it and told me the price and asked if I wanted it fileted. I said I really wanted to take it apart myself. “Why don’t we do it together?” I was surprised, but I agreed and put on some gloves and joined him at the cutting board behind the counter. He cut half the fish and I cut the other half, and then he skinned both filets for me. He asked me questions about school, and I asked him a lot about the fish and about his work. He explained to me his method for scaling fish without making a huge mess, talked about methods of removing bones, and so on. Turns out he’s the manager of the fish counter, and he said he’d never allowed a customer behind the counter before. After we finished handling the fish, he wrapped the fish in paper and gave it to me with a sticker labeled “sample.” “Here, it’s free. I enjoyed talking with you.”

#2 nyfirepatrolchef

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Posted 15 September 2002 - 06:56 PM

everyone...one two three....
AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!! :wub:
Sounds like hes got a crush going (imagine that...free fish!!!)
But seriously...sounds like a really decent guy...the fish counter folks at my local one are decent too.

#3 Fat Guy

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Posted 15 September 2002 - 07:33 PM

Thanks for another great report, Mal. And a big warm eGullet welcome to Chef Peter if he's watching.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#4 ChefHDAN

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Posted 16 September 2002 - 03:52 AM

One of my LEAST favorite jobs to do has to be scaling fish. I'm curious to hear what was recommended to reduce the mess.

#5 Miss J

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Posted 16 September 2002 - 05:02 AM

He also told us about the tiny, illegal ortolan bird, and how their digestive systems get acidic from their berry-based diet. He explained that they’re eaten with a cloth over the head to capture the aroma. He said ortolans are served hot and eaten whole, and they are so hot that you have to gasp in cool air while you eat them under the napkin. He gesticulated and gasped to get across his point.

...and somewhere, cabrales smiled. :wink:

I'm also curious about the fish tips. Like ChefDAN, I find scaling fish difficult and messy...is there anything you could pass on to us, Malawry?

#6 cabrales

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Posted 16 September 2002 - 06:30 AM

He also told us about the tiny, illegal ortolan bird, and how their digestive systems get acidic from their berry-based diet. He explained that they’re eaten with a cloth over the head to capture the aroma. He said ortolans are served hot and eaten whole, and they are so hot that you have to gasp in cool air while you eat them under the napkin. He gesticulated and gasped to get across his point.

...and somewhere, cabrales smiled. :wink:

Miss J -- :laugh: :laugh:

Malawry -- Thanks for describing the ortolan information. :smile: When you have a chance, please discuss whether written materials were handed out, by any chance, on ortolans, and whether you received other information on their diet (e.g., type of berries they consume, whether the acidity of their digestive tracts might be interesting when the birdies are sampled). Also, I wonder whether the applicable diet changes during migration periods. Finally, were any indications provided as to where (including in the US) an ortolan could be taken in? :wink:

#7 KateW

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Posted 16 September 2002 - 07:14 AM

I'm continuing to enjoy your writing, Malawry. I was without a computer for most of the last month so I had a lot of catching up to do.
If I may put in a plug for myself, I started school at Johnson and Wales a little over a week ago and I have been trying to chronicle the highlights both for myself and for others. I have posted this at cheftalkcafe.com/forums under culinary students, same username as here. I've decided to make a new thread weekly (roughly), and make a couple posts a week.
Well I have to check up on my laundry :wacko:

#8 Malawry

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Posted 16 September 2002 - 02:16 PM

Cabby, I thought of you when Chef Francois addressed ortolans. He said they are very illegal and that he has had them a long time ago in France but not in the US. He did say that if you can find somebody who knows where to get them, you won't get them to admit to where they got them, and chances are they ate them in a hidden back room of a restaurant where the chefs played ignorant about the subject matter even as they prepared the birds. He joked that the cloth over the head is partly so nobody knows you managed to nab an ortolan. So, I have no ortolan-tracking tips for you. And there wasn't much more info given on them than I just shared here. Very sorry I cannot assist.

The dude at Fresh Fields said that you should scale your fish in a few hard, sure, long strokes, five or six per side. He has his staff hold the tail and scale toward the head on a counter rapidly. I watched one of his staff members do this, and brought up the subject because every time I've scaled I've gotten them all over the place...and this guy looked fairly clean about the job. At school we either scale in a sink or scale in a trash bag. The trash bag works well but of course you can't really see what you're doing which is a little annoying.

Good luck to you, KateW. It's not easy to make time for something as ambitious as several posts a week, and if you can keep it up more power to you. I checked out your thread and it sounds like you are doing great so far, especially since you're not only starting school but also moving to a new place and settling into dorm life. I can hardly imagine having my whole life be new like that. I did it when I got my undergraduate degree but it seems impossible now...and I respect you for doing it. Congratulations on getting started!

#9 KateW

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Posted 16 September 2002 - 07:54 PM

Thanks!
I've been to college before, right out of high school, so I am a little more comfortable with dorm life than if I were totally new to to it. It's different however, because my first college was all women and this is co-ed. Also, I am actually getting along with one of my room mates for once. I have had way too much trouble with room mates and it is great to have one I not only live with but also hang out with for fun. Our third room mate is iffy, but she is never here so it is not a huge issue (yet). I will keep you posted on that.
I'm unsure of how to write about negative experiences because I don't know who is reading this. But I think with a degree of anonimity it will be fine.

#10 Rachel Perlow

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Posted 17 September 2002 - 06:13 AM

I also thought of Cabrales when I read about the ortolans. If you can get Chef Francois' email you should send him a link to the orlotan thread (or just write down the url), I'm sure he'd enjoy it.
"The Mythical Ortolan" started by Cabrales in the General Food Topics forum, forums.egullet.org/ibf/index.php?act=ST&f=1&t=7796.

#11 Nick

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Posted 19 September 2002 - 07:36 PM

"I am starting to find duck is a mostly agreeable meat. I think the worst thing about it is the fat on the breast...."

This being my first post here, I'm probably getting off on the wrong foot, but have to say that a good crisp duck skin and the fat beneath it is to me the tastiest part of the duck. Just don't eat too much.

Edit: I should add that when my duck is done, the fat is only about 1/16" thick. Maybe 1/8" at most.