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Diary:November 3, 2002


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#1 Malawry

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Posted 03 November 2002 - 01:45 PM

Thursday, October 31

This was a decidedly un-Halloweenlike Halloween. Nobody attempted any sort of costume, and we didn’t really make any Halloweeny food. I had briefly considered coming as Chef Somchet; I could have swiped one of her chef’s jackets, blow-dried my hair straight, and talked with a Thai accent all day. It was a funny idea, but I didn’t get up early enough to carry it off.

Today was of course our second market basket day. I was teamed up with Marta and George this time. The available ingredient list was longer than it was last week, but some quantities were more limited (most notably butter; only 8 ounces!). Ingredients included pumpkin, 2 pork tenderloins (they were very small), 1 pound of salmon, eggplant, black beans, red bell peppers, and more. We had to come up with four courses. Here is what George, Marta and I put together:

Wilted salad with salmon, roasted grape tomatoes and chevre
Fresh fettucine with assorted vegetables, garlic, olive oil, parmesan and proscuitto
Pork cutlets with potato-pumpkin puree and roasted asparagus
Banana cream pie

George really wanted to make the banana cream pie, and had said so as soon as we’d been assigned to teams. Marta was attached to doing the pork cutlets, which she likes to make at home. I came up with the puree idea and helped to flesh out the pasta course. George suggested the salad. We divided the work: George on salad and dessert, Marta on the entrée, me on the pasta.

We had three hours to make our meal, and the pasta dish was really not a three-hour job. Just the same, since the dish was so simple I wanted to make it the best it could possibly be for what it was. I selected red bell peppers, shiitakes, portabellos and leeks as the vegetables. I carefully cut them all into even julienne so they would look like colorful ribbons in the finished plate. I sliced the proscuitto similarly, and chiffonaded basil for garnish. George gave me roasted yellow grape tomatoes from the first course for color. I took plenty of time with the fettucine, making sure it was as thin as possible and evenly kneaded and rolled. I didn’t want to risk burning or undercooking the garlic, so I minced it and heated it very slowly in extra virgin olive oil until it was lightly browned and sweetened. For service, I sauteed off the vegetables, boiled the pasta, and tossed the noodles with the garlic oil. I tossed in the veggies and the proscuitto, and then plated small rounds in heated bowls. I sprinkled on the cheese and the basil and garnished with thyme. Very simple dish, but it was one of the best I tasted because every component was executed perfectly.

Marta and I collaborated on much of the planning for the pasta and the puree. She made the puree, but we talked about it a lot to figure out how to work it. The pumpkins we had available were the big jack-o-lantern type, which don’t have much flavor to them. Marta cut some large hunks, oiled and seasoned them, and roasted them in the oven until soft. When they were soft, we each tasted a small cube. It didn’t have much flavor, and it was very watery. We agreed that it would have to be pushed through a tamis and then squeezed dry. By the time Marta had it pureed and drained, it amounted to maybe a third of a cup of pumpkin (despite being several large hunks when she started). It tasted a little stronger, and there was little we could do but add it to some riced potatoes with some cream and butter and hope for the best. The puree wasn’t bad, but it didn’t taste much like pumpkin as we’d hoped and the texture was only so-so. Still, it was a useful experiment. Next time we’ll try butternut squash instead (unfortunately, it wasn’t on the market basket list this time).

The salad and the pasta ended up being the better courses my team prepared. George seared the fish in peanut oil on the stovetop and finished it in the oven. He brought his balsamic vinaigrette to a simmer in a pan and melted in the chevre. Then, he tossed the greens with the hot, cheesy dressing and plated them. He scattered on the tomatoes and then plated the fish on top. It was attractive and addictively tasty. Marta’s pork tenderloins were good, as was the asparagus, but I think we were all a little disappointed in the pumpkin-potato puree. George’s banana cream pie was good but a real sugar hit, with its crème patisserie flavored with white chocolate, cookielike crust and whipped cream topping. Oy.

Next week we go down to two-person teams for the market baskets. This could be a real success or a total mess, depending on who the team is. Chef Peter warned us that we needed to be efficient when deciding what to make, and said that if we don’t make up our minds by the time he asks us what we’re doing he’ll assign us something. “You won’t like it, either. It’ll be mousses and ballotines. A world of hurt.”

Friday, November 1

Back to the usual grind today. The menu was a fun one: smoked, seared duck breast salad with citrus, paella, and a chocolate terrine. I was teamed with Melanie, who wanted to make ice cream and work on other projects in the pastry kitchen. I took care of the other two courses; she came and helped me cut up some of the vegetables for the paella and helped with the last-minute paella assembly, but I took care of most everything else. It was fun. I had zero anxiety about cutting down the chicken for the paella, searing or finishing the duck breast for the salad, or any other component of the meal. A nice feeling.

After lunch and cleanup, we did the first round of reports for our culinarian papers. I gave my chat about Jacques Pepin. I was forced to stop and process with the class when I revealed that Pepin was offered a position as chef at the Kennedy White House but turned it down to take a job with Howard Johnson’s. I also explained why I think Pepin is much like Chef Francois, and talked about his relationship with people like Craig Claiborne and Julia Child. I ended up talking for far longer than I’d expected, and hopefully nobody got too bored. After class, a classmate told me he thought I should write a biography of Pepin.

Once class let out for the day, I went downtown and talked with the chef at Corduroy, Tom Power. I have two weeks in which to nail down my externship, and I felt no closer than I was when I started looking. I arrived a little early for my appointment, so I put on an apron and helped destem spinach while I waited. I think it made a good impression on Chef Tom that I was working when he showed up instead of just standing around. He interviewed me for about a half hour, asking about my knife skills, experience and availability.

Corduroy is a New American restaurant located in a Sheraton hotel in downtown DC. Edemuth and I had lunch there once and really enjoyed it, which was partly why I thought of going there and checking it out. They serve three meals a day, plus they do the banquets and room service for the hotel (they are not run by Sheraton). They do not have a pastry chef on site; Chef Tom and his sous chef Paul Gomez do most of the baking themselves. Chef Tom said he likes to rotate externs through all of the positions he can, assuming they can keep up with the learning curve. He said he has 200 high school students staying in the hotel to feed for several weeks in January, so somebody who can start in December would be a welcome addition. I plan to trail there on Wednesday next week.

#2 Jonathan Day

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Posted 03 November 2002 - 04:57 PM

Rochelle, I happened to scan some of your earlier diary entries, trying to locate something I had remembered in one of the subsequent discussions. I was struck by the degree of confidence and energy that has emerged in your writing, whether you are making pasta or cutting up chickens. This growing mastery is always a delight to see, even through the distant lens of this board.

Congratulations, and best of luck with your search for the right externship.
Jonathan Day
"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

#3 Rachel Perlow

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Posted 04 November 2002 - 06:38 AM

I'm curious about your attempt to use the large pumpkin for its flesh, as they are well known to not be good for cooking. Did anyone else do that? I bet the instructor was thinking they'd be used as decoration or as a soup terrine, or you'd do an interesting variation on roasted pumpkin seeds.

#4 Malawry

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Posted 04 November 2002 - 05:33 PM

I don't think there is any intended purpose for most of the things on the list for market baskets. The only clearly intentional things I've seen are limits on quantities for dairy products, and only two "center of the plate" animal protein options. I suspect we had the pumpkins because they're seasonal, we haven't learned how to use them in class, and because we've been learning some carving lately and so carving a pumpkin for Halloween might have made an appropriate centerpiece this Thursday in particular.

That being said, nobody made a jack-o-lantern, and almost everybody at least talked about cooking the pumpkins. At least one other team made a puree; I think they filled pasta with it or something. I am pretty sure one other team used it, but I don't remember how.

I am not a big pumpkin fan (I dislike pumpkin pie), but I viewed the basket as an opportunity to see for myself what it tastes like in a savory application. I had indeed heard many times that jack-o-lantern type pumpkins have little flavor, but I wanted to know firsthand what it tasted like. We did toast the seeds, thinking of sprinkling them over the finished puree or using them some other way, but we forgot them in the oven and they overcolored.

It was just a chance to play and experiment, which is in part what the market baskets are all about.

#5 Jinmyo

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Posted 04 November 2002 - 05:54 PM

Rochelle, did you (the class) smoke the duck?
"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

#6 Malawry

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Posted 04 November 2002 - 06:03 PM

Yeah, the school has a cold smoker which we've used to smoke salmon, tomatoes (which we used in a smoky tomato soup), and now the duck breasts. I haven't been the one to play with it yet, although I have seen it and understand how it works.

Two students cured the duck breasts overnight, and then set up the smoker the next morning and got the breasts smoked. They were then placed in the walk-in for a second night, and we seared them and used them to top the salad on Friday. Yum yum.

#7 Jinmyo

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Posted 04 November 2002 - 06:24 PM

"Yum yum."

Heh.

This is really broadening your palate, isn't it? That's wonderful.
"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

#8 BigMac

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Posted 05 November 2002 - 02:44 PM

Great post.

I was wondering a couple (well, three) things:

1) When you work in a group, how is your grade determined, or are you even graded on how the food turns out? Let's say one member of your group makes a pie ( :smile: ) and it turns out all wrong. Does that reflect on you? Do you tell the tasters who made what?

2) Do you ever get to taste the other groups market baskets?

3) When planning a menu on market basket day do you get to use any reference (cookbooks and your notes) or is it all improvisation? Do you get any instruction in individual ingredients, such as "Pumpkin can be prepared as..."?

#9 Malawry

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Posted 05 November 2002 - 06:02 PM

Jinmyo, my palate has definitely expanded over the time I've been at L'academie. More on that in tomorrow's entry.

In response to BigMac's questions:

We don't get a daily grade. The only time the food I cook is graded as you mention is when I have a practical exam. On those days, I cook the whole meal and I am the only one who gets a grade. I do get a participation grade which is based mostly on what happens in the kitchen on a day-to-day basis; this is more about my attitude and keeping busy than about turning out a top-notch pie.

Chef Peter, Chef Somchet, and Chef Francois will comment on dishes we serve them if they are assigned to our teams as guests to be fed, and Chef Peter in particular will sometimes go around tasting foods and tell us what they need. But this is more for personal edification and learning experience than a demerit or addition to a grade. All three know when we are feeding them; Chef Peter and Chef Somchet eat with students every day. Chef Francois normally eats at his desk, but he knows who brought him his food and if he has comments he usually finds that person and talks to them and their team.

I have been a little disappointed that we are so busy on market basket day that we cannot focus on the work of other students. Each team normally produces a "taster plate" to show off their mad plating skillz and to give Chef Peter and Chef Somchet something to sample. They rarely polish off these plates. There is sometimes enough time on market basket day to go around and pick off of other teams' taster plates. I try to hit the "buzz" dishes, the ones people exclaim over most, to see for myself what they're like. Lunch service is a little slower on market basket day which helps to make this possible, fortunately.

We can consult our notes for market baskets, and most of us do at least a little (especially if working in pastry). I haven't tried to look at another cookbook. There is really no time to do so, unless I happened to know that a certain book had a certain dish I wanted to make and I knew where the book was in the library. I assume we are allowed to do so if we have time. Frankly, it's more useful to go into the walk-in and check out the nature and quality of the produce on the basket list. I've done this both times we've done the baskets, to help us use the best-looking stuff in the best possible way. There's only about 20 minutes to decide what's on the menu, so there isn't much time for puttering about. I don't use cookbooks for non-pastry recipes, I use them more for ideas about flavor combinations.

We get almost no advice or instruction on the contents of the basket. Chef Peter may go over a few items verbally, but it's more about their nature and quality than their preparation or intention. For example, I think he told us the pumpkins were jack-o-lantern type ones.