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Steve Klc

eGullet Society staff emeritus
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  1. I'd steer my teen away from attending pastry school until she's not a teen anymore. European parallels aren't very valid here in the US, we have a different culture, the pastry "profession," and I use that term loosely, is perceived differently, so, too, is the vocational or trade school aspect of pastry perceived differently here. It's one thing to have done research about attending school, like chiantiglace, and I think that input is valuable; it's another to have recently attended school, like ohmyganache, and that perspective is also valuable--reports from recent grads flush with enthusiasm and also reports from older grads, still in debt looking back on their school experience 5+ years in the business. It's another to have taught in cooking schools and particularly to have experience teaching teens--that I have and that's something I can share with you Kate. Based on what I've seen, after changing careers myself at age 33, then eventually teaching, I almost always encourage teens, and their parents, to wait. Not knowing more about your teen, I'd recommend you send her to the best real college if you can afford it, even just for a year or two, and NOT to study pastry, anywhere, yet. She'll have more options later and operate more from a position of strength and independence in society if she doesn't go to cooking school as a teen--that closes doors, not opens them, later. Suggest she get a broad education first, learn to write and think critically, follow the advice of others on this thread and encourage her to dabble in professional food via part-time jobs and summer vacations and reassure her that there will be plenty of time for her to commit to pastry later via an intensive 6 month career changing program--should her desire not wane by then and should she not discover another passion by then. She deserves the idealistic opportunity to study philosophy, to paint, to become a graphic artist, a sculptor, a website designer, to learn French or Spanish, to take accounting or small business. As a freshman studying whatever, she can bake bread at a bakery near her college or work part time for an organic farmer, that Summer you two go to Paris and tour boulangeries and patisseries; as a sophomore she can plate desserts at the best restaurant near her college, that Summer break you two hit the best restaurants in NYC for a week, drop by the FCI and the CIA and that little unknown gem of a program, the New York City Technical College, etc. By then, she'll have a big advantage most other incoming cooking school students won't have had--she'll already have a lot of real-world pastry work experience under her belt that hopefully has sustained itself over the 4 years of her college education--and she'll be in a better position to appreciate what she's learning and to process it when she's 22. Her awareness of food and pastry is probably fairly limited at this point--again, not knowing more of the specifics of your situation--maybe while she is in real college you put together a four year pastry-oriented plan of travel to New York, Paris, Chicago, Barcelona et al, you're welcome to visit me in DC anytime and I'll show her around the restaurants--I'll show her what it is really like back of the house for CIA culinary school grads. That travel will help her taste and broaden her perspective much more than attending the CIA will, and it'll help her re-affirm her desire, it'll be something fun both of you can do together, and she can still go to the CIA or another school for pastry if she hasn't gotten it out of her system by then. I guarantee once she's out of school, lifting 50 pound sacks, standing on her feet for 12 hours a day and speaking Spanish to her coworkers somewhere in her $9 an hour job, baking off sheetpans of frozen croissants or chocolate chip cookies beside lazy union bakers who resent that she went to school and CHOSE to do this, trying to scrimp and save to pay back whatever loans she took out to attend school, she's not going to be travelling anywhere. For a long time. Best advice you can give her is to work a lot in the field first, travel as much as possible first, go to college, put off going to pastry school for as long as she can, and then go after a period of time if and only if she still feels that's what she's absolutely meant to do. Then she'll have a better chance to make it and be fulfilled.
  2. Stone--there are three metal parts "inside" the cab--the largest, an L-shaped bracket (which you might be calling the faceplate) that gets screwed into each sidewall of the cab before you try to hang them--then a small roughly one inch square "washer," for lack of the real term, and a nut. When you go to hang a cab, yes, you kind of balance the whole cab on just those two screws--but the screws are inside the metal holes of the L bracket which align perfectly with the holes in that back panel--it sits fine, no danger of damaging the cab since it is metal on metal--and you just reach in with your other hand, slip the washer and then the nut on, just hand tighten one side, then do the other--the whole time supporting the cab with your other arm if you're doing it by yourself. I've hung about 15 Akurum IKEA wall cabs myself, horizontal and vertical, it can be done by one person. That system is great--you can get a lot of adjustment at that screw point, which sometimes comes into play when you drill between the cabs to attach them to each other. If you bought cabs as-is without instructions you can go back to the store--they have copies on file--and if you are missing parts--they'll usually give you what you need, even if they have open a box to do it. Russ, you're really lucky when you get around to re-doing your kitchen--the IKEA near you in Costa Mesa, CA has an amazing kitchen display, the best, by far, of the 8 IKEAs I've been in (3 in DC, 3 in NJ and two near you--Costa Mesa and Carson.) I wouldn't be surprised if it is IKEA's national showcase for kitchen design. (Carson was being renovated last time I was there--and really needed it.) Count mine as another vote in favor of the whole do-it-yourself IKEA kitchen process, we re-did ours last Summer and didn't regret it for a minute, if you choose carefully it can be affordable, very high quality and adaptable stuff, and this Summer I'll be re-doing the kitchen of my sister. It should be open by now, so I'd encourage everyone in the South to consider the IKEA in Atlanta--the best kitchen guy from the Woodbridge, VA store (which up until this Summer had excellent kitchen staff and displays, alas, no longer) moved down to Atlanta to head up their kitchen department. His name is Ron and he's great--very smart, no attitude, commited to customer service, thinks out of the box--helped me "mod" several things unique to our space and needs--so put yourself in his hands and you'll be fine.
  3. Now that would be the subject of a really good thread if you want to start one, I wonder if most pastry chefs would agree... Well, in terms of pastillage, if planes had been invented back then, the pastry cooks and confectioners to a royal house somewhere probably would have been asked. The royals would have been the only ones able to afford a plane, and the in-house teams would have produced them in pastillage for some dinner party they were having, that's guaranteed: they would have wanted to show their latest and greatest off. Look at the links, look in some of the books with graphics from these eras, that's what this was about--showing off: you'll see table pieces in sugar with biblical, Greek, Roman, mythological or historical focus and also modern ones with whatever currently was in vogue, made in sugar--and the pastry cooks and master confectioners at the time, say from the mid-18th C forward, had to make all their molds to pull this off, especially the wooden-carved ones for the smaller table displays, the baskets, the gifts, the tazze to present the petits fours, etc. They carved, sculpted, assembled, reproduced what they needed. This is what the job entailed for the elite in the profession working in the major metropolitan centers and for seats of power and it was "model-building" just with different models. This was the fashion of the time for those working in foodservice, and when royalty toured their realm or entertained at court, and threw lavish parties, they had to show off and this was how they did it, how they reinforced their place at the top of the autocratic pecking order. When a Queen wanted something no one had ever seen before, the same display in ice, say, instead of pastillage, the teams of pastry cooks had to turn to the in-house metallurgists to fashion molds so they could freeze all the component parts down in the snow cellars, snow that was carted in from thousands of miles away, then assemble it all quickly and reveal it to the guests. There's a very decadent description of one of these ice displays for a banquet in Elizabeth David's book "Harvest of the Cold Months," where an entire banquet scene, table, chairs and all the fixtures was presented outdoors in ice--encasing all sorts of little fruits for the guests to marvel at on a hot day in the Summer. The forms may be different but the model-building process, and the stress of assembly and transport, and the desire to impress guests is the same--and throughout history the pastry cook/confectioner has had to get the job done for themselves, this was pre-Industrial Revolution and pre-mechanical manufacture--to this day much of this still is: yes, there's a Chocolates a la carte so pastry cook/confectioners everywhere can buy what they need rather than mold it themselves, but there's a sameness about Chocolates a la carte, and a sameness that pervades the work of pastry chefs who use a company like that. What this thread ultimately speaks to is that even today we'll make our own molds or buy some tool or device from another craft and do it ourselves in order to be more artistic and more individual--need to make a box with a lid out of chocolate to serve your chocolate truffles in? Well, thanks to the Industrial Revolution we can 1) readily buy chocolate you can temper and create with and 2) buy a cheap plastic box to use as a mold and mold it right off in one shot--pour in, pour out, pop out. However, if you don't have the right size or shape plastic box, you're back to pen and paper and X-acto knife, making templates so you can assemble your model. Only the dates have changed, the process remains the same. Of course, back then chefette wouldn't have been making any of these things in pastillage anyway because she's a she, and these guilds and professions were all male.
  4. Right, but you also raise a good point: arts and crafts and trades have influenced food--and how we work--for hundreds of years, just open any cookbook from the Middle Ages forward and look at the pieces montees on display, and you'll start to get a sense of what we're missing in these modern times. We've always had to make our own tools and solve our own problems ingeniously and we've often borrowed from other trades and disciplines to do so. Food has always masqueraded as sculpture and art and entertainment. The school of influence just varies from decade to decade and generation to generation. Not too long ago the best pastry chefs in France also had to be well-rounded, they were schooled in all areas, had to do sugar and chocolate and pastillage and become competent in all facets of patisserie, etc, before they could, you know, "be" a pastry chef. They could knock out literal realistic pastillage pieces easily, so could pastry cooks in London. We're more relaxed now, we're less educated and less trained, most working pastry cooks and chefs, including some famous ones, can't do much worthwhile in any of these artistic mediums if asked because it's just not required anymore. But not required and not relevant aren't necessarily the same things--there will always be a market for really artistic work--the challenge for the pastry chef or wedding cake artist with skills is tapping into that % of their potential market who will appreciate what they're capable of doing--ask them to push themselves--and compensate them more as an artist than as a blue collar wage slave. This particular plane project is really model building, but with an edible medium and the rules and skills which are defined by that medium. One could also choose to stetch those rules. The principles and thought process you take away can be applied to very organic or even avant garde forms more appropriate for a traditional or modern wedding cake. what this says to me, more than anything else, is that there are many ways to appreciate pastry--and pastry chefs--this is just one narrow example that doesn't happen to involve actual taste or flavor. It does stretch people's sense of sugar. Me, personally, I don't know that I'd ever have the patience to do something so literal and exact as a real plane--I'd take the easy way out and opt for something "deconstructed" or wavy, organic and curvilinear representative of a plane in flight--why do you think all those French guys starting doing pastillage and very tall showpieces in those abstract shapes 10 years ago? because it was harder? No, they did it because it was easier and the style was more forgiving. When you go literal--there's very little margin for error. A figurative Taj Mahal, an idea of the Taj Mahal, is much easier and more simplistic to pull off than a literal Taj--but both would be artistic attempts which should be appreciated for their own merits. Here's something I did in pastillage a REALLY LONG time ago, it was a groom's cake to bring together the two families meeting for the first time: the Indian side of the groom's family and the Chinese side of the bride's family--but the key to its success (for me) was that I could pull the pretend-Taj off in one night, a hour or two cutting shapes the night before, actually (then some sloppy assembly I cringe revisiting now but that the clients still loved.) I had a big wedding cake to do for them as well. Colleen and I developed this model together, and she drew and cut all the templates for this Taj--and get this, she had never even heard of pastillage at the time--this was before she packed up and moved to NYC to go to FCI.
  5. We're in New Hampshire for a week, and since there's very little good food where we are, we'll be driving to Portland. Alot. First up dinner at Hugo's tonight (we've been there 2 or 3 times in the past 2 years), then at least a dinner at Five-Fifty-Five and a lunch at Duckfat (our first, since they weren't open the last time we were here.) When Hugo's was $44 prix fix, that was very special, that was also pre-Food & Wine mag discovering them. I'll followup with a report, especially on the fries: http://www.duckfat.com/
  6. I tend not to characterize myself, or anyone else, as a snob about anything, even in jest, especially in the context of an online discussion forum, that tends to lead things astray and divert discussion from something more diverse and productive into something more personal. What I try to do is understand where people are coming from, then decide the way I'm going to go and for what reason. That's because taste is subjective, your client's wishes will always be unique as well as how you--as a pastry chef or cake artist--decide to serve those wishes. Skill levels, pricing and palate awareness are also highly variable as you move around the country. Me--I only use an Italian meringue buttercream or a French (yolk) buttercream to cover tiered cakes, and when I used to do all-buttercream-decorated cakes (I don't anymore except under very strict circumstances) I only piped with the same buttercream. But I've also never decorated a cake with a piped buttercream flower, except maybe grapes or lilies of the valley as a kind of repeating motif layer. When I went pro my entry level buttercream cakes had gum paste, modeling chocolate or marzipan flowers. If I used French inside I usually closed in Italian and piped in Italian, with good butter, because it was more firm than French. That's what my clients tasted, that's what they liked, and I was prepared to jump through stressful hoops to accomodate them because that was what I offered them. They tasted my buttercreams, they tasted other buttercreams, they evaluated the role buttercream played in the overall taste equation and they made their choice. How I flavored it and applied it was one part of what made me distinctive--and every cake baker has to go their own way on this, at their price point. I did fold a % of Crisco into an Italian meringue buttercream (replacing a % of the butter) on a few occasions when I had agreed to do an outdoor buttercream cake and I was concerned about the timing and stability of that cake given the temperature that day. I didn't like it in that application, it wasn't as functional, and it didn't taste as smooth or unctuous, and for someone who places a high demand on themselves on taste--even more so than appearance--that bothered me a little. (I'm not bothered using shortening as an ingredient at all--in fact, chefette and I developed a few desserts which used Crisco advantageously--we were once "Crisco chefs of the month" a few years ago.) That's a hurdle, an expectation, that I place on myself, but on no other. That's really nothing more than how a professional has to adapt to any number of little issues which are going to crop up and which can go wrong later--and that's where the professionalism and experience level of any given person comes into play. It's often these little choices we make along the way--and why--that distinguish us. I do the same thing with rolled fondant, I roll it out thinner than recommended, I always avoid coloring it too deeply and steer my potential clients away from anything like that--even if that means I lose them as clients. We all do this to a certain extent when we decide what fillings to pair with a given cake--how long it will have to sit out to decorate, how long to transport, to sit out on site, etc--and often I'm making decisions based on external factors and coming up with ways to style the cake or create decoration that might allow me to push flavors or fillings into different directions--usually also based on taste. On rolled fondant I pipe royal or tempered chocolate. But all of those are personal decisions--there's really no right or wrongs--they exist in the subjective marketplace of ideas--and the subjective marketplace of consumers--both help us decide what's the best approach for each one of us. Dense, fresh, silky, smooth, whatever, these are all terms that don't have any real meaning out of their very specific contexts--what your client has tasted and liked and hired you for, what combination of yours that they thought was good. Dense can be good, ethereal can be good. Tastes "good" trumps all of this, and tastes good is always going to be subjective. It's not like we can infer anything from those terms in some meaningful objective way, outside of saying something like "you might try this recipe for x, I find it a little lighter and less sweet than this recipe for y." That's something more objective, something which might be verified. So, too, sharing techniques--and how you go about applying techniques--and that's also very subjective and personal--but there are methods, for instance, which can be employed to reduce the amount of aeration in a buttercream which does correlate with generating something more smooth and speadable later when it comes time to close your cakes. Whether you choose to pursue that path is entirely up to you. The technique and recipes are just that, techniques and recipes--how we choose to acquire them and employ them, and why, is but part of how we connect with our clients, well that's always going to be very personal.
  7. Whenever cross-country travel and shipping of cakes is involved, invariably there will be a few accidents, a certain percentage of problems that for one reason or another can't be overcome in time. Those stories tend to filter out after the fact. Most savvy organizers plan ahead for this--they realize 3-5% will not show, and I think that's why there were actually more than 50 cakes out on display. Family tragedies can and do occur at the most inopportune times. I heard of one specific incident related to this event, and it was potentially tragic--a designer had just finished her cake, two family members were in the process of driving it the thousand-plus miles to NYC for the photoshoot, and they were involved in an accident which totalled the cake--and the car--in the process. I'm not sure if the parties involved want this made public so I'm not going to be more specific, but I'm told no one was seriously injured and that the designer was able to re-focus, re-assemble and transport another cake to this event in time--and it's a testament to her skill and professionalism that she was able to recover. Speaking of skill and professionalism, I found when I was wandering around the exhibition itself that I missed the work of Toba Garrett, Ron Ben-Israel as well as Mike McCarey, I find them all--and their work--very distinctive with a point of view. That's not meant to detract in any way from the diverse talent which was on display, just to say there are plenty of other talented folks who could have been swapped in and out or who are still waiting to be discovered. The range and depth of different styles, visual approaches and artistry still really came through well--that diversity is what made this exhibition unique on the national stage--and that's due largely to the vision of the person behind the scenes who assembled this, Maria, and who guided the "look" of many of the cakes.
  8. I hope so, you have me hooked. I remember that cake, I always thought it was pretty. Cake angels, I need to find me some of them cake angels.
  9. My advice for most people would be: 1) not to try to do it. I did my own wedding cake, and helped chefette finish her wedding cake, then delivered them to the reception site, we thought it would be a good idea and that our guests would expect it since we're pastry chefs who do wedding cakes, and we wouldn't do it again if we could have a "do-over." And we're pros. 2) do just about everything else, the food, the snacks, the invitations, the favors, tying ribbons on the rental chairs, hand-painting both of your initials on the champagne glasses you'll use for the toast, sewing your own Vera Wang dress from a magazine picture, valet parking all the cars yourself--ALL of that is more manageable, more fun if you have the right personality, and can be learned and done in advance easier and less stressfully than starting from ground zero with your own large wedding cake. I'm over-stating things just a bit, but do try to pawn the cake off on someone else in the family, like your mother if she's like Ruth's or your mother-in-law, and say surprise me. Then act really appreciative. 3) If I have not swayed you, and you plan to do your cake anyway because it is calling you and you cannot resist--then DO NOT link to the page of cake pictures above. Reduce your expectations by not having any awareness. If you think you can come close to a cake of your dreams type cake done by elite pros--the kind featured in that exhibit and in the pages of Brides magazine--then keep it food-safe, move it around and make the right decisions when things go wrong and resolve them quickly--most likely you can't. Not without a lot of help (somebody find that thread and link to the Washington Post story with B. Keith Ryder.) Short of hiring someone, it's better to go into this project with seriously reduced expectations--think rustic, think outside the box, think fresh fruit, think lopsided and sagging and gooey, think, well, don't think about what cake artists do. Our cakes in that exhibition were on styrofoam anyway. The saving grace for you is you're looking at 50 servings max, so if you can't be pulled back from the edge, if you think you just might be inherently gifted, and that everything just seems to turn out well, I do LOVE chefpeon's idea for you--cupcakes are hot, they've finally arrived in LA after being all the rage in NYC several seasons ago. Here's a link to a piece in this week's LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/features/food/la-fo...-headlines-food called "Attack of the killer cupcake." (Free access, registration required) Tons o' cupcakes arranged like a wedding cake can be done. I bet you might even not regret doing it yourself. Cupcakes, or if you're creative and artistic, maybe cobble together a totally fun pop art/collage/mixed media/sculptural interpretation of a wedding cake, maybe three hatboxes wrapped in vintage wedding dress fabrics, and display that instead--and keep a single flat half-sheet of cake you've made yourself in the fridge until you're ready to slice and serve.
  10. Ted--here's my current thinking on going to school. I'm essentially with chefette and Drewman--established pros taking shorter but more focused classes geared toward what they're planning to pursue--are most feasible. A series of $900 hits is a little easier to recover from than a $17,500-$35,000 hit. I think you'd get more than your money's worth at either Ewald or FPS, but I wouldn't advise writing the big check. (I rarely advise writing the big check even for career-changers looking to enter the field without serious informed consent on their part.) I took a multi-day class on plated desserts and ice cream/sorbets with Sebastian when he was "on tour" at Albert Uster years ago, when they just started FPS--he was great, their methods are great, he gets my highest recommendation. I took, I think, two week-long Ewald classes while he was based in Gaithersburg, he gets my highest marks, too. They were great, he was great, the experience was very empowering. I don't use anything I learned from him in a restaurant context, they haven't helped me command any greater salary because they were showpiece based and I don't work in a hotel. Since I think, in general, showpieces and competitions which feature them will only keep declining in importance, the direct value of those kinds of classes now are less likely to yield as much of a ROI as practical classes--though there is a spiritual yield to be had knowing you can step up to the plate with a killer chocolate or sugar showpiece, most restaurant pastry chefs cannot. I think it would be better to buy and cook your way through the Adria and Balaguer books than take a showpiece class--but then you already have those books! However, taking even showpiece classes helps you network, helps you build confidence and get into other networking opportunities like the Carymax events which can allow you to leverage other opportunities and relationships with their sponsors, which just might come back to put some more money in your pocket. If you don't already know Michael Schneider or Norman Love or Drew Shotts or Donald Wressell--and you want to meet them--that's how you do, you start positioning yourself to meet them, to let them get to know you. Or, if you have more of a Food Arts/high end restaurant/celebrity chef bent, you could find out where the nearest James Beard fundraising dinners will be and call up the organizing chef and offer to come volunteer--even if it means you drive 200 miles. The best chefs and pastry chefs in this country travel a lot, track them down and offer to volunteer when any come to your neck of the woods. When they ask you who you are, say you were Douglas Rodriguez's pastry chef in Miami and recently moved back to wherever you are now. There are always 5 other chefs and pastry chefs behind every single featured chef in these things--be one of those volunteers climbing the ladder. Eventually you'll be asked for more. Bust your butt volunteering for a chef or pastry chef who interests you, say a Rick Tramonto, at a Beard dinner somewhere--and when you want to spend a week staging in his kitchen at Tru he'll likely remember you and say sure. When I went with Jose Andres to cook at a big charity dinner in Cleveland two years ago--there was this really young guy who had heard of Jose and talked his way into helping with prep for the event. I think he lived and cooked in Cincinnati at the time, at a conservative French restaurant. He didn't have too much experience, but he knew that a chef who could conceive of grating cauliflower with a microplane zester and then turn it into a delicious "cous cous" was the kind of chef he wanted to learn from. A month later he had moved to DC and began working at minibar, where he still is. What you'd take now instead of showpieces, be it confectionery, bon bon, bread, viennoiserie, whether you'd sign up for Albert Adria, Wybauw, Jacquy & Sebastian, etc, depends on whether you see your future in restaurants, hotels, catering, banquets, a little bakery of your own so it can run you into the ground, a wedding cake business, an artisinal chocolate business so you can go into hock for an enrober, etc. Spending, say $2000 on tuition, which you can deduct, would be a wise move even if you were incredibly happy with your present situation. Scholarships, I'm afraid I have no clue. When PA&D "10 Best" Richard Ruskell left the Phoenician and opened his own patisserie in town, he first went to France to take a few week long classes, I believe at LeNotre, one of them was on viennoisserie. I forget what the other one was, but I think what's clearly changed since then is that these better programs and instructors are now coming here because the money and perceived market is here. You don't have to go as far to prepare or pad the resume. Richard's pastry shop, unfortunately, has since closed but he's back in the high end resort game, running the Montage in Laguna Beach, CA. I don't think it failed because of any shortage of skill on his part, or because he didn't take the right classes, he's incredibly talented. It's just very tough to sustain a living as a pastry chef in our current market--and every market is different, local and peculiar. I think my general recommendations would be different for someone with 5 years experience who was 25, someone with no experience at 35 and someone with 10 years experience, no formal training and 40+ and the thing career-changers really have to focus in on is that being a chef and working on your feet is a young man's game--it usually takes a younger energy to compete--not in a competition per se but compete in this field and attract attention to yourself. Why do you think all the middle-aged pastry chefs like us are trying to teach or start their own businesses or consult or write books? This is the life otherwise: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...5052800490.html A thought--for pastry, you have to be an owner or in control your own destiny or be positioning yourself to control your own destiny right now. That's the lesson we should have been heeding of Payard, Torres, Norman Love, Patrice Demers, Drew Shotts, Jacquy and Ewald, Gale Gand, Sherry Yard, the Vosges chocolate person, etc. That's why you also see more pastry chefs than ever considering the chocolate or wedding cake route: those are self-contained independent ownership situations. We've been saying this on eGullet since day one. Norman Love is 100% correct that pastry chefs are more in demand than ever: I just don't think he finishes the statement with what all of us--working pros and prospective students--really need to hear: that compensation has not followed increases in 1) demand, 2) skills and 3) pastry school enrollments. Not enough chefs understand that in hiring pastry chefs, they get what they pay for: average quality at average wages. I'd like someone, anyone, to demonstrate that pastry chefs have more security now, not less--there's still no shortage of crappy work out there nor enough consumers able to appreciate the difference to put pressure on chefs to change their hiring practices. And I see more elite chefs hiring younger pastry students right out of school, for very little, and "grooming" them rather than hiring someone already skilled, already known, and already talented, and compensating them accordingly. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing--industries will always be in transition, there's close-minded older blood refusing to adapt and innovate that needs to be weeded out and it's really much better to be talented and hard-working than "secure" anyway, because if you are talented and open-minded you can move around, your talent opens doors, and your talent can always set up its own shop! The real question is--are pastry classes the answer to help you leverage your talents and skills and outlook? Or would you be better off, at this point in your career arc, putting the same amount of money into media training, into hiring a cool web designer to project what you have to offer and what you have accomplished, or into hiring a part-time publicist to do the same? But since you mentioned DC, let's briefly talk DC, it's star is on the rise nationally, most objective folks place DC in the nation's top 10 if not top 5 right now, and let me draw a Chicago comparison. I can tell you Gale co-owns Tru, Della is at Trotter, and Michel Briand is at Ambria (I believe he may be a partner in that Ambria/Mon Ami Gabi/Cafe Ba Bareeba group, maybe not, but he's been doing excellent work there for a long time and is very happy there.) Every serious foodie in Chicago, probably, could tell you this as well. Granted Chicago has much more high-end depth than DC, but let's take our three best high-end restaurants right now: Citronelle, Restaurant Eve and Maestro and look at their pastry chefs: Citronelle, with the pre-eminent Michel Richard, I can't tell you who the pastry chef is at the moment, I'm not sure anyone who doesn't work there ever can; Restaurant Eve has someone young and inexperienced right out of L'Academie, probably their first pastry job, the chef is "grooming" her; Maestro, in the Ritz, has another young right-out-of-L'Academie pastry grad and Fabio is grooming her. This is DC--you think it's better around the country the further you get from the top 10 markets? This seems more the rule to me, not the exception, around the country I'm afraid. Taking any more classes won't help you attain these positions, or command a better salary. And these are at the better places. Otherwise, you're still going to make $10 net or so an hour, maybe a few dollars more in hotels but lose a little more of your soul in banquets and midnight bakeoffs while you "pay your dues." You'll have to make due with less equipment over time, not more, if you stay in restaurants. For pastry grads young and not so young this is the life which awaits: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...5052800490.html except coming fresh out of school you'll be behind the dishwasher who has just been shown how to clean squid, who'll already be faster at it than you. Read this article from a few years ago and pay particular attention to Jacques Torres's comments: http://newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/food/features/n_8710/ Interesting assessment, huh? Too bad THAT's not required reading and that's not discussed more openly. I think you may be taking the 10 Best comment the wrong way--the right way to take it is don't devalue yourself: that the desserts you just created for Douglas Rodriguez down in Miami just might be better and more interesting--right now--than what several of the recent PA&D 10 Best have done for their more conservative chefs, clientele or restaurants. You're open-minded and you've successfully used a PacoJet and studied and cooked your way through both Ducasse Spoon AND Adria and Balaguer--have they? Has the 28 year old French whiz kid who has already been in the kitchen for 15 years doing things the "French" way? I doubt it. The only difference is, you haven't found the right environment to be appreciated in yet, and to mention a few names from last year's 10 Best like Randy Sebastian, John Miele or Mark Chapman, they were recognized by PA&D for whatever accumulation of reasons, while you're still waiting for your big media break. That's the only difference. That might come from Food Arts, from a NY Times writer visiting your city, a well-networked chef who you impress at a charity gig, a local tv station, someone you meet at a charity event, you just never know. If you are in a restaurant context, it helps to align yourself with and develop a synergistic relationship with, an amazing chef, even if it means you take a bit of a cut in salary. The chef will always drive this business and if he or she has confidence in you that will help you position yourself, and propel you forward, more than most classes. Remember Patrice Demers in Montreal? Before he opened his restaurant, he didn't take many classes, he travelled around Europe and the States instead, eating at all the most interesting places and absorbing what he could. He was teaching himself. Then, as a pastry chef-partner he set about creating, doing his own thing. He's still in business. We can always get better at the process, the techniques, and as Drewman said that's always going to be the value of those short focused classes. On one hand, I'd love to go to Chicago to see Albert Adria in action and just groove off his vibe, because you know lots of other talented p-chefs will be there on that scene--can't you just taste the energy? On the other hand, sometimes it isn't really about classes at all--look what happened to Pat Coston: another PA&D 10 Best, medal winner in the Carymax competitions, 3-star NY Times restaurant review while he was at Ilo, starts making chocolates, praise follows in multiple national print magazines including Gourmet for his chocolates, and now that's no more. I haven't talked to Pat since he closed up his chocolate business--but I guarantee you it wasn't because he needed to improve his palate, his sense of flavor, his media savvy, his network or his technical pastry or chocolate skills. He had the full package. Maybe looking back he would say even he needed to spend some time with a Wybauw or stage in a production facility, I don't know but that's the kind of research you should do going in--and then budget your time and dollars accordingly. I don't know that any of us can predict what may turn out to be more important: to attend class, to use our tuition money instead to fund our projects, to travel, to stage or to eat our way around Barcelona. No matter what you decide, no matter how well you prepare, it's still going to be a gamble, a very personal roll of the dice. There are too many skills you're not going to be taught at any pastry school which just may be the most important skills you need to acquire.
  11. That's because, be it bread or chocolate, none of us wants to give up the hope that this time will be the exception. If enough people keep clinging to that, every artisan in the country should be fine.
  12. I feel like such a dope asking this, but what is granular gelatin? I've used powder and sheets, can't say that I've ever seen granular. Advantages, disadvantages, anyone? ALTAF--is there any chance your granular gelatin that won't melt is really agar agar?
  13. many fascinating tangents on this thread, I keep coming back to this observation of cotovelo. most of all they should taste good. sounds just like what I say about any dish or dessert I receive in a restaurant, whether it's traditional or avant garde. As a diner I have an open mind and palate and neither the look, nor the influence, is really that important until after I taste something. Then I process. How much of this issue is related to our suspicion, or our personal experience, that the average US consumer hasn't tasted enough good chocolate to "tell" good chocolate? My experience--you put a really good piece of chocolate in someone's mouth, and most get that it's good--they get that there's more there there--but they're not necessarily willing to pay for it. The problem with mass-produced chocolates, for me, is not that they're mass produced! It's not their perfect look, their well-machined homogeneity--it's their taste. If manufacturers used better, more interesting couvertures and tried to surpass even average standards rather than too-sweet, dull, minimally acceptable ones--I'd be all over them. As it is, I have to spit most out. The problem with the Michel Cluizel line of commercial bon bons and their private label stuff was not that it was made in a large clean mechanized factory--the problem was they weren't using their best, most interesting couvertures, they were using their cheapest and they weren't pushing flavor foward toward something more complex. That was their choice based on how they perceived their market. And conversely, while I respect the smaller-scale and pseudo-artisanal process, and it holds appeal for me going in, and while that is the reason I'm willing to pay more for a given product, it will be the taste, depth, delicacy and unctuousness that will keep me returning. I can forgive a little dullness or a little lack of thinness or uneven coloring, on both the mass-produced and the artisanal, if the taste still springs alive in my mouth and after I've swallowed. I also don't care whether I have a hand-rolled truffle, a hand-dipped palet, a molded chocolate or an enrobed chocolate in front of me--delicious is delicious and it either is or it isn't. Odds are, if the care and love and skill wasn't employed in creating a professional appearance, it also wasn't employed in creating the taste, but I'm going to let taste be my initial guide anyway. Appearance, marketing and promotion aside, and I realize appearance is usually a very good indicator of the quality contained within, how sure are we that given average consumers would prefer, say, the taste of an Herme/Wegmans chocolate, which I think on the whole are quite good, tasted blindly against a Godiva? And how much of the concerns expressed on this thread stem from our fear that said given consumer would choose a Godiva over those hand-made or produced on a much smaller-scale not based on taste but on appearance--or heaven forbid, packaging design alone? Stylish box, cute ribbon and trendy color scheme, and price point, is that what'll keep em coming back in droves?
  14. Sim, you're obviously thinking of this from the immediate perspective of your new job and the restaurant you are opening. I've opened three restaurants and had to make a decision how to approach ice cream/sorbet production and it is not easy--much of it depends on the number of seats, what the rest of your equipment budget is (i.e. for freezer space) and the decision-making process is ultimately out of your hands unless you are an owner. When I opened Zaytinya a few years ago, I somehow managed to talk Jose Andres into buying two PacoJets because I really wanted to work with them heavily. As you know, the restaurant is very large, 225+ seats and almost always packed out, a thousand covers on Friday or Saturday. The advantage of a tabletop batch freezer is you can do your ice creams and sorbets the traditional way, with stabilizers, you can follow the clear FPS Jacquy Pfeiffer formula method to calculate what % you need of different sugars, you can keep gallons of the stuff frozen in perfect shape assuming you have the freezer space and the cooks don't keep opening and closing the freezer and putting their hot stuff in to cool down with your ice cream. Being inherently stubborn, though, I felt like we had to pioneer a volume approach for the Pacojet, since we were able to get a very nice package deal for TWO Pacojets plus like 4 dozen beakers for less than the cost of the smallest Taylor or Coldelite. The dollar has moved since, so this deal is no longer available, but at the time we were able to save money, even by factoring in the cost of two yearly service calls on each machine since we were going to use them heavily. I figured if one ever broke, we could survive on one machine until the other returned. I think Will has mentioned a Rolls-Royce of a system, all but out of reach for a handful in this country, and Ted has covered a lot of good Paco ground--the real Paco pioneer in this country was Jacques Torres when he was still at Le Cirque, Gray Kunz had given him one--and Jacques did some very nice things with it--it was from him I learned the trick of freezing beakers, then dipping them in warm water just enough to loosen the cylinder of frozen base, letting it slide out and wrapping in plastic. That was the way you could push volume without buying as many beakers as you needed. When it came time to spin, you just unwrapped a plastic pouch, dropped it in a metal beaker, and spun. Chefette was staging at the time with Jacques and saw this method work well--they had a special little self-contained two-person temperature-regulated plating station inside their busy production kitchen which was quite ahead of its time. The Paco is ideal for smaller restaurants where you have the time to spin what you need a la minute, but you have to have a freezer that gets subzero. You can also use the Pacojet for volume--you just need a very meticulous approach and have the support of your chefs. Ideally, you need one freezer dedicated to deep-freeze the beakers, and a separate service freezer, either freestanding or built-in to the counter, which you can keep at a warmer service temperature--that is really important, I'm higher than 10 degrees Ted but that's personal preference--and that way you can spin multiples of beakers in advance right before service and hold them in the service freezer. You don't want to spin too many too soon and you don't want to re-spin anything that has been in the warmer service freezer. It's very tough to use the PacoJet in a shared-freezer environment. Whatever you think you know about making ice cream and sorbet in a batch freezer, you'll have to re-think and re-work for the Paco. So that'll take added time to adjust and in a rush to open you may not have that time. When we opened I only had the service freezer completely to myself--and what I was doing was turning it to its coldest setting at night, then the next morning--after spinning for lunch--gradually turning the setting down, making it slightly warmer. That worked until the standalone deep freezer came in and I could keep two separate temperature zones. That said, we eventually cut back to 1 Pacojet and bought a tabletop batch freezer for Zaytinya, shifting the 2nd Paco over to another restaurant, Cafe Atlantic/minibar. It was hard to keep up with the volume and not let quality suffer at Zaytinya. That meant I had to change up some recipes, develop some new ones to keep the quality of each comparable, we now have a smaller Paco program and a batch freezer program there simultaneously. In the other restaurants we have either the smallest tabletop Taylor, like the 104 I think, and in others we use the smallest tabletop Coldelite, I think that's the LB-100. There's not much functional difference between the two models--both chill quickly and well--one you pour from the top through a funnel and the door is a little more difficult to remove and clean--the other you pour through a front-mounted plastic spout, which can be problematic with slightly thicker mixtures, but it has an easier-to-remove and clean mechanism. Both expel a lot of heat. Be careful with whatever model you get, they'll have little plastic/rubber/silicone gasket or O-rings: lose them and you're sunk. If I had to choose one, I'd probably give the nod to the Coldelite--it seems slightly more convenient to use. Either of these three machines can handle production for a busy restaurant if you have sufficient freezer space. I've never worked in a larger place, so I can't comment on the next step up the chain, but many of the better hotels outsource ice cream like they do frozen doughs, bake-off viennoisserie, Chocolates a la carte, etc. There's obviously more risk for you with a single Paco in terms of backup, repair/turn-around and in terms of your staff not screwing it up--it isn't as foolproof, since things are turning at such high speeds a little mis-alignment and you're sunk. Many small to medium restaurant pastry chefs in your position don't have the luxury of working for a generous owner when it comes to equipment, and my hope is you don't have to out-source all of your frozen components and can make them in-house instead. Creatively and spiritually, that's the best option.
  15. I'm afraid it's not behind the curve, Steve. This subject is very rarely discussed by those considering entering the field, most who do aren't prepared for the reality that awaits them. We need more of this, not less, even if it feels like it has been done before. There's always room for more sophisticated writers to connect the dots for the more critically-aware readers and diners, but this piece will come as a shock to, oh, say, 500,000 Post readers living outside the Beltway (not to mention a nationwide net audience) who sometimes forget how well they have it, as they put the paper down on their granite countertop and take sip of fresh squeezed OJ this morning. And, I'm not confident that the majority of big-city diners are past this brutal point of awareness, let alone the casual strip-mall diner out with their family. And I know that incoming culinary students, weaned on the potential celebrity of the Food Network, looking for an alternative to college, have not read these types of pieces enough to the degree that it has sunk in--to realize that once they are out of school they'll be behind the dishwasher who was shown how to clean squid, and who is already doing it wickedly fast without compaint because his very livelihood depends on it.
  16. Add this to the required reading list for anyone considering a career-change and going $35,000 in debt to attend a culinary school. Tough to pay back those loans on $8 an hour, no health insurance, vacation time or sick leave. Very compelling piece, I'm glad the Post editors decided to run it on the front page and above the fold.
  17. we got it from Amazon.fr a few months ago, Ted, with Chronopost expedited shipping it arrived in 3 days and I think paid 38 euros total. It's not in the manner of the big Thuries magazine spread or the Food Arts features on Philippe--those to date are the best collections of Conticini recipes, inventiveness and presentation available to the working pastry chef--this book is similar to the Herme "Plaisirs sucres" in scope--more basic, more straightforward for the pro or home cook, with simpler recipes and presentations, no in process shots, nothing like an Adria or Ducasse book, etc. Anything by Philippe is worthwhile for the US pro, just realize 'Tentations' is purposely a little stripped down. If Philippe were a musician this would be his "unplugged" album.
  18. Best summary I've read in a long time, thanks for taking the time to share in such detail and welcome to eG. Years ago I worked for a week with Francois Joneaux in the Michel Cluizel factory, and between us we covered and confirmed just about everything on your list except the invertase and vacuum--that wasn't yet in the lab, which was just being constructed. Our biggest divide was attaining flavor which didn't compromise storage--Francois was very traditional and I kept trying to tempt him by reducing sweetness, pushing flavor a bit more forward while keeping a texture and subtlety he approved of. Like you, he eschewed the more well-known chocolatiers who sold out to preservatives and deep freezing. Instead of pate de cacao, have you ever tried using the Cluizel 85% to blend in? And do you feel your flavors are so subtle that you could still taste that you used a varietal behind them in anything other than a natural ganache? Please report back with your invertase tests, that's fascinating to me and I'm sure many others reading along.
  19. will, I spent a week in Conticini's research lab in Paris and there's one item he has that chefette didn't put on her list for you that I think you'll want to have: a really good juicer/extractor. Philippe used that thing all the time and my guess would be as you're going to explore new flavor directions, you'll use a juicer as much or more than a dehydrator to generate your raw liquid and powdered materials. And I'm sure the lesson you took away from your visit to Adria is that chefs documenting and tracking their progress visually is key--be it video or digital images--so heed all the advice for appropriate computers, fast internet access, software, cameras, hard drive storage, displays, etc. If you are not strong in this area, better to ally with people who are and bring them into your project to do what they do best, which would free you up to do what you do best. I think how you announce/release/relate to media/advertise/share/gain momentum will be a very personal decision. The perception of molecular gastronomy is catchy within certain media circles, the challenge I think for someone setting up a "lab" will be whether it can be viable apart from actually serving customers--like a chef serves dinner in a restaurant. If part of your business plan is to partner with other chefs/pastry chefs/scientists--or at least plan to have a roster of rotating inventive guest chefs and their scientist collaborators featured--I think your lab would be better positioned. Unless you're able to attract corporate sponsorship, the conundrum for someone leaning toward a more pure research approach who wants to move his or her idea of MG forward--in the lab or in isolation--is that at the end of the day, there's still the core transaction between chef and diner to worry about--and then, no matter how literate and intelligent you are, you're back being a blue collar worker with tough margins serving a mostly unappreciative public. And that public--not to mention food media--still has a hard time realizing that there can be both good and bad traditional cooking, let alone good and bad avant garde attempts.
  20. Will, you could just call up Jacques Torres and ask him if he'd show you his system--he does the vacuum method trish mentioned and he's a good guy when it comes to sharing with other pros. That is if you haven't already blown your startup equipment budget.
  21. Anne--based on some of the pms I've been receiving, there's wider interest in this aspect, so let's pull that out and discuss it in a general thread: just how do pastry chefs, bakers, cake artists, get known, get asked to be involved in opportunities like this, what have been some strategies that have worked for people getting their first media placement, etc. We have a first batch of cake photos tweaked in Photoshop and ready to post. I'm attaching the names of as many of the cake artists to their cakes right now that I can remember--then we're back on the road to DC and will followup later. pan--all that exterior work on the cake you like, by Margaret Braun, is piped royal icing. And as everyone will see when we load more images--the edible printed transfer technique was very popular wrapping, there were at least 8 cakes using it. Since the Hall was very dark, we're only going to post images of cakes that we thought were lit fairly well and captured the colors of those cakes correctly. We'll need help from the eG community to identify a few artists and cakes that we didn't remember.
  22. Colleen and I are going to show how to make those flowers during the demo and I'll try to remember to take some closeup and process shots. I found out on site last night that I can't do the demo with tempered chocolate that we had planned--turns out no approval of electricity for either a microwave or induction burner was granted--so we're going to change gears this morning and prep for modelling chocolate techniques (and just bring all the tempered elements done in advance.) The list of "bakers" is up: http://www.brides.com/cakewalk/
  23. Maria's food stylist hard at work getting one cake after another ready for their closeups--she's the unsung hero behind all those who shipped cakes cross country: The floor of the studio stacked with shipping boxes labelled just like this Michael shooting my cake in the negative: And here's my cake in the foreground just after taking it out of its insulated box to check for breakage and before adding the final touches. Since I was by myself on this trip, I took the chance of putting a lot of decor on ahead of time: It had just been ID'd with a polaroid.
  24. Thank you for noticing that Kate. I wanted to give our forum something but didn't want to diminish the official unveiling--and that's why I stressed that those cakes I did happen to tease with weren't necessarily finished. Bri, I haven't had time to followup about the demo schedule, I'm not involved in the organization of this, but remember--these demos are going to be for the layman, to grab the attention of the typical commuter walking by, and are not geared for other pros, though I think we all can learn from any level demo. I get questions all the time from students and chefs about how to get involved, how do you get asked to be involved with events like this, etc. and one of the ways you do get asked is to get out there and let media and other chefs get to know you--when you're given an opportunity to be involved in an event you do it and you do it well. So for me, rachel and cakesuite especially, being tired wasn't even a concern, everyone in the biz is tired and scrambling just to fit everything in they can but there's a limited window when you work on your feet and with your hands. In my case I was flattered to be asked for several reasons: because I think it's important to raise public awareness of chocolate as a medium on wedding cakes, it's important for there to be a DC presence in NYC and nationally (I think I may be the only one invited from DC-MD-VA), and though it's been my restaurant work for Jose Andres that has gotten more attention of late, I'll always have elegant cakes in my heart. In my case I decided not to ship my cake--chocolate is not as resilient as sugar--I think most of the cake artists did ship their cake and styled a cake with separately-packed sugar decor which could be shipped: gum paste and pastillage is much more resilient than you might think. I have no idea how Maria and her team plan to deliver all of the cakes to Grand Central today--but I'll be driving up from DC and bringing mine over around 2PM. (I asked for, and was granted, an exception because I was doing chocolate--which required greater care, temperature sensitivity.) And though the studio (front entrance on Broadway) was on the 9th floor--there was a very nice freight elevator in back--on Crosby Street--which I had no trouble double-parking the Subaru wagon on, whipping out my $40 Costco flatbed, putting the insulated/boxed cake on it, and sending it up the elevator with one of Maria and Michael's assistants. I asked for their studio number ahead of time, and called them from my cell as I turned onto Crosby so they could meet me at the elevator. That took three minutes, then I went to park. I had to do Thursday's photoshoot by myself, the real talent in this relationship (chefette) couldn't get away from DC for this--normally one of us would have stayed with the cake and the other parked. I have more behind-the-scenes images I'll probably start posting tonight and then this opens tomorrow so anyone can post their favorite full-on shots. There were 5 or 6 cakes that I saw (when I was in the studio) that I thought were really, really special, but again, most were not finished yet by the stylist. I believe you will be able to view the cakes tonight in Vanderbilt Hall, though they might be covered up somehow until tommorow. Other q's: those pink boxes were not cakes, those seemed to be gift bags, props or giveaways probably for the event itself--the assistants working on those were relegated to one small corner; also realize this would have been much more stressful and tiring if we were talking about displaying real cakes and not artwork on styrofoam. That means significantly less chance of something tall and architectural toppling over, that you could use a glue gun, we're talking a few pounds rather than 50 pounds+ and these cakes won't be cut or tasted. I think there is a tasting element but I wasn't asked to serve any samples, just demo. Oh, and one upside to travelling is you get to listen to your iPod for 4 hours straight, which doesn't happen that often.
  25. So, as a tease, here are three pictures from today--my day off began at 6AM with a 4 hour drive from DC to the NoHo studio of photographer Michael Grand so he could shoot my Cakewalk cake, it was cool the whole way, 59 degrees, as Kate predicted so my trip ending up being easy. His loft was maybe 60 feet by 35 feet and it was already packed with cakes--it was split into two functional halves--the right side was where he lit and shot the cakes, the left was where all the cakes were lined up on cardtables, four rows of about 10 cakes each, with stylists assembling them. Most of the designers had shipped them or dropped them off and Maria's team was busy assembling them and repairing any damage so Michael could shoot them. That's 50 or so cakes in two days, which is maybe 10 times the normal amount of cakes a pro would shoot in a day. Still, this was very professional, I can't tell you the number of times I've been involved with pastry events and competitions where NO thought was given to capturing any of our work adequately on film or digitally. En masse, the cakes will then be installed in Grand Central on Monday by Maria and her team. I have no idea who these cakes belong to, we'll all have to wait until the official unveiling at Grand Central, but Maria and her savvy team do--that's because the minute you walked into the studio they took a Polaroid of your cake and labelled it so there was no confusion later. The Polaroid stayed with your cake. I'm guessing there were 30 cakes from out of town--based on the number of boxes lying around--and most people shipped their decor separately from the fondant covered tiers--and sent along a picture of the cake the way they'd like it assembled. If your fondant is dry, this method can work well. Just remember you are not looking at complete cakes--most of these still had decor to be placed on them and had not been photographed yet. Here's a wall o' cake shot to give you a sense of the East half of the studio, a shot of Michael and his great assistant just outside their "tent" on the West half, and how they kept track of their progress by posting a Polaroid of each cake that had been shot. Mine was number 15: I didn't dare walk down any of the aisles between cakes, there was maybe 2 feet of room. You can't see it in this picture, but Maria was ensconced on the far wall with her iMac, keeping track of everything, nailing down final logistics, talking on her cell phone, resolving delivery problems. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to coordinate 50 "bakers" as Maria likes to call all of us for an exhibition like this. More later. Another 4 hour drive and I was back home. I have a menu change tomorrow at one of the restaurants and have to get ready.
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