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Diary: November 17, 2002

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Thursday, November 14

Another market basket day. These just keep getting more fun. Today we went down to two-person teams for the market basket. I was paired with Zoe. We started brainstorming ideas and came up with a menu fairly quickly:

Vol-au-vent (puff pastry shell) with leeks and oyster mushrooms in cream sauce

Seared duck breast with port wine-fig reduction sauce, potatoes Anna, haricots verts

Lemon-ginger pound cake with lemon mascarpone cream

Zoe wanted to work on the puff pastry and the dessert, so I agreed to help with the mise en place for the veg in cream sauce and got to work on the entrée. I took apart two whole ducks (I can’t believe how easy this is for me to do now) and trimmed down the breasts. I got my green beans blanched and ready to be finished. I went ahead and peeled the potatoes and got them tourneed into a roundish shape; I didn’t want to slice them before I started cooking them since I didn’t want them to lose starch to the soaking water.

I then went and talked to Chef Peter about the figs; I’d never worked with them before and felt I needed more information on their preparation before getting started. I ended up cutting some of them in half and stewing them down slowly in port wine for use as garnish. I diced the rest for the sauce. I’m rather proud of my sauce; it was a mysterious deep purple color, with beautiful fig seeds looking like tiny stars floating about. I made the sauce by sweating shallots in the pan I used to sear the duck breasts, adding the diced figs, and deglazing with lots of port wine. I cooked the wine down until almost completely dry and then added demi-glace and cooked to sauce consistency. I strained the sauce, mounted it with butter, and spooned it into a puddle under the sliced, fanned duck.

Everything I prepared was excellent. Each time we have had a market basket, I have cooked intelligently and with a lot of heart, and the plates I’ve produced have been the best ones I have created at school. There’s a lot of pressure with the market baskets to produce something really creative and top-notch. My ideas aren’t the most original ones, certainly, but they’re well thought-out and I’ve been able to execute them very closely to my pre-cooking visions. A nice feeling.

Friday, November 15

Second to last test of the semester. Here is what appeared on the menu:

Eggs benedict

Quiche lorraine with dauphine potatoes (mashed potato-cream puff dough mix, deep-fried)

Chocolate mousse with cigarette cookies

I’m sorry to report that this was the first time I finished late. I’m embarrassed by this because the menu did not include any one technically difficult item (except hollandaise, which we’ve been tested on before), because I was the very last one in my group to finish, and because I didn’t plan well. I was unable to think clearly and dragging quite a bit from having been sick all week. I kept having to run back for additional items I’d forgotten, including at the very last moment when I remembered I needed chopped chives to garnish my eggs Benedict and had to race across the kitchen with them to beat Chef Peter to my table.

On the other hand, I paid serious attention to every dish I made, and took my time to make sure my execution was perfect in every detail. I’m particularly proud of my quiche; the crust was thin and brown and crisp, the eggs attractively brown on top with flecks of green parsley, the filling an exact brunoise of onion and bacon. The cigarette cookies and mousse were spot-on as well; Chef Peter picked up the cookies and said, “Thin to win.” I lost a point on time and a point on using too many supplies (I boiled two potatoes rather than one for the potatoes dauphine), plus there were minor issues with my hollandaise (not enough salt) and potatoes (not enough pate a chou in the mix). Despite these shortcomings I think I may have my best score yet on a practical from this test.

The written test was short and, for me, fairly simple. We were quizzed on lots of things we hadn’t talked about or gone over in a long time, like gumbo and charlotte royale. I think I did fairly well just the same. After I finished, I stuck around for a half hour and learned to crack lobsters (Chef Francois needed them for a wine dinner scheduled for tomorrow). There was lots more to do, but I was starting to feel lightheaded from exhaustion. I’d just cooked my heart out for two days and was completely run-down from sickness. I begged off and went home and slept for almost three hours. Phew.

Sunday, November 17

I had told Barbara, who helps students arrange externships, that I would try to trail in a restaurant this Sunday. However, I was so exhausted and wrung-out that I couldn’t bring myself to call the place I was interested in checking out. I am still trailing at Ortanique on Friday of this week, but the deadline for finding an externship was technically this past Friday and I wanted to show a good-faith effort that I was working on the problem.

At this point I am one of only two students lacking an externship, and it’s becoming a bigger issue than my internal struggle over working in a restaurant kitchen. I had a mini-breakdown of sorts last night on the subject, partly because I have a paper due on Friday that I had hoped to postpone writing until I found my externship. The assignment is to interview a local chef, and most people are naturally interviewing the chefs where they will be working. I had intended to do just that, but it clearly wasn’t going to happen in time for me to turn in the paper.

I woke up this morning knowing exactly what I needed to do about the paper. I also felt energetic and eager for the first time in a week. I made a resolution to deal with the externship problem as thoroughly as I could over the course of this week, even if it means trailing several nights in several places. And I decided to visit Colorado Kitchen, a newish restaurant in a DC neighborhood close to my Maryland home, to interview the chef there for my paper due this Friday.

I chose Gillian Clark of Colorado Kitchen because she is running a Southern-American type restaurant in a neighborhood with no sit-down dining whatsoever. There is little Southern style food in DC, and few people can find the resources to open full-service restaurants in underserved neighborhoods. I went at the very beginning of dinner service and sat at the bar and asked Chef Gillian if I could interview her, and she seemed flattered and agreed to talk to me tomorrow. I ate dinner and wrote the parts of my paper about the restaurant dining room and menu before returning home. I look forward to talking with her tomorrow, and feel good that I’ve at least done something about the paper problem.

(By the way, I do not expect it is possible for me to extern at Colorado Kitchen. Their kitchen is so tiny that unless somebody quits, there’s no way to squeeze in another employee. I plan to ask her about it tomorrow anyway, though, just to see what she says.)

Seared Duck Breast with Fig-Port Reduction Sauce


Port wine


Sea salt and white pepper

Duck breasts



Whole butter

Halve figs. Stew in wine, sugar and seasonings. Season duck breasts. Sear and finish in oven. Degrease searing pan and soften shallots. Add diced figs and cook down. Add port wine and cook a sec. Add demi-glace. Adjust seasoning and strain sauce. Mount with butter and serve with duck.

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The duck sounds like heaven on a plate!!! The puff pastry with leeks and mushrooms sounds terrific as well. I think I'd like to try it and maybe use it as my 1st course for Christmas dinner. When you have a moment, if you could share the rest of the recipe, that would be great.

My mom LOVES your biscotti from this summer.

Thanks again for these posts.

Stop Family Violence

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I chose Gillian Clark of Colorado Kitchen because she is running a Southern-American type restaurant in a neighborhood with no sit-down dining whatsoever. There is little Southern style food in DC, and few people can find the resources to open full-service restaurants in underserved neighborhoods.

Do you mean this is basically a take-out place? At first I didn't understand what you meant by it having "no sit-down dining whatsoever" but then I figured that's what it meant. Correct?

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Rachel, sorry for the confusion. Colorado Kitchen does ONLY sit-down full-service dining. They are the only food service of this sort in their neighborhood. The only other food nearby is either a carryout (the sort that serves Chinese food and wings from behind bulletproof glass) or a grocery/market with a sandwich counter (these places often sell more beer and wine than bread and milk). Colorado Kitchen does not offer any sort of carryout service partly as a counterpoint to the other options in the area.

Dana, you flatter me so. Here is a recipe for the starter from last Thursday, which was an idea Zoe came up with:

Vol-Au-Vent with Oyster Mushrooms and Leeks in Thyme Cream

Puff pastry

Shallots, fine brunoise

Whole butter

Leeks, cut to batonnet size

Oyster mushrooms, cut into moderate slices

Garlic, pasted with salt

Thyme, fresh

Sea salt and white pepper

Heavy cream

Prepare puff vol-au-vents: Roll puff pastry to 1/4" thickness. Dock. Cut with 3" round scalloped cookie cutter. Mark center with smaller cookie cutter by pressing the cutter into the dough, but not cutting all the way through. Bake as usual for puff pastry. When baked and dried, let cool and pry off the marked lids. Remove any doughy bits inside to form a shell.

Sweat shallots in butter. Add leeks and sweat. Season. Add mushrooms and sweat slowly. Add garlic and thyme. Cook down. Add heavy cream and cook to sauce consistency. Remove thyme and serve mixture in warmed vol-au-vents; put have the mixture spill out of the shell onto the plate and set the lid at an angle atop the mixture.

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