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Diary: July 24, 2002


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Monday, July 22

Our first tests are Friday. There will be both a written and a practical exam, plus our notebooks are due for their first grading. My class has been somewhat anxious about these impending evaluations, and we’ve all been asking one another what we’re doing to prepare. For my part, I hope to review most of my notes, and get my recipe notebook together early this week so I don’t have to worry about it on Thursday.

I asked Drew this morning if he’d started on Kitchen Confidential over the weekend. He reported he’d gotten through the intro and the first two chapters. I’m already proud of him. “I actually enjoyed it! It’s not like reading math books or anything.”

I felt a little intellectually sluggish this morning, so I volunteered to work in the pastry kitchen rather than cooking for lunch service. I produced four lovely lemon-scented pound cakes. I borrowed a Microplane zester from one of the pastry students, a guy who is a dead ringer for Bill Clinton in his late 20s. The pastry students are starting to recognize me and talk to me more, which is nice. I haven’t really gotten at any of their

personal stories yet, but it’s clear they don’t view me as an interloper (probably because I’m humble about their capabilities in comparison to my own in a pastry kitchen).

After the pound cake was in the oven, I joined my team in the main kitchen and did whatever could be done for lunch service. (Menu: cream of celery root soup, composed salad of frisee, hazelnuts, apples, and blue cheese, chicken chasseur with spaghetti squash, and the pound cake with a fruit compote.) Once lunch began I ferried out dishes to the faculty and staff members who were our designees for the day.

Catherine, the receptionist, is one of my favorite people to feed. She’s so genuinely happy to see me, she’s a pleasure to serve. When I brought her salad course, she said to me, “You seem really happy to be here, Rochelle.” I smiled and told her I’d dreamt of coming to school for years, and I’m excited that it’s a reality. “I can tell.” Later, I brought her a pretty bowl of compote with a mint leaf since she wanted to avoid the pound cake, and she complimented my presentation skills.

Chef Peter was at our table for lunch. I found an opportunity to ask him, “What do you think of the state of dining in DC?” He responded, “It’s a helluva lot better than it was when I moved here 10 years ago. For a city its size it does all right. It’s never gonna be a New York, though.” He didn’t say much more, but I don’t think he was holding back, I think he was just distracted.

After lunch, I was rotated off of dish duty and onto cleaning the main kitchen. I wrapped up leftover pound cake, and cleaned the reach-in doors and the stove plates. Main kitchen duty is much more pleasant than dish duty, since it’s not nearly as nasty as washing leftover egg dishes. The pastry people don’t use the main kitchen, but they do contribute to the dish workload. (The dish issue is the only thing about pastry students that annoys me, although the faculty imply that there’s an inherent tension between pastry and culinary career training students through things they say and do.)

Post-break, Chef Francois came to talk to us about cuts of beef. I now know the difference between a porterhouse and a T-bone steak, and I know where the tenderloin is and what cuts come off of it.

Tuesday, July 23

The injury inventory continues to grow. Today I snagged my thumb on the crinkle blade of a mandoline. Today’s lunch menu included potato gaufrettes (waffle chips), and I’d immediately volunteered for the task since I haven’t had a chance to play with the mandoline yet, and also because this was the first time we deep-fat fried. I set up the device okay, and started whaling on a few peeled potatoes. For some reason, they weren’t coming out right. Most of the chips were too thick at one end, and I couldn’t get any good-sized slices going at all…they were all small. I fussed with the machine, adjusting it and testing the blade, and I asked my teammate Kristin to look at it too. Finally, I gave up and asked Chef Peter to come look at it and tell me what was wrong. He tried cutting a few chips, messed with the blade, tried again, and then inspected the blade close-up. “This mandoline has a warped crinkle blade. Find another one to use.” Four potatoes, a cut on my thumb, and a lot of time all to find out it was a problem with the equipment! I borrowed a mandoline from another table and quickly cranked out a big bowl of uncooked chips.

Once they were cut, I took a big stack of paper towels over to the stove, where a pot of oil was already set up for frying the chips. I started drying the chips, adding them to the oil, and then turning out finished chips into a bowl lined with more paper towels. I only fried 5 or 6 at a time because I didn’t want to crowd the oil, but I’d cut a LOT of chips and so it took me quite a while to get through them. Chef Peter stopped by and told me some of my chips were overdone. I tasted a darker one and got a bitter aftertaste. I wonder how they make those “russet” darker potato chips you can buy in some stores? They’re not bitter, not really anyway. Fortunately, since there were so many chips, it wasn’t a big deal that some were overdone.

Today’s menu was filled with many delicious things: a butternut squash soup, napoleons using the gaufrettes and the gravlax we made Friday with mache salad and a mustard vinaigrette, a zucchini and tomato tart with some sauteed potatoes, and then a Paris Brest for dessert (a ring of almond-coated chou paste filled with hazelnut-flavored pastry cream).

“Butternut squash soup” appeared on le menu in English, as did yesterday’s spaghetti squash. I asked Chef Peter, “What’s French for spaghetti squash?” “They don’t really eat it.” So I asked him the same question about butternut squash, and he said, “They don’t eat much squash over there.” I jokingly asked, “So why are we learning it?” I got a face, but no verbal response. I adore squashes (unlike many of my classmates; Chin especially seems to eschew any vegetable after two bites), but I normally identify them with fall and winter eating. I don’t fully understand why things appear on the menu when they do. Some foods seem to go together, but then we have things like two forms of potatoes on one menu (napoleons and sauteed potatoes with the entrée) and foods that are totally out of season at work. Other times we eat things that are dead-on in timing and French tradition, like today’s savory tart with a pate brisee crust.

During lunch, my table had a prospective student as one of our guests. She seemed pretty cool, and I had fun chatting her up. She wants to run a catering company, and has already done a few gigs with a friend of hers but realizes she needs training and licensing and so on before making it her career. I wonder what percentage of visiting prospects apply, and what percentage of applicants matriculate at the school?

We spent our afternoon talking about the differences between boiling, simmering and poaching, and talking over Friday’s test. I’m nervous but determined to do well.

Wednesday, July 24

This morning, I took three rockfish from whole fish to finished plate. I scaled them, gutted them, removed their heads, filleted them, skinned them, seasoned them, floured them, sauteed them, and topped them with a grenobloise sauce I made. We’ve had fish a few times by now, but I haven’t yet fabricated (butchered) any, so I volunteered to take care of it today. It’s very satisfying to work with a dish from beginning to end like that. I feel like I could go fishing and clean and fry my own fish if I wanted to, now that I’ve done it in a kitchen.

Scales tend to get everywhere. They come off fairly easily, but they fly all over the place. Rockfish fins are surprisingly sharp, and I poked myself painfully in the hand a few times while I was scaling. I ended up with a few scales in my hair and several scattered across my chef’s jacket, plus a few scratches across my hands from the fins. Once the fish were scaled, I washed them off, snipped off the fins, and cut off the head. One of my teammates cleaned the heads and removed the eyes so they could be used for fish stock. Filleting the fish was easy once I got the hang of it, and rockfish skins come off much more easily than the flounder skins I removed last week. They were cooked the same way as last week’s flounder, and the sauce was the same except for the addition of capers. Excellent eating with the creamed spinach one of my teammates prepared alongside.

I’ve learned that if I want to do a certain task, I need to speak up…but once I speak up, people usually acquiesce. People are developing natural preferences for jobs, and they say they want them quickly once we’re broken into teams for the day. I want to learn everything, so it’s hard for me to decide what I want to do, and I’m ending up supporting everybody else rather than taking charge of a task. I’m glad I spoke up about the fish today, because it was incredibly satisfying to eat something I’d handled beginning to end.

After lunch and break, we started in on our sanitation class. We’ll be taking a sanitation class each Wednesday afternoon for the next 8 weeks. Once we complete the course we’ll take the National Restaurant Association’s ServSafe certification test. Today started out with distribution of sanitation textbooks (can’t wait to crack those!) and a short video from the TV program 20/20 about E. Coli 0157:H7 appearing in raw vegetables. Our instructor for sanitation, Chris, has been teaching these courses for some time and seems to bring far more enthusiasm to the subject than I imagined possible. He brought printouts of news stories about all these recent cases of food poisoning which he shared with us.

It’s not fun to think of the liability and risk that come with feeding people. L’academie does not allow students to take food from the school partly because of the liabilities inherent in cases of improper food storage leading to poisoning. We have a lot to learn about how to keep things safe.

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I felt a little intellectually sluggish this morning, so I volunteered to work in the pastry kitchen rather than cooking for lunch service.

I'm going to e-mail this to every pastry chef I know! :laugh:

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)

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Rochelle, did you scale the fish in the sink? Or inside of a large mixing bowl?

Are you going to be doing any butchering from primal cuts?

What was the fat you used for the chips (crisps)?

Thanks as always for your journal entries.

"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

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Fat Guy, don't get me in trouble. :shock: We were making pound cake. Not rocket science. The pastry kitchen was not the place for the intellectually sluggish yesterday, when my teammate produced both a savory tart and the dessert. But for a simple recipe like pound cake, it was where I felt I was best placed when I didn't "have my swerve on" (as Chef Peter likes to say).

I scaled inside the sink. Other students have scaled inside a trash bag. We will be butchering primal cuts down the road...exciting! I used peanut oil for the chips; this is the default fat used at the school.

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Rochelle-

Thanks again for your great journal. I look forward to every new installment.

Do you sense any competition between you and your classmates? Do they ask about your recipe notebook to see if they can get any useful information? As a lawyer, I remember how competitive some of my classmates were back in law school. I'd like to think it's not the same in culinary school, but as exams approach, I'm curious.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Rochelle, I think you'll really enjoy butchering. It's strange, but it can give one a new and profound sense not only of meat but also of vegetables and grains as, well, lives. It's difficult to explain.

"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

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Malawry -- A number of members have commended you for your writing, as well as the substance of your diary. :wink: Noting that you were engaged in a publishing-related activity prior to attending cooking school, I wondered whether you might be comfortable discussing your writing experience. In addition, when you submit recipes for review by instructors, does your writing style affect, to some extent, the way your recipes read or is there an attempt at a "dry", less personable style for such purpose?

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Fat Guy, don't get me in trouble. :shock: We were making pound cake. Not rocket science.

Okay, then. I'll only forward it to my pound cake acquaintances. :smile:

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)

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Our instructor for sanitation, Chris, has been teaching these courses for some time and seems to bring far more enthusiasm to the subject than I imagined possible.

Lucky you! My sanitation instructor was Nyquil in human form. Very knowledgeable man, but the sonorous, monotone voice that he delivered his lectures with usually had at least half of the class sleeping within 30 minutes. Oddly enough, he didn't seem to mind.

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Varmint, I haven't really sensed competition yet. We'll see if this is still the case after we get back our first test scores, though. Nobody has asked me to share the contents of my notebook with them. If I was asked, I'd show it, but not for longer than it would take to get a sense of how my book was organized. (In other words, I wouldn't loan out my book overnight or anything.) I'd also share a recipe or two that somebody may have missed if asked. I sense most of my classmates would act similarly. Nobody's interested in copying as far as I can tell.

Swissmiss, If I wrote posts every day, then each post wouldn't be as special. :cool:

Jinmyo, I was serious when I said I think butchery will be exciting, mostly for the reasons you suggested. We'll see what I think once we start actually doing it.

Cabrales, it's been a constant struggle to make my recipes conform to the school style. My instinct is to write more eloquently and specifically, particularly since I worked as a technical writer for a year and view recipe-writing as a form of tech writing.

In addition to working as a tech writer (I worked on-site at FBI HQ during that job), I worked for the past three years for a trade association as assistant editor. I was the youngest person hired in the newsroom at the Greensboro News and Record (in North Carolina), where I worked weekends and summers for a few years in high school and college as an editorial assistant. (I trained on obit desk, too.)

I have always written prodigiously in my spare time but have rarely published beyond what was expected of me as a student or employee.

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  • 4 weeks later...
L’academie does not allow students to take food from the school partly because of the liabilities inherent in cases of improper food storage leading to poisoning. We have a lot to learn about how to keep things safe.

When I worked at a culinary school, we were approached and forged a relationship with a non-profit organization called (I think) "Second Helping". They were a middle-man organization between the school and the hungry.

This organization would come to the school at appointed times to pick up the food that wasn't going to be used at the school. Sometimes it was lobster bisque, sometimes it was 30 pounds of diced potato.

Second Helping would distribute it (and assume the risk of distributing it) to the homeless & hungry, who were eating out of the school's dumpsters anyway.

-drew

www.drewvogel.com

"Now I'll tell you what, there's never been a baby born, at least never one come into the Firehouse, who won't stop fussing if you stick a cherry in its face." -- Jack McDavid, Jack's Firehouse restaurant

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I don't think there are homeless people foraging at our school, because it's situated in a somewhat well-to-do suburb. There may be similar groups around DC that can help. I'll report back if anything changes. Thanks for the ideas. :smile:

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