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Diary: August 21, 2002


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Monday, August 19

Since our class dropped down to 16 students, we’ve been placed in teams of four almost every day. When one person has been absent, we’ve been in teams of three. Today, two people were out, and Chef Peter decided to break us into teams of three plus one team of two. The luck of the cards put me on the team of two…the first time I’ve been on a team of two since we started doing multi-course menus. (There have been teams of two a couple of times before, but I never got stuck on one.) I was placed with Zoe, who I worked with a few times last week. I think Zoe doesn’t care much for pastry, and she knows I like doing it, so I think she was hoping I’d volunteer to make today’s lemon meringue pie. However, I did a lot of pastry work last week while I was sick, and I wanted to feel fully competent in the kitchen today as I’m feeling healthy. So I convinced her to make our pie, and I got to work on the rest of le menu:

Watercress soup

Composed salad of mesclun wrapped in cucumber with blood oranges and avocados

Poached eggs and duxelles on artichoke bottoms with sauce choron

Zoe ended up making the salads once her pie was going, plus we inherited duxelles and vinaigrette from the chef’s demo; these things both helped me greatly. I started by gathering as much mise as possible and getting the soup started off. I also trimmed up some artichokes and made a blanc quickly for boiling them in (a blanc is flour, lemon juice, salt and water and is used to retain color in veggies which oxidize easily). Chef Peter came by later and tut-tutted over the hack job I’d done on the artichokes…he hadn’t re-demoed how to trim them this morning, and my notes from the one other time he cut them are most generously described as “cryptic.” He showed me how to cut them properly, and I trimmed up a few more and got them going.

The sauce was probably the most worrisome project. Sauce choron is a derivative of sauce bearnaise, which is itself a derivative of sauce hollandaise. A bearnaise is a hollandaise with a reduction of white wine vinegar, white wine, tarragon, shallots, and peppercorns; the reduction is strained out and the sauce is finished with chopped tarragon and chervil. A choron gets the addition of tomato paste. L’academie stocks canned tomato paste, but today I guess Chef Peter wanted us to get some tomatoes out of the walk-in or something because we had to make the tomato paste ourselves. So I had the reduction to make and the paste to make before I could make the sauce. In my hurry, I managed to grab rosemary instead of tarragon for the reduction. Chef Peter caught my mistake before I took my pan to the stove, which was good since I didn’t waste as much time as I would have if he hadn’t noticed, but bad because I was embarrassed. It’s not like I don’t know the difference between tarragon and rosemary, after all.

Lunch came together somehow after much hurrying around. There was a bit of drama when I left the stove briefly while poaching eggs; I had a sizzle plate with me lined with paper towels for drying the eggs off, and right after I walked away one of the paper towels ignited from the stove flame. Chris F. and Chris G. put the fire out before it really got started, but this was even more embarrassing than the rosemary-tarragon mixup.

After lunch, Chef Francois broke down a whole lamb for us. I’ve never seen a whole carcass of mammal like that. Like the rabbit, the lamb looked very animal-like, particularly with its hooves still attached. I wish it had been a whole beef carcass or at least a veal carcass, since the lamb is so small you can’t really see a lot of the cuts in the same way we could with the leg of veal last week. The hanging tender on a lamb is too small to serve even a single person for lunch, and the cut that looks like a T-bone is Lilliputian. It’s fascinating to see how a whole animal is broken down into its primal cuts, and I suspect we will cut down the primal cuts ourselves tomorrow into chops and steaks.

Tuesday, August 20

I’ve been surprised for weeks that the school does not yet know about my diary, and I continually expect somebody connected with L’academie to tell me that they have read it. Everybody at school knows that I intend to become a food writer, but I hem and haw when I am asked what I write. At this point, I’ve already established myself as a student, and I am not especially worried about being treated differently as a result of the diary. Besides, I think my classmates have a right to know about it. So I intend to start talking about it, probably tomorrow, starting with school director Chef Francois Dionot.

Our next test is Friday, and Chef Peter told us today that he is dividing our class in half…half of us will start with the written test and take the practical in the afternoon, and the other half will start in the kitchen. He said he’d probably divide us “by the roster” and that the early alphabet people will do the practical first. This is a source of stress, as I am visiting New York next weekend and will need to catch a train on Friday afternoon. I am pretty sure I will make it even if I need the full time for the practical exam, but I’d prefer not to have to stress about the train schedule. I asked Chef Peter to please put me in the first kitchen group, but he said he isn’t taking any special requests.

The rumor mill has spit out another menu for Friday’s practical: a poached egg dish with a hollandaise sauce or derivative, glazed carrots (again), a chicken saute or the chicken emince we did early on with mushroom-cream sauce, and Chef Somchet all but told us we’d make profiteroles for dessert. I still have not taken apart a chicken, which is a moderate source of stress. I shied away initially, and then I intended to do it the last time it appeared on the menu (when Edemuth came to visit), but I was feeling sick and I really wanted to make the eclairs so I didn’t. I intended to buy a chicken and fabricate it somewhere over the weekend, but I never got around to that either.

I spent today’s lunch service working with Zoe again; we were joined by Chin and Ivelisse. The lunch menu included a tuna tartare, which requires about a dozen little bits of mise. I took charge of the tuna, and I especially enjoyed cutting lotus root slices on the mandoline and frying them into chips for garnish. We also had lamb on the menu, so I helped Chin trim and tie some lamb pieces for him to roast off. I’m getting better at handling big pieces of meat, and am not as overwhelmed by figuring out where to send my knife as I was a week or two ago. Lunch also included boulanger potatoes, which are very thinly sliced and layered with butter, salt, pepper and onion. The potatoes are brushed with plenty of butter and revisited periodically as they bake with more butter. They are quite delicious and went over well with everybody on my team.

After the afternoon break, we started working on tomorrow’s menu. There’s some group we’re apparently catering for over the next three days; we will eat the same thing they will, and we’re producing 60 plates on top of the usual 25 or so faculty/staff/student covers we normally create. Tomorrow we’re all eating veal marengo, Thursday features egg rolls and some kind of stir-fry dish, and Friday we’ll serve coq au vin. (We’ll make the coq on Thursday after break, since we take our tests Friday.) I took apart a veal neck, cleaned it, and cut it into pieces for tomorrow’s stew. It was good practice, since I didn’t have to worry about the look of the finished fabricated parts…they were all getting cut down into stew meat anyway.

Wednesday, August 21

I talked to Chef Francois today about my diary. He seemed interested in the project and said he would take a look at it when he had a chance. He told me about some similar projects other graduates have completed, including a three-article series in the Washington Post Food section following a member of the class of 1998. I expect various people from L’academie to come read here soon. If you’re one of them, welcome to eGullet.

We did a very brief demo this morning on egg rolls, and then we got to work on the lunches we’re catering. Turns out the people we’re cooking for are from the pastry and chocolate company that supplies L’academie; they are conveniently located at the other end of the strip of offices where L’academie is situated. They are doing some kind of training session on-site, and some of their people came over to use our pastry kitchen as part of their training. The company is Albert Uster Imports. I was one of the people who took lunch over, and I pushed a rolling cart filled with food through their warehouse to where they were setting up lunch. I spied all kinds of interesting products…flavorings, fruit pastes, a million varieties of chocolates, pastry liqueurs, prefabbed tartlet shells, and so on. I’d love a chance to go back over there and see what all that stuff is, but I don’t think we go on a formal tour at any point despite the close relationship between the school and the pastry supplier.

Before we went into the main kitchen to work on lunch, Chef Peter went over the details for our Friday test. I am part of the team due to report at 10am to take the written test, and I will be taking the practical after everybody from the morning team wraps up. I asked if we could switch with anybody and was refused. I am very concerned about making my train to New York, but there’s not much I can do about it at this point except hurry through my practical.

The afternoon was spent in sanitation class again. We watched a video on safe sushi preparation, and talked about safe preparation, holding and reheating techniques. Much of sanitation education feels repetitive: Practice good personal hygiene. Avoid cross-contamination. Keep foods above or below the temperature danger zone. Develop a HACCP plan and stick to it. And so on. Chris finds an amazing number of ways to drive these messages home for us, to his credit, but we’re all getting a little tired of sanitation. We still have several classes to go before the sanitation test is administered.

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Rochelle, I'm so glad to see how consistently you have been working on this project. Thank you.

"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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If you dig up those Washington Post articles, please do tell us about them. Thanks for another great installment.

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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Worst case scenario, I'll catch a later, unreserved train. Ick. The problem with the shuttle is that I'd have to pay for a path into the city from the airport...and I have 9pm dinner reservations, so I don't have much time to arrange everything. Much easier to step off the train at Penn Station and walk to my hotel.

Fat Guy, you might be able to find those articles in the archive via washingtonpost.com. I think archived articles are $2 each. I may ask Chef Francois if he has a copy of them.

Thanks, Jinmyo. I'm getting as much out of this as I'm putting into it. (That's a lot!)

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Im not entirely sure this is the right place for this question but here goes....

Do you know of any culinary school students with disabilities? :huh: My fiance is blind and not sure if he can attend a culinary school. I've been looking into culinary schools but am not sure if they offer accomodations for the blind. I did send a few emails out to a few CIA students but have not received any replies as of yet, and thought I would ask here.

Thanks

Jodi

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There is nobody in my class who has a readily apparent disability. I am curious about this issue, which I hadn't considered until you raised it. I'll ask around this week and see what people say.

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Hello Malawry and thanks for the assistance. I did not know how hard it was to come by information on this subject until I started my research. I did call the CIA today and was transferred to the head of the Disability Department. Unfortunately for me, he was not at his desk so I will try again later. I did however find a page at the CIA's website regarding students with disabilities.

Students with Disabilities Support - Culinary Institute of America

I believe that my fiance may have to visit an opthamologist for another eye test just for the school. They want to make sure you still have your disability it seems. This shouldn't be a problem since he has Retinitis Pigmentosa and we need this updated evaluation so he can participate in the Artificial Retina clinical trials. I'll keep on searching. I'm looking forward to what your schools says about this subject. I am sure he will be accepted though.....I do know of Danny Delcambre who attended Seattle Central Community College, and is a blind/deaf chef. He did his internship with Chef Paul Prodhomme. So there is more than a little hope. :smile: Thanks for your help.

Jodi

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I asked Barbara, the director of admissions, if L'academie has ever accepted a student with a disability such as vision impairment to her knowledge. She said that she doesn't know of any who have tried, and she said she wasn't sure what accommodations the school is able to offer to such a student. She said that once she had an interested student who carried an oxygen tank and wore a face mask (she wasn't sure why) but that student ended up deciding not to come when Barbara pointed out that an oxygen tank (with its highly flammable gas) probably shouldn't be near an open flame for hours every day.

I dated somebody for a couple of years who was legally blind. He wasn't a fellow food geek, but I did get some sense of what the visually impaired do and don't need to live in a sighted society. I imagine that if a blind student had access to a good assistant to help them get the chef's demos, they might be able to wing it. After all, I rely heavily on scent, sound, texture, and aroma as indicators in the kitchen. I rely on sight mostly when I watch the demo.

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Thank you again for asking Malawry. :smile: I still haven't gotten through to the Disability Department at the CIA as of yet. I am hoping that since we are applying at the same time and since I have been his reader (?) for the past 4 years, they will just put us in the same classes. I have to do this everyday when one of our kids does something funny and he wants a description. Shouldn't be that hard to describe a demo. But if they do have readers who have done this many times before with other visually impaired culinary students then we shall take advantage of the service. I'll post an update of my conversation with the Disability Department in case someone browsing wants to know this information. :smile: Thanks again.

Jodi

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