Thursday, September 24, 2009

Go Big Read

I read this excellent article yesterday regarding Michael Pollans' book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto which happens to have been on my Amazon wish list for a long time. I first heard Pollan speak one night on Real Time With Bill Maher. I don't agree with every principal Pollan advocates but I do with many of them. I'm quite proud of my Alma Mater for starting the Big Read program. Unlike the critics, I don't see the school as endorsing or supporting Pollans's book or position. I see the school as distributing a book for people to read and draw their own conclusions. I see the school as steering educational debate. And isn't that supposed to be part of education?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Super Clean Up

On Thursday we had what is called Super Clean Up. The entire kitchen is cleaned from top to bottom, the ceiling, the walls, all of the equipment, inside and out. Super Clean Up is worth one letter grade. We had to be there by 9:00am but the sooner we started the sooner we could get out. Mouth was in there early. I waited until there were about six more people and then started with them. Mouth deserved a head start. There were people who didn't show up until 10:00. SloMo didn't show up until almost 11:00. Bastards. I really hope they get docked but we'll never know. Shockingly Ridges didn't even show.

There are basically two classes. There is a third class but it only has maybe four people in it. So we had plenty of people for cleaning. Chef set out five or six pages detailing what needed to be cleaned and how. People initialed what they wanted to clean. I took both mixers. After that I took the double pizza oven. Hottie #2 helped me on that. Then we both moved on to the broiler. That was pretty nasty with all the baked on greasy carbon buildup. After that was finished, I wasn't in the mood to join any other group and with all of the jobs basically divvied up I went into the dish washing area and cleaned the dishwasher itself and cleaned other people's stuff. That pissed me off a little. When Hottie and I were cleaning the broiler we cleaned our own parts, we didn't toss them to other people to clean and come back for them but it's a petty issue really.

We finished by 12:30. I was exhausted but that's it for this quarter. Next quarter begins October 7th I think so I get a little downtime.

Pop Final

Last week was the last week of the quarter. We were supposed to finally do our fish on Monday, review for our final and then take our final on Tuesday. Except the fish order had not come in. Chef lollygagged around until about 9:30 and said that we would review for our exam.

Flashbacks to my first class, people weren't paying that much attention. I was sitting with RK and Mayfield and they were furiously writing as if God was handing down another set of commandments. They don't have two working ears between them so they kept asking for everything to be repeated. We have a syllabus so I didn't bother writing anything down. RK didn't even know what a syllabus was even though he has one.

Chef finally got frustrated and annoyed and asked how many people had read any of the book. Maybe half the class raised their hands. We have reading assignments each week based on what we are cooking, according to the syllabus. Then Chef asked who had read everything. The only hand left in the air was mine. Lots of dirty looks. RK snapped at me, "you actually read the book, everything!" Well yeah. It's the same damn syllabus as my first class which is a prerequisite for this class, so everyone should have read this stuff before. And on top of that I had to read the chapters to know how to cook whatever we were cooking, though sometimes I read them after the fact. For example, when we made fresh pasta I had to read up on that first.

Chef was furious. Fine, you've got an hour to read everything and then we're taking the exam. Dammit. I had planned on Tuesday. I still had a lot of reviewing that I wanted to do before the exam. Everyone was in a state of shock. Mayfield starts whining bout how he never thought we would be tested on stuff in the book. "I thought the class was just about cooking, stuff we do in the kitchen." I just wanted to bang my head into the table. These people need to understand that this is a culinary program. You need to decide if you want to be able to cook at a professional LEVEL, not necessarily become a chef, but the end goal is to have that ability. So yeah, that does mean understanding what a coulis is or what beurre manie means and how to use it. How are you supposed to interact with other professionals if you don't? It will take a lot longer to find a specific fruit sauce if that's what you call it rather than searching for a raspberry coulis. If you just want to cook a better soup, take classes at Sur la Table or Viking or Williams-Sonoma.

Out of nowhere, RK looks at me and asks, "I don't mean to be mean, but how much do you weigh?" WTF! I looked at him dumbfounded and just said a lot. "Yeah, but how much?" WTF!!! Guess. He guessed, I said yes, and then he goes, "I never noticed how heavy you are until I saw how you really fill out that chair." I really have no words.

The test was not easy but it was very much like the final for my first quarter. It was a lot of writing. I can't believe how bad my handwriting has become but except for writing an odd check once every other month or so, I hardly ever write anything. I think I did very well on the whole test except for labeling the primal beef and pork cuts. I went back and looked and only got half of them correct. Oh well. The worst part of all of this was that you take the test, then present it to Chef who goes over it, then he sends you back to answer the questions you left blank or got wrong but you get to use the book the second time around. Grrrrrr. I really hope he gives some of these guys Ds or Fs to make a statement because otherwise there isn't much incentive to do well or try hard.

Baby Face didn't show up. I don't get it.

After the test, Chef asked if we wanted to do our fish on Wednesday or next quarter. The class was split, some just not wanting to come in on Wednesday, some eager to do it. I could have gone either way. It actually had to be explained how we could cook fish in American Regional Cooking. Um, you'd make a regional fish dish. Duh. The naysayers won out.

Though the final was Monday, the last day of class is actually Thursday when we clean up.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Earl of Sandwich

We still had no fish after Labor Day, a good thing really. If it had come in on Friday it would have had a long weekend in the cooler before we got to it. Since we had no fish and the end of the quarter was rapidly approaching Chef had us prepare two sandwiches and and a side dish using up what we could in the walk-in.

The Pantry class involves a lot of sandwich making so this was a little introduction to those that might be taking that class. And in my opinion, most of the people in my class just don't get it. Nearly everyone just made shit up, throwing ingredients between bread or wrapped it in a tortilla. No thought went into what they were doing at all.

Chef wanted sweet potatoes used up. Man they were nasty. We had to cut the mold off of most. Nearly everyone did some version of fried sweet potatoes, chips, fries, waffle fries, etc. Absolutely no creativity. Igor did a very poor Monte Cristo. It was obvious that one, he's never had one, and two, he didn't bother reading the recipe. Baby Face did a Philly Chicken wrap that wasn't a Philly. It was just chicken and cheese. I did a classic Kentucky Hot Brown with a side of hash browns.

The hard part was not going too fast and being done at 10:30 instead of noon. My dish was fairly simple. It's an open face sandwich, usually topped with turkey but I used chicken breast, covered in a cheese sauce "gravy," topped with a cross of two strips of bacon and a garnish of tomato wedges. Served hot of course.

The cheese sauce was simple but involved steps I had never really done before as a whole. The sauce is made from cheese melted into a bechamel sauce and a bechamel sauce is basically a roux blended with heavy cream. So the first thing I did was make a roux but before I could make the roux I needed to clarify some butter. Simple but many steps. I only needed enough sauce for two sandwiches and my book recipes made about a quart of bechamel sauce and a quart of cheese sauce so I kind of eyeballed everything figuring a sixth of the recipe would work for me. Both the bechamel and the cheese sauce came together nicely. I strained the sauce through a chinois into a baine marie and held it on a warming shelf over the stove to keep it warm.

There were about five other people who were going to use bacon. It made absolutely no sense to have five people each cooking bacon so I got a sheet pan and a rack and went around asking people for their bacon so I could cook it all at once in the oven. I also know that every time, Chef says this is the preferable way to cook bacon, NOT in a frying pan, NOT on the flat top, which is exactly what the other five people were starting to do when I came around. You would have thought I was from Mars with the looks I got from every one when I started putting the bacon on the rack. They just don't pay attention and listen, doesn't matter if they are 19 or 55.

Sauce was done. Chicken was just a matter of sauteing two breasts and slicing them up. When the bacon was done, I cut the crust off of four slices of plain white bread and put them on the same rack that the bacon had been on and put them in the oven to toast. At this point I am basically done, ready to plate. I plated my sandwiches and put them in the warmer to stay hot and then started on shredding potatoes for my hash browns.

My hash browns were made with both Idaho potatoes and sweet potatoes with diced shallots. Since my sandwich had Parmesan cheese in the sauce, I topped my hash browns with Parmesan cheese also. I had my doubts about combining the two different starches but it actually worked quite well. Unlike the rest of my class, I remembered that the shredded or cut potatoes need to be in water to prevent browning. I had all of my ingredients prepped but at this point my side of the kitchen is being over run, so I get the hell out of the wait and go do dishes.

On a side note, I had decided not to start the dishwasher and fill the sinks and see what happened. It wasn't until 10:30 that Mayfield realized it hadn't been done when he went to wash a pan out and took the time to do it. It's a shame the dishwasher was already put together since I normally have to do that the first day of the week also.

When I got back to the kitchen, Mayfield was whining because someone had stolen his bacon. It was kind of his fault because he didn't claim it after it was cooked and let it sit by the oven for about an hour. I knew Ridges took it for his sandwich. I was pretty disappointed he didn't fess up to it. Mayfield had to start over but he put his bacon on a half sheet and put it in the broiler, which by the way he has never used before. I'm not going to say that we are not allowed to use the broiler but we are strongly discouraged by Chef to use it. Mayfield walked away and in a few minutes his bacon promptly started burning. Chef began yelling to get the bacon out. Chico was standing right in front of it looking like a deer caught in the headlights. Chef then gave a dissertation about not using the broiler after which I watched no less than a three people cook in it. Nobody listens. I really hope Chef either fails a few or gives them low grades just to send a message and an incentive to take the class seriously.

We had to present our sandwiches. No one knew how to do this. We did this in my Professionalism class and I let the teenyboppers slide a little since they don't watch Food Network or go to fine restaurants. Chico just said he had a ham and cheese sandwich. That's it? You've got to sell it people. I know most of them watch Food Network. Watch Chopped or Iron Chef America. there is a way to do this. Hell, go out to eat to a nice restaurant and listen to the server sell the specials to you. Chef went through each as if it were a competition noting that had this been the Pantry course, there would have been knocks for lack of color, height, plating, etc. I think it was lost on most. He had no comments on mine other than that at the Brown Hotel in Louisville they sell thousands of these sandwiches every day. My sandwich went over well I think. Both were eaten. I thought it came off spot on, even better than the one I had back in May in Lexington.

I think RK is starting to get a little miffed with me. When I was making my cheese sauce he came over and asked how long I had been in school. I think he thinks I'm a ringer. I told him this was only my third quarter, which should be the same as him but I'm having my doubts as to whether he took Professionalism and Serve Safe or not. You could see the little wheels turn in his head. Later when we were eating he asked me what restaurant I worked in. I said I have never worked in a restaurant other than McDonald's back in high school. The little wheels turned a little more. I can see the resentment starting to set in.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Extra Credit

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to cook for the USO at the Atlanta airport for soldiers passing through the airport on the way home or way out.

Well, not exactly.

A year ago in my first class with the teenyboppers, Chef explained his expectations for the class. Besides the mundane like being there on time and every day and wearing your uniform, one of the expectations he mentioned was being involved in extracurricular activities. Chef said from time to time he will organize trips to ACF meetings or host ACF meetings. Also he will volunteer us to cook for various projects. We don't have to be involved in all of these activities but he does expect us to be involved to some extent and our participation is taken into consideration for our grade. A year ago he said that he had signed us up to cook for soldiers at the Atlanta airport, Labor Day 2009. But that was all the detail he knew at the time.

The original plan was to go down to Atlanta, cook in a real kitchen, and then serve the soldiers as they went through the line. That didn't happen. Instead we were going to prep the food in our kitchen and then Chef was going to deliver the food on Monday, Labor Day. Chef said it was strictly voluntary, I saw it as extra credit, so I showed up at 3:00pm on Sunday. No one else from my class showed. Another girl showed up about twenty minutes after me. Coincidentally she was in my first class. Another guy showed up about an hour later. He's finished the program and works for Chef at his restaurant. That was it.

Our menu was roast chicken, barbecue pork loin that Chef had smoked at his restaurant, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, roast potatoes, corn, and more of that key lime pie. I started in on the chicken. I think there were two cases worth, about 200 pieces. I filled five sheet pans. It took some time only because I had to wash the chicken, separate out the wings and pop out the bone in the thighs. I brushed the chicken with olive oil and seasoned the pieces with garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, salt, pepper, and tarragon. Chef reported back no complaints.

Pizza Girl worked on chopping up vegetables to jazz up the canned beans. All of the food that we were cooking was donated by Chef's vendors. He was pretty disappointed with his vendors' contributions. Apparently they don't donate any more. A sign of the economic times I suppose but but pretty sad given the cause. Just goes to show you where loyalties really lie.

Sous Chef sliced the pork loin on the big meat slicer. I think there were seven loins. I have a really hard time remember meat cuts. It would help to learn the why they have the names they do. One would assume that pork loin comes from the leg or thigh area of the pig but it comes from the back. The barbecue sauce was a combination of two sauces. One was Bulls Eye but I don't know what the other one was.

Imoved onto the potatoes. This was basically the same as what we had done on Tuesday, except I think I had sixty pounds of potatoes! I filled a huge roasting pan with about forty pounds and then Pizza Girl started a second roasting pan. I seasoned both pans just like we had on Tuesday. Again, no disgruntled eaters reported by Chef.

Meanwhile, Chef made the macaroni and cheese. It was canned cheese sauce. Chef put some other stuff in it but I'm not sure what.

The last dish was the corn. Pizza Girl set out three large aluminum foil pans and filled them with the cooked frozen corn. The corn was pretty tasteless. We hit it hard with salt and a pound of butter in each pan!

We were done around 6:30. It was hard work but it was fun. And there was a nice warm fuzzy feeling for doing something good for these soldiers. Chef's plan was to come back in at 3:00AM! and cook everything, load the van up and head to the airport at 7:00AM. Chef said it was a tiny kitchen when he got there. He was worried that he had too much food, only enough for 200 but was told that was great, they were expecting 300-350 soldiers passing through. I'm sure each one of them loaded their plates up too. They had USO volunteers serving but Chef, his wife and Sous Chef also served. Chef said they announced each of our names over the PA system thanking us. And each of us received a flag patch from Operation Chefs Unite that we are supposed to iron onto our jackets. How cool is that!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cooking for 100

On Monday (the 31st) we had to cook for a travel club, about 100 people. The menu was pork loin, fried chicken, green beans, roast potatoes, broccoli casserole, coleslaw, a carrot salad, peach cobbler and the frozen key lime pie we unloaded from the previous week. There might have been another dish, I don't remember.

I told Red I wanted to work with her since I had not yet. Hottie # 2 was in our group also. We picked the potatoes. Chef wanted red potatoes cut in half, with onion, seasoned and roasted. I was late getting started with the others because I had to fill the triple sink and start up the dishwasher. When I got to our table Hottie and Red were slicing onions. I got a little uncomfortable because both of them kept deferring to me for instructions. It's not my show people. I appreciate the respect but you have to be able to think and act on your own.

They asked how to cut the onions. I said sliced into rings would be fine. Hottie was watching Red slice a large onion. She looked a little wide eyed and said Red was scaring her. I looked and could see how the onion wobbled as she tried to cut through it. It did indeed look like Red would cut herself at any moment. I agreed with Hottie and said if the onions were that large then go ahead and do half slices to be safe. Red got a little defensive and told me to make up my mind. Hey I don't need this shit. I told her I agreed with Hottie, it looked like she would cut herself at any moment and it didn't help that her knife was dull. She retorted, "fine, I've only been doing this for forty years." Sigh. I really, don't need this. "Fine," I said. "I'm just worried about your safety, If you've got big unstable unions like that then do it this way." I showed them how to take a sliver off the side of the onion so that you have a stable flat spot and the onion won't rock and wobble when you try to cut it.

Red had asked me earlier how many potatoes we needed. I had no idea. I haven't learned all those rules of thumb for X many pounds of something for Y many people. I'm hoping that comes in the Purchasing class. I told her to fill a hotel pan and use that many. Chef came by later and said we needed thirty pounds! I went to grab a balance and found we only had 15 pounds. So I took on weighing and cleaning the other half of the potatoes we needed. Hottie was flying through slicing the potatoes. To think that at the beginning of the quarter she was afraid of her knife!

While I was washing the potatoes they asked me if they they should cut the little ones in half. I said yes. Really? Damn it people! "Look I understand that the small ones are the same size as the cut halves but Chef said cut the potatoes in half so that is why I said yes cut the little ones in half. It REALLY does not matter to me." There was some muttering under their breath.

Meanwhile, The Kid was pestering me on how to cook the green beans. I don't know. I said I would do it with onions, maybe some peppers, maybe a meat of some kind. Like bacon? Sure. Well how much? I don't know! I said we were doing thirty pounds of potatoes so I bet thirty pounds of green beans. Ask Chef, dude. I don't know why so many people have such a hard time with going to Chef and asking for information or clarification. So many end up doing something wrong because they refuse to ask him. I never hesitate.

Sushi #2 asked me how to make broccoli casserole. Me? I'd make it the same way that we made squash casserole. Turns out I was wrong, but I think the concept was the same, at least in my eyes. They ended up using canned cheese sauce instead of making a cheese sauce, cheddar based instead of Swiss based. In the squash casserole we mixed the bread crumbs in the casserole, in the broccoli casserole they used rice in place of the bread crumbs. For the squash casserole we topped it with cheese, they topped the broccoli casserole with bread crumbs. Just proof as to why you ask Chef when you don't know what to do.

Back to the potatoes. I suggested tossing the potatoes in olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper and rosemary. No one had any objections but Hottie said she doesn't cook with salt and couldn't recommended it. I said fine, but remember we aren't cooking for ourselves but for our customers. So we agreed on the salt. Hottie also wanted to add garlic. I said it sounded like a great idea and fetched the big jar of cloves for her. She mashed and minced it like a pro. We got everything mixed up and seasoned and into the oven the big roasting pan went.

While were were seasoning the potatoes, Hottie mentioned that no one was making fried chicken. You've got to be kidding me! Well, no reason why we couldn't do that too. Really rather simple. I got the case of chicken parts out to wash. Hottie made an egg wash and Red got the flour together. Chef wanted the flour seasoned, salt, pepper, onion powder. We were out of onion powder. Hottie wanted cayenne pepper in there too and I agreed but we were out of that also. We tried grinding up red pepper flakes but that was completely futile. Chef said no one in this area used red pepper in their fried chicken. What! When we lived in Bainbridge everybody used cayenne in their fried chicken. of course maybe the issue is there is no, and I mean no fried chicken in North Georgia. Not in Blarisville or anywhere nearby. When I asked where to get fried chicken around here I was told KFC. Gag. We ended up using a little bit of dried chipotle powder.

We fried all of the chicken in the deep fryer. It came out fairly good though I thought it was way under seasoned. I would have liked a little zip in it as Hottie #2 had suggested. Chef wanted the dishes caught up so I jumped on them while others served the food in one of the meeting rooms. I just chugged along on the dishes when Chef called me out. I sat down in our area and Chef briefly lectured us on not busing the dishes out of the meeting room. He sent everyone in to get them. When I got up he told me to sit down, I had done enough dishes.

After the dishes had been bused we were allowed to eat. All of the food was very good. Half the class was no where to be found. I joked with Chef that even when he tells them to stop working and eat they don't follow directions.

No class on Monday but Chef is working on a dinner on Sunday, anybody who wants to help can come in at 3:00pm. I know this means extra credit so I plan on being there.