In the Weeds
My classmates and me just before lunch service.
It is fair to say that I’ve left my blog on the back burner for quite awhile now. As we say here at The Culinary, “I’m sorry Chef. I’m in the weeds!” My second semester is nearing the end and my schedule no longer allows for mid-morning coffees at Apple Pie Bakery and late afternoon naps. I can’t complain, however. Although we have long days, more challenging classes and exceptionally demanding chefs we finally spend the entire day actually cooking. That sounds strange considering it is culinary school, but the past few classes have been primarily lecture based with demonstrations. My class has moved on to production classes, so our daily schedules are more demanding than ever before. We now have a service period, where we serve our food to other students at the school. Every morning we go into class and prep for the entire morning until our lunch service.
I thought I would catch those of you still faithfully following my blog up on one of my most recent classes: Introduction to Modern Banquets and Catering.
In Modern Banquets and Catering we focused on skills for large batch cookery and volume. The goal of this class was to teach us the skills to prepare food for a large formal event. In most event/catering settings the majority of the food is prepared and cooked ahead of time. To mock a catering or banquet style setting we prepared all of the food prior to our daily lunch service. In this class we served roughly forty covers daily, meaning students outside of our class came to our kitchen to swipe for a meal.
Each day we worked in teams to prepare two entrees daily along with soup, salad and an appetizer plate. For half of the block we prepared plated banquet style entrees. These entrees were served to students in a formal dining room in the basement of the school. Upperclassmen in a front of house service class served the students in this dining room the food we prepared in the adjacent kitchen. The other half of the block we prepared a lunch buffet for students to eat in a more casual setting.
Table setting in the formal dining room used for an Upperclassman table-service class and the banquet portion of the course.
Teryaki ginger glazed salmon with bok choy, sesame carrots and Jasmine rice.
My job for the first week of class was Sous Chef. I was responsible for picking up the food order, ensuring that all teams were on time for lunch service, tasting and check all the food before service, delegating tasks during class, calling out orders and expediting food during lunch service.
The menu in this class changed every other day. This meant that every two days we had a large food order to pick up for class. This order was almost as tall as me – I could barley see over the top of it!
Above is the formal dining room for students at the school. If you have an extended period of time for a meal it can be a fun lunch/dinner option. The waitstaff brings your meal out to you in succession, like a restaurant. They first offer you a specialty drink of the day and fresh bread from the neighboring bakeshop. Then you get the soup of the day, salad and entree of your choice (either the meat/fish option or vegetarian option). After your meal you are offered an array of desserts.
The first two days of this class we worked with salmon. We got whole fillets of salmon into class from the fish room. The team responsible for protein needed to skin the salmon fillets, check them for pin bones and portion them into servings.
Although I really enjoyed this class I did not like how all of the food was prepared ahead of time. I much prefer an a la carte setting were food is cooked to order (or prepared a la minute). This salmon was pan-seared ahead of time and baked just before our family meal.
This team was responsible for preparing a daily salad and dressing along with soup. Some days we also had appetizer plates.
All of the lettuce is hand-picked through to ensure that there are no bruised or spoiled pieces… a tedious job when you have to prepare a large volume of food.
Chicken Consomme…one of my favorite soups at the school. This was the first time we needed to prepare three gallons of soup. Consomme is a fascinating soup to make. You combine ground meat, egg whites and vegetables with chicken stock to clarify and fortify the flavor of the stock. The result is an intensely flavorful, fat-free, crystal clear broth soup. It is served piping hot with precisely garnished vegetables.
Our chef really enjoyed talking to us about the history and characteristics of a good consomme. A good consomme has discernment. My chef told me while I was sous chef to watch my classmates carefully as they tasted their consomme. “Did they lick their lips?” he asked me. I had to watch them again as they took a second taste. “Yes Chef.” I said. “Then you know you have a good consomme.” Why is that? The gelatin in the stock (from the chicken bones) becomes highly reduced by the time the consomme is completely cooked. This intensifies the chicken flavor and accounts for the sticky, dry feeling on your lips. This feeling is referred to as discernment and it causes you to want to lick your lips after drinking consomme.
Chicken consomme with a julienne root vegetable garnish.
Sweet corn Asiago risotto cakes on a bed of lightly sautéed vegetables
Raw potato gnocchi
Potato gnocchi with a red pepper coulis; roasted eggplant, goat cheese and mint
Demo on properly straining sauces
At the end of every class we had an onion mincing competition. The two finalist had to compete in front of the rest of the class…you can tell it was a Friday at the CIA in this video!
Sliced roast beef portioned for service
Baked beans…we started simmering the beans with ham hocks the minute we stepped into class in order for them to be flavorful and tender by lunch
We had a barbecue day where we served brisket, baked beans, collard greens (both hidden by the brisket), homemade sweet pickles, cornbread with a side of coleslaw and goujonettes (fried fish sticks).
Typically these are made with catfish, however, we used flounder.
Flank steaks that we marinaded overnight and grilled the next day at lunch. We carved them on the buffet line to order.
A standard sachet used to flavor soups: peppercornes, garlic, thyme, parsley stems and a bay leaf.
Marinated grilled vegetables to pair with the grilled steak
Caesar salad for banquet lunch service….we arranged them right before lunch so that the servers could come into the kitchen and quickly pick them up.
Just before service during the banquet portion of class. We plated the dishes in the kitchen and the servers picked them up on trays at the door.
Mid-way through this course we left class early one day to see Ferran Adria speak in the school’s new Marriott Pavilion.
The new Marriott Pavilion will be used for large scale functions, graduation ceremonies, speakers and conferences.
It was an incredible experience to hear Ferran Adria of El Bulli speak. Ferran Adria is currently considered “the world greatest chef.” He pioneered and popularized modern gastronomy and is credited with modernist techniques used by chefs around the world today.
I had him sign his book “Family Meal”
Buffet with mashed sweet potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and roasted turkey with brown gravy
Peppercorn dressing salad
On the buffet line…Senate bean soup; gratinee potatoes; grilled vegetables; vegetarian lasagna and steak.
Mushrooms for Sauce Robert… a sauce made from veal stock and mushrooms to accompany red meats.
Vegetables prepared for a hash
Fresh fruit for buffet
Learning how to smoke meats in a banquet kitchen.
We baked about 600 pieces of bacon one day for our buffet
Just before service on the buffet line
Family meal!!! Since we are in class for about eight hours a day we break in the middle for a meal, family meal. Everyday after lunch service we are given roughly a half hour to sit down (!) and eat the remainder of the food in the kitchen before going back to class. When we return to class we clean the kitchen and have lecture.
I love family meal because it gives us a break to decompress and relax for a few minutes.
By the time it hits family meal we are usually exhausted and very hungry.
Some days we run a little behind (in the weeds we say) and well we eat in the elevator going upstairs to the dinning room…
My family meal plates aren’t plated quite like the ones in class, however, they show the variety of foods we made in this class.
My favorite day was the last day of class where we got to prepare a large breakfast buffet for the staff setting up the graduation. It made for a yummy family meal.
I was sad to see this class end. My class bonded and improved tremendously as a group.
Stay posted for an update (soon!) on my most recent class: a la carte!