Category: Culinary Arts Project

Chef Stu’s Apple, Rhubarb, Berry Pie

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
4 TB sugar
1 cup of butter (2 sticks)
6 TB iced water

10 strawberies, cleaned, quartered
1/2 cup blueberries
2 stalks of rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch slices, or 1 cup of rhubarb pieces.
1 lemon, juice of
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2inch cubes
1 cup white sugar
1/3 cup of flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 T butter, cubed.
1 egg and a TB of milk/cream, mixed for egg wash

CRUST: Use store-bought crust if you don’t want to make your own, but it’s pretty easy. Combine flour, salt, sugar, and the two cold sticks of butter in a food processor and pulse till the butter is pea sized shaped (I use a manual pastry blender, but I’m old school). Now by hand, add 4TB of the ice water, mixing with a fork, adding the next 2BT slowly if needed. If you can crunch the dough in your fist and and it holds together it got enough water. If not add another tablespoon or two. Make two hockey pucks of the dough (one a bit bigger), wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour (up to 48 hours). Remove from fridge 30 min before using.

THE PIE: Roll out the larger disc and line pie plate. Use a fork to puncture holes (this is called scoring) all over the bottom, to prevent air bubbles and ensure even heating.

FILLING: Prep berries and rhubarb and put in large bowl. In a separate bowl, add lemon juice. Peel, core and dice the apples adding to the lemon juice as you go (so the apples don’t brown). Add the apples and juice to the berries. Add sugar, flour, cinnamon. Mix slowly until uniform. Fill pie.

Roll out smaller dough disk and cover the pie. Make 5 slits for air holes. Paint crust with egg wash. Bake at 350F for 45-50 minutes, until crust is golden.

– crust: substitute half of the butter with lard (even more flakier)
– filling: substitute half of white sugar with brown sugar (deeper sweetness)
– filling: add tsp of ground cloves (slightly more mature tasting)
– filling: add tsp of nutmeg (slightly more mature tasting)

Perfect Clams

Today we combine our series revolving around the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto and our visit to Chef Pietro’s restaurant Monte’s in New York. You may remember his clam dish that was featured a few posts back. I got him to show me the dish again hands on his kitchen, and he shared a very cool tidbit: “When the clams start to open, pry them open, don’t wait till they fully open, or they will be slightly over done”. Very cool.

Upcoming tidbits will include sea asparagus, escarole, and other cool greens. See you soon. Don’t forget to make any suggestions for upcoming shows and to also order your Kitchen Tidbits if you haven’t already done so – all proceeds go to Nikibasika youth project in Uganda.

Order Kitchen Tidbits (Canada)
Order Kitchen Tidbits (US)

Lavender Infused Baked Peaches

Today’s Tidbits

  • Lavender is a unique taste – infuse honey with it and drizzle over baked peaches (see recipe below)
  • Infuse cream with lavender, and add to profiteroles
  • Infuse an icing (icing sugar + milk) with lavender, and drizzle on top of pastries
Lavender profiterole
Lavender profiterole

Happy Thanksgiving (in Canada) everyone. Today is a quick baked peach recipe with only 7 ingredients but that tastes amazing. I fancy it up with a touch of lavender. I like lavender as a taste, but you can only use a bit of it or your dishes ended up tasting like fancy hand soap. Apparently there is culinary lavender, but I can never find it, so I just buy the dried lavender sprigs and use the seeds. The stems are aromatic too.

Baked Peaches
(if you don’t do the lavender stuff,  it’ll still taste amazing)

Baked Lavender Infused Peaches
Baked Lavender Infused Peaches

1/3 cup liquid honey
16 sprigs of dried lavender (8 for the seeds, 8 for decoration)
4 peaches, cut in half
Cinnamon sugar (combine 1tsp cinnamon and 2 tbsp of white sugar)
½ Tbsp butter per peach half
1 tsp brown sugar per peach half

Infuse liquid honey with lavender by taking 1/3 cup of pourable honey and adding the seeds from 8 dried lavender sprigs. Zap in the microwave for 30 secs, or heat in a saucepan and put aside.

Lavender Infused Baked Peaches served with Strawberry Pana Cotta
Lavender Infused Baked Peaches served with Strawberry Pana Cotta

Cut peaches in half, remove stone and carve out a small cavity in each half. Put lavender sprigs on bottom of baking tray and add peach halves cut side up.

Add to each peach ½ tbsp of butter, 1 tsp of brown sugar, and a sprinkle of the cinnamon sugar mixture.

Bake at 375F for 30mins. Remove, and drizzle honey (try not to include too many lavender seeds) on each peach. Decorate with a sprig of lavender. Voila!

Kitchen Tidbits: Vongole Posillipo

Kitchen Tidbits coverI’m so excited, my book, Kitchen Tidbits is now available through Amazon! The book is filled with the tips and tricks that I picked up while studying at the International Culinary School in New York City. All proceeds from the book are being donated to the Nikibasika Development Program in Uganda.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to my amazing teachers and classmates who taught me so much.

Kitchen Tidbits inside credits

I’m currently testing recipes for Joanne Moscani-Piano’s father, and one of the recipes is his popular clam dish (Vongole Posillipo). The full recipe will be out in his cookbook, but it’s one of those wonderful “seven ingredient” recipes: evo, garlic, clams, plum tomatoes, oregano, pepper, parsley. Yum. You can serve this over pasta as well.


  • Why don’t some clams open: Clams are alive when you put them in the pot and are aggressively holding their shells shut. During the cooking they die and stop holding the shells together so they open. If they don’t, then they were dead before (and probably rotten) and have rigor mortis which holds the shell shut.
  • 4 flavors: very basically, I think of always balancing 4 flavors: sweet, sour, salt, pepper. More on flavor profiles to come, but I find this to be one of the most fundamental things about cooking:
    • Sweet: e.g. onions, carrots, sugar, maple syrop
    • Sour: e.g. balsamic, lemon, tomatoes
    • Salt: e.g. anchovies, parmesan, bacon, kosher salt
    • Pepper: e.g. dijon, thai chili, tabasco, red pepper flakes, pepper
  • Don’t add salt to a clam dish. The salt water released by the clams will be salty enough. In fact, Chef Pietro recommends diluting with a little water to take down the salt profile.

What secret ingredient do you use for sweet, sour, salt, pepper?

Buy now: Amazon (Canada) or Amazon (USA)


Restaurant Kitchen Lingo, and Some Incredible Tastes.


  • “Order” – you can start preparing the food, but don’t cook it.
  • “Fire” – ok, cook the food and plate it.
  • “All day” – how many orders+fires do we have of a particular dish.

It was my fourth day at JoJo today. I was helping Matt prep for, and then, help execute the Garde Manger station. This week is a slow week (until Valentines Day) so there weren’t that many “covers”. Covers are customers. Culinary school prepped me well for the lingo about utensils in the kitchen, as well as technical terms of preparation (e.g. concasser these tomatoes), but it doesn’t really teach you about the “execution lingo”. The main three terms I’m coming across so far are “order”, “fire”, and “all day”. For instance when I was working the meat station, an order would come in for “two veals”, this meant that a table had ordered them, but the expediter is saying “don’t start cooking them yet” because they are probably having a salad or soup. So I would take two veal cutlets out of the fridge, flour-egg-panko them getting them ready for cooking, start heating all the garnitures, but not actually cook the veal. Then when I hear “fire two veals”, I would start cooking the veal and plate them right away. It seems straight forward, but then when 3 more veals come in and two them are “fire”, it opens up the possibility for a mis-understanding (is that a new order that is “fire”, or is that firing up the old orders?). The term “all day” helps with this. “How many veals have we got all day” – this means the combined total of the two – i.e. how many veals outstanding are there in total? Because so much is new to me, I lose track pretty quickly, so I need a quick reset to make sure I’m on top of things and have the right number of dishes going.

The highlights of the day are definitely when I get to taste the food. Every so often Remi will bring over a sauce or a small dish of something and it’s always heaven. The lobster risotto, the champagne vinaigrette, the ginger coriander saffron chicken sauce, and the truffle creamed potatoes to mention just a few.

Because it was slow today, we had the unusual task of doing prep for tonight/tomorrow at the same time as manning the stations, so yes, I was cutting and peeling mushrooms, peeling potatoes, popping out endamame beans (see main pic for where those end up), peeling garlic. I had to remember to change my gloves when preparing a dessert dish (can’t have garlic smelling almond cakes!). One cool prep I did on the weekend was making ravioli courtesy of Remi’s instruction. This is an example of where simplicity makes a great dish. The raviolis are stuffed with just a small leaf of mint, a small leaf of basil, and ricotta. This tastes amazing when plated over a tomato sauce. The magic comes just before putting the ravioli on the plate. They are swirled in a high end olive oil and salt. Makes it all taste amazing. I’m definitely buying a pasta machine!

I have to admit that I liked the slower pace today, certainly after the craziness of the weekend. The learning curve is probably a tad slower, but the heart attacks are less frequent.

We Made It!!!!!!! The Practical Exam, Tequila, and a Pigeon – Day 79


  • Add calvados to your apple tart to make it “pop”
  • Add grand marnier to your chocolate mousse to make it pop
  • Add tequila to your lemon tart to make it….you guessed it…pop!

We all made it…yahoo!!!!!!! Congrats to everyone!!!!!!

Waiting outside the kitchen trying to guess the dishes
Waiting outside the kitchen trying to guess the dishes on the exam
Cooking up a storm
Cooking up a storm

Today was the dreaded final practical exam. We all arrived early but were locked out of the kitchen until the official start time. What were the required dishes going to be? We all peered through the kitchen windows trying to figure it out. There were apples on some of the trays so the apple tart was definitely one of them (good sign), but we couldn’t be sure of anything else. At 9am we all walked in and could see on the board we were either going to get apple-skate or pork-poached egg. Phew, no lemon tart. We each picked a number out of the hat (I got C5 which meant I was doing the skate-apple tart at 12.43 and 1.39pm …..yes, the stars we aligning, this was the easier combination and wasn’t the first start time. Plus my station was on the oven side for the first time and by the sink (these are all things that make it easier).

Miyako entering the judging area
Miyako entering the judging area
Judges Chef Mark and Chef John tasting our food.
Judges Chef Herve, Chef Marc and Chef John tasting our food.
Chef John evaluating Spencer's creations
Chef John evaluating Spencer’s creations

The first part of today’s exam was the recipe test. We were given a blank piece of paper and told to write down the full recipe for the skate grenobloise. After handing this in, we were given another blank piece of paper and were given 10 minutes to look at our books and write down anything we wanted about our dishes. I wrote down all the ingredients, measurements, and oven temperatures for both dishes. And then we were off……I had till 12.43 to carry a completed tray of 4 skate dishes across the hall to the judges, which I thought was plenty of time but it turned out I only made it by 30 seconds. I had my plan of attack pretty clear in my head: tart dough first, then the tart compote, do the first pass on the potato cocottes, fillet the skate, make the croutons, roll out the dough, butter and bake the tart, fine chop the parsley, prepare the mise for the brown butter Grenoble sauce (butter, lemon supremes, lemon juice, capers), qc and second pass on the cocottes and then boil them, sauté the skate, make the brown butter sauce, plate and deliver the skate, pick my mint garnishes, whip the crème Chantilly, apricot glaze the cooled apple tart, plate and deliver the tarts! I was a bit nervous about my dishes, but Chef Dominique had tasted my skate and said that it was very good which brought down my apprehension level a bit. I thought my tart dough was a bit too crunchy, but it turned out Chef Hervé likes a crunchy tart dough so that all worked out. After we were all finished, we were called in one at a time and told by the judges how we did. My potatoes were cocotted very well but weren’t quite hot enough, and my plating assembly could have been better, but overall I did pretty well. I took the opportunity to have a good conversation with Chef Hervé about which alcohols to put in various desserts which was fun.

Me getting my evaluation (and talking tequila) with Chef Herve
Me getting my evaluation (and talking tequila) with Chef Herve
Erik and the obligatory flambe shot
Erik and the obligatory flambe shot

After we were all done, we all did high fives, but it was a bittersweet celebration. This was the last day of classes and we are all separately off to do our externships for the next two months and aren’t going to see each other until our final written exam in April. (After our externships are over, we come back to school for one day to write a final written exam and make a presentation about our externship.)

“hot hot hot”

We all went to Toad Hall to celebrate with Chef Dominique and Chef Joe afterwards which was a lot of fun. Tequilas all round!!!!! Congratulations to everyone, I’m going to miss you all!!!!!!!!

Of course, the entire day would have been a disaster had it not been for a pigeon. I got home yesterday so exhausted that I didn’t set my alarm properly so it didn’t go off, but  I was woken up at 8.17am by the sound of a pigeon at our window. Had it not been for that pigeon I would have slept right through the morning exam for sure.

Moving forward, I’m planning to write about all our experiences at our various externships, the tips we’re each learning at our various restaurants, and then what we’re going to do culinarily afterwards. The adventure continues….

The Final Practical Exam is tomorrow, and three incredible days at JoJo – Day 78

Luis adding a little love to his plate
Luis adding a little love to his plate
Dalal and her two tarts. The first tart didn't make the grade.
Dalal and her two tarts. The first tart didn’t quite make the grade.

Tomorrow is the day that all of Level 4 has been leading up to. We start 30mins earlier (we all had to sign a sheet okaying this), walk in, pick a number out of a hat which will tell us what and when we’re going to be tested on.

If we pick “A” Garde Manger (salads & soups) + Saucier (meats) then we will have to cook on one of
1) Consomme Printanier
2) Poached Eggs
3) Salade Nicoise
plus one of
1) Pork Chops
2) Chicken Grand Mere
3) Beef Bourguignon

If we pick “B” Poissonier (fish) + Patissier (desserts) then we will have to cook on one of
1) Sautéed Skate Grenoble
2) Striped Bass Papillote
3) Grilled Salmon with White Wine Herb Sauce
plus one of
1) Apple Tart
2) Profiteroles
3) Lemon Tart

Emma and Erik discuss the weird goings on in the kitchen... missing pasta, plates getting moved, etc..
Emma and Erik discuss the weird goings on in the kitchen today… missing pasta, plates getting moved, tension, etc..

The easiest combo for me is definitely the skate + apple tart, but who knows what combo chef has in store for us. Time to start reviewing these recipes.

After school on Friday I had my “trail” at JoJo Restaurant, Jean-George’s first New York restaurant. It was totally trial by fire. I first did some prep, but then was quickly put on Linden and Genevieve’s garde-manger station, which meant we were putting together all the salads and the desserts. It was also the last day of “restaurant week”, where hundreds of restaurants have a special “discounted” menu. In Toronto we call the equivalent Winterlicious. What this meant was that JoJo was jam-packed and it was pure craziness in the very small “French style” kitchen, but it also meant that most people were ordering similar items, so for example once I got down the 13 steps required to assemble the carrot salad, I handled those when the orders came in. It was a great learning night, because I was able to add value very quickly. Nevertheless, it was mayhem. Near the end of the evening “Stewart, the chef wants to speak to you downstairs”, Uh oh. I had screwed a couple things up, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It turns out that Chef Ron felt I was a good fit and offered me the externship which I accepted right away. He said that I could go home if I wanted, but I knew Linden was still under pressure so went straight back to the kitchen to finish the night. Right then a huge wave of orders hit, and so it was back into the mayhem till very very late. It was a very long day. When the last order was filled, the whole kitchen crew all high-fived, but really I was read to collapse……..but what I didn’t realize is that this was just the beginning.

Assembling a made to order eggs benedict crab cake at JoJo.
Assembling a made to order eggs benedict crab cake at JoJo.

I asked when I could work next…. “how about brunch tomorrow?” So for Saturday and Sunday I worked the full day shift manning the meat station. Saturday was a bit less stressful, because the guy doing the meat station was there showing me the ropes, but on Sunday it was just me on meat, reporting to Remi who was doing all the fish and the eggs and running the show (with mastery I might add). It was supposed to be slow day, but all of a sudden there were 40 more “covers” than expected and a wave of pure panic hit. Plus, there were orders for courses I hadn’t cooked yet just as Remi got swamped. The head chef had to step in and help out. I didn’t do a perfect job and screwed some things up, burnt myself several times, but got through it. It’s a tough place to be in when everything is new, you’re not in control, really under pressure, and making mistakes, but I actually started to gain a little confidence by the end of it. PLUS we were making some pretty fantastic tasting food (more on this to come).

I have my recipes to study for the exam tomorrow and then I’m going to collapse (apparently there’s a superbowl thingie going on today as well). It’s back to JoJo on Tuesday.

Defeated by the Lemon Tart, and a Scavenger Hunt – Day 77


  • Remove the pin bones from your fillet before removing the skin. The skin will keep the fillet in shape while you slightly mangle it trying to remove the pin bones.
  • When having to drink a shot of green chartreuse on a scavenger hunt, the yellow label will not do. The green one has 130 herbs infused in it.
  • Even 30g less flour in a shortbread dough will lead to disastrous results.
Sad looking tart
My sad looking tart
Meagan and Dalal helping each other. We're not allowed to tell chef who was helping whom.
Meagan and Dalal helping each other. We’re not allowed to tell chef who was helping whom.

Even though the chef said “I was proud of the class today”, and “much improved”, this was not the case for me. Today was a complete disaster. I decided to  finish the lemon tart before even starting the fish, but I had written down the flour measurement wrong by 30 grams and when I was going to put my dough in the fridge somehow the chef spotted that my dough was light. We weighed it and it was lighter than Emma’s, and not knowing what I did wrong he told me to do it again. I’m not sure what I did wrong the second time, but my dough still came out too sticky, and then subsequently developed a hole that eventually leaked the lemon curd all over. I got a few points for trying to rescue it, but really, it was a total disaster.

Vitor helping chef with the Hollandaise demo - hey I thought we weren't allowed to help each other?
Vitor helping chef with the Hollandaise demo – hey I thought we weren’t allowed to help each other?
Miyako not needing any help
Miyako not needing any help

All this left me in a panic state for my fish papillotes. I got them into the oven a little late, and figured I’d rather be a few minutes late than serve the chef’s raw fish. But it was still undercooked. It really was my worst day out of the 75 days. Linda got high marks for having the best tart for two days in a row.

We only have two more day to go, which is sooooooo depressing, we really have all bonded as a great group and I’m going to miss seeing everyone every day.

Snow angel
Snow angel
The scanvenger hunt gang
The scavenger hunt gang
"ICC RULES!", whipped cream graffiti.
“ICC RULES!”, in whipped cream graffiti. (We had to create some graffiti as one of the clues).

After school, Dalal organized a scavenger hunt. Ray and I were team red. Dalal had us running all over the city snapping pictures doing crazy things with crazy people drinking a crazy amount of beer (and green chartreuse yuck). One of the pictures we had to snap was doing a snow angel. Unfortunately there isn’t any snow left in New York so we bought a huge bag of flour, spilled it on the ground and Ray made a snow angel. Among the hundreds of pics some other memorable shots include Joe and Chef Ben with the New York skyline, Meagan’s “flexible” picture, Emma’s shot “by the water”, and everyone seducing a business man stranger.Thank you Dalal for an amazing event.

I have my trail (job interview) at JoJo’s tomorrow afternoon, so I’d better get sharpening my knives.

Lemon Tart, The Interrupting Fish, An Air Duster and the Jacques Torres Demo – Day 76


  • When zesting a lemon, turn the lemon as you move down the zester. This insures you get just the outer zest (no bitter rind), and is much faster (courtesy of Erik).
  • Peel your celery before making a julienne of it – this removes those tough-to-eat fibers leaving a delicious flavor.
  • In making a dramatic centerpiece, the base should be an absolute maximum width of 2/3rds the height and ideally less (courtesy of Jacques).

Today we flip-flopped, which meant I was now doing the Striped Bass Papillote plus the Lemon Tart. The lemon tart had been proving very difficult for many people, but I was semi-confident I was going to be able to pull it off first time…..WRONG! I got my dough and blind baking done quickly, but then a fish interrupted.

Fish papillote pre-opening. (Looks a bit like a huge man-o-war jelly fish).
Fish papillote pre-opening. (Looks a bit like a huge man-o-war jelly fish).
An opened papillote
An opened papillote
Dalal updating her bumble profile
Dalal updating her bumble profile – just kidding.
Rapid cooling the tart by the window
Rapid cooling the tart by the window
Nice looking tart, but late and warm. Ugh!
Nice looking tart, but late and warm. Ugh!

The fish papillote is an amazing-tasting dish because there is such a melding of different delicate flavors. It consists of a bass fillet served over a tomato compote (sweated onions, garlic, tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf, s&p), and a mushroom duxelles (sweated shallots, mushrooms, lemon juice, thyme, bay leaf, s&p), and then covered with julienned and par-cooked carrots, julienned leaks, julienned peeled celery, a dash of white wine and thyme, and then baked/steamed in a parchment bag sealed with egg wash. The bag puffs up, and the diner cuts into it at the table releasing all the delicious odors. It really is delicious. I filleted the bass and got this all done just in time to plate for the chefs….but…..I hadn’t made my lemon curd for the tart, and it should have been in the oven by now. Yikes.

I patiently listened to the chef’s comments about my fish dish and then literally ran back to make my lemon curd. It was hopeless. I had 40 minutes to do about 90 minutes work, i.e. to zest and juice 5 lemons, let the zest infuse the juice, mix 5 eggs and sugar, whip, add cream and lemon juice, whip, fill the tart shell, bake for 25min, cool on a rack, decorate the plates and present. Pablo and I were in exactly the same situation. We cranked the temp on the oven a bit, and then I ran my tart over to the open window to try and rapid cool it. No chance. I had to present it warm. I made a fancy frozen lemon peel garnish (a trick Diana showed me) which I hoped might get me a point or two. Nope. “Next time you start your tart earlier!”. I think most us under-performed the chefs’ expectations “I was expecting more”. Tomorrow will be better. Both dishes today tasted great and were a welcome change from the heavy Bourguignon.

Pablo getting into trouble helping out Joanne.
Pablo getting into trouble for helping out Joanne.
Pablo not getting into trouble helping out Vitor.
Pablo not getting into trouble helping out Vitor.

After class Jacques Torres (Mr. Chocolate) demoed the making of a fantastical chocolate centerpiece, tempering chocolate, and letting us taste various chocolate fabrications. The highlight taste was definitely the chocolate covered cinnamon plus praline (almond, caramel, hazelnut) bonbon. Unexpectedly, key tools for a chocolatier include a laser thermometer, a hair dryer, and those compressed air pressure thingies you use to clean your keyboard. The laser thermometer to make sure your chocolate stays just below 90F or it will loose its temper, a hair dryer to slightly heat a bowl of chocolate when needed, and an air duster to ‘weld’ chocolate pieces together by instantly cooling the melted chocolate you used to join two pieces of chocolate together.


All You Need Is Love, and that darn Hollandaise – Day 75


  • To keep your Hollandaise hot, put it in a thermos (courtesy of Diana Colman)
  • 3 times – this seems to be the magic number of times that ‘most’ of us need to really nail a dish, unless you’re A2.
  • When pressing the final roll of fettuccine through the pasta roller, I have found it is best to keep the strands all aligned (don’t let them curl up). This way you can lay them out flat to dry and won’t stick to each other. You can also see if there are any that fail ‘quality control’ and bin them.

I humbly accept defeat to the poached eggs dish. I find it so frustrating that every little diner in the city can serve up a nice poached egg with a ‘hollandaise’, and after three days I still can’t nail it. Ugh!

The chefs giving us our evaluations.
The chefs giving us our evaluations.
My poached eggs, still needing improvement
My poached eggs, I’m smiling, but deep down I know how much they still needing improving
Jess, filleting the bass
Jess, filleting the bass

It was the class’s third day doing our recipes, and judging by the comments by the chefs at the end of the day (“Today was a nice improvement”), most of us did much better, though the chef’s didn’t hold back when the improvement wasn’t there. It was another mock final exam, which meant we all picked a number out of a hat (mine was A4) and plate according to the schedule on the board. At the end of the day the chefs go over their assessments, but for the past two times they’ve only said the number, not the person’s name. So you hear the comments, but aren’t exactly sure whom they’re talking about. I think I like it better when you hear the names, you’re able to give high-fives to those that do well, and also you know who to watch in the kitchen, and we all know each other pretty well by now that we can take the criticism publicly.

Joanne nails the tarts
Joanne nails the tarts

Anyway, when time came around to rate number A4 (me), the comments weren’t so good on the poached eggs. “The hollandaise didn’t cover the eggs fully”, “not enough vegetables”, “the vegetables were caramelized”, “could be warmer”. Ugh!!! It was super-frustrating because I knew I had slightly burnt the vegetables when trying to heat them up, and one egg I didn’t fully cover (the one chef picked), and I’m definitely going to bring in a thermos to try Diana’s trick to keep the Hollandaise hot. But then a nice surprise. The chef said “I don’t want to mention who this is because it will end up on a blog, but the beef was really outstanding with the best sauce. Really outstanding”. I was blushing all over because everyone knew it was me, and so I got a whole bunch of high fives. This is what its all about I guess! The “plates of the day” went to A2, which was Joe. The chef said you know you have an excellent plate when “you don’t want to stop eating it”. Congrats Joe.

Meagan removing her papillotes from the oven.
Meagan removing her papillotes from the oven.
Third time's a charm. Luis gets his tarts to the chefs station.
Third time’s a charm. Luis gets his tarts to the chefs station.

Later, several people came up to taste my sauce and/or ask what I did differently. Today I was totally focused on getting the consistency of the sauce perfect because yesterday it was too thick and on the first day it was too thin. Today I knew I had nailed the consistency, which means the flavor is more likely to be right. But I really didn’t have an answer for any “magic”. What I do know is that I love this dish a lot. Maybe all you need is love.

The Battle of the Hollandaise, James Beard House, and Kitchen Vocabulary – Day 74


  • When rolling your pasta dough through the final time to create the fettucine from a wide piece, trim the ends so you don’t end up with spikey and uneven fettucine.
  • If you cut your bread before service, put a damp towel over it to keep it fresh.
  • Never close the oven with your foot – it’s dangerous, and slams the door loudly which impacts not only the food but the chef you’re volunteering for at the James Beard House! Ooops.

While there was much less panic in the kitchen today, I still had my troubles. I’m really wrestling with what should be one of the simpler dishes – poached eggs with Hollandaise. My problem is how to serve this dish pipeing hot!!!!

Stewart vs. Hollandaise - Round 1
Stewart vs. Hollandaise – Round 1
Luis losing his battle with the lemon tart dough
Luis losing his battle with the lemon tart dough
A bass losing his battle with Miyako
A bass losing a battle with Miyako

I started my battle with the Hollandaise early: took 2 eggs yolks, 25ml of water, and started whisking them over a hot water bath. It took for ever to turn into a sabayon (almost liked soft whipped cream).Then off heat, I slowly added the clarified butter, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, “more lemon juice” according to Vitor, and some salt. It tasted ok, but the problem was how to keep it hot. Apparently the trick is to double bowl it and then put it over a hot water bath, which I tried. I got my vegetables reheating in butter, and then tasted the Hollandaise and now it was cold. Ugh. Turned up the heat on the hot water bath, poached my eggs, shocked them in ice, trimmed them, and then got them ready to go into salted hot (not boiling) water so that they would reheat but not cook. I looked up and my Hollandaise had curdled. Aaaaahh!!! Back to the drawing board. Wipe out the bowl, two more egg yolks and some water, and I start to whip again. This time it literally took less than two minutes and I had my sabayon (nothing like a pre-heated bowl I guess). It was like magic. I added the butter, cayenne, juice, salt, and put it back on the doubled water bath, but no way I was going to turn the heat up on it this time. Three minutes till plating time, so I put my poached eggs in the hot water, fill the mold with my vegetables, put the eggs on top, cover with Hollandaise, put the “tomato peel cross” on it, and run to the chef’s table….

Dolma getting accolades from the chef, in front of Chef Sayhac - the dean of the school!!!!!!!!
Dolma getting accolades from the chef, in front of Chef Sailhac – the dean and founder of the school!!!!!!!!
The chef asks "Whose perfect papillote is this?"
The chef asks “Whose perfect papillote is this?”

…total disaster. My Hollandaise was lukewarm with too much lemon and cayenne, the eggs were also only lukewarm, my vegetables were ok but I didn’t have enough of them, and the tomato peel was too thin. Total defeat. The only way I can see to pulling this off is to poach the eggs and make the Hollandaise right at time of service. This reheating business doesn’t work so well, plus you risk “breaking” your Hollandaise (which happened to a lot of people in the class).

The beef bourguignon was better, but I over-reduced my sauce a bit. I just love the smell in the kitchen when people take the cover off the braising dish. Heaven!

The "kitchen cam" at the James Beard House
The “kitchen cam” at the James Beard House

Saturday, I had such and incredible time at the James Beard House. I was the only volunteer, so it was famous Vermont Chef Kruse, his crew and me. I couldn’t believe it but he let me sear all the bacon wrapped sous-vide rabbit (which was one of the signature dishes), the whole team really took me under their arm. The Sous-Chef, Chef Juan (from Costa Rica) was my boss, and taught me all sorts of tricks. I also realized how much Culinary School had taught me particularly in the “kitchen vocabulary” department. Like in most disciplines, the kitchen has its own vocabulary. Had I been volunteering at JBH prior to culinary school, I would have had no idea what the chef’s were talking about: “hotel pan”, “sheet pan”, “half pan”, “china cap”, “chinois”, “circulator”, “Hobart”, “combi”. After the meal, the chef and his team walked around and talked to the tables. I was honored to be asked to join them. When not panicking, I was grinning ear-to-ear all night.

“Old School is Gooood Schoooool”, Boeuf Bourguignon, and Pure Mayhem – Day 73


  • Cut a small slit in your papillote when pulling it out of the oven so it doesn’t deflate (more on this dish next week).
  • Your pasta dough is properly kneaded when you stick your finger in it and it springs back 90% of the way.
  • Use clarified butter to brown your croutons to get a beautiful even brown colour.

Today was the day Chef Dominique had been subtly warning us about for the past three weeks. My half of the class had to prepare Poached Eggs with Hollandaise over macedoined vegetables plus Boeuf Bourguignon and the other half had Bass en Papillote and the Lemon Tart. And it was pure chaos!!!!

Chef demoing the beef bourguinion old school style
Chef demoing the beef bourguignon “old school” style
Emma plating the poached eggs
Emma plating the poached eggs
Lemon curd sneaking out of its shell
Lemon curd coming out of its shell

Everyone was running everywhere, there were burnt and spilt tarts, broken and curdled Hollandaises, fresh pasta too hard to cut into fettuccine, sauces that weren’t reducing, eggs that were too cold or over poached, there was a fire alarm, ovens at all the wrong and different temperatures, papillote that weren’t sealing, etc… Even the normally calm and genial “ICC Mayor Joe” didn’t have time to answer questions.

I really wanted to nail these dishes. I had served my first poached eggs and Hollandaise to my brother and his wife on a visit and it was a total disaster – the eggs were cold and the hollandaise didn’t work at all. Ugh. So I had a personal rivalry going with this dish. And also, this beef dish was the one that got Julia Child her book deal. It really is a classic dish. Chef told us this dish was “old school, but old school was goooood schoooool”. But my dishes definitely weren’t gooooooood school today.

Sophia and Dolma double teaming to hit the deadline
Sofia and Dolma double teaming to hit the deadline
"Mayor Joe" and crew prepping the beef shoulder
“Mayor Joe” and crew prepping the beef shoulder
The day Vitor fell in love with a fish
The day Vitor fell in love with a fish

The eggs sound pretty simple: Place two eggs in 180F degree water with a mise cup of vinegar in it. Swirl slightly at first so the eggs don’t stick to the bottom, wait “twoish” minutes till done, remove and shock in ice water, trim, and reheat in hot salted water before service. (You have to wash the vinegar off, and the salted water gives the eggs some additional taste.) You shouldn’t poach them in salted water because the salt interferes with the coagulation. Chef told us to always poach an extra egg “just in case”, I forgot to do this, and of course one of mine broke slightly (I covered the break with Hollandaise so I might have gotten away with it). The hollandaise is whisking and egg and an egg yolk with a bit of water over a hot water bath till it thickens (a sabayon), and then slowly add clarified butter off heat, and finish with salt, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper. I ran out of time to get my sabayon thick enough. The eggs are served over a bed of macedoined (“old school” cubed) vegetables, and topped with an “x” of tomato peel.

The beef is marinated overnight, seared and then braised in the marinating liquid. It is plated in a reduced sauce of the marinating liquid, deglazed sucs and stock, along with those darn pearl onions, mushrooms sauteed in bacon fat, freshly made swirled pasta, and a heart shaped “crouton” tipped with parsley. Again I ran out of time. I left my pearl onions till too late, I forgot entirely about the pasta for a while, my sauce took too long to reduce, my pasta stuck together, and I realized I didn’t have parsley well after the Chefs announced “has everyone got all their ingredients?”. Thanks Joe and Alton for donating some parsley to the cause. Ugh…I’ll do better on Monday. Despite the chaos, the kitchen smelled amazing. While yesterday’s fish fumet is a taste highlight, the red wine braising is definitely a smell highlight.

Today I’m volunteering at the Jame Beard House, and Chef Kruse is preparing 11 courses, so we have to be there at 2pm. There are three cameras in the kitchen so you can watch here to see if I’m peeling the potatoes correctly. Have a great weekend everyone.

Another Mock Final, The Trail Report, and dirty dishes – Day 72


  • Always shave before going to a “trail” (see note below).
  • Rotate your profiterole pan in the oven half-way through the baking. You can really see the different hotspots in oven with a tray of profiteroles. Some definitely get baked before others, so it’s always a good idea to rotate anything you’re baking half-way through.
  • Use an electronic scale for baking. A mechanical scale works well enough for protein cooking, but for baking you need better accuracy.

Today was another mock final. I walked in (just in time, I got a flat tire riding to work today), picked up number B6 which meant I plate at 1:10 (salmon) and 1:50 (profiteroles). We had roll call, chef reminded us of some of the more common errors, and then BAM, we’re off.

Running the elements full flame after clean up to burn off any grit.
Running the elements full flame after clean up to burn off any grit.
Sometimes the dishes pile up, even in a professional kitchen.
Sometimes the dishes pile up, even in a professional kitchen.
Pre-oven profiteroles
Pre-oven profiteroles

I could tell within 10 minutes that my profiterole dough “wasn’t like the others”. It seemed to take forever to absorb the eggs, it didn’t seem to dry well, and when I piped it out it looked a little flat. I stuck them in the oven anyway, but they came out looking like Alton’s macaroons (Alton’s now got a copyright on macaroon-looking profiteroles). Mentally, it seems so hard to throw it all out and start again. If it was just another step in the recipe, it would be no problem, but psychologically starting over seems twice as difficult. Anyway, into the garbage they went, and off to make another batch. I felt slightly better when I saw Emma “bin” all hers as well. Misery likes company I guess. Joe mentioned that I was using an analog scale to measure the ingredients (my digital scale shattered) and that was probably the cause. The analog scale is closeish (and good enough for non-baking recipes), but “4 grams too much of one baking ingredient, and 4 grams too little of another, and suddenly your ratios are all off”. I borrowed Meagan’s digital scale, and the second batch worked fine. I also wasn’t happy with my spinach (I had slightly burned the garlic and slightly over-salted). Having just re-done the profiteroles, it was somehow easier to “bin it” and re-do the spinach as well. I was pretty happy with my dishes, though my white wine sauce came out a bit thick. Chef Joe and I agreed that the wonderful wine-fumet sauce smells sooooo good, and like a fancy French kitchen should. It certainly was one of the WOW flavours we had back in Level 1.

Salade nicoise vinegar infusing with garlic.
Salade nicoise vinegar infusing with garlic.
Miyako searing the dark meats of the chicken before putting in the oven
Miyako searing the dark meats of the chicken before putting in the oven

Many of us are reporting back on the “trails” for our externships. Trails are the kitchen equivalent of a job interview, where you are basically “trailing” someone in the kitchen doing what they tell you to do for a whole shift. For our 200 hour externships, you basically go do a trail and then they tell you if you can do your externship there. This is how it worked for Joe at Betony, and Alton at ABC kitchen for example. Yesterday, Vitor showed up for his trail at The Modern slightly unshaven, so the chef gave him a razor and told him to go shave. Somewhere along the way to the bathroom Vitor lost the razor, so he used his potato peeler!!!!!! Ouch!!!!!! Rachel went to hers all ready to spend the day in the kitchen, but it turned out to be a traditional hour interview which she passed and now she has to go back to trail. Pablo reported being amazed at Le Chevalier – apparently they have a chandelier in the kitchen(?!). Good luck to Dalal “trailing” at Mercer kitchen today. I still haven’t heard back from my restaurants, but Gina is suggesting and alternative: JoJos, which doesn’t “sound” fancy, but JoJo is actually Jean-Georges nickname and is one of his restaurants, so it might be a fantastic experience.

Tomorrow some us start the famed Boeuf Bourguignon (Beef Burgundy) which is marinading tonight in wine, mirepoix and a garlic bouquet garni (thyme, garlic, bay leaf, pepper corns wrapped in a cheese cloth – see main pic). We also make our own pasta for this. I can’t wait.

Happy birthday to Joanne who was a welcome sight back in the kitchen today.

The Sun Also Rises – Back on our feet – Day 71


  • Add the powdered sugar to your cream only after it starts to gain some volume. This results in a better whip.
  • When cutting the tops of your profiteroles, align the bread knife parallel to the bottom of profiterole. It’s natural to align the knife with the top that you’re cutting off, but may end up with a wonky base, and the base has to hold the cream.
  • If you buy a knife sharpening stone, get the 1000 grit stone. Ideally you can get a stone that is 300 (rougher) on one side and 1000 on the other and use the 300 grit if your knife is really dull. But regular use of the 1000 grit should be fine.

Today was a much better day than yesterday. It was the second day we were all doing our dishes, we knew what we had to do, we certainly knew what NOT to do (see yesterday’s post!), so it was noses to the grindstone and whisks in the crème chantilly.– time to deliver for the chefs.

Grilled salmon with the sauce "locked in".
Grilled salmon with the sauce “locked in”.
Chef Dominique and Chef Joe prepare bouquet garnis.
Chef Dominique and Chef Joe prepare bouquet garnis.

We were rewarded by a “plates of pride” display, rather than our usual “plates of shame”. In the words of our chefs “A big rebound from yesterday”, “bigtime difference”, “everyone manchonneéd”, “garnitures looked nice”, etc… The two areas we seem to miss are getting the sauces perfect, and those darn pearl onions, but we’ll get there.

I made minor alterations to my dishes today. I grilled the presentation side of the salmon “at 2 oclock” for 20 seconds, and then “at 10 oclock” for 20 seconds. This is way longer than the recipe calls for, but I wanted to get those real nice dark sear lines. I then flipped the fillets over and only seared for 5 seconds. I still ended up with a succulent piece of fish, just a little under-seared on the plate side, but nobody looks at that side anyway. I also plated the dish as Erik recommended which was to make the fillet create a dam to prevent the wonderful wine-cream-herb sauce from spilling all over the plate, and definitely kept my herb out of the sauce till the very last second so they were green and fragrant.

Meagan and Spencer standing at attention
Meagan and Spencer standing at attention
Joe leaning at attention
Joe leaning at attention
Our "plates of pride"
Our “plates of pride”

I experimented with putting more sugar in the cream puff dough, but didn’t really notice any difference. Where I did put more sugar was the Crème Chantilly. “CC” is whipped cream with a bit of vanilla and a pinch of powdered sugar. I’ve decided that if you are using it more as a decoration then it should be “lightly” sugared, but if you’re using it “in” the dessert then it should be more “heavily” sugared – particularly because the dough isn’t sweet. If it is going with fresh fruit, it is better to lighten up on the sugar, because you don’t want the fruit tasting sour.

I plated a total of 12 profiteroles, and definitely wasn’t going to eat them all, so I walked across the hall and gave them to the pastry class. I figured I could pay back them a little for all the wonderful bread we’ve been getting from them. But it was a bit risky giving pastry to the professional pastry class.

Speaking of sweet, we have one more day of practicing these recipes, and then its on to the Lemon Tart, which I’m really looking forward to.

Salmon at "10 o'clock"
Salmon at “10 o’clock”
Me straining my fumet. Thanks Dalal for taking all the pics today!
Me straining my fumet. Thanks Dalal for taking all the pics today!

The class felt a bit smaller today. Joanne was out sick (get better soon!!!!), and Pablo/Vitor/Rachel all add to leave to do their “trails”. This is when you do a shift at a restaurant to see if they want you to extern there. I still haven’t heard back from my restaurants (Jean-Georges, and Lucien) so I’m starting to get nervous. On the good side, the James Beard House called, and I’m working for Chef Kruse on Saturday. He features food from the Lake Champlain area – I see at 16 hour cooked pork belly, and Sous Vide rabbit loins on the menu. Yum.

The Hammer Drops: Blood, Sweat and Tears – Day 70


  • Powdered sugar through a cheese cloth gives a much finer “sprinkle” than through a sieve.
  • Chives+chervil+Tarragon is a great combination of herbs for fish – beats the standard parsley by miles. (especially the tarragon).
  • Gently tap the salmon skillets under plastic with the side of a butcher’s hammer to flatten them out so that they are the same thickness throughout, and therefore cook evenly.

It was pretty chaotic in the kitchen today. Half the class got hit with the tsunami of doing the nicoise/grand mere chicken combined, both dishes for the first time. These dishes have an incredible amount of garniture preparation, and you really don’t have any time to spare, and it’s easy to find behind, as many found out.

Joanne's bandage
Dolma looks at Joanne’s war wound.
Chef Joe and Alton discuss why his profiteroles didn't "texturize"
Chef Joe and Alton discuss why his profiteroles didn’t “texturize”
Terrence nicoise under inspection.
Terrence nicoise under inspection.

One student was 10 minutes late to the chef’s station. Also, many of us did things today that the chefs have been telling us not to over and over, which led to a somewhat exasperated chef’s station. Not only that, but the usual jovial Joe had to leave early to do his externship trail so he was under pressure, Joanne burned her arm, several people “cracked”, and I can’t tell you how many infractions Vitor committed. This all contributed to quite the tension/pressure in the kitchen. To be honest, it was exactly the craziness I thought all of Level 4 was going to be.

To give you a sense, in the words of our frustrated chefs: “Not a good day today”, “lot’s of sloppiness”, “it was like a pizza parlor here today”, “if you don’t have your note cards, next time you’re out”, “peel over your bowl – this is level 1 stuff”, “follow the directions”, “only take what you need”, “a lot of people we’re late”, “the dishes have to be HOT”, “the sautoir has to be very hot, or the chicken skin will come off”, “properly remove the salad from the water, don’t just pour the water out”, “eggs were under-cooked”, “eggs were over-cooked”, “food was under-seasoned”. “manchonner, every day we have to remind you to manchonner”, “the jus was too runny”, “bone with bone-out, white with dark meat”. Ouch! Guaranteed we’re going to do better tomorrow chef!

Meagan "went for it", with four plates.....
Meagan “went for it” with four plates….. did Stewart
……so did Stewart

Amid all this though, with some tag-teaming with Erik, I actually had an ok day, but I could definitely feel the tension all around. My dishes were the easier grilled salmon with a cream herb sauce, and profiteroles. The salmon dish tasted amazing (if I do say so myself!). We made our own fish stock starting with 1L of water, fish parts/bones, mirepoix, thyme, bouquet garni. This was boiled down to half, and then added to wine/butter shallots glaze, and then heavy cream was further added, reduced down, a few drops of lemon juice, s&p, and at the last minute the herbs (chervil, tarragon, chives). Reduce reduce reduce, concentrate concentrate concentrate. This ended up being just a few tablespoons of heaven. The fish was served with a rice pilaf and spinach with garlic, s&p, and the amazing addition of nutmeg.

No eyeballs in the fumet!
No eyeballs in the fumet!
Emma: it's hammer time!
Emma: it’s hammer time!
Vitor, in a rare instance of not committing an infraction today!
Vitor, in a rare instance of not committing an infraction today!

The profiteroles were “easy-ish”. The dough is pretty straightforward – you boil water with butter, salt and sugar, then add in flour, mix, dry it a bit over the heat and then off-heat you gradually add eggs till the “Israelites make it but the Egyptians don’t” (see Day 29). My batter took 4½ eggs. You pipe this out and bake for 20mins, cut them open, stuff with crème Chantilly, sprinkle powdered sugar and place over a dark chocolate sauce. Yum! I always think that “Pate a choux” by itself tastes a bit bland (as its supposed to). I’m going to try and sneak in some extra sugar tomorrow to see the effect.

To top all the mayhem off, after we were done, we had a “Poissonier” written exam – thank goodness I studies the skate, salmon, and bass recipes for that one.

Thanks for those that are sending in meatball recipes for the contest. You can email them to me at if you prefer.

A Mock Final, 158 Verbs, Nicoise-Chicken Combo, Dolma gets an A+, a MeatBall Contest – Day 69


  • A quick blanch (boil) before you fry your potatoes will: a) improve the golden colour because it gelatinizes the outer starch, b) will “infuse” salt into the potato enhancing flavour, and c) kill the enzymes that cause “purpling” while you air dry. Blanching is the first step in potato rissole
  • The chef recommends “snapping” your beans “by hand” rather than using a knife, because if there is a tough “string” you can remove it using this method (my mother and her sister use this method)
  • Infuse your vinaigrette with an anchovy filet – I’ve always said anchovy is a magic ingredients – here’s another place to apply that magic.

Today was another mock final which means you pick a number out of a hat that tells you what time to plate. This was a tougher mock than previous, because none of us had cooked their two plates together, and we had all only practiced the dish once. This caused many of us to be late plating. To further add to the pressure the two dishes I had to do had 158 steps/verbs.

Joe, with a pound of butter on his chicken
Joe, with a pound of butter on his chicken
Dallas plating her Grand Mere plates
Dalal plating her Grand Mere plates
Alton spooning a reduction sauce over the chicken
Alton spooning a reduction sauce over the chicken

I was doing the combo of Nicoise salad (72 action verbs) and the Chicken Grand Mere (86 verbs). I did manage to get the plates to the chefs on time, but I felt the pressure of the clock the whole time, and at one point I thought I wasn’t going to make it because I hadn’t even started my pearl onions with 30mins to go, but Joe gave me a confidence boost (and a little help) and I managed to get them done. Panic set in early when the chef told me “you haven’t started your potatoes? Get them going, they take a long time!”.

Joanne plating her cream puffs
Joanne plating her cream puffs
Chef Dominique points to Dolma's A+ profiteroles
Chef Dominique points to Dolma’s A+ profiteroles
An A+, close up
An A+, close up

After the mock,  Chef Dominique and Chef Joe gathered us to tell us publicly what we did right and (more often) what we did wrong (another form of mock?). I have mixed feeling about this process. It is true you really learn the most hearing/seeing mistakes, but it’s always a bit depressing getting told what you did wrong in front of everyone. What makes it all worthwhile however is hearing the “plate of the day”. Dolma got an A+ for her profiteroles “perfect”. The chef told Joe he tried real hard to find something wrong with his chicken but couldn’t. Hehehe.

We have a written exam on “Poissonnier” tomorrow, so time to go learn those fish recipes.

The meatball contest is on
The meatball contest is on

Also, Ray and I are thinking of doing a Meatball pop-up this summer and have been experimenting with meatball recipes. Have you got an amazing meatball recipe or tip? Apparently Spencer’s mother makes “the best” meatballs. Consider sharing it below and tell me why you love it. The winning recipe will be posted here plus I’ll mail you a copy of the Meatball Shop.

Chicken Grand Mere, Celery Root Puree, and a Smoking Gun – Day 68


  • You don’t need a trussing needle to truss a chicken. By making a cut in the skin near the end of the legs (where you eventually manchonner), the string can grab the legs and keep the chicken together – you can also loop the chicken legs instead.
  • If you’re serving sliced grilled meat, sprinkle a little line of sea salt over them – this dramatically enhances the flavor.
  • Potato chip bags are filled with Nitrogen to prevent crush, not air. Oxygen would cause the chips to oxidize faster.

Today we did either the Chicken Grand Mere (roasted chicken with potatoes, pearl onions, lardons, mushrooms, and jus roti), or Grilled Salmon with White Wine Herb Sauce. For the first time in Level 4 I really really felt the time pressure.

Chef Dominique critiquing my chicken
Chef Dominique critiquing my chicken
Dean Chef Candy gives Pablo some trussing help
Dean Chef Candy gives Pablo some trussing help
Doma grilling her salmon on a grill sitting over the burners
Dolma grilling her salmon on a grill sitting over the burners

I thought the chicken was going to be easy: throw the chicken in the oven and while it’s roasting prepare all the vegetables. But everything took a little longer and more complicated than I anticipated, I put myself on team #1 and decided to do 4 plates, and time ran out pretty quickly. Step one was to de-wish bone and manchonner the wings, half-manchonner the legs, then put thyme s&p and bay leaf in the cavity, truss the chicken (is it officially a truss if you don’t actually use a trussing needle?), sauté/brown the chicken in a pan and put in the oven later adding mirepoix and leftover chicken pieces, make 12 potato cocottes and risolee (blanch-saute-oven), cook pearl onions glacer au brun, render the bacon and sauté the mushrooms in the fat, take the chicken out after 40mins and let rest, make the jus roti by deglazing the pan with white wine and then reducing 500ml of veal stock, finish the manchonners, carefully separate the chicken into 8 pieces, present on each plate the bone/no-bone, white/dark meat combination along with all the garnitures and sauce. Phew, got it done but was 3 minutes late to the chef’s presentation table.

Even though Chef Dominique demo’d the trussing without the needle half-manchonner trick, when I got back to my station I just couldn’t figure out how to start but eventually got rescued by Chef Joe. Then Dean Chef Candy walked in and immediately told me to get a new cutting board (I had grabbed the very last one which was warped). It seems every time Chef Candy walks in I’m doing something wrong. Ugh. Anyway, I did my potatoes pretty well, but then it was those darn pearl onions again. I worked my way through those, but saved two telling Chef “I’m not leaving culinary school without getting the Chef to show me how master these”, so Chef Joe showed me how he does them. (The key is to leave them in warm water and then only slightly cut the root so it holds together and then using the inside edge of the paring knife to make an initial scrape allowing you to quickly peel the one layer off – haven’t quite mastered it). Anyway, my chicken was cooked perfectly (really juicy), but my jus wasn’t reduced anywhere near enough, my potatoes were a little dry, my onions weren’t brown enough and I was late. It still tasted great.

Chef Dominique and our "plates of shame" again.
Chef Dominique and our “plates of shame” again.
Terrence sneaks a bite
Terrence sneaks a bite
Chef Herve uses a smoking gun on the celery puree
Chef Herve uses a smoking gun on the celery puree
A $32 chicken roulade dish.
A $32 chicken roulade dish.
Celebrating at Toad Hall
Celebrating at Toad Hall
Sharing an armagnac with Chef Dominique
Sharing an armagnac with Chef Dominique

The other half of the class was doing a grilled salmon which smelled amazing. They put a cast iron “grill” over the gas burners so that they could achieve those amazing grill marks, and the 4 tablespoons of sauce was reduced from 750ml of liquids, so you can imagine how good that tasted.

We had part 2 of our Sous Vide lesson in the afternoon which was amazing. Chef Hervé took the hanger steak (2 hrs at 133F) and Short Ribs (20 hrs at 133F) and quickly seared them in cast iron pan that had BEEN SITTING ON THE BURNER FOR 2HRS! – apparently it was over 500F. The steak tasted amazing. The best taste experience of the day though was a celery root-butter-cream-salt cooked sous vide pureed, and then infused with smoke using a “smoking gun”. (It reminded me of Boulud’s Chestnut-Celery-Apple soup I used to cook). Chef Hervé used this puree as a base for an amazing chicken-roulade dish (which he used to charge $32 for at his restaurant). We also had a great talk on the economics of restaurants. While obviously there are 1000 variables, he said that at 70 seats and 250+ covers a day you are starting to make money. Often top chefs participate in 5% of the gross as a bonus – totally changes the outlook when a party of 12 walks in at 10pm when you’re thinking of closing.

Paragraph of Sighs: My James Beard House volunteer kitchen gig was cancelled tonight ☹ because of the snow storm – I was really looking forward to it. Sigh. I also haven’t heard back from Jean-Georges, so I’m guessing I probably won’t be externing there. Sigh. We all invaded Toad Hall after class and had a great time doing shots, but I woke up with a headache. Sigh.

On the bright side, there’s nobody out on the streets because the mayor just issued a travel ban so we’re going to build a snowman in the park, and a Happy Birthday goes out to Joe! Off to buy one of the cast iron grill thingies.

Vacuum-infusing a Watermelon, Sous Vide, and Salade Nicoise – Day 67


  • Magic infusing liquid: Yuzu juice + Elderberry Cordial. This combination of sweet and sour tastes incredible.
  • To instant peel a hard boiled egg – roll it around hard on the counter till it’s all broken like a web and you can peel it off in once piece instantly.
  • “Snap” your green beans AFTER boiling them – if you cut the ends off before boiling they tend to absorb more water and become a little more watery – it’s better to cut “on the bias” after they’re cooked.

Today we all experienced incredible new tastes. Chef Hervé took the afternoon shift and taught us all about Sous Vide, Low Temperature Cooking, and Vacuum Infusing. Sous Vide (literally “Under Vacuum”) is a recent way of cooking where meats or vegetables are vacuum sealed in a bag, and then put in circulating water at the desired “final temperature”.

Chef Herve demonstrating the vacuum machine.
Chef Herve demonstrating the vacuum machine.
Eggs "sous vide"
Eggs “sous vide”
Pickled watermelon rind
Instantly pickled shaved watermelon rind

Conventionally, if you were cooking a medium-rare steak you want an internal temperature of 145F, but you would set your oven way higher at 400F, and wait for the meat to get to that temperature. In all probability, the outside will be more done than the inside, and getting it perfect without drying it can be tough. In Sous Vide cooking the meat would be put in 145F water for many hours, and the whole meat will gradually come up to that temperature but no higher. Perfectly cooked! (and super moist too because nothing is drying out the meat). Meat will be grilled before (or after or both) to get that nice browning flavor to boot. (Apparently Jean-Georges where I’m hoping to extern does all their vegetables this way.)

What this all means is that you can cook food to the exact temperature you want and get PERFECT results every time. Chef Hervé really brought this home by showing us eggs that were cooked at 57C, 62C, 63C, 64C, 65C, etc… The one degree differences were incredible, and we all agreed 62.5C would yield the perfect poached egg. The 65C egg is at the exact temperature that the yolk is “like playdough” and you can fashion it in to a square – crazy.

Chef Dominique demo's the salad nicoise
Chef Dominique demo’s the salad nicoise
Got the thumbs up for my nicoises
Got the thumbs up for my nicoises
Megan building her profiteroles.
Megan building her profiteroles.

The real magic today, however, was using the vacuum machine to infuse foods. Watermelon cubes were put in a bag with a mixture of Yuzu Juice (a nice sour juice) and Elderberry Cordial (mellow sweet). This bag was put into the vacuum machine which first sucks all the air out of the watermelon and then when exposed back to atmospheric pressure, presses all the juice into all the spaces where the air was. It all takes about 10 seconds, and tastes incredible. Chef also took watermelon rind peelings and infused it with a pickling juice. In 30 seconds we had incredibly tasting watermelon rind shavings. The whole class couldn’t believe what we were tasting. Part 2 of the class is tomorrow. We can’t wait.

The morning was Salade Nicoise for half of us, and Profiteroles over Chocolate for the other. I was in the salad group, and tried to remember all the tips: I infused my wine vinegar with crushed garlic (not diced) and s&p before adding the oil, boiled the eggs for exactly 11 minutes, used waxy potatoes cooked with the skin on before cutting and peeling, infuse the potatoes with dressing while they are still warm, cooked the beans before ‘snapping’ them, peeled the green peppers to make them more supple, carefully ‘vinaigretting’ each item separately, alternate between green and not green on the plate, don’t overlap the rim, cut the nicoise olives in half, super fine chop the parsley, and present using a tray. It was worth all the trouble, all the elements got two thumbs up from the chefs.

Keep your eyes open for a meatball competition coming soon!

“Truth in Menus”, another Mock Final, and one more Fire Alarm – Day 66


  • Never try and put one over on the chef

Yesterday, Chef Dominique told us all never to try and trick the chef. One student tried to say she had put sugar in her Crème Chantilly, but the Chef was pretty sure she didn’t. This brings up the topic of “Truth in Menus”. “TiM” is a series of legislations that various states have passed requiring truthful disclosure on menus (New York state has not passed this yet). A few days ago Azure, the Intercontinental Hotel’s fancy dancy restaurant in Toronto was found guilty of all sorts of breaches in this category. Their “wild” salmon was farmed, their “organic” granola was Quaker Harvest Crunch, their “homemade dressing” was bought, their Japanese Wagyu steak was regular skirt steak, their “freshest artisanal ingredients” were frozen, etc… you can read the article here. Wow!!!!! I’ve always assumed all menus are truthful, now I’m not so sure. Apparently the most numerous offences are around fish (usually frozen rather than fresh). Congrats to Toronto for their “menu verification squad”.

Doma, flambeeing her pork
Doma, flambeeing her pork
Dalal cocotting a potato
Dalal cocotting a potato

Today was another mock final where we walk in, draw a lot, which gives us our station location and presentation time. I drew c6, which is a station right by the chef. I really enjoy being near to the chef. Yes, you get “reminded” every time you’re doing something wrong, but you learn so much more than being in the back. I didn’t fillet my skate so well today, but decided to do 4 plates anyway (we only “have” to do 2 plates today, but on the real exam you have to do 4, so why not practice). I thought I did pretty ok today. My tart got an “awesome”, but I under-buttered my skate and had my capers and croutons bunched up on the plate. I think our work station was jinxed today because Megan’s consommé didn’t clarify at all, Doma’s pork was rare having read three different temperatures with three different thermometers (everywhere from 113F to 170F), and Emma was getting “constructive reminders” on a more-than-regular basis. Dalal got the highest award today: “The best ICC tart the Chef has EVER tasted”. Wow!

Keeping warm in the freezing cold during the fire alarm.
Keeping warm in the freezing cold during the fire alarm.
Chef Dominique giving us our critiques.
Chef Dominique giving us our critiques.

I’ve also really learnt the importance of uniformity of cut. For instance, cutting my apple pieces for my apple compote exactly the same size means they all cook at the same speed and to the same hopefully perfect doneness. This particularly applies to garlic and onion pieces that you’re frying. You definitely don’t want anything burning in your pan, and those small pieces are guaranteed to burn before the bigger ones are done. I now understand why the French are so stipulating (sp?) about making sure the vegetables are all cut to the exact same size.

Tomorrow, we’re on to new recipes (finally), and we also are getting a sous vide demonstration, which should be interesting. I’ll have lots to report about this new way of cooking.

Chitchat Chitchat – oops, look what I cooked, Skate Grenobloise and an Apple Tart – Day 65


  • Present a skate with the round side facing the customer, like a smile. Also, it turns out skate fish is not kosher.
  • When reducing sauces or soups, it’s a better idea to add salt only at the end. If you add salt near the beginning, it might taste fine but as it reduces the salt taste will get stronger, and there’s not much you can do if your sauce is too salty.
  • When boiling vegetables, root vegetables (e.g. potatoes) should start in cold water and warm up with the water, all other vegetables should go in when the water is boiling. When the potatoes go through the different temperatures slowly, they develop all sorts of different interesting flavours.

Today was the second day we were all cooking our respective dishes. Although on Friday there was a lot of helping each other out, today we all knew pretty much what we were doing, so it was more chitchatting about the long weekend while we were cooking than panicking about our dishes.

Using a piece of dough to push in the corners of the tart
Using a piece of dough to push in the corners of the tart
My plated skate
My plated skate

I was supposed to be on team #4 (the team that presents last), but I put myself on team #1 so I could present early. It’s no problem getting these dishes in time if you kinda know what you’re doing, and there’s nothing worse than sitting around waiting to start your dish but can’t because your “present time” is still an hour away.

Chef Joe working on a HUGE ham
Chef Joe working on a HUGE ham, making proscuitto
Chef Joe and Chef Dominic notice Pablo's "slightly over cooked" tart
Chef Joe and Chef Dominique notice Pablo’s “slightly over cooked” tart

I did my dough in a bowl this time (you’re supposed to mix it on the counter, but I find this creates a huge mess, and you loose some of the ingredients in this mess – in a bowl you don’t loose anything). The Chef asked me to do a double apple compote because he had an extra tart shell to fill – this may have not been his most well-considered plan since I burnt the compote last time, but I got it done no probs. You simply cube peeled Granny Smith apples, put some sugar and a bit of water and sweat them under a parchment paper lid, until mushy (but not too mushy, we don’t want apple sauce), and then cool. A reminder: you use Granny Smith apples for the filling (because they are a bit tart and hold together well in the cooking). You use Golden Delicious to cover the tart, because these are more delicate, sweeter, and will brown nicely. I also used a Julia Child trick – when slicing the apples (1/8 in thick) to cover the tart, I only sliced them as I was putting them on the tart. This allows you to keep the shapes from the same apple together, and so adds to the uniformity of the tart. I slightly over cooked the tart on purpose to get a real nice browning, and then after it had cooled covered it in warm melted apricot glaze. I thought it looked it perfect. So did the chef, he kept it as an example of perfect colour. Linda got the ‘best dough ever’ award. I didn’t taste it, but overheard the chef’s saying how fantastic it was. She did a tiny little extra fraissage (take a walnut size of the dough and smunch it along the counter – this fully mixes the ingredients one last time).

The bread class across the hall "pommading" their butter for croissants
The bread class across the hall loudly “pommading” their butter for croissants
Vitor and Jess pouring their consommes for the chefs
Vitor and Jess pouring their consommees for the chefs

I got a mini-skate today, so my fillets were tiny. I still used the big sauté pan, and got a little reprimand – use the “right vessel” for your work. I cocotted my potatoes pretty well, but still overcooked my croutons (“do zem again, zey are too dark”). But really, once you’re ready to go, the whole skate dish takes only about 8 minutes to do, and still tastes amazing – then again, almost any fish with brown butter, lemon, capers and parsley tastes amazing.

We got a little more info on our final. Apparently when we randomly pick our dish out of a hat, we’re allowed to look up the recipe and write down notes, but then we’re only allowed the refer to these notes during the cooking. Tomorrow, we’re supposed to do our dishes “sans recipe”. Other than the dough measurements, you can pretty well eyeball everything else. Got a 97 on my test, so felt good about that. Forgot to the lemon juice in my Hollandaise Sauce recipe. Dough!