Family Meal Craziness and a Jacques Torres Buche – Day 41

TODAY’S TIDBITS (Also see Jacques’ below)

  • If you rip basil ‘along the grain’, then you can do it a long time before service, because it doesn’t tarnish. If you rip it against the grain, it will wilt quickly.
  • Fry Rainbow Chard stems separately from the leaves – unless you want to overcook the leaves and undercook the stems.
  • Pasta water should be salted, but not too much, as the pasta absorbs the equivalent of its weight in water (and salt). You should use much more salted water for vegetables because they really don’t absorb that much of the cooking water.

Today was the first day of “family meal”. In restaurants, family meal is the meal that the staff eat. At our school, it’s the meal EVERYBODY eats – all 200 of us. I was theoretically in charge of one of the main dishes (chicken parmesan) so I got to the kitchen an hour early this morning just to get ahead of the game. Of course, the reality was that we just all did what Chef Ben told us to do, but soon we’re going to be fully responsible for getting that food ready for 200.

Stewart manning the tilt-fryer
Stewart manning the tilt-fryer
Stewart and Alton, on the bread line
Stewart and Alton, on the bread line

It didn’t take long for reality to set it. I walked in with my “prep list” prepared with tasks all assigned to people on my team. Chef Ben politely said that because today was our first day, just do what he tells us. “See those sixty eggs over there? Crack ‘em for the chicken battering…. And the race was off… soon we were prepping for 200 chicken parmesans. After flour-egg-bread crumbing the chicken, it was my job to man the ‘tilt-fryer’ and shallow-fry all the parmesan, which then got some parmesan, and a second cooking in the oven, covered with fried herbs, sauces and on to a serving plate. When the frying was done, I hopped ‘on the line’ and started to serve the chicken. This was the first time I actually looked up and lo-and-behold there were 5 other courses generated by our class (2 pastas, some chard, a salad, etc…).

The charcuterie crew
The charcuterie crew
Putting the 'parmesan' in chicken parmesan
Putting the ‘parmesan’ in chicken parmesan

I was amazed how much we had all got done. When the lunch rush was over, I thought, ok, it’s over for today, we can relax a bit….but no….after a 20min break, we had to start the prep for tomorrow – hangar steak for 200….so it was time to put our butchering skills to work, and off we went. At 2.45pm we have to stop at whatever stage we’re at because we have to have the kitchen clean by 3pm. We got accolades that our family meal was really good, so that was cool! Personally I thought we could have done a better job on the chicken – next time!

Jacques getting ready to 'roulade' his genoise
Jacques getting ready to ‘roulade’ his genoise
Buche de Noel - Torres style
Buche de Noel – Torres style

But the day didn’t end there. Famed chocolatier Jacques Torres was giving a demo after school which I really didn’t want to miss. Jacques ‘Mr. Chocolate’ is one of the top pastry chefs in the world, did a long stint at Le Cirque, is a dean of the school, and now owns 7 chocolate shops around town. He gave a demo on making a Buche de Noel, which brought back memories of our family Christmas, because we’d have one every so often. This was a rolled genoise (infused with sugar and rum), with chocolate pastry cream on the inside and coffee buttercream on the outside. The amazing thing about his demo was that all the techniques we had just learned, he was doing them…. He even did the “dipping your fingers in the boiling sugar to test it” thing. I asked several questions, of course.

  • JACQUES TIDBITS
    When you cool a cake, flip it over onto the cooling rack, but leave the parchment paper on for the cooling. This gives you a moister cake.
  • Use Belgian chocolate.
  • Generally avoid using yolks when making buttercream, it’s heavy enough, so using only egg whites makes a much lighter cream.
  • Cover your piped meringue shapes with a damp towel to softly curve the top, and remove the “pipeing Hershey’s kiss top”
  • Bring eggs to room temp by putting them in tepid water – saves time.
  • When whipping a meringue, don’t keep the speed on full all the way till the end, or you’ll lose some volume.
  • Use a slice of your ‘buche’ on top to construct a branch cut formation.
  • Use cornstarch in your crème patissiere rather than flour – it gives a better consistency and taste.

It was quite a day: from fry cooking to asking Jacques Torres what type of liqueur works best with chocolate….what a day!

ps: The answer was a bit boring: rum, and grand marnier.

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