Last day with Chef Ben, BBQ Chicken, Potato Salad, Panzanella and a film debut – Day 48

TODAY’S TIDBITS

  • Make sure to apply potato salad dressing to WARM potatoes, they grab and absorb the dressing much better.
  • Be careful in covering hot food with aluminum foil – this will react with any food that is acidic. Often catering companies put an intermittent layer of plastic between the food and the foil.
  • Don’t throw out stale bread – you can make a Panzanella salad, croutons, or bread pudding with it.

Today was a little bit sad because it was our last day with Chef Ben. So far throughout the various levels we’ve had the opportunity to be taught by a variety of great chefs and personalities, but you definitely develop a different type of bond with your “Family Meal” chef: Yes, he’s still your instructor, but in family meal it’s all one team – there’s an 11.55am deadline and all the food HAS to be ready and HAS to be up to quality, so the whole team is pulling together, including the Chef, and through pressure bonds form. Plus, because we’re given some liberty to bring our own creativity to the dishes (albeit within limits), when you nail it and the Chef tells you that, it feels pretty good.

Chef Ben inspecting the chicken pre-sear
Chef Ben inspecting the chicken pre-sear
Serving up some family meal
Serving up some family meal

But there wasn’t too much time for reflection today, there was a BBQ chicken lunch to prepare and all sorts of various salads. There was also the added pressure that we were being filmed. My friend Frank is filming a pilot for a show about career changers, and I’m one his subjects. He was visiting nyc, so he asked if he could interview me at school, and the school said yes.

Jess and I were on the potato salad, which wasn’t quite as exciting as I was hoping for the big ‘film debut’, but potato salad for 200 has its share of complications. First cooking that many potatoes requires huge vats. We were cooking both Idaho and red bliss potatoes, which cook at different rates, so you can’t cook them together. Also, for potato salad, you have to boil the potatoes perfectly. Too much and you end up with potato mash salad, and too little you end up with grainy potato salad. So when that hugemungous (sp?) vat of potatoes is cooked on point you have to stop the cooking right away – which involves quickly draining out the hot water and dumping in ice.

Megan and her gingerbread men
Megan and her gingerbread men
Alton and Erik on corn duty
Alton and Erik on corn duty

Then, to further complicate things, you put back hot water…..huh?….yes… once you’ve stopped the cooking, you want to keep the potatoes warm, because warm potatoes absorb the dressing much better. The dressing/vinaigrette has its own share of challenges. Jess wanted us not to do a cream dressing (I agree), so we did a simple shallots, scallions, dill, parsley, Dijon, s&p, in white wine vinegar, with canola oil whisked in. While we finally got the seasoning right, Chef then had us taste it in a small bowl of potatoes – totally different – nowhere near strong enough. This was an important lesson we’ve learnt several times: don’t only taste the dressing, taste the dressing on the item to be dressed. We finally got the seasoning right, but it took about 10 different salt/vinegar/oil manipulations.

Breaking news on CNN
Breaking news on CNN
Jess prepping polenta for Monday
Jess prepping polenta for Monday

Nina and Gerardo did a great job on the BBQ chicken. I’m not 100% sure what they did, but it included wood chips, a smoker, a visit to the huge food library to find a unique BBQ sauce, and pre-searing, Alton and Spencer made charred corn smothered in a delicious Cotija maynaise, and Joe made a Panzanella salad (which is a salad made from stale bread, a way restaurants use of getting rid of all that left-over bread). My favourite taste of the line today though (other than Meagan’s gingerbread cookies of course) we’re the roasted celery root. I’ve written about celery root before, and I think it tastes great. I took some home, which I’m going to glaze with a bit of brown sugar and butter. Have a great weekend everyone.

ps: Our gingerbread house display made it into USA TODAY. To see the story click here.

pss: Ray and I are volunteering at Jacques Torres chocolate factory over the weekend in Brooklyn. Should be fun.

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One comment

  1. Frank

    A very fun day at ICC. A completely dedicated group of students who seem to be learning about food and a whole lot more. The gingerbread men were amazing!

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