Andrea Alton is magnificent as her alter ego “Molly ‘Equity’ Dykeman” in Molly’s World, a rainbow romp through the mind of a pill-popping lesbian security guard and part-time poet. If Ellen Degeneres, Rosanne Barr and the Trailer Park Boys had offspring, they might look something like Molly, an in-your-face, tell-it-like-it-is type of gal with a naive version of the world.
Alton spins together Cheetos, vagina poems and nuclear warfare in ways that’ll keep you laughing out loud. Molly’s story about her motorcycle trip from New York through Toronto and towards outer space is made funnier with her use (or anti-use) of props. Molly would often deviate from whatever story she was telling, spinning seemingly random thoughts together, yet the audience laughs kept coming. If you’re the persnickety theatre type, the noise from people unwrapping their Cheetos packages might drive you crazy however, Andrea’s stage presence creates an unpretentious, larger-than-life experience that will leave you wanting more of everything, including the Cheetos.
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!!!!!!
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).
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.
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.)
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….
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
3) Lemon Tart
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!!!!
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….
…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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you prefer.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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!
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”.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
Key Change is a raw and illuminating portrayal of prison life created by inmates from Her Majesties Prison Low Newton (HMPLN), a closed prison for female offenders, which later toured within the men’s prison system.
If you combined Women of Cell Block H withClockwork Orange you’d come up with something close to the highly creative and fast-paced Key Change with it’s unapologetic story fuelled by top-notch actors who dive deep into the emotionally complex subject matter. A poignant and moving portrait of a failing prison system that, instead of rehabilitating offenders, is literally crushing the lives of women who have already suffered extraordinary abuses. What do we expect when we take a woman who has been abused and toss her into prison?
Lacking safety and support she is doomed within a system that acts like quick sand, sending its victims in search of escape through one of the most realistic expressions of Heroin use I have seen on stage. I did expect that the characters would develop or grow but they didn’t and that may have been the point. Go see Key Change, it‘s a raw, riveting and intense journey that will stay with you long after the performance.
4th Street Theatre, NYC
until January 31st, 2016 TICKETS
Directed by Laura Lindow, written by Catrina McHugh, Key Change won the Carol Tambor ‘Best of Edinburgh’ Award 2015. Cast: Angie: Jessica Johnson, Lucy: Cheryl Dixon, Kelly: Christina Berriman Dawson, Kim: Judi Earl and Lorraine: Victoria Copeland
Skate is a unique tasting seafood (think fish meets scallop), but goes bad fast. They urinate through their skin (like sharks), so they start to smell like ammonia pretty quickly – served fresh, seared, they taste pretty amazing.
To evenly brown croutons, soak them in clarified butter and then sauté and shake constantly – this will prevent one side being dark brown than the other. (from Erik)
Use powdered sugar in your whipped cream – this creates a smoother whip than if you used granulated sugar.
Today was the first flip-flop day. One half of the class was now doing the skate and apple tart, and the other was now doing the pork and consommé. This meant that we were all standing across from someone who was first doing the dish we knew really well, and we were working for the first time on dish across from someone who knew it well.
This meant that we were each giving and receiving pointers to each other all day. It was fantastic. The chef had hardly anything to do because all the students were helping each other. That doesn’t mean we all did a perfect job, in fact today was a minor disaster for me. I prepared my apple tart dough and had just put my compote (apple filling) on the stove when the chef summoned us to the front to demo how to fillet the skate. By the time I got back to my station my compote was burnt. This happened to several of us. Having to suddenly re-make the compote put me in panic mode, which quite frankly I didn’t recover from for the whole day. I got my skate filleted, seared, and covered with a brown butter sauce (with lemon supremes, capers, lemon juice, parsley), but I totally forgot the croutons I had made (twice) earlier, and I was late by 3 minutes. My tart was well browned, and the crust was ‘excellent’, but my apricot glaze had been applied a little to late so it had started to gelatinize. I was not happy with the day, but it was fun getting and receiving pointers from classmates.
After class I had an amazing time volunteering for the James Beard Foundation at a food/jazz event at the Lincoln Center. First, I had the unusual experience of being called “chef” all evening – it’s amazing what happens when you don a chef’s uniform. At one point in the evening one of the stations was short of water, so I said I’ll get it for them from the kitchen of the center’s restaurant. So I walked through the Dizzie Gillespie restaurant – half way through a couple approached me and said “Chef, we just wanted to say how wonderful the food is here”. I said that was fantastic, thanked them, and then quickly walked into the kitchen and told the real chef the story.
After a bit of a slow start to the evening, the volunteer coordinator shouted “they need help over there at Mokbar, the Korean Ramen Bar”, and suddenly I was back in panic mode. The owners of Mokbar quickly showed me how to plate their dumplings and fried cucumber dishes, and it was off to the races. It was particularly frantic because a) these were most popular dishes of the event, and b) the induction burners blew the fuses, so there was all sorts of re-cabling to be done, and all of sudden we were behind again. All in all it was a lot of fun, and I learnt a bit about Korean food (see main pic of Stewart and the gang at Mokbar).
It’s MLK day Monday, so we have a three day holiday. Have a great weekend everyone!
On a gas stove, if you want to heat something but only ever so slightly, you can just use the pilot light flame.
When flambéing, take the pan off the stove, add the brandy, then put the pan back on the stove tilting the pan so the flame just catches the brandy. Badaboom!
In a restaurant, err on the under-cooked side if you have to. The customer can always send it back and you can cook it some more. If you over-cook it, you’re toast. On an exam at a culinary school however, err on the over-cooked side.
Even if the whole class chips in (including the Chefs), this is no guarantee of winning the Powerball.
Today was a “mock” final, warming us up for the Level 4 practical exam. While the details aren’t yet clear about the real final, today we walked in and picked a number out of a box. I picked B2. This meant that I had to present my consommé at 12.50 and pork at 1.30. In the actual final I believe we also pick out a piece of paper that has the meals we have to cook, but we’ve all only practiced two so far this level, so those are the ones we did today.
To be honest, it was a tiny bit anticlimactic. Most of us knew what we were doing, and just proceeded to go about doing it. To simulate the final exam, at EXACTLY 12.50, I plomped down FOUR plates with vegetables and a teapot of consommé in front of the ‘judges’. The chef asked me to pour one plate, leave it with him, and take the rest away. That was it. Then I was off to prepare the pork dish. By the third day of preparing the same dish, it left a fair amount of ‘down’ time. Joe had finished all his prep 2 hours early, so he was bored silly. I was more confident today, but nothing worked out perfectly. My consommé was a bit weak and under-salted, my ‘taillage’ was uneven, my pork wasn’t hot enough, and my sauce could have been a bit stronger. After we were all done and the kitchen was cleaned, Chef Dominique gathered us all to take a picture to help him remember our names, and then he and Chef Joe publically told us each what we did right and wrong. It was a bit depressing – I think only one or two of us nailed everything perfectly.
I can tell my personal standards have risen though. For the consommé, for example, there are four vegetables that are incorporated into the dish (carrots, turnips, peas, beans). Each one of these is cooked separately, and then shocked in ice at the exact point of doneness. I would say that the “perfect” doneness is within a 20 second window, and different for each. I felt I got them all perfectly cooked today. I don’t think I would had ever paid that much attention to individually making sure each vegetable was perfect in its own right. I also noticed on the apple tarts, people are getting perfect at just browning part of the edge of apple on the covering. Spencer, who is across from me on the station, nailed that today.
Next we flip flop. For the next three days I will be doing the apple tart and the skate, and vice versa. We have a written exam tomorrow on “garde manger”, which covers things like consommés, salad nicoise, and other “garde manger” station food items. Time to write out my skate and apple tart recipe cards, and get studying. I am also volunteering at a James Beard Foundation event tomorrow night, so it’s going to be a long day.
Stopping at David Bowie’s apartment/vigil again this morning definitely set a different mood for the day for me, and either way there was definitely a different vibe in the kitchen today – “everything was under control”. We had all done our dishes yesterday and today was going to be different!
For me I was in a “Zen” like state. I collected my ingredients in one or two trips (rather than 10 yesterday), I knew what I was doing, I had all the right tools and pans ready to go, I knew what 12 mistakes I wasn’t going to repeat, and my head was clear. Also, I was on team #4 today, which added an extra 20min to the preparation time.
I had my consommé clarifying no problem, I ‘taillaged’ my vegetables properly (not like yesterday), my sauce Espagnole had browned and “singer” vegetables no problem, I flambéed my pork chops calmly, I fried my potatoes promptly after I julienned them so they didn’t oxidize, I seasoned my consommé with salt 5 times till it was perfect (I even took a sample over to Rachel and had her give her approval). Throughout the process I was cleaning my station, organizing my mise cups, and sanitizing my cutting board. I felt pretty good.
Speaking of cleaning, I have to admit I’m having a slightly passive-aggressive fight with the guy who washes the dishes. While the past dishwashers were fine to take dirty dishes, this guy insists that every dish is fully rinsed and will definitely not wash your cutting board or any other unauthorized items. It’s a bit annoying so I’ve been giving him ‘mostly clean’ dishes just to see if he will take them – usually I loose this battle. Oh well.
I guess humility is good thing. I got an “excellent work” on my consommé and taillage, but I was quickly brought back down to planet earth with my pork dish – despite “cooking a ‘d’ and plating a ‘b”, my careful attention to this presentation detail resulted in the pork being plated the wrong way, and also my potato dauphin was over-salted and moist. The “cooking a d” refers to the shape of the pork chop in the pan and means the bone is sticking up on the right and the meat is on the bottom left. This is your first sear (presentation side down). When you put it on the plate it is a “b” shape – i.e. the bone is on the left and the meat is on the bottom right. I screwed it up because the bone curved differently and….well….enough with the excuses…I screwed it up. But my pork was perfectly cooked (internal temp 145F), and the sauce was so good I had to bring some home.
When presenting my plates to Chef Dominique, he asked if he could keep one of my plates. I said yes, of course. It turns out this was for the “plates of shame” display. He kept examples of good and bad plates to show us all how to improve. My plate was used as an example of an improperly plated pork, as well as a moist potato dauphin. Ugh.
I met with Gina (career services) after class to figure out the best externship fit, and we decided on 3 Michelin star “Jean Georges”, so we fired off a letter to them – fingers crossed. Meanwhile I got a volunteer position at a James Beard event for this Friday which I’m excited about.
Tomorrow is a mock exam where we do all our dishes under exam conditions. I think most of us are feeling pretty good about our dishes – that is if we can wake up from all the shots at the Toad Hall tonight.
Jewish Strippers on Heroin is based on true events but of the names have been changed.
Every one of us shares a mutual pride in our brand new Have-A-Java on the third floor in the Eaton Centre. The sun pours down on my face through the enormous glass sky-light ceiling. Having glass walls also works to my advantage, as I look out and people watch throughout my shift. The office towers and retail stores bring in a regular nine-to-five crowd, making me feel as if I am depended upon to prepare non-fat vanilla Lattes to the masses. My bosses are at an age where they could choose to retire, but instead chose to buy a piece of the lucrative Have-A-Java franchise. Sometimes I wish I was retired, which is crazy cause I’m only eighteen. My bosses are a married couple whose children are now having children. Tom and Georgina decide to take on the coffee shop enterprise that has a proven profit margin, and seem to be quite proud of themselves for doing so.
One of the ways they build group spirit is by celebrating staff birthdays in an upscale restaurant. They’ve taken us to the Thai Restaurant the Golden Hummingbird for Jenny’s birthday and the Singing Oyster for Taylor’s. Even though our relationships behind the counter are easy-going, there always seems to be some nervous tension during these birthday dinners. Maybe I’m the only one who senses it, but things seem to be closer to normal after we all finish dessert and drinks. For our first Christmas as a team they give us each an envelope holding a scratch and win Bingo Lottery ticket and a crisp fifty dollar bill. Looking at that bill, I promise myself that I’ll commit to working harder for the store. My thoughts change to wishing I could win the lottery as little silver shavings turn my fingertips grey.
If you were to walk into that Have-A-Java in the fall of 1996, you may have had your ice tea poured by a twenty-two year old who resembled the actor Gary Sinease – that would be Taylor, who I thought was cute before any of the other girls. A handsome East Indian guy probably got you a Rice Krispie Square and talked you into trying a cranberry muffin for later. Kevin is an expert on anything about movies which he refers to as ‘films’. Kevin is taking film studies at University of Toronto and Taylor goes to Ryerson’s Theatre program. Both possess a clever sense of humor that keeps them talking endlessly about their Blockbuster rentals. One time they listed all the movies starring Robert DeNiro and debated whether he was a psychopath or just a bad guy. They talk about school with such enthusiasm, that I yearn to be enrolled in classes other than the bartending course I’m finishing up.
Tonight I convert my disappointment into pure selling power as I work to push the desserts. Tom and Jenny step aside watching me schmooze up the customers.
“T-t-take a l-l-look at the cake trays Jenny, I can see my face in them. I th-think I may never gr-grow back my mustache.” Tom holds up the silver cake tray as if it were a hand mirror. Less than half an hour ago it held an entire chocolate banana cake. Tom waits for Jenny’s reaction. She lifts her eyebrows and blinks dramatically, “Wow Tom, who sold all that cake?”
“Who do you think? Annie did. Now I have to go all the way to g-g-get another from the back.”
Jenny is a year older than me an enrolled at University of Toronto for Psychology and Feminist Studies. She’s somewhat of a hero to me in how she can wear lipstick and be funny, flirty and at ease doing it around any guy. She seems more comfortable in her own skin around guys than I am. Instead of flirting with men to get them to like me, I flirt with them to buy whatever dessert or drink I’m pushing.
“You can take another piece up to the office for a friend, cause you’re such a generous guy.” I’ll convince them knowing that they’re helping me get my sales kudos. Sometimes I’ll catch one looking at Jenny’s chest and wonder why I’d want that kind of attention.
Most of the time I feel androgynous in my black corduroys and button up polo-style work shirt. I feel my legs are too chunky and an embarrassment even though my best friend Hilary always tells me they’re not fat, just muscular. The only time I allow myself the heavenly indulgence in our cakes is if I’m given the day-old leftovers. Once I’m on the subway, merely two stops away from work I pull out a morsel of lemon poppy seed cake, quickly shove it in my mouth, and abandon the greasy bag on the seat for someone who can afford to eat all those calories to find.
Along with the talent of selling up our desserts, each of us at work is also gifted in imitating customers and our boss Tom.
“D-d-do you w-w-want another Ca-ca-capachino?” Taylor or Jenny stutter and mime pushing up a pair of glasses on their noses. Tom is never around when we do our imitations of him, and we make sure that Georgina doesn’t see us imitate him, or even worse her.
When I look at Georgina , I don’t see a woman; rather a girl. I suppose it’s because she’s so skinny. With her flat chest and lack of curves she’s even bonier than Hilary was at the peak of her eating disorder. Georgina repeats “Okey-Dokey” obsessively. As she works alongside me for the morning shift I endure her forced conversations with the regulars: “Okey-Dokey! One Large Morning Majesty’s Blend for you. That ought to clear out the cobwebs, eh? Okey-Dokey! Ha, ha, ha…what’s that eh? Oh napkins? They’re right behind you on the condiment stand okay? Okey-Dokey!”
She chirps her responses through a strained smile I can sense causes her pain. Georgina didn’t foresee serving countless customers every morning and would much rather dust and arrange gift baskets made with Bodums and bags of ground beans from Guatemala. When she’s away from the customers her frozen grin turns into a thin line. Tom likes to tell us that he met Georgina while he was a sailor. He says that she got up on the table and started dancing topless. I believe it’s made-up: something a father would say, which makes sense as they’ve become parental figures for those of us moved on from home.
Around eight-thirty we start our closing ritual by putting on Beck’s Mellow Gold CD, and cranking the volume.
“I’m a looser bay-bee so why don’t you kill me?” We sing along as Jenny writes Tom’s name besidethe closing time checklist duty for cleaning the bathroom.
“Okay Tom, you clean the bathroom tonight.” No matter how many times we play that joke we laugh so hard because we don’t have a bathroom.
“Okay J-J-Jenny, and I’ll mop,” Tom responds holding a crate of Styrofoam tower-of-Pizza stacked cups. I spill out the carafes of Lucky Irish Cream coffee, smelling its sickly sweet odor while the drain gulps down the liquid favored by the majority of our customers. It reminds me of the saleslady who works across the way at Harry Winston. We nick named her ‘Honey’ as she always calls Jenny or me honey before we get her coffee. “Honey, Gimmie an Irish, my God-Damn back is killing me! Hurry up Honey; I’m not supposed to be on break!” After that I start imitating her to Jenny who imitates her to Taylor, who in turn does an imitation of her and pretty soon even Tom is imitating her. This is why it’s fun to come to work some days.
The best days are when Hilary comes to visit me after work. We share a passion for all things pertaining to music. We obsess over alternative bands like Nirvana and Mudhoney. Famous biographies of people who died too young like Nancy Spungeon, Edie Sedgewick and Janis Joplin are also shared, passed back and forth dog-eared and underlined. We even got ourselves all the way to the front row at Lollapalooza that past summer so we could be as close to Elastica and Hole as possible. When we aren’t fantasizing what our lives would be like in our own band, or living somewhere else, we’re watching movies about Jim Morrison and The Sex Pistols or listening to the soundtrack for Natural Born Killers. We imagine ourselves living in New York City when we get older because that’s where Patty Smith and Blondie are from.
After my Saturday shift ends Hilary meets me to check out a movie. We pick a spot behind the theatre entrance on Dundas. There are big rocks to sit on and a marble fountain surrounded by trees. It’s an unusually warm night for the first week of November. We’re both wearing out vintage leather jackets with wide collars. She sits on the concrete steps and I let the wall support my back as I half crouch on my back pack. She smokes her Du Maurier Ultra Lights with a savvy sense of how to look. She taps off her ashes like some people twirl spaghetti. I watch the filter develop a raspberry coloured imprint from her lipstick.
“I want money – but I can’t just get a job like you. For one, there’s no way I’d be on time, or could actually care enough to.” She exhales her words with smoke.
“Yeah, well I’m not saving a lot of money from my job,” I answer her, “although I just got a raise from eight bucks an hour to eight fifty, but I still totally want more money. You know buying our vodka almost every time we go out is getting expensive, and so is travelling downtown by bus and subway from the burbs. I also think I should be saving up to live on my own downtown, don’t you?” I need to hear her confirmation on my next step of action.
“Yeah, but what else would you do?” she asks me tying her reddish brown hair back in a scrunchie while her cigarette hangs out of the side of her mouth. She ties her hair back to stop her from picking at the split ends, but it eventually becomes unfurled and she ties it back up again after a quick indulgence.
“At least in a few days I’ll have my bartending license. That course was totally worth it.” I brag to her, still amazed at how quickly two months fly by. Hilary smirks, “I could never bartend and be nice to a bunch of drunk loosers for a lousy fifty cent tip.” She says smashing her cigarette against the pavement with her converse.
“We can think about ways to get more money, you know?”
“Yeah, I’m getting pretty tired of going into Darlene’s purse all the time.” It kills me how Hilary calls her mother by her first name.
“Darlene noticed that a few twenties were gone yesterday, but I just asked her: ‘Are you sure that you took out that much?’ And she said: ‘Yeah, are you stealing from me?’ So I go: ‘Yeah, that’s’ it, you caught me.’ So I’m okay for a while, but I totally need some money.” Hilary is an insanely good liar and her sarcasm is unbeatable coming from a completely calm detachment to anyone’s reaction.
“I’m just glad that she didn’t bust you,” I say in disbelief.
I reach into the front zipper of my bag to find pre-punched Have-A-Java cards for Hilary when we have time at work, Jenny and I punch up a few cards and give them to our friends. Each card guarantees four free regular sized coffees. I hand her the cards hoping that she’d take a hiatus on her split ends. She examines my work
“Sah-weeeeet! Thanks Annie, Good job; they’re even wrinkled and stained – very authentic.”
“Maybe we should start our own printing press and launder money,” I joke moving towards the propped open Emergency doors.
“Were there ever women gangs in the twenties that were considered part of the Mob?” She asks as we sneak into the back hall of the theatre. “Or was Bonnie the only one who rode with Clyde and no women ever tried that?” I kick the rusted Gingerale can back between the doors. Moving to the side I can see her breaking open the red screw top seal to our Smirnoff Vodka mickey.
“Hey Hill, wait until we buy Orange soda pop first okay?”
“Okay okay. For sure there’s women gangs out there from the past going wayyyy back but nobody ever says anything about it. For sure more in Europe or the U.S. anyway.” She tells me as we head to the pop-corn stand to get a large Orange Crush to share. We may never pay a dime to see a movie but we always have to shell out the five bucks for the soda. It all balances out I figure, cause sometimes we slip into another movie half way through.
Serve a pork chop ‘bone on the left’, so the customer can cut into it from the right.
When frying a pork chop, fry the presentation side first – the first sear gets the best color.
When frying a fillet, also fry the presentation side down first – in the case of a fish, the presentation side is the fillet side that was close to the bone, not close to the skin.
Today was the first day of Level 4, and it was AMAZING. Crazy, hectic, but AMAZING. We were divided into 4 teams, and then half of each team had to create a chicken consommé plus a pork chop with green peppercorn sauce, while the other half had to fry a skate grenobloise (brown butter with lemon, capers, and parsley) plus bake an apple tart.
I was on team #1 and had to do the consommé and pork dish. Team #1 had slightly more pressure because we had to plate first. At exactly 12.45 we had to be in front of chef Joe or chef Dominique with our two consommé plates, and at exactly 1.25 we had to be back with our pork dishes. 5 4 3 2 1…GO!!!!!!
For the apple tart crew, they knew what they had to do… make the dough and fast. I tried to not let any panic set in, because it wasn’t as clear what to do first. Ok, the consommé has to clarify for an hour so that’s the priority. I don’t know if anyone remembers the post about ‘the raft’, but ‘the raft’ is back. We take 3 liters of marmite (a chicken stock which has been browned with burnt onions) and clarify it with a raft. A raft? That’s right, a raft composed of julienned carrots/leek greens/celery, egg whites and ground turkey is added to the marmite, and after an hour has clarified the consommé. I actually got that part going pretty well, though no ‘clarifying appeared to be happening’, but I felt under control. (see main pic for ‘the raft’).
What next? The peppercorn sauce needs a sauce Espagnole, which has to be made and reduced for 30-50min so that’s next. Grab my pork, cut out the weird little bones, manchonnéed the rib bone, and start roasting the bones till brown. Now the panic started to set in. I hadn’t brought the recipe for the Espagnole, and chef ran through it fast in the demo, so I only had rough notes. Now I started making mistakes. 12 in total for the day. Once the bones were brown, I added the veal stock, forgetting to brown the vegetables first, forgetting to cook the tomato paste, and forgetting to ‘singer’ (flour). Oh well, swirled some flour in a bit of veal stock and just throw it all in. Grabbed the peppercorns (“Those aren’t peppercorns, those are capers – Joe points out”). Ouch. Ok, its finally on a simmer. Panic growing. Now I have to prepare the ‘taillage’ of vegetables for the consommé (these are the finely cut carrots, turnips, beans, and peas). Last time we made consommé we cut them into paysanne slices, so I did that, but no, we were supposed to macedoine (cube) them. Darn, and there are no more carrots. Oh well.
Anyway the panic kept growing, and while I got the consommé plated on time (“not enough salt”, “wrong taillage”), I did reach a point of total panic/paralysis during the pork preparation. We’re not supposed to communicate Station to Station, but Erik came to my rescue pulling me out of it. He acted as Ground Control to my Major Tom so to speak. I owe you big time. I got the pork plated 2 minutes late (but on the wrong side), and done medium rare, but it did taste amazing. Apparently only one of us got the consommé perfect (Rachel), and only one of us got the pork dish perfect.
I’m really liking this level. I like the pressure, the food is back to that amazing tasting food I was hoping to experience. Quite frankly, I thought that every day of culinary school was going to be like this. We all do the same dishes for the next three days to improve speed and accuracy. Hopefully I can get my mistake count down to 0.
Bicycling home, there was a crowd gathered outside a building three blocks from the school. It was David Bowie’s apartment. So sad.