Week One = Awesomeness!!!
well, my first week is over, and it was pretty exciting! My classes are varied, with only one class in which I am in the kitchen, and the others are all academic classes.
I’ll start with the academics: College Math, Info Technology, and Professional Development. I was able to test out the writing fundamentals class, lucky for me! Having studied philosophy for four years, you would think I could write an essay by now, right?
College Math is pretty cool. The instructor has very dry humor, which makes the review of fractions and percentages more interesting. Although I’m glad I’m doing it, since I definitely need the review and refresher. Plus, all the problems we’re doing are applicable to the culinary world. Questions include: “You know the Yield Percent for avocado is 78.6%. To make enough guacamole for the Superbowl party, you will need 4 lbs of avocado. How much avocado do you need to purchase? If an avocado weighs 7 ounces, how many avocados will you buy (round to the whole number)?” Plus, there’s a lot of calculating the APQ (as purchased quantity), EPQ (edible portion quantity), and the Y% (yield percent). The yield percent is basically EPQ divided by APQ. In other words, if you buy x pounds of potatoes (APQ), depending on what you’re making, you will peel them and remove the impurities, ending up with the EPQ. Then, if you divide the EPQ by the APQ, you will know what percentage of the potatoes you have as the yield. It’s fun stuff, and pretty easy to figure out once you understand the components. Later on in the course, we will also do plate cost and menu pricing, Baker’s Percentages, and butchers yield.
The Info Technology class is basically to get us up to date on our computer and software skills, and also personal presence online and how to use social networking and other online tools to our advantage. Again, it’s pretty useful. By the end of my education here, I will probably have an established professional online portfolio. Don’t know what that will look like yet, but I’m sure it will be helpful. Also, we’re designing our ideal restaurant concept.
Professional Development. In this class, we will work on our resume, cover letter, bio, and interviewing skills. All of us have to get our own paid internships, so we’ll be doing that search as the term progresses. Right now, I am looking into some Italian restaurants and some resorts in the area. I’m sure I will learn a lot from any ‘property’ (place of work), but I wouldn’t mind also learning a lot about Italian cuisine while I’m there!
And finally, the best class of all: Cooking Theory and Food Science. In this class, we learn all the cooking fundamentals and the science behind them. The class is from 7-12, Mondays through Fridays, and we all have to be in class at 6:45am. We set up our workstations with cutting boards, sanitation buckets (water with bleach for sanitizing and cleaning tables, boards, and equipment), compost buckets, and edible scraps buckets. Edible scraps will be used by the kitchen for garnishes and making juices, etc. Our instructor is Chef Emma Cutler, who is tough but fair, and knows her stuff. In the first week, made consomme, veal stock and chicken stock, cream of mushroom soup, black bean soup and chicken noodle soup. We learned a lot of French terms relating to knife skills: most of you have probably heard of julienne. You can cut vegetables into all kinds of different sizes with different measurements, and they all have certain names.
On Wednesday, I made my first big mistake. We all made black bean soup. It included black beans, vegetables, seasonings, bacon, and a bundle of aromatics called a bouquet garni sachet. We used coffee filter and cotton string to tie together a bay leaf, parsley stems, peppercorns, and fresh thyme. The point of putting these herbs and spices into a neat bundle is that it will be removed before you serve the soup to the customer. Unfortunately, I forgot to remove mine and it was blended in the large blender with my soup, then dumped into the large pot with all the other blended soups. We ended up composting the whole pot of all our soups! I was very upset because of all the food that was wasted, and felt bad that our lovely soup wouldn’t be eaten by anyone. I think my classmates were also very disappointed in me. Chef Emma told me it wasn’t the worst mistake she had ever seen, but it ranked in the top ten. And she also told me not to worry about it. Mistakes happen, and I will probably make a lot more in my career.
After that class, the rest of the week went a lot better. We started working as a team, and the flow of the kitchen improved a lot. We learned about making roux, which is a thickening agent used in soups, stocks, and sauces, and is made from equal parts fat and flour. My father had already shown me how to make a roux many years ago, but this was very different. I learned that there are three different types of roux: white or pale, blond, and brown. Depending on the color of sauce and the flavor you want to achieve, you will make one of these roux to thicken it. Of course, there are also other thickeners like corn starch and arrow root, as well as what’s called a liaison. A liaison is a mixture of egg yolk and heavy cream which thickens a sauce an gives it a great smooth flavor and nice sheen. You will have probably encountered a sauce made with a liaison if you have ever eaten a sauce hollandaise over eggs benedict.
Me whisking a thickener into water.
Making a veloute: a veloute is a sauce made from white stock (we used chicken stock) and a blond roux. A veloute is one of the five so-called ‘mother’ sauces.
How NOT to make a beurre manie: looks like paste (first photo). Beurre manie is an uncooked/raw roux (butter and flour in this case). My beurre manie looks much better: it has a breadcrumb texture (second photo).
Next week: learning more about starches. Making the other four mother sauces, and fresh pasta. Can’t wait!