Monday, August 31, 2009

Week Two: biscuits, scones, pies, flan, creme brulee, eclairs, and cream puffs

Week two stepped the program up a bit, and had us multi-tasking. Remember your pie in the oven at 375 degrees, your creme brulee at 325 degrees, then make your pate a choux while planning enough time to make the creams for the different fillings. Fun, but busy.

This was my first real pie crust, since the only other time I have ever made one turned out less than expected. Since then I have purchased frozen crusts, but most people never know the difference anyway.

All in all, chef was pleased with my products. I had a bit of difficulty with the caramel, simply because that stuff is hard, and there's a reason I typically don't make candy. But now I know how to make a killer creme brulee, and I want a blowtorch for Christmas.

As always, Dave's co-workers were thrilled to have goodies to chow on, and I even got him to admit that he likes more sweets than he originally thought. His defense? "I guess I've never had good eclairs before." Why thank you, dear hubby! ;-)

Next week we move on to cakes. I think I'm most excited for cakes and yeast doughs. I'm just a sucker for bread; what can I say?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

You can't be quiet wearing steel-toed shoes

I pride myself on being a good upstairs neighbor. I don't have loud footsteps. I listen to the TV at a reasonable level. And I always go to sleep at a responsible hour, or at least I'm reading a book and quiet. But when I stumbled down the stairs at 6:30 this morning (a Saturday) carrying about 30 pounds worth of cooking equipment and wearing clunky steel-toed shoes, I couldn't help but think, well, there goes my good neighbor reputation.

Because good chefs are loud. Maybe not at home. But in the kitchen you have to yell. Communicate. Talk over each other. And every so often the word "fuck!" screamed at the top of your lungs is an appropriate response to searing your palm on the handle of a pot over open flame, or gluing your finger with spun sugar to the ramekin of caramel you're attempting to turn into flan.

I love it.

Two weeks down, only 40 to go. I've already burned my wrist and grated my arm. Another girl has perfect parallel lines down her forearms from where she accidentally wrapped her arms around a hot sheet tray.

Who needs tattoos to commemorate graduation from culinary school? We're already accruing battle wounds.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Week One - Cookies and a Fruit Tart

A little of a belated post, since I'm already halfway through my second week, but oh well.

Week One, Day Two: After the first day of introduction to the kitchen (which is exactly how it sounds - "this is a spatula," "it's not safe to leave a stove on," "don't cut yourself") we had four hours to make Chocolate Chip Cookies and Peanut Butter Cookies. And you're now all thinking, "what? What kind of half-assed program is this?" I can make cookies in 20 mins!" Not like this you can't. These were by far the most stressful cookies I have ever made, and I guarantee you it's a test - they want to see who can function in a kitchen devoid of timers, clocks, measuring cups (scales only, people - everything is weighed), and your standard equipment. Banks of hot ovens heat the room; twenty people scrambling all over each other for materials and supplies, and that one aimless person wanders around behind you with a bowl full of flour in one hand and a knife - held blade outward, of course - in the other.

Sadly, there are people who are probably not going to make it through the program. There is a 30% drop out rate for this program; people who start but never finish, either by their own choice or their product's. People who, even with four hours worth of time, were only able to make the dough for their cookies - no time to bake. Crying in the parking lot, and very scared faces thinking "dear God, if I can't even make a chocolate chip cookie, how the hell am I going to figure out sugar sculpting?"

Day Three: Strassburger Cookies and Fruit Tarts consisting of pate sucree (sugar paste), creme patisserie (pastry cream), fruit (fruit), and nappage (that sticky sweet glaze that makes it look pretty, but isn't very tasty). Now we have eight hours to create five pieces and assemble a fruit tart and present. As you can imagine, the people who had difficulty with two items in four hours are not going to do much better today. I, on the other hand, started to get the feel and rythym of a kitchen. And it is very much a rythym; the key is to never stop moving, and never move without purpose. You have to be one step ahead of yourself, or you'll be run over by either the clock or your classmates. Luckily my products turned out well; my small experience as a cake decorator has come in more handy than I ever realized. And I would have had pictures except that, well, we ate the tart before I could snap any. I'm guessing that's a good sign.

Creaming method of mixing - got it. Key is not to overcream your butter and sugar, or else you'll incorporate too much air and the cookie will become crumbly and spread too much during baking. Also, the fridge and freezer are your friends - chill everything before sending to the oven, and it will keep it's shape better.

Next week: Wed/Thurs: scones, apple pie, frozen fruit pie. Saturday: creme brulee, creme caramel, eclairs, and cream puffs. Basic methods - cut-in doughs and baked custards.

Should we keep a tally of the pounds I gain while in this program?


Tuesday, August 25, 2009


After week one of culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu I've found myself dreaming about the industrial sized kitchen, and more excited than I have ever been to get back into the classroom. Mostly because this is unlike any classroom I've ever seen. There's nothing like actually working with your hands to create something magical from a bit of flour, water, sugar, salt, and, of course, butter.

I've always cooked, and I mean that almost literally. I don't remember a time when I learned, and I can't remember a time when I wasn't in a kitchen. I remember kneading bread dough when I was about seven or eight years old, and at age 11 I was making dinner for my family. I don't remember having the "don't turn the stove on when no one is home" rule, though I'm sure it existed. Hearing all of this makes you think we grew up in a rural location, but no, it was just important to my southern born-and-raised mother to make sure both her children could cook, since "one day mom won't be there to cook for you, and you'll have to eat!"

Because of this, I've always been considered by friends to be "a good cook." But it took one particular meal on my honeymoon to realize that food was much more than sustenance. Escargot wrapped in puff pastry, lightly grilled veal, and a chocolate dessert to make you want to die right there on the spot; along with a bottle of wine and three hours of laughing with my new husband and the staff of the Supper Club aboard the Carnival Glory - that's where my journey in food started.

Fast forward two years later, and I'm at the same job, living and breathing in a cubical, and I realize I just can't stand the person I have become at a job I now hate. I'm drowning in a sea of paper and inadequacy. But as I start to prepare my resume I can't face doing the same thing somewhere else. I go home and throw something together for dinner and realize that THIS is what I love. If I could figure out a way to do THIS, I'm happy.

So I have taken out student loans again, and, tying on an apron three days a week, am learning a trade (and feeling a bit guilty that my parents paid for me to go to four years at an expensive private university six years ago). It's certainly going to be a trip.