Getting Saucy in Week Two

Week two has started and we have begun to cook!

So far this week we’ve cooked some stocks and sauces. Stocks are essentially water simmered with vegetables and aromatic herbs and spices. For those so inclined, stocks may also include animal bones and other parts. The water is imparted with flavor and the resulting stock is used to make soups, sauces, or in other cooking applications.

Below: Chef Rosa shows us three completed stocks of varying colors, which come from the ways the stocks were prepared and/or the ingredients used.

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Below: Chef Rosa demonstrates assembling a sachet of herbs for a stock. This image is from the demo portion of our day. Each day is divided into two parts, a demonstration (“demo”) half and a lab half. The lab half is where we cook and the demo half is mostly observing.

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Below: I decided to try making a stock at home to complement a potato soup I made, so I simmered 2 quarts of water with leeks, onion, and garlic. Here’s the stock cooling in an ice bath.

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Below: Chef Alex doing a quick demo before our lab on sauces. After the introduction to a lab session, the instructor turns us loose on our recipe(s) for that lab session, walking around and providing guidance as needed.

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Below: Mmm…some minced onion sauteing nicely.

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Below: Team dashi slicing mushrooms.

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Below: The mushroom jus was one of my favorites from the sauces lab day (Tuesday) – rich with tender and earthy mushrooms. The foundation of this was the good mushroom stock made the day prior.

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Below: A terrific salsa verde (parsley and walnut, in this case) and roasted red pepper coulis. Both had colorful and enticing presentations.

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Below: Dishes pile up in the kitchen. We take turns doing the dishes, but everyone in the kitchen is responsible for various aspects of cleanup after a lab session.

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Below: A tasting after the demonstration on sauces. Chef Rosa prepared several sauces including bechamel and hollandaise for tasting. Sauces were a bit of a bummer for me because they typically contain either butter (dairy) or wheat (gluten), both of which seem to give me trouble. Nevertheless, Chef Rosa showed us versions without dairy and I’m optimistic about learning more about gluten-free sauce options.ย 

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Below: Just for fun, a lovely and delicious chocolate made by my classmate Kim Gallogly.

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Elizabeth Andoh at The Natural Epicurean

An American expatriot, Elizabeth Andoh has been called the Julia Child of Japan by NPR and others. She is in Austin doing some presentations in connection with her new book, KIBO: Recipes and Stories from Japan’s Tohoku. She graced us with a three-hour demonstration and lesson on Japanese cuisine this Friday after the morning session.

Andoh has been living in Japan for 40 years and has mastered the art of the local cuisines. She gave us tastings of several broths and a wonderful rice morsel. I was so impressed by her passion and knowledge of Japanese cooking that I bought a copy of Washoku, Andoh’s 2005 collection of Japanese home recipes. The presentation followed our Friday lecture on flavors, which was appropriate because we discussed all of the elements of “flavor,” such as taste, aroma, color, texture, and much more, all of which were covered by Andoh.

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Recipes for Visual People – Flowchart

I acquire and process information fastest when it’s presented visually. So, I took a stab at these visual recipe cards.

What do you think?

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PS – Back in 2008 someone started a blog to share the idea of recipe flowcharts which I discovered after posting this blog post. He only made three posts and his method is different than mine. Nevertheless, check it out – http://recipeflowcharts.wordpress.com/

Here’s another person’s take on the flowchart – http://www.flickr.com/photos/chavelli/5493107072/

 

Day Five – Flavors

Today we had a lecture on flavors – a terrific topic for our first week of culinary school.

Understanding flavor has been something of interest to me for a little while now (see this post on flavor). Nevertheless, I have a long way to go in educating my palate and improving my skills as a taster. It was very encouraging to hear Chef Alex, who was very close to earning a slot in the last Top Chef season, say that you can teach your palate through conscious eating and food exploration. It sounds fun, but it seems to require a real sense of purpose and focus.

We practiced this focus by experiencing several tastings in sequence: apples, apples with salt, apples with sugar, tomato, mushroom broths, etc. We practiced using descriptive words: earthy, grassy, cool, crisp, etc. To be proper culinarians we will have to cultivate our abilities to draw others in with verbal descriptions of food.

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Below: A couple of the tastings from today’s class.

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Day 4 of Class

Yesterday involved more knife skills – new shapes and practicing things from yesterday. Also, we were oriented to the kitchen tools and machines stocked in the kitchen.

We were shown how to sharpen our knives by Brian Henderson, who is a staff member at The Natural Epicurean and who also did an internship at Uchi, what I would consider the most highly regarded restaurant in Austin. That’s where he learned the technique of sharpening that he showed us. It was very similar to a method described not long ago in Edible Austin by local chef Todd Duplechan, but I never was sure if I was doing it right. Brian’s explanation was really helpful because I got to see it in action, and he made it seem a lot more straightforward than I thought it was. I performed the technique on my home chef’s knife and it worked very well in restoring the blade. So proud to know this new skill!

We did a brunoise of green pepper – tiny 1/8 inch cubes used for garnish. We also did losenge cuts, paysanne cuts, and rondelles. We also cuts supremes of citrus and chiffonade of spinach. Much of it was used for a salad that we ate for lunch. Yum!

It’s challenging making consistent cuts to specified dimensions, such as 1/2 inch cubes. Often, one side is a bit too long, or my cuts are a shade too large and my prep mates’ cuts are a shade too small and the result is inconsistent. Just imagine doing carpentry without a measuring tape, pencil, or T-square and you may get the idea.

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Day Three of Culinary School

It was Day Three and it feels like Week Three because of how much is going through my mind. It’s a good thing – life is filled with possibility.

Knife to Meet You!

Ah, knife skills day one! This most basic of chef talents was something I didn’t expect so soon, but I welcomed it with enthusiasm. Chef Rosa is a terrific instructor and so positive! She strikes a great balance by upholding standards but also showing lots of flexibility and encouragement. One thing that struck me was that she said it took her three years to feel fully comfortable with knife skills in a professional culinary setting, which is to say that we all have a lot to learn. Everyone took their time striving for the ideal battonet and large dice cuts – it’s much harder than you’d think because each cut requires fairly specific dimensions (e.g., a proper julienne is .125 in x .125 in x 2.0 in.).

Below: Vegetables for the choppin’! These were prepared by one of the kitchen assistants – a recent graduate who is working on her assisting hours for the school.

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Forbidden Rice Sez: “Eat Me”

I’ve been wanting to try forbidden rice for a while. Forbidden rice is a variety of rice that seems to come from China that’s known for it’s deep purple — almost black — color.

The rice has a typically mild flavor, although it’s slightly nuttier than typical rice.

Forbidden rice is reportedly higher in the same blue-tinted antioxidants found in blueberries and other blue/purple plants, except in higher quantities.

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Day Two

Day two at The Natural Epicurean. I passed my ServSafe test — okay, I didn’t get the results back, but I’m confident. ๐Ÿ™‚

The day started with tying up the food handling class, then we took our test. Pretty straightforward. I’m really enjoying getting to know my fellow classmates, and I feel like I’m starting to make some good connections. We’re about to break the class into two groups, which is kind of a bummer since some cool people will not be in my group. Hopefully, it won’t impair my ability to get to know everyone well, since all of the students seem to be pretty awesome.

I doubt I’ll be able to blog every day, but I’ll post when I have interesting stuff. Or, it will be interested to me, at least. ๐Ÿ™‚

Knife Test

Tomorrow we start Knife Skills, so I thought I would try one of my new knives. I made a Waldorf Salad, which required a semi-fine julienne of apples with chopped celery, and chopped some vegetables to roast. The salad turned out great; the roasted vegetables, meh. I have a bit to learn about roasting veggies.

As for the knife, it’s a Mercer and a lot sharper than my current knife, a Calphalon. It’s a good deal lighter than my knife, as well:

  • Calphalon = 299g
  • Mercer = 250g

According to Amazon.com, the Mercer lists for about twice as much cost as the Calphalon. It would seem that The Natural Epicurean has good taste in knives!

Below: My school-supplied Mercer 8″ chef knife.

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Natural Epicurean – First Day of Class

Today was the first day of school! I prepared for the day by donning my school uniform: non-slip shoes, chef pants, chef coat, and chef hat. I must say, it looks pretty good, although it will take a bit of getting used to. Wearing a chef outfit is certainly a unique way to go through the day.

Instructor Introductions

Class began with detailed introductions by our chef instructors. The team is highly experienced with a very diverse background and very excited to have us as students. Together, they have passions for local food, macrobiotics, food policy, plant pathology, clinical nutrition, and social networks. The instructors seem to truly be passionate about food, which is good because as Chef Rosa Vera said, we are about to be “totally immersed in food.”

It was a pretty long morning hearing the introductions, but vital to get to know each instructor’s background.

Below: My chef shoes, looking mighty fine..

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Below: Me, looking sharp in my chef whites and check pants, in the lecture kitchen.

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Below: Students can bring their own lunches from home and use the school equipment to heat them up, however, it creates dirty dishes which I must then clean. Hmm.

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Below: We started the day by drawing fortunes written by our fellow classmates. I drew this very appropriate fortune for myself – one of my professional goals is to help bring wellness into people’s lives through information about food.

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ServSafe Training

The afternoon was taken up with the start of our safe food handling training. Cooking and storing food safely is of utmost importance and as such, we will spend two half days on the training. Safe food handling is both common sense and arcane – there are many facts to remember, none more important than the importance of hand washing. Correct temperatures are vital, too. We will be taking the ServSafe food handler certification test, which apparently has a very high success rate.

Homework

Each week, we are expected to write a cooking journal to reflect on what we’ve learned. Also, we were assigned to listen to two podcasts to help us to think about what we might write. The topics of the two podcasts were designed to get us thinking about the direction of food culture in America, which I found very exciting.

Random note – some students from the last class developed this magazine resource for incoming students.

Natural Epicurean Orientation

Yesterday was my orientation at The Natural Epicurean, and it was an excellent morning.

The purpose of the orientation was to learn some of the basics that we would need to become students and to take care of some housekeeping things.

Below: Imagine the green sign says “The Natural Epicurean” because it does, despite what my iPhone camera wants you to think. Yes, I am wearing a backpack like a good student. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Staff Introductions

We got to hear from Maya Farnsworth, Ken Rubin, and David McIntyre. We got introductions to Chef Rosa and Chef Alex, the lead instructors. We heard from curriculum director Ellen Stansell, procurement manager Brian Henderson, and others. I was impressed by the quality of the team helping to make things go well. Everyone is eminently qualified for their role.

Below: Chef Maya doing staff introductions.

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I was especially inspired when Ken talked about the mission of the school and each of our personal missions. He talked about letting your passion for healthful eating drive you and to share it with others. That it becomes so much a part of you that you love to tell others about it.

Student Introductions

It is truly amazing what a diverse and excited group of students I’ll be working with. We have students from Miami, Santa Fe, San Francisco, San Diego, Tuscon, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and many other places. I do believe I am in the minority being from Austin. We have vegetarians, vegans, and omnivores. Some of us have food allergies and sensitivities, like I do. The group includes artists, at least one trained pastry chef, and former business professionals. Like me, not everyone is certain where this journey will take them. It was very exciting to see so many people from many walks of life come together for this common purpose. I made some good initial connections with a few students.

Knives and Uniform

Each student was given a Mercer knife kit, which will help ensure we are all using quality equipment. I feel very “professional” now. ๐Ÿ™‚ Each student got two chef coats (pictures coming later) with The Natural Epicurean logo.

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LMS

Curriculum director Ellen Stansell gave us an orientation to the Canvas Learning Management System (LMS). This is where we can download course materials and view announcements related to the program. It’s the starting point for our course experience. I love Ellen’s approach because before she started her tutorial, she had everyone stand up, take deep breaths, and raise our arms up over our heads. It was delightful to have someone attending to our physical comfort and the mind-body interaction. That is very unusual, unfortunately, but most welcome. I spoke to Ellen briefly while picking up my chef hats and she seems like a terrific person, as does everyone I’ve come into contact.

Tuition

I paid my tuition during orientation, also. It was largest check I’ve ever written in my life (the down payment on my houses were cashier’s checks, so they don’t count). I had no hesitation about the cost of the program whatsoever. I viewed it as a check I was writing to myself – investing in my future, my happiness, and my own well-being. It will be repaid to me many times over in learning, in career satisfaction, in financial gain, and in my own personal health.

Behind the Scenes

I took a few photos of what lies behind the curtain, since it was my time going beyond the front rooms of the school.

Below: The dish washing area. A critical part of the cooking process. ๐Ÿ™‚ You may think I am strange, but I’ve always appreciated the zen of washing dishes by hand.

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Below: Some fun ingredients waiting for my expert attention.

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Below: The main teacher’s cook station.

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Below: Various beans, some quinoa, and dal.

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Final Impressions

This day took one year to plan and make happen, but it has been 34 years of preparation. It was a wonderful gift to myself to be able to be in the presence of so many who share my same desires and goals. There is a lot of energy in the air and I am very much looking forward to this journey.