Clowning Around

So, you might think that culinary school is all serious, all the time, but we actually can let our hair down for a few moments at a time. So, besides showing some images from our recent day rolling sushi and wrapping spring rolls, I thought I would include some shots of Natural Epicurean students hamming it up for the camera.

Below: Okay, a serious photo to start. Some collard-wrapped rice and veggies.

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Below: We are taught to minimize waste in the kitchen, so alternative uses for mushrooms are encouraged.

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Below: Chef Rachel Zierzow showing off a very serious spring roll, made with Continue reading

Veg on the Table

We got down and dirty with fungus and other bulb-y, root-y plants on Tuesday. I have developed a real appreciation for mushrooms in the past several months, so cooking them in school was a good thing for me.

Did You Know?

Mushrooms don’t use photosynthesis? They get their energy by basically eating away at the matter around them. They are considered parasites – but GOOD parasites because they are instrumental at breaking down and decaying matter, thereby contributing to the Circle of Life (cue the Lion King music :) ).

You get to participate in the circle of life by cooking them down until tender with some olive oil, adding some stock perhaps, and eating them, herbivore style.

Below: Beech mushrooms. So cute! They actually have little faces that smile at you and sing songs. Not really. Just being silly.

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Tour of The Natural Epicurean Kitchen

Howdy, folks!

It’s been 4 weeks since I began culinary school at The Natural Epicurean and I figured that I would show my family, friends, and blog readers what it looks like in the kitchen where I am spending my time!

A couple of other notes to address questions that have come in:

There are four stove tops in the kitchen. I have never had to wait to use a stove since there are plenty of burners. Occasionally, just as in a restaurant kitchen, we have to work with our colleagues to move a saucepan to another burner to make space for a new pan, but that is part of the cooking process – working with our colleagues to get the job done.

There are four stations in the kitchen for students, and two instructor stations. Each station is stocked with a food processor and all of the cookware and utensils you need to prepare a given dish. There are two Vita Mixes in the kitchen and I haven’t seen us need more than that.

Food dehydrators, as seen in the video, are “cooking” devices which operate at very low (100-118 degrees or so) temperatures and for long periods of time (up to several hours or more). The dehydrating process has minimal impact on the enzymatic composition of the food and its nutrient profile, while altering the texture slightly. Dehydrated eggplant slices, for example, are very crispy and make a nice sandwich filling. The dehydrators are Excalibur models and I don’t know much about them, but I look forward to finding out more very soon!

There are about 12 students in the lab kitchen at any given time – three in each sub group. The sub-groups (or teams) rotate each week. When in the lab kitchen, I work with two other students on preparing 2 to 4 recipes. At the end of the lab, we all taste the food and share comments on it. When the lab session is over, we move to the demo kitchen. The students who were in the demo kitchen switch to the lab kitchen.

I’ll be making more videos to explore the kitchen in more detail in the future, so stay tuned!

Week 4 of 22 Begins

Okay, I’m not exactly sure how many total weeks I have, but 22 is pretty close. And time keeps ticking away!

Career Reflection Moment

A lot of folks in the program are very interested not only in cooking, but in helping others. So, the career of personal chef is a popular choice. It certainly has appeal for me, too. The idea of helping someone think through food issues on their way to feeling better is an amazing thing to be able to do each day. I’d much prefer that to selling insurance or writing clever ads or doing soil measurements. I’d also prefer it to hiring, firing, compensating, and training people, which is what I was doing in my last career. Not bad work, but the sense of a higher mission was really hard to grasp most days.

Beans

Beans are terrific little powerhouses of carbs, proteins, and fats. Add fiber and lots of nutrients, and it all makes beans are incredible useful things to incorporate into your daily diet if you can. And if you can take dried, bulk beans and turn them into creamy masterpieces, then you’re saving money, having fun, and putting good energy into your food, as well.

Below: Lotsa beans to choose from in this life.

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Below: Not a lot of action in this week’s blog post, but here are the delicious results of Monday’s cooking. Tomorrow, we turn this into hummus (chickpeas) and black bean patties.

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What Do I Want? Absolutely Everything

I’ve decided that when someone asks what I plan to do when I finish cooking school my answer will be “everything.” I want to do it all. Catering, restaurants, cafes, personal chef, wellness coach – I want to do all of it. With so many cool people around me, it all feels possible.

Friday Lecture

Friday we heard from three instructors who scratched the surfaces of Macrobiotic, Raw, and Ayurvedic cooking and philosophies. Chef Rachel Zierzow, Chef Alicia Ojeda, and Ellen Stansell gave us just a taste of these food and health modalities and I found each talk equally stimulating.

Macrobiotics

Macrobiotics is amazing because, as I first wrote about in one of my earliest blog posts, it takes a broad view of life beyond food. As Chef Rachel put it, one goal of macrobiotics is to “make your dreams come true.” How about that? And one of the chief ways you accomplish this is through good food choices, because macrobiotics believes that your food really does influence your life and your way of thinking.

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Raw Food

Chef Alicia Ojeda, one of the key people behind the development of the menu at Beets Cafe and former head chef there, is a true leader in raw food and her energy in speaking was a great sales pitch for raw foodism. Raw food is food that’s never brought above 118 degrees, which means that it is living food. Food that sits on the shelf with an expiration date two years in the future is inert and dead. Raw food – fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc. – is alive and it provides clean nourishment to the body. And to make things even more interesting, Chef Alicia looks at least 10 years younger than her actual age. Hmmm.

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Ayurveda

Lastly, we heard from The Natural Epicurean’s curriculum director Ellen Stansell. Ellen has a PhD in Indian philosophy from UT Austin and she gave us a primer on Ayurvedic wellness theory. This theory is the one that was most unfamiliar to me upon entering the program. To sum up, Ayurveda calls upon each person to keep their body in balance by being mindful of the environment and food one eats. Your personal characteristics and environment will help dictate what food will lead to optimal health at any given moment.

My favorite part of Ellen’s talk was where she compared the Western worldview to the Ayurvedic worldview. In the West, matter is merely physical and life is simply a collection of molecules that behaves in a “lifelike” way. The Ayurvedic view is that the physical world, living and non-living objects, and food are all imbued with spirit; they are joyous and blessed. An especially cool moment was when it began to rain very heavily and many students stopped their assigned activity and went to the back to watch the downpour. Ellen actually encouraged us to watch, noting that it is inherently human to be fascinated by such weather (especially in typically arid Austin, TX). How cool is that?

 

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. :)

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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. :) 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. :) 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.