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Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @
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April 23, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 23

Posted by Ernest Miller

As I mentioned before (Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 22), I missed this day in class and had to rush my dishes to make it up. Sort of sad, since I really liked today's dishes and would have preferred not to rush them: fried calamari with cocktail sauce (which I didn't get a chance to make) and Fish and Chips with Tartar Sauce and Malt Vinegar.

Of course, to make fish and chips, you first need a fish. Ours was lingcod. Another ugly fish that was fairly easy to fillet (though there is a trick or two to trimming the edible parts of the fillet). It certainly makes wonderfully shaped portions for fish and chips (not to mention it is quite tasty). Luckily, I got an entire fish to myself, as my first batch of beer-battered deep fried fish had a serious problem.

When I put the battered fish into the deep fryer they immediately sank to the bottom and then stuck to the fry basket. When I tried to free them, the batter tore off and they were in no shape to present. Ooops. Back to the fish and trimming the other fillet ... also had to use the 1/2 bottle of beer I had left to make more batter (damn). The trick here is to lower the fish into the frying oil slowly so that the batter starts to crisp up and provide some buoyancy before you let the fish go entirely to finish frying.

Well, that's it for this day's cooking. I was just happy to move on to the rest of my production for day 24.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Culinary School

Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 22

Posted by Ernest Miller

Well, I actually missed this day and the next due to a previous engagement. However, that doesn't mean I missed the cooking experience. If you make plans ahead of time, you can make up classes in consultation with your chef instructor. Otherwise, you'll get a zero, which can be a major hit on your grade.

To make up this class and the next I had to come in an hour earlier (5am) and get cooking right away. I was really rushed and the focus was on the main dishes, not the side dishes (some of which I simply didn't make). I was given a station all to myself so that I would have enough burners and space to deal with the multiple days of cooking I had to accomplish in a single day.

Day 22 is devoted to Southern Cusine, particularly Creole and Cajun.

My first dish was Crayfish Etouffee on rice. The base for the dish is a very dark roux and trinity (Cajun and Creole mirepoix, aka onion, celery and bell pepper). Problem: there isn't too big a step between a brown roux and a burnt roux. Found that out with my first batch. Darker, darker, burnt. Like I needed to start a dish over again on such a busy day. Oh well.

Although I was able to get a good flavor balance, I had difficulty matching the flavors with the right consistency. Still, it tasted good and the rice came out quite well. I also got busted for garnishing with a very nice looking crayfish head. You aren't supposed to garnish with something that is inedible. Hey, I thought you could suck the heads, but apparently only if you are eating them shell on and not part of a dish.

My second dish was Southern-Fried Catfish. They're ugly and not easy to get ahold of for cleaning and fabrication. I highly recommend a nice cut-resistant glove. Protects your hand, gives you a better grip on the fish. You'll have to wash the glove immediately after, but that is a small price to pay. Nothing particularly difficult about this dish, it's just a straight-up seasoned flour and pan-fry sort of thing. Fresh and straight out of the frying pan, it's pretty tasty.

Well, that was it for this day. Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance to make shrimp gumbo.

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April 20, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 21

Posted by Ernest Miller

Today we returned to the world of Asian appetizers. After a day of Chinese dim sum nearly two weeks ago (Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 13), we produced four different plates from Japan (Miso Soup and Tempura) and the Philippines (Lumpia), as well as China (Spring Rolls).

I'm a fan of miso soup, but I've only made it from an instant paste (just add hot water) in the past. It was a quite nice experience to make it completely from scratch.

The first step was to make the famous and basic Japanese stock, Dashi. Dashi is made with dried bonito flakes - katsuobushi - and seaweed - kombu. One simply brings the kombu to a simmer (do not boil it, or else it will turn slimy) at which point the katsuobushi is added and allowed to steep before straining. Dashi is also used as the basis for the tempura dipping sauce, tentsuyu. I like dashi and plan on experimenting with it some more, using it in place of Western stocks. For example, I think it would be excellent in a seafood risotto.

Making the miso soup was rather simple, after the dashi had been produced. We has a choice of misos to use. There are dozens of different types, but we chose between two of the most common, white miso (shiro miso) and red miso (aka miso). I went with aka miso for the heartier flavor, since our only garnishes were wakame, tofu and green onion.

There isn't much one can do to make a unique presentation of miso soup, so I served my table style, bringing the garnishes in a bowl and serving the soup in front of the chef instructor.

The miso soup was the easy dish. The other dishes required a significant amount of prep, but the main issue was that they were all deep fried. There were a few issues with this. First, there is a dearth of deep fryers at school. Lines formed. Even with the addition of some stove top deep frying stations, it was impossible for everyone to get frying when it was most convenient for them. You had to fry when you had the opportunity (hope you didn't have anything else on the stove at the same time). Second, though you're in a rush, you have to watch the fry temperature. When you fry a great deal of ingredients, the temperature of the oil is going to drop. If you don't allow the oil to come back to the proper temperature before adding more things to the fryer, the ingredients will absorb too much oil and be greasy.

Third, fry and present. Deep fryed foods have a short shelf life. They're nice and crisp right out of the fryer, but a few minutes later they can turn into a soggy, limp mess. Once you did fry something, the rest of your plate had better be ready so that you could present it at once.

Tempura was particularly difficult. Many students tried to save time by making the batter ahead of time, but this results in a very doughy coating. The best thing is to make the batter at the last moment, preferably right by the fryer. Also, the sparkling water should be ice cold and still have its fizz (don't take it out of the bottle until you need it).

Thanks to having to drop stock in the morning, we pushed darned close to the deadline, but the end results were pretty tasty.

Miso Soup Garnishes Miso Soup Garnishes (Tofu, Wakame, Green Onions), Before Addition of Soup

Tempura Plate Tempura Plate

Spring Rolls with Plum Sauce Spring Rolls with Plum Sauce

Lumpia with Chile Sauce Lumpia with Chile Sauce

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March 20, 2006

Kitchen Academy - The Hollywood Cookbook and Guest Chef Michael Montilla - March 18th

Posted by Ernest Miller

Another Saturday, another day of culinary learning at Kitchen Academy and, a pretty long day at that, but it was definitely worth it.

Continuing a project that started last Saturday (unfortunately I had to miss the first Saturday), Kitchen Academy students prepared recipes so that they could be photographed for an upcoming celebrity charity cookbook: The Hollywood Cookbook:

The concept is as simple as it is elegant. Celebrities contribute recipes for a themed meal and within the context of those menus in the book is a discussion of their favorite charity. In addition to this publicity and contact information, each charity also receives a portion of the profit from the book.
The cookbook is going to be quite glitzy, with food styling by Andy Sheen-Turner of Food Savvy and photography by Craig Mathew and Ziva Santop. The recipes come from such celebrities as Anne Hathaway and Ron Howard. A number of chefs are involved, including Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck and Kitchen Academy's own Alexx Guevara.

Our job was simple: prepare the dishes so that they could be photographed. I learned a lesson: camera-ready food and people-ready food are two different things. Although, ideally, each dish would be perfectly edible, our goal was good-looking, not necessary what we would want to serve. Seasoning? Unless it was going to change the look of the dish, why bother adding salt and pepper? Not really completely cooked? If it looks good, so what? Simmer for twenty minutes? Only if it is going to make a difference in the final look of the dish. Pasta overcooked? No biggie, if it still looks good.

There were a number of humorous incidents. For example, we needed to roast a pork shoulder, but the roast hadn't completely thawed. Ah well. Toss it in the oven at 500 degrees F. After fifteen minutes or so, we had a nicely browned roast. Looked great. When we took it out of the oven we pushed a thermometer into the meat. The dial went backwards from room temperature. Not something you expect to see when you stick a thermometer into a beautifully browned roast.

Another example: Arturo and I baked what would have been a perfect pecan pie. However, for stylistic purposes, we baked it in a picturesque deep dish ceramic pie pan. Looked great. Unfortunately, because the pie dish was so deep, the center of the pecan pie never set, it was still liquid. Photographed great, but not something I'd want to serve.

We Kitchen Academy students didn't do any of the plating. Basically, we prepared the dishes then set them out in mixing bowls, sheet pans, deli cups, etc., and let the food stylist do his magic. Some things, because of their nature, were prepped up to a point and then were boiled or baked on order so that they didn't sit around too long waiting for their turn in front of the camera. We also got called upon for some garnishes. I made Anne Hathaway's Mango and Lobster salad so was asked to thinly slice and fan some mango as a garnish.

Producing all these dishes was fairly complex from a logistical point of view. The ingredient lists were impressive since the recipes ran the gamut of cuisines. In order to make things manageable, we did the recipes in waves, a dozen or so at a time. A couple of students spent most of their time simply pulling the ingredients for each wave then putting them back in storage when we were done with them.

All-in-all, it was a good learning experience and pretty darn fun.

Also fun was assisting one of Hollywood's preeminent personal chefs, Michael Montilla.

In addition to the recipe book work, Kitchen Academy was also hosting a guest demo by Chef Montilla, who has done similar demos before (Kitchen Academy - Consumer Education and a Guest Chef Demo; Kitchen Academy - Feb 18 - Guest Chef Demo by Michael Montilla).

Because I was working on the recipe book, I didn't work with Chef Montilla for most of his prep. However, because the students assisting him had to leave just before his demo was to begin, I and my classmate Arturo assisted with the very final preps, the demo, and plating the final product.

As usual, Chef Montilla was very generous in sharing his experience. Today I would have to say his primary theme was simplicity: simple dishes prepared properly with the finest ingredients. It doesn't have to be complex to be great. The dish we prepared today was fairly simple: Beef Tenderloin Stuffed with Braised Leeks & Wild Mushrooms, Potato Gratin, Roasted Asparagus and a Red Wine Glaze.

The beef tenderloin was stuffed with the leeks and what was essentially a duxelles that was not finely chopped. We had just made a pork tenderloin stuffed with duxelles earlier in the week (Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 19), but I have to say that the stuffed beef tenderloin comes out much nicer. There is just something about beef and mushrooms that just goes together perfectly. Don't get me wrong, the stuffed pork tenderloin was good, but the stuffed beef tenderloin was great. I'm going to have to look into this beef/mushroom thing some more.

The gratin was essentially a Pommes Dauphinoise put together in a hotel pan for a large group of people. One of the chef-instructors who was assisting with the recipe book by supervising the students tried them and was quite impressed. I rather enjoyed them too, especially as Chef Montilla had not skimped on the garlic in either the gratin or roasted asparagus.

After the demo, it was back to working on the recipe book to finish a ten-hour day. A long day, but definitely worth it.

Pulling Ingredients for the Recipe Book Pulling Ingredients for the Recipe Book

Food Staged to be Plated by the Food Stylist Food Staged to be Plated by the Food Stylist

Cookbook Organizers (l-r) Morgan Most and Jackie Zabel Cookbook Organizers (l-r) Morgan Most and Jackie Zabel

Choosing Props for Food Styling Choosing Props for Food Styling

A Pot of Stew Nearly Ready for Photographing A Pot of Stew Nearly Ready for Photographing

Discussing How to Photograph Some Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries Discussing How to Photograph Some Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

Chef Michael Montilla Demos Chef Michael Montilla Demos

Chef Montilla's Mise Chef Montilla's Mise

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March 19, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 20

Posted by Ernest Miller

After the stress of yesterday's production schedule (Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 19), today was a relative breeze. Production was only 2 dishes, 4 plates: Tea-Smoked Duck Breast with Acorn Squash Purée, Gingered Tangerine Supremes, Tangerine Gastrique and Arugula; and, Pan-Roasted Breast of Duck with Spiced Butternut Squash Purée, Roasted Plums, Plum Gastrique and Duck Glace.

Simple enough, no? Yes, but.

Today was also a time fire exercise. What this means is that we were given specific thirty-minute windows in which each dish had to be presented. The tea-smoked duck had to be presented between 7:30am and 8:00am. The pan roasted duck between 9:30am and 10:00am. During the first presentation window we were not allowed to prep our second dish.

Normally, we simply have a 10:00am deadline for all dishes, putting them out as soon as they are done. In some ways having specific presentation windows simplifies things (you don't have to decide which you'll present first), but can also complicate things as you have to stagger your prep. Frequently, for example, I would dice, chop, and/or mince all my onions for all my recipes at once, then move onto the next vegetable. However, due to time constraints, I had to finish all my prep for the tea-smoked duck first, and then get onto the pan-roasted duck. Not a big deal, these weren't particularly stressful plates, but still a good learning experience for organization.

Another good lesson is why we are training to be chefs, not simply recipe-makers. A lesson I forgot. The recipe for the tea-smoked duck breast calls for a Kabocha squash purée. Instead, we substituted acorn squash. Acorn squashes are generally smaller than kabocha squashes and our squashes were a bit on the small side in any case. What this means is that you have to adjust the recipe to take this into account. Don't use (as I did) the same amount of Chinese Five-Spice Powder for an acorn squash that you'd use for a kabocha squash.

"Why does your squash look and taste a bit like licorice?" "Um, that would be the star anise and fennel seed from an excessive amount of Chinese Five-Spice Powder."

Actually, the licorice flavor wasn't overpowering, but it was definitely there just barely in the background. As a fan of licorice, I sort of liked the effect, especially since the squash also had some nice sweetness from brown sugar and there was a good amount of ginger powder as a foreground note. Still, there was too much spice in the purée.

Recipes are like maps. Sometimes your directions just don't make sense due to construction or something. What we're supposed to be learning is how to read the map so that we can get where we're going despite unforseen roadblocks on the most direct route.

And, have I mentioned that gastriques are quite cool? I like that sweet/tart flavor combination. I'll have to play with them a bit, but I think that the addition of some dry mustard at the very end might enhance the flavor somewhat. A bit more and you should get sweet/tart/spicy, sort of like an Italian mostarda.

Tea_Smoked_Duck_Small.JPG Tea-Smoked Duck Breast with Acorn Squash Purée, Gingered Tangerine Supremes, Tangerine Gastrique and Arugula

Pan_Roasted_Duck_Small.JPG Pan-Roasted Breast of Duck with Spiced Butternut Squash Purée, Roasted Plums, Plum Gastrique and Duck Glace

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Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 19

Posted by Ernest Miller

What a difference a day makes. The last couple of days (Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 17, Day 18) were fairly low stress. There were no plates to present and plenty of bodies to get all the work done that needed doing for the buffet we provided.

Today we had to present three different recipes, five plates: Pasta e Fagioli with Crostino; Poêlé Game Hen with Matignon, White Beans and Herb Breadcrumb-Stuffed Artichoke Hearts; and, Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Mushroom, Duxelles, Celery Root Purée, Sautéed Mushrooms and Sauce Robert.

Each of these recipes was fairly involved and required a generous amount of prep. Consequently, the entire class was pretty stressed and many students just barely got their dishes in or didn't quite make it (such as serving their matignon without the stuffed artichoke hearts). Even when the students got everything finished, they might have forgotten one specific part of the presentation instructions, such as that the game hen breasts were to be airline-cut (first wing bone attached to the breast and frenched).

I was pretty happy that I actually finished everything with about 10 minutes to spare, though I actually had a slight advantage in not having a partner I think: I didn't have to share burner space or coordinate putting items in the oven. I did volunteer my time and one burner to making the court bouillon for the entire island (eight stations) so that everyone could poach their artichoke hearts.

Still, I wasn't as efficient as I could have been. For example, you needed cooked white beans for both the Pasta e Fagioli as well as the matignon. Cooking the beans takes some time. I could have cooked the beans for both at the same time and then separated them, but I didn't, which wasted both burner space and time. Although I was familiar with the plates, I've been thinking of them as discreet units, not as a whole.

You've got to be prepared and have a plan.

Also, if someone is doing something for several students, make sure you check it before using it or putting it on a plate. My court bouillon was fine, but some of the Sauce Roberts (which were done in groups of four) didn't come out so well. You may not have made it, but if you put it on a plate, it is yours.

Pasta e Fagioli Pasta e Fagioli with Crostino

Poêlé Game Hen Poêlé Game Hen with Matignon, White Beans and Herb Breadcrumb-Stuffed Artichoke Hearts

Roasted Stuffed Pork Tenderloin Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Mushroom, Duxelles, Celery Root Purée, Sautéed Mushrooms and Sauce Robert

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Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 18

Posted by Ernest Miller

Yesterday, we worked on the prep for our class buffet (Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 17). Today, we actually served the buffet:

  • St. Louis Ribs
  • Santa Maria Tri-Tip
  • Barbecued Baked Beans
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Country Onion Rings
  • Hush Puppies
  • Carnitas
  • Guacamole
  • Refried Beans
  • Salsa Verde [recipe]
  • Mexican Style Rice
Class started at 6am, as usual, and the buffet didn't actually start until 8:30am, which gave us plenty of time to finish final preps such as cooking the meat, frying the hushpuppies, baking the macaroni and cheese, etc.

Since my dish, salsa verde [recipe] didn't require any more prep except for some final seasoning and plating (put it in a bowl with a spoon and sprinkle some cilantro leaves on top), I spent most of the time setting up the dining room, putting plastic utensils and napkins in wicker baskets, making the little signs for the dishes, getting the fuel canisters for the warming trays, etc.

Everything seemed to go fairly smoothly, as far as I can tell. The class seemed much more organized and comfortable with everything compared to the buffet from Course I (Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 19).

Main Buffet Line Main Buffet Line
Secondary Buffet Line Secondary Buffet Line
Arturo Carving the Santa Maria Tri-Tip Arturo Carving the Santa Maria Tri-Tip
Dani, Robin, Manuel, Joe (l-r) Dani, Robin, Manuel, Joe
Natalie, Saul, Rose (l-r) Natalie, Saul, Rose
Serving_the_Men_in_Blue_Small.JPG Serving the Men in Blue

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March 16, 2006

Salsa Verde

Posted by Ernest Miller

Courtesy of Kitchen Academy

Yield: approximately 10 cups

  • 10 large fresh Anaheim Chiles
  • 2 1/2 pounds tomatillos, husked, rinsed and diced
  • 7 cups chicken stock
  • 15 large green onions, chopped
  • 5 large serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 10 ounces fresh lime juice
Procedure:
  1. Blacken the Anaheim chiles on all sides directly over a gas flame or in a salamander. Put them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let stand ten minutes. Peel, seed and chop chiles.
  2. Combine tomatillos, stock, green onions, serrano chiles, and garlic in a saucepan; bring to a boil over medium high heat.
  3. Reduce heat and simmer until mixture has reduced to a sauce consistency.
  4. Transfer mixture to a food processor. Add the Anaheim chiles and cilantro and puree until smooth.
  5. Add lime juice and season the salsa with salt and pepper.
Personal Notes: This is a good, basic salsa verde recipe and can be varied in any number of ways to achieve the results you want. First, a couple of specific notes. You don't need a food processor. An immersion blender actually works better. Simmer until tender, immersion blend into a puree and then reduce to a sauce consistency. Also, you most likely won't need all ten ounces of fresh lime juice. Taste the salsa as you add the juice. If you don't need it all, don't use it. Finally, when you season, remember that the salsa will be served cold or at room temperature. Seasoning should be done or rechecked once the salsa cools down.

This salsa has a bit of a bite, but not much. One obvious way to increase the kick is to not remove the membranes and seeds of the chiles. You can also use more and/or different chiles for heat and flavor. Want more roasted flavor? Roast the tomatillos and serranos before adding them. Like your salsa junky? Don't puree it. Dice to the size chunks you like. If you prefer it smoother, run it through a strainer.

This recipe was made for the PCA2 lunch/dinner buffet (Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 17).

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Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 17

Posted by Ernest Miller

Three of the four courses at Kitchen Academy provide a buffet meal to friends, family, the school and select visitors once during the course, in the fourth week. Course I does a breakfast buffet on a Thursday (Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 19) and Course 4 does a "Tastes of Asia" buffet on a Friday.

Wednesday is Course 2's buffet, a lunch/dinner menu:

  • St. Louis Ribs
  • Santa Maria Tri-Tip
  • Barbecued Baked Beans
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Country Onion Rings
  • Hush Puppies
  • Carnitas
  • Guacamole
  • Refried Beans
  • Salsa Verde [recipe]
  • Mexican Style Rice
So, today, the entire class concentrated on preps for tomorrow. As in PCA-1, we are divided into teams to produce each of the dishes.

I and Natalie Walker produced the Salsa Verde [recipe].

This was easy. Production went quite rapidly. Of course, some dishes required more effort than others, but when students are finished, or have a break (as I did when the salsa was simmering), they helped another team. There sure was an awful lot of garlic to peel.

The biggest issue with producing such large quantity recipes is paying close attention to tastes and flavors and common sense. You can't simply multiply a small portion recipe and expect a large quantity to come out the same. For example, just because a recipe calls for a single clove doesn't mean you should add ten cloves when you make a batch ten times as big. Having one slightly larger than average onion won't generally throw off a recipe that calls for one onion, small dice. However ten larger than average onions will be much more likely throw off a larger batch.

Time is also a major factor that can vary non-linearly when multiplying recipes. A small roux takes a certain amount of time. A roux five times as big doesn't necessarily take five times as long. It'll take longer, but not exactly five times as long. Sometimes things take longer than the multiple, more often less time, but you have to recognize this and take it into account.

Sometimes, you might want to divide a multiplied recipe down. Rather than make one multiple of ten bechamel, you might want to make two multiples of five, or four multples of two and a half. Why? Sometimes you don't have a container big enough. Sometimes it is simply easier. Or, as in the case of bechamel, you'll be less likely to ruin it. And, even if you do ruin it, you've only blown a small portion, not the whole deal.

Where production was difficult was in fixing some of the problems that multiplying recipes might cause, for example, adding more avocados and tomatoes to cut down the overly strong onion flavor in the guacamole.

As the recipes were finished (at least as finished as they would be today), we stored and staged them for use the next day. We also put together a list of what needed to be accomplished the day of the buffet (i.e., fry hushpuppies in APCA, fry onion rings in PCA-2, grill tri-tip in APCA, etc.). The chef instructors also went over service and how we would organize that.

Still, there was plenty of time, which meant: deep cleaning the ovens. They come apart pretty easily. Of course, some steel wool would have come in handy.

Don't tell anyone, but we still got out of class a good twenty minutes early.

Danny_Riskam_Small.JPG Danny Riskam Making Guacamole

Leon_Miller_and_Marie_Miller_Small.JPG Leon Miller and Marie Miller (no relation) Making Bechamel for the Macaroni and Cheese

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Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 16

Posted by Ernest Miller

Another Monday, another morning of dropping stock and clearing out the ice machine. At least I now know what a stock that has gone bad smells like. Some say gym socks, I say a good cheese.

Unfortunately, one of our chicken stocks had gone bad over the weekend. Not sure why, but most likely the stock wasn't kept at a simmer. We make plenty of stock, so it wouldn't be a problem. If anything, it made the job slightly easier.

On the other hand, the classrooms were unusually cold this morning, which meant that it took my hands longer than normal to warm up after numerous immersions in ice water. Consequently, my knife cuts at the beginning just seemed rather slow. Or perhaps it was simply that I always feel slow and disorganized after a quiz, dropping stock and figuring out what all the mise cups on my station contain and which recipe they're for. And, once again, we had recipes that needed to get into the oven for a significant period of time. This is always a source of a sense of urgency, since you need to finish prep as fast as possible so whatever needs to spend time in the oven, can.

Production today was: Whole Roasted Young Chicken with Giblet, Apple and Chestnut Stuffing Served with Roasted Root Vegetables, Pine Nuts, Arugula and fortified Pan Jus; and, Roasted Leg of Lamb (Butterflied) with Herbs and Garlic and Served with Salt-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Lamb Jus.

Roasting is generally faster than braising, but it still takes awhile to properly cook a large chunk of meat such as a leg of lamb. Even whole chickens take a good 40 minutes or more. Roasting is also less forgiving than braising, so you have to make sure to keep an eye on your meat. Depending on the cut and any oven/roasting pan peculiarities, your meat might brown extra fast (cover it with some foil to stop the browning), or simply cook faster than you think. The recipe might say 1.5 - 2 hours, but your roast might only take 1 hour.

Another thing about roasting is that not everything roasts at the same temperatures. For example, the chicken was started at a high temp to brown, then the temperature reduced to finish cooking. The lamb and potatoes were roasted at a temperature between these two extremes. And, not only did we roast the chicken, leg of lamb and potatoes, but the chestnuts had to be blanched, peeled and then roasted separately before going in the stuffing. The beets also had to be roasted separately, and the darn things took longer than an hour to be properly roasted.

So, you need to have a roasting plan. What will go in when and at what temperature. What will happen if you need to change temperatures in between. For some things it might not matter too much, just changing the amount of time it takes. If you're working with a partner, as I was, you need to communicate and stay on the same page, otherwise, not only will you have problems with the oven temperatures, but you'll likely run into space problems (not enough room in the oven).

Thus, it wasn't surprising that around 9:10am or so, Chef Merino told the class that if they didn't have their chicken in the oven, it was too late, don't bother, they wouldn't be able to turn in their plates (properly finished, anyway) by the 10am deadline. However, the students were given the opportunity to finish their chickens the next day; they just had to put all their prep on a sheet pan for storage. More than a few sheet trays went into storage. There probably should have been more, but some students pushed the deadline a bit, perhaps more than a bit in a couple of instances.

I was pretty happy that I was able to meet the deadline, though it was closer than I would have liked. Part of the problem at the very end was that the plating instructions for the Roasted Chicken weren't terribly clear. Even Chef Knight wasn't sure what they meant.

In any case, sometimes it seems that cooking is more about logistics and organization than anything else. Mise en Place, the most important thing you learn in culinary school, I think.

Roast Leg of Lamb Roasted Leg of Lamb (Butterflied) with Herbs and Garlic and Served with Salt-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Lamb Jus

Roasted_Chicken_Small.JPG Whole Roasted Young Chicken with Giblet, Apple and Chestnut Stuffing Served with Roasted Root Vegetables, Pine Nuts, Arugula and fortified Pan Jus

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Kitchen Academy - Hosting Explore-A-Story - March 12th

Posted by Ernest Miller

On Sunday, March 12th, the Arclight Cinemas hosted Explore-A-Story: A Celebration of Books for the Wonder of Reading organization. It is basically a children's book festival with book readings by authors and celebrities, screening of popular movies based on children's books, activities and etc. Of course, there was food as well, frequently themed to children's books, such as donuts for (what else?) Arnie the Donut.

As Kitchen Academy is in the same complex as Arclight Cinemas, we provided a venue for serving the food provided by different sponsors.

We students did prepare some hors d'oeuvres for the VIP room: gravlax on toast with herbed cream cheese; savory pastries stuffed with ham and cheese; pate on toast; and, etc. Other than that, however, this was mostly a serving event. Students portioned and readied for buffet service food provided by other sponsors of the event, such as California Pizza Kitchen.

Although there wasn't much cooking done (I did learn a couple of tricks for the gravlax, though), learning proper service is an important skill for the well-rounded chef. Either you're going to be directly involved in organizing service, or you're going to be supporting service so it is good to know what it is like.

Since I've done so few events, each one is quite a learning experience for me. For example, I'm getting a much better idea of when you need to swap out hotel pans of food. You never want to run out, of course, but you don't want to leave too many servings in the hotel pan either. It is an experiential thing learning how quickly portions get used.

I also learned a bit more about keeping an eye on things like plates, napkins, utensils and condiments. It may sound trivial or easy, but if you're not used to it, it takes some attention to ensure that you don't run out of one of these things.

Other tricks you just pick up. For example, we didn't have enough fuel canisters to keep the warming pans, well, warm. So, we periodically filled them with boiling water. This means pouring out the old, cool water. This means some large buckets under the table at the station. Not a big thing, but this knowledge will come in handy should something similar happen in the future.

Anyway, I enjoyed serving children and their parents.

Explore a Story Explore-A-Story

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March 15, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 15

Posted by Ernest Miller

Most of today was spent fabricating the biggest piece of meat that we'll work on in the course: Lamb.

First, of course, we needed the fabrication demo by Chef Guevara, which included the requisite Silence of the Lambs reference ("Brave Clarice. You will let me know when those lambs stop screaming, won't you?"). How strange is it that one of the movies most often cited in culinary school is about a serial killer? Or that those watching the demo had to note how much like a dog the lamb carcass looked?

In any case, we worked on fabricating our lambs in groups of four. I payed close attention as the scheduled final calls for fabricating one lamb per student, though I suspect that due to lack of space we'll actually work in groups of two. I don't think there is room in the classroom for everyone to fabricate their own lamb.

We had to prioritize our fabrication because our scheduled production was Braised Lamb Shank Provençal. Proper braising takes time, in this case two hours, so we had to fabricate the shanks first thing in order to get them in the oven and going before tackling the rest of the lamb.

Fabricating shanks is relatively quick. For the final we're going to have to fabricate, debone and butterfly a leg which will be produced the same day. That takes a bit longer, although we won't get a fabrication demo either.

Usually, one of the first things you do when braising is to sear and brown the meat in a bit of oil. This dish was no different. However, the recipe called for pouring out the oil after browning the meat and adding new oil before sweating some onion and garlic. This seemed somewhat strange to me (wouldn't you want to keep the oil for the flavor?) so I asked Chef Knight why. The answer is actually quite simple. The oil used for browning was extremely hot. If you put the onions and garlic immediately in the hot oil, you'd flash saute them, which is not what you want. You could wait until the oil cooled off, or you could simply pour out the hot oil and add new, cooler, oil so that you get a sweat, not a saute. Not everyone followed the recipe though, and I witnessed a quite crispy onion and garlic "sweat".

With the braising shanks in the oven, it was back to the lamb fabrication. Other than the sawing through bones thing, lamb fabrication is fairly easy and straight forward. I'm certainly no expert after just one lamb, but I feel confident I could get pretty good fairly quickly.

With four people working on the lamb, we finished with plenty of time. So, a little deep cleaning while we waited for the shanks to finish braising. Still, at the end, time was tight. Once the shanks were finished braising, you still had to reduce the braising liquid for use as a sauce. I braised my lamb shank as long as possible and then reduced the liquid using one of our largest saute pans, a 12-inch, so that the reduction would go as quickly as possible (more surface area, a faster reduction).

Actually, it worked too well. Chef Knight noted that my sauce should have been a bit looser. The flavor was very good and rich, but as the plate cooled, the sauce would start to become a bit too sticky from the high concentration of gelatin. Although tasty, some might not like the texture of the cooled sauce, and it simply isn't sauce consistency. One has to be careful not to overshoot a reduction, although it is usually easy to fix with the addition of a little water.

Personally, I thought the sauce clung nicely to the meat and, especially, the croutons used for garnish.

Whole Lamb for Fabrication Whole Lamb for Fabrication

Braised Lamb Shank Braised Lamb Shank Provençal

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