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« Kitchen Academy - Feb 17 - Ellen DeGeneres Visits | Main | Potato Crusted Tilapia with Wilted Garlic Spinach and Pear Tomato Vinaigrette »

February 19, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Feb 18 - Guest Chef Demo by Michael Montilla

Posted by Ernest Miller

This past Saturday, there were no consumer classes or "a day in the life" classes at Kitchen Academy, but we did host a demo by Guest Chef Michael Montilla. As usual, I was there to assist. It is an excellent learning opportunity.

Some of the Saturday regulars were there to assist as well: my classmates Arturo and Manny; as well as Sophie (who will be starting course IV). A new Saturday participant from my class, Marie, was also there.

This was my second time working with personal chef Michael Montilla (Kitchen Academy - Consumer Education and a Guest Chef Demo). His was a different approach to a culinary career: attending the California School of Culinary Arts in his mid-thirties. After graduating, he sought the best kitchens in which to continue his culinary education. In his case, he spent months pursuing a position in Wolfgang Puck's Spago. After successfully working in Spago's kitchen, he eventually moved into their catering section and from there (abbreviated version) to his current career as a personal chef.

These guest chef demos are great for students because we get to work with different chefs who are very enthusiastic in sharing their knowledge and experience. In this case, Chef Montilla emphasized professionalism and appearance in the kitchen, particularly in the world of the personal chef. While piercings and tattoos may be fine in many kitchens, they aren't really appreciated when you're working in the homes of personal clients. As a personal chef, you're operating both back of the house and front of the house.

Additionally, as we prepared his recipe, Chef Montilla emphasized organization and cleanliness at our stations. Although this is obviously more important when one is working in a client's kitchen, it is a good habit to repeatedly focus on. He also taught us a bit about prepping meals for several dozen (par cooking and the like).

He also emphasized a do-what-it-takes work ethos. He noted an experience of his on a Thanksgiving holiday when a rather famous and very wealthy client of his had him on call to produce dinner. Chef Montilla didn't know how many or where he would produce this dinner. Around 3pm in the afternoon he was beginning to think it would just be cancelled (though he would be paid anyway), when the client's secretary called and said there needed to be a full turkey dinner for twenty-five made ready in five hours at a location an hour away. Impossible? Not if you can creatively purchase fully-cooked turkeys from carving stations across the southland and then spruce up already prepared side dishes.

We also learned more concrete skills, such as the proper method of sauteing and wilting spinach (blanch for 30 seconds, shock, and then drain very, very well before sauteing) and making Basil Window Panes. The recipe we produced for about forty people was:

Potato Crusted Tilapia with Wilted Garlic Spinach and Pear Tomato Vinaigrette

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