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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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