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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

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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.

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Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 22

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 17

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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

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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

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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

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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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March 14, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 14

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Pictures. I'm taking pictures of all my dishes now. I should have been taking photos from the beginning, but I had misplaced my digital camera. Now, hopefully, readers will be able to see the dishes I'm talking about. I'll also include some photos from the kitchen on occasion as well. The blog posts will feature a thumbnail, which will link to a much larger version of the photo, should you desire more detail. For the present, I'm going to try things with the photos at the bottom of the post.

Today we worked on basic Indian curries (yellow curry chicken and green curry chicken) and some of their traditional accompaniments (raita, chutney [recipe], and naan). Once again, because of the complexity and labor involved, we worked on the dishes in groups of four.

Well, in the case of the naan, in groups of eight. You see, our professional stand mixers won't mix a small recipe of dough for naan. We needed a double recipe (for a group of eight students) so that there was enough dough in the mixer to be kneaded. And, even then, the dough hook was barely able to grab the dough at the bottom of the mixing bowl.

The naan was something that we had to get started right away, as it would take several hours for the dough to rise. Indeed, it would essentially be the major bottleneck for plating the Yellow Curry.

Although the curry recipes were somewhat complex and would have probably severely strained a single student's capabilities, they were fairly easily broken up into separate tasks and taken on by a group of students. In our group of three, I did the naan, mango chutney [recipe], raita and cooked the yellow curry (easy after my partners had prepped all the ingredients).

After a couple of hours or so, it became clear to the chef instructors that we were moving very rapidly and would be finished with everything but the naan well before the scheduled presentation deadline. So, just as we were organizing and cleaning our stations, thinking that this was going to be a very relaxing day, the chef instructors announced that we would also be presnting two plates of Coq au Vin, the chicken for which had been marinating since the day before.

There wasn't panic or anything, but a definite sense of urgency could suddenly be felt in the classroom. I was no longer simply putting together a single dish, the Yellow Curry Chicken, but having to multitask, pulling the ingredients for the Coq au Vin, prepping them and getting it started. Coq au Vin has to braise for about thirty minutes, so there wasn't much time to waste getting the chicken into the braising state.

It was certainly a good exercise, shaking us up just when we thought we had everything well under control. Once I knew that I would have my dishes finished on time, I was also fairly happy knowing that we wouldn't have to worry about the Coq au Vin tomorrow.

In the end, all my dishes came out fairly well. The flavors were excellent. It might not have been ultra-traditional, but it was delicious.

Green Curry Chicken; Jasmine Rice Green Curry Chicken with Jasmine Rice

Yellow Curry Chicken; Basmati Rice; Mango Chutney; Mint/Cucumber Raita; Naan Yellow Curry Chicken with Basmati Rice, Mint/Cucumber Raita, Mango Chutney and Naan

Coq au Vin Coq au Vin

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Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 13

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Two words: Dim sum.

If you've never eaten dim sum, you're missing out not only on wonderful flavors, but a very good social experience. Dim sum is definitely a dish to be enjoyed with a friend or friends during a leisurely late morning.

It is an experience that I always took advantage of when I visited Hong Kong while in the Navy. I usually went out with some fellow officers fairly early in the morning to a large dim sum restaurant near Kowloon Park. One could watch the morning T'ai Chi in the park and then head (as some of the practitioners did) to the restaurant where one could try a seemingly infinite variety of dishes.

Of course, dim sum can be found in many different places. It may not be Hong Kong, but there are some pretty good dim sum places in Southern California that my family enjoys.

In any case, I digress.

Today, for production, we had to make four different types of classic dim sum: Cha Siu Baau; Shu Mai; Har Gau; and, of course, Potstickers.

Making dim sum, however, is quite labor intensive, so rather than each student producing all four, the dim sum was produced by groups of four. Or, in my case, a group of three. Unfortunately, my partner for the week, Liz, had to drop out of school due to illness.

As for the labor intensive part, making the fillings for the various dim sum and their dipping sauces is actually quite reasonable, just your normal chiffonade, mince, chop, and mix. There were a great many ingredients though. In this case, it really makes sense to pull the ingredients per recipe, otherwise you'll end up with dozens of small cups on your station and quickly forget which one has the fish sauce and which one the oyster sauce. One might also want to go ahead and put the ingredients that are going to be mixed anyway in a single mise cup.

The labor intensive part of dim sum is making the wrappers (which must be rolled quite thin and then cut out) and then filling and folding the tasty treats. Each of the different types must be folded and pleated in a specific manner. With my rather large fingers, it wasn't terribly easy to get the five pleats into a Har Gau. After making a few dozen it gets easier, but this is not a task for those in a hurry. Presumably, if you make sim sum often enough, you'll get quite fast, but I don't imagine I'll be making them frequently.

Once the dim sum are made, though, it doesn't take very long to cook them. All but the potstickers are cooked via steam. The Shu Mai take 15-20 minutes, and everything else clocks in at under 10. The major problem here is making sure that the steaming pans stay filled with water. Because everything had to be steamed in several batches, one needed to refill the water from time to time. Not everyone did. Consequently, some of the light, fluffy and perfectly white Cha Siu Baau were crispy, burned and brown. Hint: put a dime in the water pan. When you can hear the coin rattling, it is time to replenish the water.

The various dim sum are excellent for plating in creative patterns, so there was a wide variety of very picturesque platters in the class. However, the dim sum were so delicious that the platters didn't last long before going into tupperware for the trip home.

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March 9, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 12

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Once again we got to fabricate Salmon. I'm still a bit rough, but much improved, with many thanks to my classmate and former station partner Brent, who is expert at filleting fish (he ran a fish restaurant for a couple of years) and is always willing to give some guidance. A few more fish and I'll probably have it down.

Today the menu is moist method cooking, for which fish is very well suited. We produced: Poached Salmon with Sauce Ravigote [recipe], Watercress, and Gaufrette Potato Chips; and, Salmon En Papillote with Fingerling Potatoes, Fennel, Olives and Teardrop Tomatoes.

There is not much to say about the preparation of the Poached Salmon. The poaching liquid was a Court Bouillon and you simply had to keep the liquid just below a simmer for a few minutes. For the Sauce Ravigote [recipe] we got to use a drum sieve, or tamis, for the first time in order to turn a hard-boiled egg into very fine particles. The recipe also calls for mincing an entire onion. That's a lot of mincing. Were I do it myself at home, I'd use a food processor. Finally, the gaufrette potato chips take some practice slices with a mandoline to get right. Some students needed more practice slices than others. Good thing we got an entire potato to play with. Other students went home with an entire bag of beautifully waffle-cut potato chips.

"En Papillote" basically means to cook in a parchment or foil pouch. It can be used for a wide variety of ingredients, from fish fillets to whole fish, veal chops, vegetables, and fruit. And, technically, those potatoes wrapped in foil and tossed in an oven to bake are "en paillote." So, it is a handy technique to know.

It can also be a fairly showy way of presenting a meal, most or all of which has been cooked in the pouch. The pouch will rise during cooking and possibly brown slightly. You bring this pouch to the table and open it in front of the diner, releasing a cloud of steam. In fact, this was how we were to present one of our plates today.

One plate was for practice, we still had to present it, but it would already be out of the pouch. The other pouch we had to open and plate in front of the chef instructors as if we were serving a diner. There were a few rules: we couldn't touch the food with our hands, we couldn't use any kitchen implements (none of our knives, just a fork and spoon), and the plate had to be identical to the one already plated.

I sort of had fun with this one, getting into the role of serving staff, plating the dish with a flourish as one might see in a restaurant. It also helped that I keep a non-kitchen tool swiss army knife in my pocket to cut open the pouch smoothly, without having to tear it.

Speaking of which, being serving staff is no simple task. There is a great deal to learn ... something more I'll have to study.

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March 6, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 11

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Mondays. Not a good day for culinary school.

Today I was especially tired, having worked the Academy Awards the night before (Catering the Academy Award's Governors Ball with Wolfgang Puck - March 5th).

First thing, a new station and a new partner. Second, dropping stock. Has to be done on Mondays, but it's tedious and uses valuable prep time. It also messes with my mise. While some students drop stock, other students starting doing some but, generally, not all of the mise for the entire class. This saves some time, but disrupts my organization. Once I get back to my station it takes me several minutes to figure out what's been mised, and what hasn't. Furthermore, when I mise, it allows me to consider what each ingredient is to be used for and gets me ready for production. Having someone else start my mise is no big deal, but it does interfere with the routine I've gotten used to. It was probably especially disruptive today because I hadn't reviewed my recipes the morning of or night before, due to the Oscars.

So, I was a bit behind schedule and not feeling particularly organized. This was not a good thing because we were learning moist cooking techniques today, which require a lot of time to do properly. Both of our dishes called for a minimum of two hours once you got everything going in the pots, which meant you had to get them prepped and in the pots right away.

The two dishes we produced were Pot-au-Feu (as a four-person group) and Beef Goulash with Spaetzle in Brown Butter.

I was so disorganized that I started cutting the meat for the Pot-au-Feu into 2-inch chunks. Oops. You cut the meat for the Beef Goulash into 2-inch chunks. The meat for the Pot-au-Feu doesn't get cut until it's ready to plate. Luckily, Chef Knight caught me before I had cut the meat for the Pot-au-Feu into anything more than 2-inch wide strips about 8 inches long. Wouldn't hurt the dish. Still, that goes to show why one should review and have a better understanding of the recipes before starting class. It also shows what sort of mistakes you can make when you're behind schedule and feeling rushed.

The Pot-au-Feu ("pot on fire") is basically a peasant stew where everything gets thrown into the pot. It takes time to tenderize the meat (you use a tougher cut) in a long simmer, but other than the time involved, the most difficult part of this dish is plating it. You have a lot of really nice, whole vegetables that you want to make attractive on the plate. Our arrangement was pretty good, but the only thing fancy we did was to take our quartered potatoes and dip one side into butter and then chopped parsley so that you had a nice green/white contrast on the cut edges of the red bliss potatoes.

The Goulash was very tasty. You really want to get a good brown on the meat, so you use a really hot pot to sear it before braising. It also helps to have a good veal stock that will reduce into a thick sauce during the long braising process. This is not something you could easily do with veal stock from a can or a box because they usually have salt, and when they reduce they'd be far too salty.

Making the spaetzle was fun. I also rather like the texture. As for the flavor, it's a starch, so it's not too exciting, but like many starches there is much potential depending on how it is used. It will definitely be something I make at home on occasion, a change of pace from the usual pastas, rice and whatnot.

I wonder if you can make a dessert spaetzle? Cinnamon spaetzle with baked, sliced apples, perhaps? Chocolate spaetzle with raspberry coulis? Okay, so maybe I'm still a little tired from the Oscars.

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Catering the Academy Award's Governors Ball with Wolfgang Puck - March 5th

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Well, the big day finally arrived.

I had feared terrible traffic, but it wasn't all that bad, but only if one followed the directions on the parking pass. Those who didn't ended up wasting a lot of their time in various road blocks. In any case, I got there at the time recommended by Kitchen Academy, which meant an hour's wait before going up to the kitchen.

Where we waited some more.

Kitchen Academy had told us to bring two things to this job: a complete uniform and our knife roll. Upon arrival we learned that security wouldn't be allowing us to take our knife rolls to the fifth floor. Apparently, we wouldn't be able to find any knives or dangerous implements in the kitchen, should we be criminally inclined. This is known as "security theatre".

The security theatre resulted in one humorous episode in which one of Wolfgang Puck's leading chefs was demonstrating some plating to a large group of eager culinary students and asked for a knife to cut something. We all stared blankly back at him. Luckily, a knife was eventually located. Imagine that, finding a knife that had somehow made it past security into a kitchen.

Unlike the "training" days (Day 1, Day 2) where there was generally a steady pace of activity, on the event night itself there was a great deal of waiting in between short periods of intense action. Patience is definitely a virtue in such a situation. So is bringing something to read, preferably culinary related, since noise and talking is somewhat discouraged.

So, I spent a good deal of time standing around studying some notes I brought (wish I had brought more) and trying to stay out of the way until we were tasked with doing something. Then, one got assigned a task and worked very hard until it was complete. Then, one stood around some more.

My first task was taking the excess fat off some poorly cut prosciutto, which would be used to wrap some green and white asparagus. Immediately following this, I was involved in the biggest task of the night: putting together the antipasti plates.

Everything had been prepared already; it was simply a matter of plating. I say "simply," however, it was anything but. We had to concentrate a great deal on good presentation and precise placement of the various items: 1 row of 3 green and 2 white aspargus, a layer of prosciutto, another layer of asparagus, another layer of prosciutto; 4 crab-stuffed peppers; 7 slices of grilled, sesame-encrusted tuna; etc., etc., etc. All of these items had to be placed properly and positioned to look their best. For example, some of the tuna had brighter red centers than other slices, so you had to be sure that the best looking slices were on top of the small pyramid. There were similar standards for the other ingredients.

The plates were assembled assembly-line fashion, one ingredient at a time. It took a few ingredients to get organized and have everyone working as efficiently as possible (working from one end to another, doing an entire column of plates before moving on to the next in order to avoid plates missing ingredients, etc.). It took a couple of hours to get the hundreds of plates ready, mostly because of the many different ingredients that had to be added.

After this I got sent to the main kitchen to work on plating the entrees. While there, Wolfgang Puck came through with a film crew and we also got moved into the ballroom itself for a "chef's picture". While we were in the ballroom, they were making announcements of who had won the Academy Awards. They were already to Best Actor and Actress as we got photographed, then moved out to work on the food.

Never did the entrees, however, as I got shifted to working on the dessert plates, which were assembled in the same place and in the same manner as the antipasti platters: 5 raspberries, 5 strawberries, crumbled nuts, etc., etc., etc. I never saw the antipasti platters go out, but I did see the desserts leave the assembly area. It takes some effort to do everything so quickly. This was especially true with the dessert plates, which included ice cream.

We were able to assemble the plates sans ice cream, with a nice cushion of time. However, the ice cream couldn't be plated until the last moment, for obvious reasons. Once you started plating the ice cream, the ice cream teams had to work in a precise order so that they were staying just a couple of minutes ahead of the serving staff. It was important to plan where the ice cream teams would be working so that they wouldn't get in the way of the serving staff who were getting the plates.

It all worked out pretty well. During the service, I mostly worked on breaking down the tables we had assembled the desserts on, getting them out of the way once they were clear.

With the last of the desserts served (around 10:45pm) and class at 6am the next morning, I was finished for the evening and given permission to leave. As I headed for the elevators for the parking garage, which weren't too far away, I had my only celebrity sighting of the evening, but it was a good one: Best Actress winner Reese Witherspoon, who was about twelve feet away from me as she walked past the elevator banks.

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March 5, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Consumer Education March 4th

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Posted by Ernest Miller

The consumer education classes finished up the series on cooking techniques with a grilling and slow roasting class.

All the prepared dishes were fairly simple (isn't grilling one of the very first cooking techniques, period?), but simple is often best. The students produced Broiled Beef Tenderloin with Red Bell Pepper Gratin; Roasted Chicken with Rapini and Caramelized Onions; and, Grilled Jerk Chicken.

There is not much to say about the broiled beef, but the gratin was very good. I'm finding that I really, really like gratins. Not simply for the flavor, but for their versatility. It is a basic technique that can be applied to a near infinite number of combinations of flavors. Whether one is adding different (frequently starchy) vegetables in addition to (or as a substitute for) potatoes, or adding differing flavors to the liquid, or simply different toppings or spices, you can do almost anything to a gratin. They're hard to ruin and can generally be prepared ahead of time, simply awaiting cooking, or even pre-cooked and reheated. You can really go crazy in modifying this basic dish.

Gratins. They're what's for dinner.

The roasted chicken is actually a Chinese recipe that calls for duck. However, due to time constraints in the class, chicken was used in order to be sure everything was finished on time. The chicken was good, but I think I'll try the recipe with the original duck.

The final dish, Grilled Jerk Chicken, seemed to be a favorite for many. And what's not to like? The marinade includes a great many flavors and spices, but is simple to prepare. The end result is a juicy, very flavorful chicken. It probably would have been even better with a longer, slower cooking process but everyone really enjoyed it. I'll definitely be using it the next time I barbeque.

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Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 10

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Having gotten a demo on the fabrication of a beef forequarter yesterday (Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 9), we now got a lesson in fabrication of the beef hindquarter, where the majority of the more well-known steaks come from.

Production today started with a Steakhouse Tomato Salad (2 plates), followed by three steaks at various levels of doneness along with two sides.

The salad was actually quite tasty, though one might dispute calling the rich plate a "salad". The base was Heirloom Tomatoes in a balsamic vinaigrette, which were really quite good, but the salad also included a generous portion of deep fried shallots and crumbled blue cheese. There were a few leaves of baby arugula as well, but this was a salad a steak lover could enjoy.

Because of the ease or preparation for the dish, most students finished it quite early.

Cooking steaks doesn't really take all that long, so most of the production effort really goes into getting the side dishes and sauces ready. For a green, we had Sauteed Rapini, aka Broccoli Rabe, with garlic and chile. For a starch, we made Smashed Red Bliss Potatoes with Caramelized Shallots. Both of these dishes were fairly straight forward in preparation. You do have to cook the Rapini somewhat carefully in order to reduce its bitterness (a dash of acid at the end can do wonders) without overcooking it, but otherwise it is sort of difficult to ruin these dishes.

The real difficulties were in the sauces. We made two: Bearnaise and Bordelaise. The latter isn't too difficult, but it does take time to reduce and one has to control the amount of fat in emulsification. You don't want to hit it with too much fat in the beginning.

Bernaise, like its mother sauce Hollandaise, is a technically difficult yolk and butter emulsion. Bernaise differs from Hollandaise primarily in the addition of tarragon. A nice sauce, but a bit of a pain. Recommendation: make this sauce absolutely last, just before service; it is too difficult to hold long.

The students did get to choose which side dish went with which sauce. I followed the basic rule: dairy sauces with vegetables (i.e., Bernaise with the Rapini) and brown sauces with starches (i.e., Bordelaise with Smashed Red Bliss Potatoes).

All in all, a fairly simple day, which was highly appreciated after the busyness of the previous days.

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March 4, 2006

Catering the Academy Award's Governors Ball with Wolfgang Puck - March 2nd

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Day two of "training" for catering the Academy Awards with Wolfgang Puck. It's actually "work," but I'm learning a lot about how such a major operation works. Not everything, certainly, but I'm getting a taste of how things are organized.

Yesterday (Catering the Academy Award's Governors Ball with Wolfgang Puck - March 1st), we students worked on a number of dishes that will actually be served at the Governors Ball. Today was very different. We mostly worked on dishes that would be served to security, production, press and others who provide services for this major event.

Catering the Oscars isn't all glamorous caviar and black truffles, you see. All those security guards, lighting technicians and others have to be fed as well. That's what we worked on today.

I started with the sandwich team: producing 655 sandwiches (mostly tuna and turkey, with a smattering of roast beef). This was assembly line work at its most basic. Slice all the bread, slice the tomatoes, stack it all on various trays. Next, lay out all the bottom slices of bread (we were working with Ciabatta, mostly). Put a small amount of greens on each slice. Next, the tuna (or turkey or roast beef). Top with two slices of tomato and the tuna is done. The turkey and roast beef, however, also get a slice of cheese. Slap on the top slice of bread and the sandwich is done. These tasks were divided, with each person dealing with one ingredient at a time. For example, I would follow those adding the tuna with a container of tomato slices, adding two slices as soon as the tuna was down.

Making the sandwiches was pretty darn quick, actually. The slowest part of the process was wrapping each sandwich in plastic wrap. Here we were taught a technique to wrap several sandwiches at once by laying out a long length of plastic wrap on a table, putting down sandwiches spaced several inches apart and then covering them all with another length of plastic wrap. Cut the plastic between each sandwich and wrap.

Once all the sandwiches were wrapped, it was time to assemble the box lunches (macaroni salad, sandwich, candy bar, apple, chips, condiments and utensil pack). I missed out on most of this, however, as I got pulled off sandwiches to work on lasagna, again for staff and crew.

I rather liked working on the lasagnas, as they weren't nearly as assembly line. Each lasagna has to be assembled by an individual. So, tomato sauce (don't want the pasta to stick to the bottom of the hotel pan), pasta, sauce, ricotta cheese, grilled bellpepper, grated cheese, pasta, sauce, ricotta cheese, grilled bellpepper, grated cheese, pasta, sauce, ricotta cheese, grilled bellpepper, grated cheese, pasta, sauce, ricotta cheese, NO bellpepper, grated cheese, plastic wrap, foil wrap and done. We had to make thirty.

It was also satisfying to know that the food I was making was for staff and crew. They deserve to eat well too. It may not be glamorous, but I wanted to make sure that my production was quality. Who wants to work a long, hard day and then get a poorly sauced lasagna?

I look forward to Sunday, though it is going to be a very long day (4pm - past midnight), with class just a few hours later.

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Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 9

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Today was a day that many in culinary school have been looking forward to. The recipes weren't particularly challenging (sort of), but who doesn't like hamburgers and steaks?


We started the day with a fabrication demo (by Chef Instructor Alexx Guevara) of the forequarter of a cow, which had already been divided into primals. Honestly, the forequarter is not particularly interesting. Most of the cuts are fairly tough and there are few steaks to be had. Still, it's beef. Chuck, flank, osso buco and other very useful subprimals come from this part of cow. They may not be glamorous cuts but, if cooked properly, can be quite excellent.

After watching the demo of fabrication, I have much greater respect for butchers. Properly cutting meat is not easy or simple. Following the demo it also comes as no surprise that many butchers are big, strong guys. I also think that anyone who is a meat eater ought to get a good fabrication lesson. You'll not only learn respect for the butchers, but for the animal itself.

Following the demo, the class broke up into teams. One team handled the making of french fries and steak fries, another team prepped all the fixins for the burgers (slicing tomatoes, onions, etc.), and another team finished fabricating the front quarter of the cow. I was lucky. I got assigned to the final team, which worked on getting all of the chuck subprimal and turning it into hamburger.

Again, mucho respect for those who do this on a daily basis. Removing the fat and silverskin from an entire primal is no easy task. Grinding was pretty straightforward, as was shaping the patties, but you learn an awful lot just by actually having to cut the primal.

Once everything was prepped, production was pretty straightforward. We had to produce two ribeye steaks and two hamburgers, each cooked to the proper doneness. Sides were steak fries and french fries, which had already been parcooked and needed only a finishing fry at high temperature. Simple, right?

Well, sort of. Getting doneness for meat right is not as easy as it sounds. You can watch the meat carefully, of course, and use your thermometer to monitor the temperature, but even then you can overshoot or undershoot. What it really takes is experience to be able to tell the doneness of meat through touch and sight.

Anyone can grill a steak reasonably well at home, but to hit the right doneness mark each and everytime is what separates the good, the bad, and the ugly. Guess I'll just have to do a lot of practice at home.

In the end, I must admit it was quite satisfying to eat a nicely grilled burger that I had taken straight from the primal.

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Catering the Academy Award's Governors Ball with Wolfgang Puck - March 1st

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Posted by Ernest Miller

This Sunday, March 5th, famed chef Wolfgang Puck will be catering his 12th Governors Ball for the Oscars.

Catering such a large event obviously requires an enormous amount of effort. And, while the Governors Ball is the largest and most famous event on Oscar night, the Wolfgang Puck Catering operation will also be providing service to a number of private parties and events as well. So, where to get the additional culinary help necessary to pull off such an enormous operation? Why, Kitchen Academy, of course.

A couple of weeks ago, thirty Kitchen Academy students were offered the opportunity to work for Wolfgang Puck during the Academy Awards show. We would be unpaid, but it would be excellent experience. There were to be two training days in addition to working the night of the Oscars themselves. Sounded good to me, so I signed up. This would be my first experience working in an professional production kitchen.

Having passed the background security check, apparently, I made the list and showed up for the first "training" day on Wednesday, March 1st. My fellow students and I would be working on the 5th floor of the Hollywood & Highland Center, which is basically all Wolfgang Puck's operation and is right next door to the Kodak Theatre, where the Oscars will be held.

Honestly, there wasn't much "training," it was more like "work". Once we showed up, the students were organized into various teams working on prepping parts of the menu for the Governors Ball. Speaking of which, here is the planned menu:

Tray-Passed Hors d'Oeuvres

  • Spicy Tuna Tartare in a Sesame Miso Cone
  • Mini Prime Burgers With Aged Cheddar and Remoulade
  • Warm Gougeres With Potato, Cheese and Herbs
  • Baby Potatoes With Caviar and Chives
  • Steak Tartare in a Black Pepper Parmesan Cone
  • Smoked Salmon Pizza With Dill Creme Fraiche and Caviar (Recipe)
  • Duck Sausage Pizza With Leeks and Spinach
  • Four Cheese Pizza With Tomato and Fresh Basil
Antipasto Platter Assortment
  • Marinated Baby Artichokes With Lemon Aioli
  • Tuna Tataki With Sweet Soy
  • Smoked Salmon "Oscar" Matzo With Osetra Caviar
  • Chopped Vegetable Salad
  • Sweet Crab Stuffed Tiny Spanish Peppers
  • Citrus Marinated Shrimp
  • Green and White Asparagus With Prosciutto
  • Celery Root Soup With Fuji Apples and 24k Gold Sprinkle
  • Pan-Roasted Organic Chicken With Black Truffle Risotto
  • Oscar's "Sweet Fantasy"
I was put on the "Oscar" Matzo team. We were tasked with producing 3,000 of the statuette-shaped crackers. That's a lot of crackers, particularly when Matzo dough is fairly tough. The specially made cutters had to be hammered through the dough using a skillet and hand towel. Do that several hundred times and you've gotten quite the workout.

Of course, that was probably the "training". Lesson learned: Catering includes an awful lot of repetitive, assembly-line-like work. A valuable lesson.

Another lesson. When you read that the special Oscar molds and cutters are kept under lock and key, they're not kidding. Keeping the cutters secured was emphasized several times by various chefs with the catering organization. As soon as we were done with them, they were collected and, literally, put under lock and key.

My attention didn't have a chance to wander much, but I did see my fellow students working on statuette-shaped cookies (a few of which broke and ended up going home with the students). Again, there was even a lesson here. These cookies were being produced days before the event, so the type of cookie had to be of the sort that would last that long (likely, they included a lot of butter). Putting a menu for such an event together can't simply be done based on flavor, but must take into account the ability to put it all together and store it for service.

Many apples were peeled, most likely for the soup. Unfortunately, there weren't any spare peelers, so the students had to use paring knives. Good knife work practice, I suppose, but I'm glad that I keep a good peeler in my knife roll. So is Manny, who was the first to ask to borrow it from me (everyone in my class knows that I keep a variety of additional tools with me).

After a couple of hours of work, Wolfgang Puck himself actually came into the kitchens to inspect things and made friendly conversation with some of the students. Not too long afterwards, several different camera crews, both American and international, came in to do some filming for their Oscar coverage. Chef Puck displayed some demonstration items from his menu, as well as a basket of black truffles worth about $30,000. Additionally, he had tins of the finest Ossetra caviar worth about $40,000 (some of which will go on the Oscar Matzos I produced).

Definitely a good learning experience.

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March 3, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 8

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Posted by Ernest Miller

There were only two dishes to prepare today, and plenty of time, but I was feeling pretty tired and didn't have a sense of urgency. Consequently, I was a bit rushed towards the end.

The day started with a tuna fabrication demo. This was sort of important because we needed that tuna for our first dish. The layout of tuna is almost absurdly engineered for processing, as it divides quite readily into four nearly equal quadrants. This is not to say that taking one apart is simple. Fabricating almost any animal is not as easy as it sounds and takes a good deal of practice to gain any skill in it.

Once the demo was over, the prep went on apace. Organization was really a consideration today.

For example, the first dish seems pretty simple, but it takes awhile to get going: Seared Albacore Tuna with Black Rice, Maui Onion Confit, and Tropical Fruit Salsa (recipe). Searing the tuna takes but a few minutes. It's the rest of the dish that requires a significant amount of prep. The salsa requires dicing a fair number of fruits, which takes a bit, but also has to macerate for at least an hour, so you have to finish it quickly. The black rice (aka Forbidden Rice) still has its bran coat, so it takes a good deal of time to cook. A couple of students didn't realize this and had to present their dishes with undercooked rice or no rice at all. Additionally, to really develop flavor in the Maui Onion Confit, you have to let the dish go for a good period of time. You can't just throw it together at the last minute. Oh, and did I mention having to make a teriyaki glaze that has to simmer for at least twenty minutes?

Sounds like a quick dish, "seared tuna? that'll take seconds", but the entire plate, ain't.

On the other hand, our "Contemporary" Bouillabaisse was actually much quicker and easier to prepare. You have to make a lobster stock first, but that isn't too difficult: sweat some aromatics, add lobster shells, pince with tomato paste, add stock, brandy, a sachet and you're done in an hour. You'll be adding some more veggies to the soup, but they're mostly the same as what you need for the stock, so you can cut them all at the same time.

Once the soup is simmering, it is simply a question of cooking the fish and shellfish in the soup, which must be done in the proper order so as not to overcook the various types of seafood as some cook quicker than others. However, the fish take very little time to cook overall. Plate and you're done (but don't forget the Rouille on toast garnish).

Lesson for today: one needs to maintain a sense of urgency even if one is tired.

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Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 7

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Fat Tuesday, but no pancakes on the production list. Instead, we make: Grilled Lobster Tail; Grilled Quail with Israeli Couscous, Pomegranate Molasses, Pomegranate Seeds and Mint; and, Grilled Pizza with Pesto, Prosciutto, and Buffalo Mozzarella. Appetizer plates all.

After getting the mise well under way, we got the demo on lobster fabrication. This was disturbing to several of the students as the process included sticking a bamboo skewer lengthwise through the still living lobster before boiling in order to ensure the tail did not curl during the cooking process. Immediately after the demo, the lobsters were distributed.

The lobsters had come straight from the refrigerators, so they were pretty lethargic initially. I wasn't planning on cooking mine immediately, so I put it in a hotel pan and stuck in my lowboy. When it came time to cook mine, it was still lethargic. Others, however, kept their lobsters on top of their stations, which meant that, as the lobsters warmed up, they became more active and less accommodating to getting a bamboo skewer up their tail. Lesson: keep your lobster chilled, unless you like fighting with it.

Cooking and fabricating the lobsters took very little time, so that was the dish that most people knocked out first. Of course, you have to be a little careful taking the meat out of the claws, as that will be part of the presentation for a dish the next day. Although there are many ways to open the shells, a nutcracker might come in handy next time.

Our quails came deboned, so there wasn't that much prep involved there. The most difficult thing was seeding the pomegranate (really delicious) and making the Israeli Couscous. I've never had Israeli Couscous before and I rather liked their consistency. A nice change of pace. Definitely an ingredient worth playing some more with.

They also reminded me of tapioca pearls, which made me wonder what some savory applications for tapioca might be. Could it be used as a starchy side dish? How so?

The pizza was generally the last thing people prepared, mostly because we wanted to give our dough a chance to rise and develop flavor before use. It was definitely a favorite dish. Students from classes ahead of ours made a point of dropping off some sample dishes in order to grab a couple of slices of pizza on the way out.

We did have some portioning issues with the pizza. People were slathering on ingredients, such as cheese and pesto, when the recipe calls for a thin layer. This isn't the pizza you get from the local delivery service. In this case, when you work with quality ingredients, less is more.

To replace some of the pesto, we also used left over romesco on the pizza. Is there anything you can't use romesco on? Pizza Romesco was great. At home I've used romesco on pasta (fusilli holds the romesco very well) and salad (with kalamata olives and shaved manchego cheese), both worked very well.

In any case, a pretty nice day's work.

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February 27, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 6

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Mondays really are Mondays in course II.

I was running a little behind schedule, so I immediately made my way to my station. Well, it turns out that my station wasn't my station - there was a piece of tape with the names "Danny / Nina". Forgot. We'll be changing station partners on a weekly basis. Walking around the lab I find my new station near the front (away from the dishwashing sinks) with Lauren, one of the youngest students (she is only 18).

She and I haven't worked together other than doing dishes, so it will take some additional time to organize ourselves to get things done more efficiently.

The class starts with a short quiz. Of course, the time you have to finish the quiz is quite short as well. I'm usually a pretty quick test taker, but I didn't have much time to spare when I turned in my quiz.

Next, we have to drop some stocks that have been simmering all weekend. This is a fairly major task and takes a not insignificant amount of manpower as well as time. I worked on getting the ice for the sinks for cooling. After a weekend with very little use, the industrial ice maker is usually clogged up with a frozen solid mass of ice. The only thing to do is to attack the frozen mass with a shovel. At least you can get your aggressions out.

After I finished with the ice, others were working on straining the stocks. There are only so many people who can work on that task, so the rest of us began work on getting some of the mise. I pulled the eggs we needed and started portioning out the bread flour we would use for making pizza dough.

With all the plates and various dishes we prepare in course II, we require a large number of "mise cups," small, plastic deli containers in a variety of sizes (8oz, 16oz and 32oz are common). In these cups we place the ingredients we will be using. However, there is generally a shortage of cups in the class. One usually has to scrounge various containers to hold ingredients.

I find that very small mise cups (2oz - 4oz) are extremely handy for holding onto things like minced/smashed garlic cloves, minced parsley and other small items. These smaller cups take up less space and are easier to deal with, when you only have a tablespoon or so of ingredient. So, in order to ensure I have some of these cups to use, I bring my own. I never bring them home, simply leave them when I'm done. Unfortunately, today, someone snagged my cups to use to mise out stuff for the class (in this case, lemon juice). This left my station with a dearth of mise cups, especially the very useful small ones. Another blow to my typical way or organizing things.

The stocks got dropped and the collective mise stopped. Unfortunately, not everything was mised out. So, you had to look through everything and figure out what you still needed, which is not the most efficient way to do things.

Anyway, the chefs asked for volunteers to fabricate an entire salmon. Half of the salmon would be used by the student, the other half would be sent to another course to be turned into Gravlax. I volunteered in order to get more experience filleting fish, especially such troublesome ones.

Yep, I definitely need more practice. We will be getting another opportunity to filet salmon in the class, which is good considering that salmon is on the final.

One of the dishes we make today is peas. First they have to be blanched, shocked and drained. I chose the direct method of accomplishing this, which is probably the dumbest. Fishing in the ice water to get ahold of peas is not very fast. Won't make that mistake again, however.

In any case, the result of all this is that I wasn't terribly organized during my production. I got my plates in with a nice cushion of time, and they came out well, but I wasn't able to keep up in cleaning dishes. My station looked like a disaster area by the time I had presented everything.

Hopefully things will go better tomorrow, organizationally speaking.

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February 26, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Consumer Education Feb 25

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Posted by Ernest Miller

We had about eight student assistants for the consumer class and a "day in the life" class. This was great because we are able to effectively pull ingredients and prep the chef's presentation and still have time to really assist the students in the class, which is one of my favorite parts. We had most of the regulars there, but also a couple of students who had just finished the first week of course I. It was good to get a chance to meet and work with them since the students in different courses so seldom interact.

Today's consumer education class was on moist cooking techniques, such as poaching, braising and stewing. This is sort of a tough class to do in just a few hours since many of the moist cooking techniques take a great deal of time to really do their job. For example, sometimes you want to braise that lamb leg until it is ready to simply fall apart. However, that takes many, many hours, more than are available for the class. So, a few shortcuts are necessary.

For example, the meat for both the Braised Lamb and Beef Vindaloo were first seared and browned before going through the moist cooking process. Using a dual process is actually quite common, of course.

Note the "beef" vindaloo. The original plan was to use pork, but dietary restrictions for some of the students meant that we used beef instead. I thought it sort of ironic that a traditional Indian dish would be prepared with beef instead of pork due to dietary restrictions.

No shortcuts were necessary for the poached salmon in a basil cream sauce. Fish do cook much quicker than nearly any other protein, as far as I can tell.

Once again working on Saturdays at Kitchen Academy is an excellent learning experience. In course II we haven't gotten to the moist cooking methods yet. Watching Chef Guevara's demos and hearing his lectures is like getting part of those classes ahead of time. I also learned a number of other things, such as how to make the Indian clarified butter known as "Ghee". Minor stuff, perhaps, but experience is experience.

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Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 5

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Scallops are good. And when they're fresh, they're really, really good.

Today's scallops were really, really good.

They're also not that difficult to fabricate (prepare for cooking), though they certainly can collect a great deal of sand and other debris in their classically shaped shells. What was most surprising to me was how the fresh (and still living) scallops would move when one begins opening the shells and cutting the muscles away. It is a bit startling to have the shell jump in one's hands.

The scallops were simply seared in clarified butter for just a minute or two on each side and served in a traditional style on their own shell. In this case we used an Orange Beurre Blanc sauce.

One interesting note on the sauce. There were two types of oranges available to use for their juice: standard and blood oranges. Turns out the juice from the blood oranges makes a much more effective presentation. In a beurre blanc, one adds a great deal of butter. (I believe "beurre blanc" is French for "heart stopper".) The yellow butter thins out the color of the orange juice so much that the end result from a regular orange has a yellow, or lemony appearance (though the flavor remains, of course, orangey). However, because the juice of blood oranges is red, when butter is added, the resulting sauce has a more orange hue.

The other dish we produced was Sauteed Snapper with a Melange of Baby Vegetables and Fish Consomme. Of course, making the consomme was a priority, since it needs to simmer nearly an hour. One has to watch it somewhat carefully to ensure that the liquid isn't reduced out of the sauce pot entirely, as well. It also seemed somewhat of a pain to go through an awful lot of effort to make a "perfect soup" and then plate it with a mound of vegetables that leached oil and fat onto the surface of the consomme. One could retard this effect by pouring the soup away from the vegetables, but some of the fat would leach out regardless.

Fabricating the snapper wasn't nearly as much fun as cutting up the halibut was, mostly because of the presence of pin bones in the snapper filet that must be removed by hand with, essentially, tweezers. And, frankly, I also found the halibut much better eating than the snapper (though I still enjoyed the snapper).

After the last couple of days I will definitely be looking for more whole fish to fabricate for cooking. There is something satisfying about taking a whole animal apart and preparing it for dinner. That, and fresh scallops are simply divine.

It is also amazing to think that only a single week has gone by in course II. It feels like a couple of weeks.

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February 23, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 4

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Today started out with a brief lecture on the importance of portion control. I'm not exactly sure what prompted this, but Chef Knight emphasized that many restaurants fail because of improper portion control and wasted resources. She noted that Delta Airlines saved $1.4 million a year by eliminating a single lettuce leaf garnish from its meals (Frugal US Airways Drops Free Pretzels to Save Dough). She also noted that we can lose points in our grading for not getting the portioning right.

I'm in total agreement. I very much want to make the most use of the ingredients given to us. I'm always asking whether or not there is a use for some of the stuff we discard (such as the spines of Swiss Chard and Kale - answer, not really, no). If I'm going to cut and squeeze the juice out of a lemon, I want to zest it first. I bake the potato skins left over from making gnocchi. Even today I carefully saved the skin from my halibut filets.

My original plan was to fry the skin between two cast iron skillets to make a crispy, tasty treat to be used as a garnish. Unfortunately, the time for doing so was not available.

Today was rough. There were probably a significant number of zeros on the grading sheet and a number of plates marked down for being incomplete.

Each student had to produce two plates each of: Sauteed Halibut with Potato and Artichoke Gratin, Spring Onions, and a Fines Herbes Beurre Blanc; and, Sauteed Halibut with Fava Beans, Green Garlic, Caperberries and Aioli.

There was a good deal of demo: scaling and fileting the halibut; making the aioli and Beurre Blanc. That slowed things down a bit, but the real bottleneck was the production of the aioli.

This was the first time that our class had produced this mayonnaise-like emulsion (we haven't made mayonnaise yet either). Frankly, it isn't easy. Wasting many valuable minutes my first attempt broke, which, noted Chef Melino in her demo, means I'm pregnant according to Mexican folklore. Anyway, this sauce is a real pain. I've had no trouble whipping up a Hollandaise emulsion, but aioli was driving me nuts. You have to get the consistency of the egg yolk, garlic, lemon juice and salt paste just right before you can get the oil to emulsify. This simply takes luck or, better yet, experience. My luck is that I recently received a mortar and pestle as a gift and so I can practice this difficult technique at home. On the other hand, perhaps it isn't luck that aioli isn't on the final exam for this course - probably more than a few people would get zeros for their aioli.

What was worse for the class as a whole was that there was a dearth of mortars and, especially, pestles. This was a real equipment bottleneck. I note that pestles were missing, probably broken, as another pestle bit the dust today. It is not as if the pestles were being abused; they just seemed to crack on a natural seam in the marble. Consequently, students had to improvise pestles. It didn't help that students, like myself, who snagged a mortar and pestle took so darn long with the things because aioli is difficult.

Another time suck: fava beans. Darn things just take forever to prep. First you have to shuck them from their pods. Then, after blanching, shocking and draining, you have to remove each bean from its hull. This just takes an inordinate amount of time. Funny thing is, after all this effort with what we thought was a large number of pods, Arturo and I ended up with a miniscule amount of beans. We were supposed to have 2oz per plate for 4 plates. We only had a total of 3.2oz of beans in the end. There was no time to prep more beans, so we got permission from the chef instructor to do only one plate each with beans and the other without.

Thank goodness that fish filets cook quickly. If it hadn't been for the fact that fish cooks in just a few minutes, Arturo and I would never have finished. As it was, we barely completed our plates with a minute or so to spare.

Today seemed to be part of the sink or swim school of learning. You just have to make things happen. Prior preparation and organization is absolutely essential to getting everything finished in time.

You also have to ask a lot of questions. For example, I've never even seen a caperberry before (the ripe version of a caper, with a less intense flavor). The recipe called for them to be cut in half. Simple, no? Well, each caperberry came with a long stem attached. Seemed sort of purposeful. So, I thought, maybe I should somehow leave the stem attached, or something. I asked Chef Melino how to properly cut one. She showed me how to cut them so that they remained attached to the stem and could be nicely displayed on the plate. Bingo. But I wouldn't have had a clue without asking.

Definitely an intense learning experience today.

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February 22, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 3

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Mmmmm ... pork chops.

Today's production was Sauteed Roquefort-Stuffed Pork Chops with Savory Swiss Chard Bread Pudding and Wild Mushroom Ragout in addition to Sauteed Pork Chops (brined) with Caramelized Sweet Potatoes in Romesco, Braised Italian Kale and a Veal Stock Reduction.

My culinary education continues, and I'm not talking about learning how to be a chef. I thought I was a fairly adventerous eater, but today was the first day I'd had a savory bread pudding or the wonderful and versatile sauce known as "Romesco". I've always been a big fan of Pesto and Romesco is sort of like a fresh tomato variation (with almonds and ancho chilis). Wow.

Of course, I also learned a bit about cooking as well, mostly things not to do. For example, when you put your bread pudding in a water bath, use as small a pan as you can and don't forget to turn on the convection fan to speed things up. My bread pudding may have been one of the first into an oven. It was probably one of the last to come out. Indeed, had I not changed the water bath pan and turned on the fan, that bread pudding might still be cooking as I type this.

Lesson the second: Kale (Cavolo Nero) takes forever (or so it seems) to braise. Seriously. When you think, after it has been blanched and spent 30 minutes in a saute pan, that it just has to be done, it's not. When tender, it is pretty darn tasty, but getting to "tender" takes what seems to be an inordinate amount of time. I would definitely like to ask a food scientist "why?"

Lesson the third: When stuffing a pork chop, don't apply too much pressure with large fingers. Those chops can tear pretty readily. Luckily, the hole in my stuffed chop was small and not too much of the cheese oozed out when cooked.

Lesson the fourth: By taking a station near the back of the kitchen lab, you may be conveniently near the dishwashing station, but you may therefore miss out when samples of fresh ice cream are brought in from PCA-4 to the front of the class.

Everyday is quite the learning experience.

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Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 2

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Not much in the way of introduction today, we jumped straight into mise and production.

And there is quite a bit more mise than in course I where we might produce three different items; in course II we are producing three different items per plate and at least two different plates.

For example, today we produced Sauteed Pork Tenderloin with Salsify Puree, Sauteed Apples with Golden Raisins and Calvados Pan Sauce. That was plate numero uno. The second plate was Pork Paillard, aka Pork Schnitzel a la Holstein with traditional Garnishes (capers, lemon supremes, anchovies) and Brown Butter, Butter Foam. We also fabricated four pork chops from a rack, including Frenching them. They'll be used tomorrow.

Okay, so those in the restaurant business are not impressed. However, for a guy not used to cooking so much so quickly, this is quite a bit of production. Nevertheless, although it stretches my capabilities, it does not overwhelm them. The learning curve has increased, but my abilities have kept up (so far).

One of the steepest parts of the learning curve is simply keeping up with all the exposure to new ingredients. I'd never even heard of Calvados (French Apple Brandy) before I used it for a couple of different sauces today. Even more interesting was Spanish Salsify, a root vegetable popular in Europe. It isn't much to look at, but it has a wonderful flavor, which means I've been deprived, not having heard of it before.

Of course, we boiled the salsify in milk and cream before pureeing and subsequently adding chopped toasted hazelnuts. So, delightful as the vegetable was, not too many things suffer from being boiled in milk and cream as well as the addition of toasted hazelnuts. I'm definitely going to have to experiment with salsify some more. The only problem may be finding the vegetable itself. I guess I'll have to look into some farmer's markets. Honestly, that salsify was good. Darn good.

The salsify was also a dish I saved from being too thin. I had gotten my salsify simmering quite early in production and so was ready to puree it before Chef Knight had demo'd it. Unfortunately, I poured the entire pot into a foodmill. The liquid ran right through, giving my salsify the consistency of a thick soup. The taste was not bad, actually, (mmmm .. cream of salsify soup) but a plate calls for a much thicker mixture. Initially I considered reducing it. But that would take time and might lead to some scorching or burning. So, I reverse strained it. I poured the soup-like mixture into a chinois, which would let the liquid through, but hold onto the thicker puree. After removing the puree from the chinois, I had my properly thick salsify.

My schnitzel came out pretty well. The most interesting thing about it, for me, was the discussion of garnishing philosophy with Chef Melino. Each plate got three anchovies. The recipe we used called for the anchovies to be chopped up and sprinkled about. But the book also noted that, traditionally, the anchovies would be rolled and placed on the schnitzel. So, I chopped up two of my anchovies, but rolled one and put it right in the center. Although the recipe didn't call for it, I added some lemon zest around the rolled anchovie to highlight it, as well as to spread around the edge of the plate with the traditional chopped parsley.

Chef Melino asked me several questions about my garnishes, forcing me to think a bit deeper about them. For example, the reason the anchovies are chopped is to spread the flavor around, without concentrating the highly flavored anchovies on only a portion of the plate. Chopping saves the customer the effort of spreading the flavor themselves. This is why I chopped up two of my anchovies. However, I rolled the third one as an homage to tradition - that I recognized and respected it. A two-for-one.

With regard to my lemon zest, Chef Melino pointed out that all garnishes should be edible and we must also consider how they would change the flavor of the dish. For example, my zest was concentrated around the anchovie and also spread on the edge of the plate. Although the zest was a bit concentrated near the anchovie, I thought that the zest would enhance the flavor. We were already using lemon supremes and lemon juice, so this would add another layer to the lemon flavor, without being overpowering (used sparingly).

It may seem obvious, but it is definitely something that I will have to consider more as I design my plate presentations.

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February 20, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course II - Day 1

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Posted by Ernest Miller

No rest for the weary on this presidential holiday; Kitchen Academy's PCA-2a class jumps right into gear.

It'll take a little getting used to the new kitchen. The layout is slightly different and the equipment storage is switched around a bit, not to mention the different equipment that is available. For example, there are two meat slicers that take up one station. Interestingly, we've lost two students from our class, dropping to thirty (thus, not causing too much of a problem with the loss of one station to meat cutters).

I grab a station near the rear dishwashing station. I consider this critical to making it easy to keep up with the dishes during production (and we will be generating a lot of dishes). Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, the oven at the station I chose isn't operable: the pilot light continues to go out. This is a bit annoying.

My station partner is Arturo, who has usually been across the station from me. We also work together frequently during Saturdays, so we should have no problem working together this week. Only a week, because our chef instructor promises that we will be shifted around on a weekly basis. Fair enough.

Speaking of chef instructors, we have two, though Chef Guevara said we may have an additional instructor for training from time to time. Our lead instructor is Chef Kimberly Knight (scroll down), who comes to California from Atlanta, GA. In addition to her cooking experience, she has an extensive background in culinary education and says that Kitchen Academy is her ideal and favorite job. She looks forward to coming in everyday (at 5am).

For roll call, in order to get to know the students, she has each of us introduce ourselves and provide a one-word description. Eddie, one of the students, asked her at the end of the roll call to provide a one-word description of herself. She says "sensitive."

Our other instructor is Chef Melino, who had assisted Chef Perez and Guevara in the last couple of weeks of Course I.

Chef Knight then goes into her expectations for the class. First off, it should be a learning experience for everyone, as we will, once again, be the largest class to date. Next, she is particularly concerned with safety and sanitation. One particular pet peeve is open beverage containers in class. She sees one and you get a zero for sanitation for the day. Lidded and capped containers are fine. It is also fine to leave the kitchen to get a drink as long as you notify the chef (like we'll have time).

Next on Chef Knight's list of expectations is that everyone be in a clean, full, proper uniform (i.e., no colored t-shirts underneath the white chef's coat). White t-shirts are pretty cheap. I'm not sure why so many students wear colored or shirts with obvious lettering and designs that can almost be read through their coats.

Professional grooming is also brought to our attention. Chef Knight is particularly concerned with fingernails (closely trimmed, no polish, including clear). She tells us that before she went to culinary school (Art Institute of Atlanta School of Culinary Arts) she used to have her nails done every two weeks. She realized what a commitment a culinary career was when she gave up her nails to persue her passion for cooking.

After those preliminaries, Chef Knight spoke about what this course was about: meat, of course, as well as the various dry and wet means of cooking it. Just as important, though, the course is about about plate presentation. In general, and unlike course I, we will be presenting finished plates with two or three components. Furthermore, we will be presenting two of each plate, which should be identical.

Chef Knight recommended that we consider the night before how we intend to plate our production. She even suggested that some might find it useful to draw the product using crayons, though some lucky few might find they do well to plate as they produce.

So, those were some of the basics of course II.

What did we produce today? We fabricated (cut into pieces) two chickens, much of which was reserved for future use. However, we did keep one carcass for a mustard sauce and the four breasts, which were served with polenta and sauteed brussel sprouts. Never really liked brussel sprouts and, if anything, today only confirmed my dislike. It wasn't simply that they don't taste all that good, but that they are a pain to prep and cook. After slicing, coring, blanching, shocking, draining and sauteing, there wasn't much left of some of the sprouts. Seemed like a lot of effort with very little to show for it to me. Ah well.

Sounds fairly easy, but I did end up juggling burners and having to track several different things at once. I can tell I'm going to be learning a lot about organization, if nothing else.

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February 19, 2006

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

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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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Kitchen Academy - Feb 17 - Ellen DeGeneres Visits

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Posted by Ernest Miller

After finals, Chef Alexx Guevara invited the students to spend a few more hours at Kitchen Academy to act as "extras" when television talk star Ellen DeGeneres paid a visit, as one of the "adventures" for her show.

Extra students were needed to fill out the classrooms, as the afternoon classes tend to be the most sparsely populated. More people choose to take the morning schedule (6am - 11am), as I do, or the evening schedule (6pm - 11pm). I imagine that the afternoon schedule (12pm - 5pm) interferes with secondary jobs and the like. Moreover, finals were still ongoing, so it would obviously make more sense to have students who were finished with their exams participate in Ellen's shenanigans.

The visit was filmed in a number of separate scenes. Ellen making gnocchi with Chef Alexx, Ellen teaching culinary students how to microwave popcorn, Ellen cooking jumbo shrimp ("isn't that an oxymoron") tempura, etc. All of these scenes were played for laughs. There really wasn't any even semi-serious cooking demonstrations performed.

As was to be expected, there were a number of hits and misses with the jokes. It will be interesting to see how all these different scenes get edited into a semi-coherent, humorous whole.

In any case, the scenes are expected to air on Friday, February 24th or Monday, February 27th. Of course, that all depends on a variety of factors; perhaps KA will get bumped by some unlikely Olympics star or something. I'll be TiVo'ing the show, of course, especially since I probably managed to get into a shot or two.

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Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 30

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Day of 5 of final exams for course I. The final day of course I.

Today is a relatively quick and easy day. We produce only two dishes: New England Clam Chowder and Gnocchi with Browned Butter Sage Sauce.

Step 1: Put potatoes in the oven to roast for the gnocchi.

Step 2: Steam clams.

Step 3: Make clam chowder, which will be finished just about the same time the potatoes will be.

On the clam chowder, you can prep as you go. Dice salt pork and start it rendering (low and slow). As the salt pork renders dice the onion and celery, which will be sweated. As onion and celery sweat, small dice carrots and potato. These cuts should be fairly precise, as they'll be a major part of the soup's presentation. As the sweat finishes, deglaze, add the liquids (cream and clam juice) and thyme. Bring to a simmer, add potato and carrot. Simmer until tender. Add clams, parsley and serve. The clams are already cooked, you add them at the very end because you don't want to overcook them.

While the soup is simmering, chop the sage for the browned butter sauce and you're done with the cutting and cutting board. Now is a good time to get caught up with some of the dishes and make sure everything is ready to make the gnocchi.

Making gnocchi is a bit of a mess (flour on your station), but you have some time to clean up while the fresh gnocchi spend time in the freezer.

More important is the fact that the recipe produces far more gnocchi than you need to present. Those who've been reading my culinary adventures from the beginning know that my gnocchi haven't always had enough flour (Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 20). Therefore, I only use half of my gnocchi dough to make the gnocchi. The rest of the dough I reserve for emergency use should my first gnocchi fail. Had I done that the first time, I wouldn't have to borrow gnocchi from my station partner. Since borrowing won't be allowed during finals, I'd better be prepared. In the end, my gnocchi come out just fine the first time.

The final steps are cooking the gnocchi in boiling water and finishing the browned butter sage sauce. I love putting the chopped sage into the hot browned butter. There is a lovely burst of sage aroma and the sizzling sound is quite nice. When the sauce is ready, fry the gnocchi a bit and plate. Today I used one of my potato skins as a sauce repository for the extra browned butter sauce (just in case there isn't enough fat in the dish already).

After that, it's clean-up. In addition to the normal routine, we do a little deep cleaning as well, making sure the kitchen is ready for the next set of students.

Finally, Chefs Perez and Guevara talk to us about the next course and the difficulties it will present and praise us for our efforts. They've been very impressed and also note that we've been quite the test for Kitchen Academy as the first full class of thirty-two students. Surprisingly, we've also had 100% retention, without a single dropout.

At the end, a round of applause for our chefs. They've done a great job. These first six weeks have flown by and the amount we've learned is both amazing and a drop in the bucket compared to what we have yet to learn. It is hard to imagine that the pace is only going to increase.

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February 16, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 29

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Day 4 of final exams for course I.

I hate eggs. Frustrating things. You don't use enough butter and they don't slide around easily in the non-stick pan. You use too much butter and they brown. Darn things never want to fold properly. About the only eggs I do like are the scrambled kind. Those I can do readily. The others, what a pain.

I'm going to need a lot more practice with egg cookery before I feel confident. My respect for breakfast chefs is much, much higher now.

Quiches are cool, though. I don't mind them much. One hint: I find that the cheese on top browns too much before the rest of the quiche has set. Solution: give the quiches ten minutes in the oven before adding the final top coat of cheese. Seemed to work out pretty well.

Quiches may be nice, but crepes are better. I got a beautiful batter this time. I was producing perfect crepe after perfect crepe with no problem. These would be used for a Suzette, but I'm definitely thinking of experimenting with some savory recipes at home. Of course, this is not to dismiss the sublime pleasures of Suzette sauce. To me, they taste of California. Having them this early in the morning is sort of like waking up in an orange grove.

The last thing I made today (for grade ... I whipped up an extra batch of Crepes Suzette at the end for the heck of it) was the Hollandaise for Eggs Florentine and Blanched Asparagus. Despite its reputation for difficulty, I feel pretty good making Hollandaise. I would love to compare flavors, but I think the texture I get (ribbony) is just right.

Overall, a mediocre day (thanks for nothing, eggs!), but whipping through the recipes shows that my skills have certainly improved from the beginning.

Tomorrow, the last day of Course I.

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Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 28

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Day 3 of final exams for course I.

I'm feeling more confident with my time management as the week goes on. With a well-thought out plan, I feel that I'm able to produce the dishes in a fairly efficient manner, without rushing them.

Not rushing is a key to a good mushroom risotto, which is one of the dishes we are tasked with. Once again, we are told to skip making the mushroom stock ("to streamline" things) and simply use chicken stock. That isn't for me. You get much more mushroom flavor from use of a mushroom stock, as well as a lovely deep color.

We weren't issued enough mushrooms to make stock (or any celery for the mirepoix), but I scavange enough mushroom stems and a couple of portabello stems to proceed (missing only the celery).

Although the mushroom stock takes a good deal of time, I got the rice pilaf in the oven first, since it takes very little time to prep. I put the mise cup of rice under the faucet to "rinse til clear" and then mince the shallots and brunoise the carrot. I needed minced shallot for other dishes, so I minced enough for everything all at once. The brunoised carrot was the most precise knife cut needed, so better to get it out of the way first, leaving the rest of the carrot to be used in less demanding cuts. This worked out well, since the carrot was one of those that had a great texture and orange color on the outside, but a much paler, nearly transparent root core. All my brunoise had to come from the outer layers of the carrot.

The rest of the rice pilaf procedure is simplicity itself: sweat the shallots and carrot; coat the rice with the oil and cook til opaque, add liquid of choice (chicken stock in this case) and herbs (thyme and bay leaf); bring to a simmer; stir; cover; and, put into oven for 10-15 minutes. Once out of the oven, you let the rice stand for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork, add butter and season.

Unfortunately, mine came out overcooked. Probably cooked it too much on the stovetop. Ah well. Not much to be done there. Last time it was perfect.

I got the mushroom stock going with the pilaf in the oven. To develop the most flavor and color you need to sweat the heck out of the mushrooms, at least ten minutes. I don't know how long I let the mushrooms sweat, but I simply kept an eye on it and an occasional stir while I prepped the marinated grilled vegetables. Once the mushrooms were properly sweated, just add water, sachet and simmer for about 45 minutes.

Vegetable prep for the grill is pretty quick. The cuts are thick and simple, since the vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, squash, portabello, asparagus) need to be able to survive on a very high heat grill (this ain't no backyard bbq). Once cut, you set the vegetables aside with a sprinkling of salt on both sides to draw out some of the liquid. While the vegetables were losing moisture, I prepped the marinade, which was a semi-stable balsamic vinaigrette with dijon mustard as the emulsifying agent.

The marinade didn't take long to make, so I still had time before the vegetables would be ready for their bath. I switched gears, and prepped the filling for the ravioli. I wanted it to spend some time in the lowboy setting up before actually making the stuffed pasta. With that done, I then worked on the braised artichokes in white wine, getting my vegetables marinating at the same time.

I was midway through braising the artichokes when a grill opened and I could put those beautiful grill marks on the veggies. Some simple but elegant plating and I was finished with two dishes. The braised artichokes followed shortly thereafter. I had some extra bacon (which is used in the artichoke dish), so I quickly fried that up and garnished the plate with bacon bits (and who doesn't like bacon bits?). Three plates down.

I was doing pretty good, time-wise. I knew this because I had to set up the pasta machine station. No one else had rolled out their pasta dough, so I was the first. I feel very good about my pasta rolling technique, actually. Plus, I like doing it. There is simply something satisfying about making fresh pasta.

Anyway, I took my rolled pasta and made my ravioli. I went with a simple circle shape to contrast with the other pasta I would serve. I was thinking about the dish the night before and always came back to the pasta left over from cutting the ravioli, the extra bits of pasta that just get thrown away. So, this time, I cut out some diamond-shaped maltagliati pasta from the scaps to contrast with the round ravioli. It plated well, I thought, and gave the dish an extra plus.

Finally, with the mushroom stock finished, I ended the day with my risotto.

An okay day. The only real problem dish was the pilaf, but I know I've nailed it before. My ravioli still have a tendency to get a little air in the pocket. That is something I worked on hard this time, but didn't get perfect.

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February 14, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 27

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Day 2 of final exams for course I.

Today may be the easiest day of the exam. We only had to produce and present Cream of Tomato Soup and French Onion Soup. We also had to make 3:2:1 dough and pasta dough, but those are for use later in the week.

To make the Cream of Tomato Soup, you have to make a recipe of Bechamel. However, that is not what I started first.

The very first thing I did was slice the onions for the French Onion Soup. In order to really mellow and bring out the sweetness of the onions, one must sweat them for an extended period: at least 30 minutes. After extended sweating the onions need to be caramelized, to give the soup a deep, rich color and depth of flavor. The caramelization cannot be rushed either. Finally, the soup has to simmer for at least an hour after the sweating and caramelization. Knowing how long good French Onion Soup takes, it was the very first thing I got started and the last thing I presented.

I think that I'm really starting to get the hang of a decent Bechamel. The sauce really came together nicely.

Where I had my trouble today was with the tomato base for my soup. The final product didn't zing with tomato flavor. I think the problem was that I didn't reduce the tomato base enough; it was too watery. I needed to reduce it some to concentrate the tomato flavor.

Part of the issue is the quality of tomatoes. February really isn't a good tomato month. During the peak of the season, I probably wouldn't have to worry about the tomato flavor at all. However, during the winter, one really has to taste and sample the product to know how to deal with it. It might even be better to use canned tomatoes than fresh. I really should have concentrated the flavor more. Even the exams are learning experiences.

Today was fairly easy, so I was able to spend more time on my station organization. I did well, I think. We will have to see if I can keep up on some of the other, more difficult days.

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February 13, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 26

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Posted by Ernest Miller

First day of final exams for Course I.

I arrived early, as usual, to make sure that my station is properly equipped, including the non-stick pans that are very, very useful for some of the dishes we will be preparing today. I never simply snag some pans or pots from another station, but always look for a station that has extra. Later, someone will take my non-stick pans causing me to waste valuable time locating other pans. This isn't the first time it has happened. I hate that.

Promptly at six am the class is moved to the large common area at the front of the school for the written portion of the test. There are fifty non-multiple choice questions including item identification and an extra credit question (consomme technique). There is a generous one hour alloted for the written, but I hurry through it so that I can get on to the knife cuts exam and production. Consequently, I miss a couple of questions. One, what grape is used for balsamic vinegar, I have no idea (Trebbiano). Another asks to list the ingredients for 3-2-1 dough. I get the main ingredients correct: 3 parts flour to 2 parts butter to 1 part ice water. 3-2-1 dough ... easy, right? Wrong. I forgot the salt. And, without salt, that dough is going to taste very flat. Ah well. I think I made it up on the extra credit. Of course, those are the questions I know I missed. Hopefully they are the only ones.

After the written, I returned to the kitchen lab to knock out the knife cuts exam. Unfortunately, rulers (my favorite eyeball calibration device) are not permitted. So, although my cuts look reasonably good, I'm not really sure how close to the right size they really are.

The first day is basically potatoes (mashed, dauphinoise, anna, rosti) in addition to consomme brunoise and glazed carrots. I got the potatoes boiling for the mashed and started the consomme, which has to simmer a bit. Today, the raft on my consomme came out wonderfully. It was a thing of beauty - the best consomme I've made so far.

A small hint on blanching the brunoised carrots for the consomme. You don't want to skip the blanching (the carrots will float and you'll lose points). You don't really want to blanch the carrots in the consomme itself. You might get starch from the carrots in the consomme, which will cloud it, or you'll simply impart too much carrot flavor to the consomme. However, blanching a tablespoon of brunoised carrots can be a bit of a pain. I figured out a pretty easy way to do it. Put the brunoised carrots in a small bowl (such as the ones used for the French Onion Soup). Then, pour boiling water on them, filling the bowl half-way. After thirty seconds to a minute, the carrots will be blanched, so then pour ice into the bowl, filling it the rest of the way. This has probably agitated the carrots and shaken loose any bits of carrot that might mar the consomme. They'll be ready to add to the soup after this.

One more suggestion on the consomme. When pouring the steaming hot consomme into the bowl for service, strain it one final time through a chinoise with coffee filter. The second straining will make sure that any debris in the pot used after the initial straining doesn't get to the bowl.

One of the questions on the exam was on the two types of potatoes (waxy and starchy). We had an unintentional demonstration of the difference in class as we had Yukon Golds (starchy, but a little waxy) and Russets (starchy).

I only got a couple of Russets and the rest Yukon Golds. I made my mashed with the Yukon Golds and could taste a noticeable difference in the texture. I garnished the mashed with finely chopped parsely, of course, but also with some potato rings that I had cut and fried. I put five of the rings on top of the mashed in the Olympic ring pattern and called the result "Winter Olympics Mashed Potatoes." Chef Guevara just smiled and shook his head when I turned it in.

The rest of the production was fairly straight forward. I used the Yukon Golds for the Pommes Anna because they made prettier circles, but ultimately my lower layers were underdone. My Dauphinoise came out well, I think, as did my glazed carrots. My rosti was decent, but I wasn't really happy with it. Of course, this is all just my opinion.

Unlike regular class production, we don't get any direct feedback from the chef instructors on these dishes. We will get our grades at the end of the week, but during the exam we simply label our plates with masking tape and turn them in. I understand the need for this, but it would be nice to get the feedback immediately.

Overall, I didn't feel particularly pressed for time, but I only had a spare 15 minutes or so. On the other hand, my organization suffered a bit as I didn't keep up with my dirty pots and pans very well. Washing as I go is something I need to continue to work on.

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February 12, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Consumer Education Feb 11

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Another Saturday, another opportunity to learn more and get paid to do it (along with a lot of dish washing).

There was a class on chocolate making (truffles, chocolate-dipped strawberries, molded chocolates, etc.) on Saturday, but did that class need any help? Nope. Ah well.

The consumer education class I assisted with was on four "dry heat" cooking methods: Sauteing, Stir Frying, Pan Frying and Deep Frying. The recipes used to demonstrate these cooking methods were asian-influenced. Sesame encrusted salmon, sauteed shrimp in a roasted pepper sauce, and tempura-coated tuna/wasabi rolls.

This class was larger than usual and the recipes were a little more involved, so we were kept pretty busy assisting the students and trying to keep up with the dish washing.

As usual, the students mades some mistakes (such as using a sifter to strain a sauce), but one of the mistakes worked out pretty well. One of the students was allergic to shellfish, so rather than saute shrimp, she was given some pork loin. Well, the sauteed pork loin in the roasted pepper sauce was quite good, but the mistake was that one of the other students used the pork loin cubes to make sesame encrusted pork loin, which hadn't been the intention. Turns out, it was pretty good. Could have used some more seasoning, particularly salt, but it had a very nice texture and flavor. Ah, serendipity.

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Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 25

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Last day of guided review - our first finals take all of next week.

The clam chowder is the first dish I prepare, but it comes out too thin and needed salt, surprisingly. I've recalibrated my sensitivity to salt and I thought it was pretty good, but not this time. My chowder wasn't the only one that was too thin, however. Everyone's chowders were so thin that the additional water called for in the recipe has been removed for our coming final. We will only use cream and a couple of ounces of clam juice.

Actually, I like the watery chowder, sort of a hybrid version of New England and Rhode Island clam chowder.

While I was working on the clam chowder, my potatoes for the gnocchi were roasting in the oven. They still weren't done when I returned with the subpar chowder, so I put together my ravioli filling, which would chill and set while I finished making the gnocchi. With the filling done, the potatoes were ready to come out of the oven.

Here's a trick to getting the skins off your roasted potatoes for the gnocchi. Rather than try to peel the hot things (and burn your fingers), cut them in half, lengthwise. Then, holding half a potato with a sidetowel, scoop out the insides with a spoon. This is faster, easier and leaves you with an empty potato skin that you can brush with oil, sprinkle with salt and toss in the oven to roast into crispness. Makes a nice garnish, or just a snack (especially with a little melted gruyere).

This time I tried to be extra sure I had enough flour in my gnocchi (Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 20). Rolling out and cutting them was a tad quicker using my bench scraper. They came out looking quite nice, though a little on the big side. Once my gnocchi were made I put them in the freezer to rest a bit. They'd be the last dish I finished.

Next up was the ravioli. Rolling out the pasta dough is getting easier and easier (he says, hoping he doesn't jinx his final). I decided to go with primary shapes for my ravioli: circle, square, triangle. I got an excellent seal on the filling, but didn't squeeze enough air out. The result is that, when cooked, the filling doesn't congeal as well as it should. Still tasted good, but the texture was off.

Finally, the gnocchi got their boiling water bath and a bit of saucing with browned butter and sage. It may be simple, but when browned butter and sage is done right, it can be sublime. My sauce was very, very good (though my gnocchi were a bit soft, still needed a little more flour). I couldn't resist and finished off the plate after presenting it. Mmmmm ...

We finished the day with a review for the exam on Monday. Lots of memorization required.

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February 9, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 24

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Posted by Ernest Miller

With regard to production, this was the toughest day I've seen. We had to do all sorts of eggs: hard, medium and soft-boiled; sunny-side up, over easy, over medium and over well; Western and French Omelet; Quiche Florentine and Lorraine; Crepes Suzette; Eggs Florentine; and, blanched asparagus with Hollandaise. It didn't help that many of my dishes just didn't want to come together well at all.

But, before I could even get started on all that, I and a few others who were on the day's steward team were tasked with dropping some veal and chicken stocks. "Dropping a stock" simply means straining it and cooling it down for storage. It is simple, but quite a task. First thing, we wanted to fill some of the sinks with ice for the ice baths the stocks would get. Problem: the industrial ice machine was clogged. Solution: chip away at the packed and frozen mass of ice with a shovel. Yes, a shovel. Got a good shoulder workout, as I chipped from beneath and then from the top of the frozen block. I must admit it was satisfying when I finally broke through the blockage and ice came pouring out of the machine like coins from a slot machine that hit jackpot.

Anyway, clearing the ice blockage was the quick part of the task. The more time-consuming effort came in straining the stock. Danny, my former station mate, and I worked at it until about 7:10am, putting us more than an hour behind in our production.

Fried eggs and omelets don't take much time to cook, at least passably, so I decided to save those until the end. So, first thing, the quiches. Had to roll out the pastry dough, and blind bake the shells. While they baked, prep the two different fillings. Actually, the quiches were the easiest thing, though they took a lot longer to bake then they should have. Twenty-minutes at 350? I think not.

I then prepped the crepe batter, which should rest for twenty minutes before use. While the quiches were baking and crepe batter was resting I blanched, shocked and drained the asparagus, got the hard-boiled eggs going and worked on the orange supremes for the Suzette.

Here's the problem with boiled eggs, however. You don't know what you have until you open them. You start them in room temperature water and then time them from the start of the boil, but it is fairly easy to mis-time them if you are trying to multitask. And that's what happened to me. My soft-boiled was medium and my medium was over cooked. The hard boiled is actually kind of hard to mess up, so long as you don't let it go on for minutes and minutes beyond the recommended time, but the soft and medium boiled can fall far short of perfection by thirty seconds one way or the other.

I'd have to start them all over, from room temperature water.

No time for that, though, I needed to make some crepes. For some reason, though I've done it a few times already, with excellent result, my crepe batter today was pillowly, making the crepes too thick and difficult to flip. What a waste of time fixing that problem. Adding more milk, trying to make another crepe, only for it to be too thick, or to ruin it on the flip (I'd flipped dozens and dozens before with nary an error) ate up time like crazy. I finally got the crepes done, but lost even more time by burning the sugar for the sauce. Geez. Had to throw out that batch and start again.

Got the Crepes Suzette done at the same time the quiches were cool enough to serve. Finally, two dishes down.

Next, the Hollandaise dishes. Didn't even make the Hollandaise (no time thanks to stock-making, so I borrowed some of Arturo's excellent sauce - he had also been working the steward team and so borrowed some of my extra crepes). My first poached egg came out very nice, except for that part about the yolk breaking when I took it out of the pot. Start over on part of a dish once again. Actually, though, my second egg was even better.

Did the fried eggs next ... stupid over-easy didn't want to slide in the non-stick in order to flip it. Only got a half-flip out of the thing, but went with it anyway since the color and yolk consistency were good. Got the boiled eggs going again and figured out a better of way of making sure I got them right: adding a couple of extra eggs and taking them out at 30-second intervals in order to make sure I presented the best ones. The timing has to be right for some of them, no?

And that was it. Time over. Didn't get to the omelets.

We're going to be doing the same thing for finals next week. I'm going to have to have a better plan of attack and not make so many mistakes in order to finish on time.

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Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 23

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Grill use wasn't nearly the bottleneck I thought it would be. Indeed, this day seemed fairly easy with regard to production.

We had to make Wild Mushroom Risotto, but Chef Perez said we didn't have the time to make a mushroom stock. I looked at the preps necessary and decided that there was plenty of time. In any case, I could simply abort it, should the time constraints be changed (which they sometimes are).

We also had to make a rice pilaf, which is started on the stovetop, but finished in the oven. I got that going first thing, knowing that I could work on my other preps as soon as it was in the oven. For both the stock and risotto, the mushrooms have to be sauteed to within an inch of their lives in order to develop the most flavor. This is a time consuming process, so getting my stock going was the next priority. After that, I was able to turn my attention to prepping the vegetables for Marinated Grilled Vegetables.

Cutting the vegetables was a fairly quick process, as grilled vegetables need to be fairly large cuts in order to stand up to the heat of grilling. Next, the vegetables got salted to draw out some of their liquid ... the time this took could be used to prep the marinade which was balsamic based with dijon mustard to serve as emulsifier. Good stuff.

By the time the marinade was finished, I'd already presented my pilaf ("Like Uncle Ben's", said Chef Perez, which is a good thing), and my mushroom stock was simmering happily. While I waited for my turn at the grill, I prepped my baby artichokes for braising. Artichoke prep is sort of an involved process, but practice speeds things up.

My mushroom stock and grilling were finished about the same time, which was good, since you really can't do much with the risotto until the stock is ready. After presenting my tiered vegetarian antipasti plate, I spent the rest of my production on the mushroom risotto and clean up. When I presented the risotto, Chef Perez knew that I had made the stock anyway from the color and flavor. So, it was worth it.

Overall, the class had no problem with the day and we finished half an hour early.

I think this was just to sucker us in.

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February 7, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 22

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Guided review week continued today, as we made Bechamel, which was later used in a Cream of Tomato Soup, Classic Tomato Sauce and French Onion Soup. We also had a knife cuts exercise and put together a Pate Brisee (savory pie dough) for use in the future.

Time constraints became more prominent today, with Chef Perez declaring that any soups presented after 10am would be marked down a grade and none would be accepted after 10:20am. I got my French Onion Soup in with two minutes to spare before 10am.

Not to worry, however, I pushed the envelope on purpose. I could have presented my soup well before then, but preferred to let it simmer and continue to develop flavor. My patience was rewarded. Really, one of the keys to a good French Onion Soup is patience. You want the onions to cook through and then carmelize, but not burn. This takes time and attention. Once you've deglazed and added the stock, you'll want to simmer it for a substantial period of time to develop a rich, deep flavor.

The same goes for the classic tomato sauce, which really should simmer for about 2 - 2.5 hours.

Once again, organization is key. Knowing how long the classic tomato sauce must simmer, it should be one of the first things you get going. The French Onion Soup also has a long simmering time, plus the initial sweating and carmelization of the onions requires fairly frequent attention (you don't want the onions to burn). You have to make a Bechamel in order to make the Cream of Tomato soup, but you can start both at the same time.

There are also equipment issues. Putting together all these soups required more pots than are readily available, or burners on the stovetops. You can't have everything going at once, there isn't room. So, you also have to take into account that, for example, when the Bechamel is done, you can transfer it to a Bain Marie, clean the pot you used to make it, and start sweating the onions for the French Onion Soup in the now clean pot.

It sounds fairly straight-forward, but there are a lot of considerations to take into account in order to maximize efficiency.

Tomorrow, for example, I forsee a difficulty with the grilled mixed vegetables. We have a distinct dearth of grilling stations. This lack of grilling stations will create a grilling bottleneck. The grills are also located away from the regular stations so that you can't really pay attention to anything else while grilling. So, if it's simply simmering away, no problem. But if you need to grill and work on a risotto at the same time, forget it.

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February 6, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 21

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Today started our guided review week. We are going through what we've learned these past four weeks, essentially mirroring what we will have to do during our finals next week.

Another surprise, we get to switch station partners once again. Just when Brent, Danny, Arturo and I were operating together so smoothly. I guess this is part of the review - working well with others.

After a brief introduction to the week, we jumped right into production. We had a generous amount of time, so it wasn't too difficult. We basically did the potatoes thing (Pommes Anna, an onion Rosti, Pommes Dauphinoise, and mashed potatoes), as well as a consomme and pasta dough for use later in the week.

The major issue really is time management and organization. One needs to know in which order to put together the different dishes. For example, the consomme has to simmer for about an hour, so one had best get it started early. It also requires constant attention during the initial period. The Dauphinoise takes awhile to bake in the oven, but once you've constructed it, you don't have to worry about it much. The onion Rosti, on the other hand, is done in minutes.

Another issue is that we don't start off with all our ingredients pulled. For example, it was at least half an hour into the class before the chicken stock for the consomme was available. We also had to create some of the precursors for some of the dishes, such as clarifying butter for use with the Pommes Anna and onion Rosti. These are other factors that have to be taken into account.

Of course, the dishes have to be prepared properly, but without organization you'll fail. And it isn't simply getting the dishes out that counts either. Chef Guevara docked the whole class for poor cleanliness. Dishes were simply stacked up by the dishwashing sinks. We got everything cleaned in the time alotted, but we didn't clean as we produced. The class waited until the very end. This is unacceptable in an actual restaurant environment, so we all failed on that count.

Now, personally, I wasn't terribly happy with my organization. I should have gotten my consomme started earlier, but got distracted with my mashed potatoes and Dauphinoise. Nothing serious, but I could have been more efficient. I did have one unfortunate moment when, after returning from the dishwashing sinks, I found that my Pommes Anna had fallen apart (butter was too slippery, I guess). I couldn't really salvage the structure of the dish, which is critical, and had to start over. Luckily, there was enough potato left as well as plenty of time. The dish doesn't really take much time, but constructing it is the major effort.

Grade-wise, ultimately, all my dishes came out well, either A or A-. Hopefully I'll be able to perform as well next week, during finals.

Tomorrow: Some classic sauces and soups.

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February 5, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Guest Chef Scott Sayre

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Another Saturday, another day of working at Kitchen Academy and learning more.

Although there was a consumer education class going on at the same time, Chef Guevara assigned me, Arturo (one of my station mates), Natalie and Manny to work with the guest chef.

Manny is a young man of twenty-two who has had some interesting experiences. When he was younger, his mother thought he was getting a bit off track, so she sent him to Guatemala for a year when he was twelve, where he lived with his grandmother. There he worked the cane fields, the farm and helped to harvest salt. Well, it must have worked because he is certainly on track now, focused on learning the culinary arts. His goal is to eventually own a bakery (preferably near Berkeley) that produces what you might expect, but also traditional sweet breads.

The guest chef was Scott Sayre, whose specialty is Macrobiotics. Consequently, we worked with a number of ingredients new to us, and for those ingredients that weren't new, we learned new techniquese with which to handle them. I learned at least three new knife cuts, for example. We also got a good amount of information about the macrobiotic philosophy.

Even better, as we prepped the ingredients, Chef Sayre provided us with several samples of various foods: rice shake, nori with minced ginger and tamari (we all liked it very much), brown rice, and a vegetable medley. It was all good stuff.

Chef Sayre also challenged us to think about why we cooked and what the purpose of our cooking was. Additionally, just prior to the start of the demo, we all gathered together to briefly meditate and focus on how we intended to serve our guests, a technique that may prove useful in the future to regain concentration.

We prepared a lot of food during the demo: carrots and carrot tops (they complement each other well); cooked romaine salad (a very nice change of pace); miso soup with mochi (excellent mixture of textures); lentils with ginger (the best lentils I've ever had); brown rice with carrots; and, apples with sweet sauce (a kuzu starch-thickened sauce from the water the apples boiled in).

While I don't think I would care to live exclusively on a macrobiotic diet, there is much to be said for learning some of the recipes and techniques macrobiotics uses. Definitely a good learning experience.

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Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 20

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Today was the last day that we learned new techniques, information, etc. Next week will be entirely review, without demos, so that we can spend the time concentrating on production and practicing what we've learned the past four weeks. The week after next will be finals, where most of our grade will come from. Course I is the only course that has a review week. The other courses simply keep teaching until finals come around. Hopefully, I'll be able to make good use of the review week to refine and get a firm grasp of what I've learned so far.

However, that is next week. Today we learned a couple of classics: Gnocchi with a browned butter and sage sauce, as well as New England Clam Chowder.

A couple of days ago, some of us were discussing bread making. I spoke proudly, and rightly so, about my sourdough. The next day, I brought in some of my sourdough starter for those who were interested. But, I thought, how much better would it be to also bring a sample of the finished product. Thus, the night before, I baked a small loaf of sourdough.

Now, the best sourdough takes well over a day to make. It should be punched down three, even four times before baking. Because it takes so long, however, I could only punch down my dough once before baking. It still came out great, but not nearly as good as it would with more time to develop the distinctive sourdough flavor. Of course, for those who prefer only a slight tang, the faster process is probably the best.

First thing, we had to throw some potatoes into the ovens to roast for the gnocchi. The potatoes would take a good 45 minutes to an hour before they were ready for further processing.

While the potatoes roasted we began the clam chowder, which is actually a fairly quick recipe, though it does take some prep in the form of knife work to produce presentable small dice potatoes and carrots.

The recipe actually calls for some plain water (in addition to canned clam juice), but Brent and I filtered the water in which we steamed our clams through a coffee filter and chinoise to add additional flavor. Why waste the clam liquor? We also cheated, I mean, garnished, our soup bowls with a couple pieces of homemade sourdough toast. My loaf was actually the perfect size for a bread bowl, but that would have been going a bit too far. In any case, I had already cut slices to share with some of the other students.

The soup was great, except that my clam pieces were a little too large. I basically did a medium dice, unlike all the veggies, which were small dice. I thought that larger pieces of clam would be appreciated. Chef Perez, however, said that everything should be uniform. The toast was an excellent addition, but did not influence the grade.

Skinning and putting the insides of the potatoes through a food mill was the next step in making gnocchi. I showed my station mates how to remove the skins of the potatoes in two halves. This would be very useful as the skins would otherwise be discarded. Brent took the complete halves, brushed the skins with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and tossed them the oven to roast into nice, crisp potato skins. Delicious (everyone was asking for a bite) and Brent and I used them for garnish for our gnocchi.

Ah gnocchi. They're not to everyone's taste, but I sort of like them. Unfortunately, mine were a disaster. I didn't quite add enough flour to my potato/egg mixture and after boiling, my gnocchi melted into something that was postively non-Euclidian. It was as if primordial gnocchi were attempting to lift themselves from the muck. Ooops.

I had to borrow (with Chef Perez's permission) some of Brent's very nice gnocchi for use with my browned butter and sage sauce. I nailed the sauce, but I'll have to work on getting the flour/potato ratio right. I was almost there, but not quite. But, as I've said before, that's why I'm in school, learning.

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February 2, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 19

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Well, the big public breakfast buffet went fairly well today. I would say we served between 100 and 150 guests and the vast majority were complementary (though what do you expect from a crowd of mostly friends and family?).

Class starts at 6am and the buffet didn't start until 8:30, so there was plenty of time to finish preps on our menu. We had done the vast majority of the work the day before and most of today's preparation was simply organizing everyone and the food service.

There were a few last minute things that had to be cooked, such as the Potatoes Rosti (with onion) and the bacon and sausage (which simply had to be put into the ovens). Other things simply needed to be warmed.

Brent, Joe, Nicole and I were on Rosti detail, which actually took the longest. Frying mass quantities of potatoes on a stovetop, even one with many BTUs and six twelve-inch cast iron skillets, is not a fast process. Nevertheless we were easily finished by 8am, at which time Chef Perez demoed the omelette station.

There are thirty-two people in our class, which meant that we were way overstaffed for a buffet service. Most students didn't have much to do, so there was a lot of rotation of positions. I was one of the first on the omelette station and rather enjoyed it. I need more practice, certainly, but I felt fairly confident in my production.

After making the omelettes (and a short break to talk to my mother and brother who had come to see me), I headed to the back and spent the rest of the time either washing or drying dishes. We went through more hotel pans and sheet trays than I thought possible.

Toward the very end of the service, we were given a break and allowed to have what remained of the food. Not too shabby. My Eggs Benedict was done just right and the French Toast with Strawberry Coulis was quite good. My cousin and his fiance joined me for breakfast as well.

Cleanup was fairly straight-forward and we were actually let go early. Overall, today was a reasonably easy way of being introduced to actually producing food for the public. It was also nice to see, if not meet, some of the family of my classmates.

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February 1, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 18

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Tomorrow is the breakfast buffet in which we finally cook for the public (Free Food at Kitchen Academy - Feb 1st, 2nd, 3rd). If you're in the area, be sure to join us 8:30am - 10:00am.

Consequently, today is different from every other class day as we go into production mode. When class starts Chef Perez divided us up into different groups, each tasked with producing one or more elements of tomorrow's buffet.

My group included my station partner Brent and Nicole, a young woman of 19 who is rather mature for her age and quite a hard worker. Our first task was to grate the potatoes and onions for Potatoes Roesti (basically fancy hash browns). My first question to Chef Perez was whether we could use a Robot Coupe, an industrial food processor. His answer was yes and we took care of all the grating in minutes.

After cleaning our stations, the three of us were next tasked with cracking 2 crates of eggs (180 eggs per crate) for the scrambled eggs and omelette station. I'm getting really good at cracking eggs one-handed. Even working for speed, I only broke a handful of yolks. The real fun part was when we took a yard-long industrial immersion blender to the eggs. I must say that the torque developed was impressive.

Next up, we joined the crepe team, turning out dozens of the delicate flour pancakes. It felt good to be able to really practice what we had been learning. You can almost feel your skill increasing after repeating the same task time and time again.

After that, it was putting bacon on racks on sheet trays and sausages as well. Again, teamwork made the task go by extremely quickly as we filled half a knock down rack with breakfast meats ready to go into the oven tomorrow.

That was really it for us. Chef Perez was quite impressed that we finished all of our prep with an hour to spare. He said ours was the first class to finish in time. I thank teamwork. Until the very end, there was little lollygagging. When students finished one task, they quickly looked for another to get to work on.

We thus had time to partake of the lunch buffet put together today by the students in Course 2. Those were some mighty fine ribs, tri-tip and carnitas. It was a little early in the morning for such a meal, but most of it was good, some of it darn good (and a couple of items not so good - the rice was overcooked). I can't wait for Friday's "Tastes of Asia" menu. Peking duck for breakfast. Cool.

Unfortunately, we had one small hiccup in our prep. The large stockpot in which the Bechamel was being made for the Crepes Morney was defective; it burst a seam and sprung a leak as the sauce was simmering. In a weird side effect, this resulted in the sauce being scorched. A protein and mirepoix raft was used to correct the flavor somewhat, but the sauce still tasted off to me.

Tomorrow is the big day. The class will be divided into a buffet brigade (the high-pressure omelette station is volunteer only) and we will actually be serving the public. It'll be my first taste of what actually happens in a restaurant. I'm really looking forward to it, though a bit nervous. I rather enjoyed today and think I will like tomorrow even better.

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January 31, 2006

Notes, Hints and Tips for Kitchen Academy Students - Course I - Midterm

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Posted by Ernest Miller

I'm now half-way through Course I in Kitchen Academy's four course (and externship) program. I think I've learned a few things that may be useful to future students. Of course, this is just my experience and every class will be different, but these hints and tips should be useful.

Read on to continue ...

...continue reading.

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Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 17

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Things are sort of gearing up for our big production on Thursday. Remember, free breakfast (Free Food at Kitchen Academy - Feb 1st, 2nd, 3rd).

Much of the class was unable to finish their plates today. We had to produce Crepes Suzette, Eggs Benedict and Eggs Florentine. Of course, this required the infamous Hollandaise Sauce, one of the five mother sauces, and a notoriously difficult sauce to make properly. Without proper organization and teamwork, it was very difficult to produce everything on time. However, my station was able to get a bit ahead of the game and produced some Bechamel for future Crepes Mornay. All thanks to excellent teamwork from myself, Brent, Danny and Arturo.

I always thought that crepes would be pretty difficult to produce. However, I found that I was able to crank them out (in a non-stick skillet) easily enough. Of the dozen or so I made, I had only two imperfect crepes. One I tore (a small tear) turning it over (clumsy fingers) and the other had a small hole due to lack of batter.

Today was the first day that we worked with hot sugar making the sauce for the Crepes Suzette. First of all, this can be dangerous stuff. Hot sugar burns are among the worst and hot sugar is sometimes called "kitchen napalm". It can also burn easily (even Chef Perez burned his butter a bit during the demo). I'm not sure who was responsible, but at one point the not entirely unpleasant aroma of burning sugar could be smelled throughout the lab.

Making the Crepes Suzette sauce was also quite interesting because it would be the first time we would flambe a dish. And who doesn't like flambes?

And, damn, did they taste good. That's a dish that is definitely going to be part of my repertoire.

The Hollandaisae was a bit of effort. I imagine if I had to make it by hand everyday, I wouldn't need any upper body workouts. Nevertheless mine came out quite well. Learned a lesson, however. If you heat hollandaise too much, it will "break" where the butter fats come out of the yolk emulsion, and you're left with an ugly, greasy and pretty unattractive mess. Everything was fine with mine until I plated.

We keep our plates warm for hot dishes for service. You want the plates warm so the food doesn't cool as quickly. You'll get docked points on grading if your plate is cold. Unfortunately, my plate was too warm, so when I brought it up for grading my hollandaise had a bit of a sheen to it (an early sign of breakage). However, it wasn't too bad and everything else went well.

Of course, for the Eggs Benedict and Eggs Florentine, we had to poach eggs in simmering water. Not an easy thing to do, actually. My first egg "feathered", that is, the egg white spread out when it entered the simmering water. I was able to salvage it a bit in plating (hollandaise makes an excellent cover). Chef Guevara also showed me a trick to getting well formed eggs by lowering it into the boiling water in a spoon, which will hold it together for that initial cooking. Both of my eggs were nicely done from a slighly runny yolk point of view, but I'll need more practice to nail it everytime. As I noted yesterday, egg cookery is really about experience (Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 16).

On Thursday, we'll have to be cranking out Eggs Benedict. So perhaps I will get practice - in a trial by fire.

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January 30, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 16

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Eggs, eggs, eggs.

We started the day by finishing our quiches, florentine and lorraine. Good stuff, though many student's dough (including my own) shrunk excessively when we blind baked them. They'll still do the job, but they just won't be as pretty.

The rest of our production for the day was: hard-boiled, medium-boiled, soft-boiled, sunnyside up, over easy, over medium, over hard (or well done), and scrambled eggs. Oh, yeah, and fold in a Western style and French style omelette. That is a lot of eggs. It was a particularly large amount because today, unlike previous days, we were allowed "do overs". If you didn't get the eggs cooked right, you'd do them again.

The reason for this was that Chef Guevara wasn't particularly worried about presentation or flavoring, only that we knew how to cook the eggs to the proper consistency and color. It may sound easy, but proper egg cookery is anything but.

We also needed a large number of eggs in order to properly test our flipping technique. Many a yolk was broken today. Luckily, I only broke one yolk on the flip, and it was the darn well done egg. I also did very well with my one-handed egg opening technique, breaking only one yolk in the process (hello, omelette).

Again, I think this is particular cooking application where practice and experience are key. I guess I'll just have to start cooking eggs whenever the opportunity will arise.

By the end of the day the class had filled two 400 hotel pans with the detritus of the successful and not-so-successful eggs. That's a lot of eggs. And, frankly, the sight really sort of turned me off on the whole egg thing (though I did have a very, very nice soft-boiled egg early in the day).

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Kitchen Academy - Consumer Education Jan 28 - A Day in the Life - Curious George Premier

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Saturday morning and I again took part in assisting with the consumer education classes.

Things were a bit more straight-forward this time, at least in the beginning. There were also more assistants, thank goodness. First, we pulled all the ingredients for the consumers and placed them on sheet trays for them to work off of. We also did a tray for the chef instructor, Chef Alexx Guevara.

Of course, for his tray we not only had to pull the ingredients, we had to prep them, which meant dicing vegetables, mincing garlic, etc. No one wanted to do that part of it. Perhaps because they feared their cuts would be critiqued or they might get it wrong. So I ended up dicing the onions, zucchini, carrots and etc. Later on I was pretty happy when Chef Guevara noted the uniformity of the cuts and pointed it out to his class (though he didn't know who had cut them).

Arturo, whose station is across from mine in class, helped with mincing the garlic. This was his first time assisting, so he minced the garlic for everyone, not just Chef Guevara. Oh well.

The other assistants were sent to help Chef Perez run a "Day in the Life" class in the beginning kitchen lab. This is where people who are considering attending the school can come in and take what is essentially a one day class to get a taste of the education (literally and figuratively). Well, all except that part about having to wash dishes. The kitchen lab was full, so it was pretty chaotic over there.

Luckily, Arturo and I only had to assist Chef Guevara's dozen consumer students. We simply answered any questions they had and helped them with certain aspects of their prep, such as properly dicing a zucchini. Chef Guevara was in and out of the classroom since he was dealing with the movie premiere that was taking place in the front. So, Arturo and I got to answer and assist the consumer students. It was actually quite fun.

Chef Guevara's demo took place after the students had a chance to prep most of their ingredients. The students worked in groups of three or four to make the recipes, so they can usually get it done pretty quick. The recipes were Rice Pilaf, Mediterranean Couscous with Vegetables, and Seafood Risotto. It all went very well, though the vegetables for the couscous started to build up a very nice fond in the saute pan. The recipe didn't call for it, but Chef Guevara deglazed it with white wine we had pulled for the risotto. Excellent (though we had to pull more white wine).

The couscous were such a hit that Chef Guevara went the extra mile and pulled some lamb loin out of the stocks and put together a quick rub using whole grain mustard, minced parsley, cumin, coriander, red peppercorns and salt. Fantastic. The consumer students really got a treat (and Arturo and I got to take a couple of lamb loins home as well).

While cleaning up, however, Chef Guevara called all of the assistants to the front kitchen to assist with the food prep for the premiere of Curious George, which was taking place at the Arclight. The food was mostly children oriented, such as frozen bananas, mini-pizzas and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I and another classmate of mine, Sheila, were tasked with slicing the PB&Js into four triangles. After a little bit of practice, I was slicing them three at a time with a fair amount of speed. We tore threw those things quickly. Others worked on the pizzas and slicing the turkey wraps. It was an interesting introduction to movie premiere catering.

Another good learning experience.

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January 27, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 15

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Half-way through Course I, time flies.

Today is a fairly simple day. We will only present our chicken consomme with burnoised carrot. The "perfect" soup. A true classic. Crystal clear and flavorful, with not a touch of visible fat.

Producing consomme is a fairly straight-forward process but requires attention to detail and patience to get absolutely right with no impurities or cloudiness in the final product. Overall, the class did very well without a single student needing to start over. The main faults were generally: lack of heat (though consomme is notorious for cooling quickly); impurities (frequently from the salt we used - Brent and I avoided this by filtering our salt on a white plate to highlight and remove impurities); and overcooking the burnoised carrots, thus imparting a carrot flavor and a little starch cloudiness to the soup.

My soup was very good, although there were a couple bits of lint (from towel drying the dishes). I could have tried to fish the lint out, but the time that would have taken would have let my soup cool too much.

Our quiches will have to wait until next week, since we will be serving them at our public buffet on Thursday, February 2nd. See, Free Food at Kitchen Academy - Feb 1st, 2nd, 3rd. We did prep what we could, including making the Pate Brisee, a savory pastry dough, which will rest over the weekend.

Not much to discuss today. Next week: Egg Cookery and prepping for our buffet.

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January 26, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 14

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Posted by Ernest Miller

I was on steward team today and was tasked with providing two types of olive oil to every member of the class. Consequently, I got oil all around my station and fell behind in prepping my vegetables. Why is it that the canisters that oil comes in don't pour without spillage? You'd think they'd have come up with a better design by now. Either that, or I don't know how to pour oil out of a can.

In any case, we finally got to work with some yellow squash, eggplant, bell peppers, portabello mushrooms, baby artichokes and a few other things.

The ultimate goal today was to prepare a vegetarian antipasti platter with various grilled, braised and/or roasted vegetables (and buffalo mozzarella cheese). The platters would be a 2-person team effort.

The most involved vegetables to prep were the baby artichokes, which must be plucked, shaved, cut, v-cut and placed in acidulated water for storage. They may be very tasty, but they take a significant amount of effort to prepare ... and that's before you braise them in white wine. Chef Perez during the demo noted how he used to have to do hundreds of the darn things when he worked in a hotel kitchen.

I love the smell of roasting peppers and I was not disappointed today, as the lab was filled with the wonderful aroma shortly after everyone put theirs on burners. Literally, it was mouth-watering.

Before grilling, we marinated the vegetables in a balsamic vinaigrette. We used the same liquid as the base for our tomato bruschetta. The balsamic we used might not have been the very best aged stuff, but had a nice, syrupy texture and flavor. The vinaigrette came out really well, especially when shorted a little on the oil.

With so many vegetables to grill and so few grills upon which to do so, we had to borrow the grill in course 4 and organize everyone to go in different groups to grill their veggies. There was no shortage of ovens in which to toast our bias-cut baguettes (and, in my case, roast some garlic to rub on the toasted bread afterward).

My partner, Brent, and I were among the last to grill our vegetables. This left us very little time to present our platter. However, we already had a plan.

Everyone was doing some really nice-looking platters, with various garnishes and organized in very nice ways. Brent and I, however, went a little crazy. We went vertical, stacking two plates and a ramekin on our platter, creating a three-tiered tower with a flower theme. In the end, our presentation really was pretty darn good. Chef Perez was duly impressed, saying we had "gone beyond the call of duty" and calling Chef Guevara over to "bear witness". I wish I had my digital camera with me (which I seem to have misplaced, unfortunately).

It was really nice to bring out platter back to our station to break it down (and pack it up for home) to find a plate of oysters on the half-shell sitting on ice waiting for us. While we had been presenting one of the other courses had come in to distribute the results of their efforts. So, Brent and I immediately celebrated with some raw oysters. Very nice.

Tomorrow we tackle consomme and two classic quiches.

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January 25, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 13

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Posted by Ernest Miller

I was running a bit behind schedule this morning, so I only got to class about 10 minutes early. This was not enough time for me to do my morning prep and thus I forgot to go through the equipment check list and make sure our station had all the equipment it should. Consequently, frustration ensued when it came time to begin production and we didn't have the proper sauce pans, wooden spoons and etc.

Who the heck puts stuff away in the later classes and why don't they bother to get it right?

Prep went smoothly, though it included an awful lot of brunoised vegetables, which take a little more effort and time. Luckily the dishes are relatively quick to prepare. Couscous is almost finished before you start it. You sweat some vegetables, coat the couscous in oil, add boiling water, stir and let sit covered for 5-10 minutes. Fluff it with a fork and it's ready for the plate.

Mine were very good, except for the fact that there was no green in my bruinoised zucchini, which would have added some nice color contrast. Live and learn.

Wild Rice Pilaf is the exact same recipe we did the day before (Rice Pilaf), only with cooked wild rice being added as the last step. It has a wonderfully nice and nutty flavor. Unfortunately, we made our recipes with water today, not chicken stock, so the flavor wasn't very deep.

My final dish, split pea soup, sort of baffled Chef Perez. The seasoning was good, the texture good, and it was nice and chunky, but some of the peas hadn't completely broken down. They were soft and melted on the tongue, but had kept some of their body. I'm not really sure why, since I had simmered the soup for 1.5 hours. Actually, I sort of liked the result.

Overall a fairly quick day.

Tomorrow we leave carbs and starches and move into oils and vinegars (and lots of vegetable prep).

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January 24, 2006

Consumer Classes at Kitchen Academy

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Posted by Ernest Miller

This past Sunday, I noted that Kitchen Academy has consumer education classes on Saturdays but, unfortunately, the schedule isn't on the web (Kitchen Academy - Consumer Education and a Guest Chef Demo). Herewith, some of the upcoming classes:

Fundamentals Series (only one class remaining)

  • January 28th - Vegetables and Grains - Yes, they're nutritious - but vegetables and grains can also be the highlight of any meal, adding incredible taste and texture. Go beyond the basics and learn how to prepare fabulous dishes that included Marinated Grilled Vegetables with Mediterranean Couscous and Mixed Seafood Risotto
Cooking Techniques Series
  • February 4th - Pasta and Potatoes - Staples in any culinary cupboard, pasta and potatoes are anything but basic and can provide a wonderful, hearty element to meals - as the main course or unforgettable side dish. You'll learn chef's secrets of how you need to prepare, cook and serve fresh and dried pastas differently, as well as how to make perfect mashed potatoes every time. Other dishes we'll prepare include Linguine with Red Clam Sauce an amazing Sweet Potato and Horseradish Gratin.
  • February 11th - Sensational Sauteing & Frying - Cook alongside a professional chef as you gain command of proper techniques and temperatures for mastering these four "dry heat" cooking methods: Sauteing, Stir Frying, Pan Frying and Deep Frying. Confidence with these methods will open a whole new world of possibilities in you kitchen, and you'll learn how to prepare a wonderful Sesame Encrusted Salmon with Plum Wine Broth and Beer Battered Shrimp.
  • February 25 - Mastering Moist Heat Techniques - Preparing meats and fish will become a breeze when you gain a command of these "most heat" cooking methods: Steaming, Poaching, Braising and Stewing. Build your recipe repertoire with dishes including Poached Halibut in Basil Cream Sauce, and Pork Vindaloo - a terrific traditional Indian stew.
  • March 4th - Grilling & Slow Roasting - Learn all about the subtle but important differences between these cooking techniques and unlock the secrets to mouth-watering meats and vegetables! In class you'll prepare two impressive dishes - Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Roasted Duck with Chinese Greens and Caramelized Onions.
Baking Series
  • March 11th - Basic Breads - There's nothing like the smell of fresh-baked bread - and now you can bring these aromas home as you learn to bake fine breads such as French Baguettes, Sourdough Boules and a Rich Italian Braid.
  • March 18th - Basic Pastries & Tarts - Delectable desserts do not have to be difficult! Bring out the baker in you, and learn all about fabulous Pate a Choux, Pastry and Phyllo Doughs - you'll impress yourself with the scrumptions, fancy results!
  • March 25th - Basic Cakes - A cake baked "from scratch" is a labor of love - but it doesn't have to be as much work as you might think. Learn the tricks of the trade and revel in your new creations as you learn to bake cake favorites such as Genoise, Sponge and Devil's Food.

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Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 12

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Posted by Ernest Miller

One of the keys to success in the chef business is to be able to work well with others. Consequently, as we show up this morning, Chef Guevara assigns each of us to new stations in the kitchen lab and new partners.

My new partner is Brent, a rather tall and ambitious young man who had run a seafood restaurant near Port Hueneme for a couple of years and was now furthering his culinary education with the eventual goal of opening his own restaurant in that area (likely with a cajun bent). Thanks to his experience and good work ethic, he is a great partner to have. I've also lucked out in that Arturo (who was across my station previously) and my former partner, Danny, are across from Brent and my station. A most excellent combination.

For some reason, perhaps a bit of fatigue, I felt like I was operating in slow motion today. Nonetheless, I was able to stay on top of prepping for our dishes. Organization really helps here. Every night I go over the recipes for the next day and prepare my in-house shopping menu, which includes notes on how each ingredient is to be prepped. It makes it much easier in the morning when I have to figure out how many ounces of carrot need to be brunoised and how many small dice.

Our first task was to put up a mushroom stock, which we would use later for Wild Mushroom Risotto. We used reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms, as well as fresh brown button mushrooms. The resulting stock had an intense brown color and a wonderfully savory aroma.

While our mushroom stock simmered, we put together a simple long-grain rice pilaf with bruinoised carrots. This is a fairly simple dish, where the rice is slightly cooked in oil on the stovetop, the liquid is added (chicken stock in this case) and finished, covered, in the oven. A- for mine being closed to overcooked (spent too much time on the stovetop). Still, the result was quite nice and fluffy in my book.

Two risotto dishes were next. Risotto is a dish that requires attention. It may not have to be stirred constantly as some traditionalists insist, but it certainly can't be ignored for too long. It is definitely a dish that benefits from experience. You have to get a feel for adding the liquid slowly, a bit at a time, knowing that you can't rush it and don't want the rice to overcook.

Luckily, I have a little experience, having made risotto many times at home from scratch. Once you've got the technique down, it is a wonderful dish to experiment with, adding different ingredients and using different liquids (wines, alcohol, stocks) to create a variety of flavors.

In any case, my first simple risotto was really, really good. After tasting it, Chef Guevara said, "You've made this before, haven't you?" If anything, my mushroom risotto (using the previously made mushroom stock) was even better. I sauteed the heck out of the mushrooms before adding the rice and the resulting risotto was a deep rich brown that was absolutely stunning. Chef Perez was quite impressed.

Overall the class did very well. Both of our chef instructors were pleased with the improvement between the two risottos. Most of those who had difficulty with the first made significant progress with their second.

Once again, we also had the opportunity to sample some of the dishes from other classes. Yesterday, for example, we had some wonderful spaetzle as well as oysters on the half shell (how cool is that?) and a caviar and creme fraiche appetizer. Today, broiled rabbit and some really excellent desserts, including a tart with a buttermilk cream of some sort.

Tomorrow we continue our carbolicious week with wild rice, split peas and couscous.

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January 23, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 11

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Apparently there was some sort of filming going on all Sunday in our kitchen and we students arrived to find large racks of clean pots and pans piled near the sinks and few where they should be. So, first thing we had to restock all of the stations with the proper equipment. Mondays.

Carbs, carbs and more carbs. The first half of this week is devoted to carbohydrates. And which carb to begin with but that humble, yet versatile and delicious new world staple, the potato.

Our lecture started with basic nutritional information about carbs and their importance as part of a balanced diet. There was a bit of a discussion of the glycemic index, though Chef Guevara didn't refer to it as such. We then moved into a brief discussion of starches and common providers of them, before delving into an indepth discussion of potatoes and their various types.

There was a very nice sample box of many different sorts of potatoes as a visual example for the lecture. I thought I knew potatoes fairly well but there were a couple of varieties in that sample box I'd never heard of. Call me crazy, but it will be fun working with potatoes in all their variety throughout my culinary schooling.

Today, however, we started with four classic dishes. Mashed potatoes, Pommes Anna, Pommes Dauphinoise and Potatoes Roesti (a sort of hash browns/potato pancake made with grated potato and onion). Not only did we learn how to work with potatoes, but we were also learning more time management and working with baked dishes, since everything but the mashed potatoes is finished in the oven. Timing was an issue because you couldn't fit everything in the oven at once, and you needed to multitask dish preparation in order to have everything finished in time.

It wasn't particularly stressful, but we are certainly gearing up for more intense production.

Overall, I did well. A- on both my Pommes Dauphinoise and mashed potatoes. Just a little more salt needed for my mashed potatoes. They like a lot of salt in all the dishes and I try to add more, but I'm always afraid of over salting. You can always add more, but you can't remove salt once added, so I aim for a little on the conservative side. As for my Pommes Dauphinoise, the thickest part was slightly underdone, but the good thing was I learned an easy way to check if it is done, by placing my knife on top. If it slides to the bottom without resistance, it's done. You should check in two spots, just in case one spot was cooked more for one reason or the other.

My Pommes Anna got A+. A thing of beauty.

On the other hand, my Potatoes Roesti definitely needs work. The problem was that my pan wasn't hot enough when I added the shredded potato/onion mixture and it stuck to the bottom instead of sliding around the pan readily as it should. When I removed the pancake from the pan, not all of it came and I was forced to salvage what I could ... so my pancake was about half the size of the successful ones, though it was still nice and round. Chef Perez said, upon seeing the diminutive Roesti, "Aw, how cute. Where's the rest of it?" Fortunately, it was seasoned properly and tasted pretty good so it wasn't a total disaster.

Of course, this is why I'm in a class, so I can make mistakes and learn from them (such as the correct placement of the die in a food mill, i.e., not upside down).

Tomorrow: rice.

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January 22, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Consumer Education and a Guest Chef Demo

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Regular Kitchen Academy classes are Monday thru Friday. On most Saturdays, however, KA provides consumer cooking classes in the morning. This is an excellent way to learn some new skills and recipes if you're interested in improving your cooking talents, but don't have the time or inclination to go to culinary school full time.

Every Saturday class is different. For example, in December the courses included such topics as holiday meals and holiday baking. There is a brochure one can pick up at KA but, unfortunately, they don't have information on these courses on their website.

KA students are invited to attend these classes and assist. You'll get paid ($10/hr), but also have the opportunity to learn and gain more experience.

Sounded good to me, so I decided to participate this past Saturday. Unlike the normal classes, which start at 6am, these consumer classes start at a much more leisurely 9am. However, those assisting show up at 8am. There were only two assistants this week, myself and Natalie, who is on the station across from mine in the regular class.

Our initial work was simple: putting together sheet trays for the students with all the ingredients they would need for their dishes, which included carrot ginger soup, ultimate Caeser salad and New England clam chowder. There were only twelve students scheduled and they'd be working in groups of three. We had to prepare four sheet trays for them and one more for the chef, so he could demo the recipes.

Once the sheet trays were complete (mostly ... the fresh clams were late), Natalie and I began prepping the goods for the chef's demo (peeling, slicing, mincing, chopping the various items). We also made the croutons for the Caeser salad (which came out darn nice).

This is sort of what I expected. However, as Natalie and I were working on prepping the clam chowder demo, Chef Guevara (who was teaching the class) sent us from PCA-1 (the beginning kitchen lab) to PCA-4 (the restaurant simulation lab). We were now tasked with assisting Chef Michael Montilla, one of Hollywood's preeminent personal chefs and a graduate of our older sister school, the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. Chef Montilla was giving a cooking demonstration for the public. Natalie and I were to help him with whatever he needed.

This was definitely not something I had anticipated and it was also a nice test of my current skills. Unfamiliar with the PCA-4 kitchen, we had to quickly learn it and find the tools Chef Montilla needed. We also had to prep an awful lot (it seemed) of produce. I ultimately pounded about a dozen chicken breasts flat, diced 10 onions, minced 30-40 shallots, sliced 3 heads of garlic into 1/8" thick chips, and some various other production. This might not seem like much to someone with experience (and it isn't), but to a newbie like me, it was more use of my knife than I've ever done, and under time pressure as well.

Luckily, Natalie has been working in restaurants for a number of years and was familiar with some of the more advanced tasks Chef Montilla requested of us, such as rolling up and tying the flattened chicken into a nice roulade stuffed with spinach, toasted pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese. Despite our inexperience, Chef Montilla was quite gracious as we somehow managed to get everything done in time.

It was a heckuva learning experience. Not quite a true restaurant experience, but much more than a regular class. I think I'll keep participating on Saturdays.

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January 20, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 10

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Week Two is over and classes are just flying by.

It is hard to believe how fast five hours of class can go.

There is actually not that much new to prep this morning. Heck, no knife work is necessary at all. We all get fresh corn meal, mascarpone, butter, and milk. The major effort is in pulling all of our stored goods from previous days, such as our bechamel and bolognese sauces.

First thing, we construct, in teams of two, our lasagnas. Interestingly enough, though it takes a fair amount of effort, our results won't be presented or tasted. Fine by me ... I'm happy to bring back half of a major lasagna for home consumption. Actually, that is a nice bonus with regard to culinary school. Unless your production is needed for a later class or another course entirely, you can take the food home after it has been presented. Nice.

After our lasagnas are in the ovens, we gather around the chef's station for a demo of hard and soft polenta. Unfortunately, we have to gather, which isn't the best way to watch the demo. Normally, we are supposed to watch the demo via a very nice closed circuit camera system, with LCD screens at every station. It actually works fairly well, sort of like a live cooking show. However, since Wednesday, the camera system has been down, so we are forced to crowd around the chef's station.

Speaking of television shows, the demos operate very much like a television cooking show, without the commercial breaks. Most of the techniques are demonstrated straight up, but sometimes, when a particular step is fairly lengthy, Chef Perez will say "through the magic of television" and pull out the next step in the dish, already prepared ahead of time.

After the polentas are in progress, the hard polenta in the lowboy refrigerator setting up and the soft polenta keeping warm on the stovetop, we get a demonstration of handmade ravioli. I've made ravioli before, but using a mold; my hand cut ones come out looking misshapen. Now, however, I have a better idea of how to operate.

The goal for the ravioli is a new one. Instead of a single plate, we are to make two identical plates with three ravioli each. This is to practice consistent plating. We are also given carte blanc on how we plate both the ravioli and fried polenta cakes. The soft polenta basically just sits there.

I turn my traditional polenta triangles into an abstract insect with bolognese sun and moon. My ravioli I place in a column topped with bolognese and cheese and flanked by two columns of very finely chiffonaded basil. Both get "awesome" from Chef Perez, who gives additional praise for both the bolognese and ravioli filling.

But I'm not the only one doing well. At the end of class Chef Perez says that he has given out more A's today than he ever has and that he gave out no C's. Not too bad.

Cleanup takes an all out effort today, however, and we were still 10 minutes late, but we did pretty good nonetheless ... some form of organized chaos, I think.

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January 19, 2006

Free Food at Kitchen Academy - Feb 1st, 2nd, 3rd

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Posted by Ernest Miller

If you are in the Los Angeles area at the beginning of February and like food, then you might find this news from my culinary school, Kitchen Academy, of interest:


Food will be served on a first come, first served basis ... when we're out, we're out

For the Lunch and Dinner Restaurant Event:
When: Wednesday, February 1st, 2006
Time: 8:30am-10:00am AND 2:30pm-4:00pm AND 8:30pm-10:00pm

Lunch/Dinner Menu Includes:
St. Louis Ribs, Santa Maria Tri-Tip,
Barbequed Baked Beans, Macaroni & Cheese, Country Onion Rings, Hush Puppies and Fruit Salad
Carnitas, Guacamole, Refried Beans, Salsa Verde, Mexican Style Rice with Tortillas

For the Breakfast Buffet Event:
When: Thursday, February 2nd, 2006
Time: 8:30am-10:00am AND 2:30pm-4:00pm AND 8:30pm-10:00pm

Breakfast Menu Includes:
Eggs Benedict and Eggs Florentine, Scrambled Eggs
Bacon and Sausage
French Toast
Potatoes Roesti and Hash Brown Potatoes
Quiche Lorraine and Quiche Florentine
Omelet Bar

For the Cuisines of Asia Buffet
When: Friday, February 3rd, 2006
Time: 8:30am-10:00am AND 2:30pm-4:00pm AND 8:30pm-10:00pm

Asian Menu Includes:
Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Hoison Peanut Sauce
Poke Salad with Sesame Vinaigrette
Fruit Platter Presentation
Tempura Udon, Crab Rangoon, Shrimp Toast, Chicken Satay
Soft Shell Crab with Sunomono
Suckling Pig, Peking Duck, Mu Shu Pork with Mandarin Pancakes, Kung Pao Beef
Pad Thai, Fried Rice, Beef Panang, Honey Walnut Shrimp
Lemongrass Sorbet, Green Tea Ice Cream

Kitchen Academy - Hollywood
6370 West Sunset Blvd
(on the Cinerama Dome Property)
Hollywood, CA 90028
Jennifer Farris, Campus Director

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Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 9

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Our first day making pasta dishes and they definitely were not similar to anything I've eaten in Italy. Butter, cheese, cream and rendered pancetta fat made both of our recipes today obscenely rich. I'm surprised they didn't have us sign a waiver before tasting, let alone anyone actually eating an entire plate. I have to admit, though, that the fettuccine alfredo was pretty tasty.

Prep had some difficulties again today. I was portioning out 13oz of cream per student (13oz per student!) and Chef Guevara had to struggle to track down sufficient quantities of the fat-rich liquid. Eventually, however, everything was portioned out.

There were quite a few ingredients, most of which had to be refrigerated (milk, cheese, eggs, cream, etc.). We could easily keep these materials in our lowboy refrigerator at our stations. Unfortunately, one of the other courses had taken the full sheet trays that act as the trays in the lowboy. Without them, there is only a single level, which wasn't really sufficient for our ingredients. Frustrated, I snuck into Course 2 and liberated one of theirs.

First thing, we made 6 cups of Bechamel. Once again, this white sauce didn't pose any problems, though the large quantity was a bit intimidating (at least to me). Chef Perez noted in one of his previous jobs that they would make a gallon of the stuff on a daily basis.

We also prepped the filling for the ravioli we're making tomorrow. The recipe for this filling is very simple: ricotta, basil, egg, cheese and salt and pepper. What was interesting was that Chef Guevara encouraged us to doctor up the filling to our tastes ... add what we think would be good. Alrighty then. I added some minced thyme, parsley, roasted garlic and a dash of nutmeg. I'll have to see how it turns out tomorrow after melding for a day.

I've made homemade pasta before, but I use a very nice Italian pasta machine with a motorized attachment. Today, I got to make pasta with a less expensive machine by handcrank (thanks to the lack of a magnet to hold them, the cranks were hitting the floor all morning). Frankly, I rather liked it and took to it very well. I even got the hang of the trick Chef Perez showed us, which was to turn the pasta into a continuous loop once you've rolled it out some. This way you can crank with one hand and your other hand can keep the pasta moving through the rollers. It is a very efficient method for rolling dough.

After resting all of last night, my pasta dough worked like a charm. I made some excellent fettuccini noodles. The texture and color were spot on, thanks to the semolina.

Making the pasta sauces was fairly straight-forward, but timing the cooking of the pasta and the sauce together takes some experience, I think. It wouldn't take much to overcook either pasta or sauce, if you're not paying close attention. I did well; the noodles for my alfredo were slightly overcooked, but I still got an A-. My carbonara was "awesome." I was especially proud of my plating on that one. The sauce was a perfect consistency that allowed me to pile the noodles quite high.

We finished the day by rolling out more pasta dough for the Bolognese Lasagna, which we will construct tomorrow. For me, that was fun. I have to admit, the days do fly by.

In addition to finishing the lasagna, tomorrow we are scheduled to produce, ravioli, fried polenta cakes and soft polenta with mascarpone. Thank goodness I'll have a weekend to recover from these rich dishes.

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January 18, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 8

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Morning prep was a bit less organized than yesterday. The prep was set up for groups of four to make the Bolognese, when we were actually supposed to make the classic tomato-based sauce in pairs. So, more veggies had to be procured, especially more onions, since we didn't get enough onions to make the French Onion Soup, let alone the Bolognese. Nevertheless, the class is working together more as a team.

Production goes quite smoothly. Natalie and Arturo, who work across the station from Danny and I, work closely with us to make efficient use of our time. If we need extra materials or tools, any of us will get something for the group of four. We also do well in reminding each other of different aspects of the prepartion. For example, we use sherry to deglaze our onion sweat, but we needed to reserve some for the "float" of sherry on the finished soup. A reminder to reserve was important, as was another reminder to add the sherry to the finished soup.

Although the production of French Onion Soup is fairly easy, it is time-consuming. You want a nice deep carmelization of the onions, which takes an easy 30 minutes, yet you don't want them to burn. Once you've added the stock, it takes another hour, hour and a half to really simmer and deepen the flavor. We didn't have the luxury of that much time. My soup got 45 minutes. Still, it was very, very nice and got high praise from Chef Perez.

The bolognese is also a fairly simple sauce (assuming you have some classic tomato sauce lying about, as well as ground pork, veal and beef). Still, it took a fair amount of time to brown the meat in a large sauce pan. That was the most difficult thing. Once you've done that, deglaze, add the tomato sauce, bouquet garni and simmer for about an hour.

Unfortunately, our bolognese didn't get the full hour, as we had to shut things down prematurely in order to get our class picture taken. Bummer. Of course, they might have gotten the picture earlier in the morning before several students had gotten some bolognese on their white uniforms. But that's why they have Photoshop, right?

After the photo, we finished cleaning the kitchen and prepped for pasta making. Today we made the dough so that it can rest overnight. I like making pasta, but this is the first time I'll be using semolina and all-purpose flour. Normally, at home, I use only all-purpose. I also learn that one should flour one's working surface for the pasta with semolina, not AP. The texture is definitely different. This is also different in that we work the dough with our hands, whereas I'm used to working the dough primarily in a KitchenAid. It actually feels good to work the dough with my hands, but it does definitely take effort.

Tomorrow, pasta craziness. Ricotta filling, Bolognese Lasagna, Fettuccini Alfredo, Pasta Carbonara.

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January 17, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 7

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Posted by Ernest Miller

This morning prep was much more organized. I and some other students arrived early and assisted the chefs in getting all the prep organized for everyone. We were completely ready to demo by 7:30.

But first, a written quiz. It isn't very long, and I have no trouble with most of it, but one of the questions throws me for a loop: "name the seven principles of stock making". I've learned to make a stock and some of the important points, but we haven't been taught "principles". I write down some of the important aspects of making a stock and hope for the best. I'm not worried about passing, but would like to ace the darn things.

After the quiz we covered two more of the mother sauces, Bechamel and Veloute. These very basic white sauces are the base for a near infinite variety of other sauces. Today, we will use the bechamel to make a cream of tomato soup and the veloute to make a cream of mushroom soup.

I have no problem with the bechamel. It comes out wonderfully. Great creamy consistency, wonderful color. It's great. Turning it into cream of tomato soup goes very well. Indeed, Chef Perez says that he would pay for soup that good, which seems like a pretty nice complement to me.

On the other hand, I struggle with the veloute. Both bechamel and veloute start with a roux. No problem. However, after adding the requisite chicken stock for the chicken veloute, my resulting sauce is much too thin. This is odd since I added the same amount of liquid to the bechamel's roux and it came out great. Fixing this is a bit of a pain. I have to make another small roux and then add my original veloute to this roux.

I've been slowed down, but my veloute is now excellent as well. Unfortunately, I subsequently struggle with the cream of mushroom soup. There just doesn't seem to be enough liquid. My soup is quite thick. I'm able to thin it with additional chicken stock, but the reduction has ruined my seasoning and my soup is bit too salty. It is also a bit cold, thanks to improperly warming it in a hotel pan. Ooops. Lesson learned. Ah well.

Though I finished both soups with plenty of time, I'm not entirely happy with my station management. I wasn't really able to keep up with the dishes towards the end. Still, I'm learning some things. Hopefully practice and experience will improve my efficiency.

Tomorrow French Onion Soup, Basic Pasta Dough and Bolognese.

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January 16, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 6

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Posted by Ernest Miller

The quiz scheduled for this morning has been put off til tomorrow due to some staffing issues. Well, another day to work on my knife cuts.

Sauces. Today is our introduction to sauces.

We are scheduled to produce Hollandaise, Espagnole and Classic Tomato Sauce. The first two are classical "mother sauces". The third, Classic Tomato, is somewhat disputed. Classically it wasn't one of the five base sauces, but is now generally considered one of the "mother sauces".

Prep is a bit of a cluster today. There are many ingredients needed and not enough space to get them efficiently, at least the way we are doing it. Consequently, following the lecture and demo, the class is unable to even attempt the Hollandaise. We do, however, finish the other two. Tomorrow, I'm on the steward team and will see if there is anything that can be done to speed the distribution of the mise en place.

What wonderful aromas. I particularly like the smells that result when you add tomato puree to roasted mirepoix. There is a rich, warm aroma that seems to be filling all by itself. Of course, it doesn't last long as you soon have to deglaze with red wine, which has its own wonderful aromas as well. The rich browness of Espagnole is so very tempting. Unfortunately, ours is headed to the students in Course 2.

We do, however, keep our Classic Tomato Sauce, which is also very inviting. We will be turning it into a Bolognese on Wednesday, so we have that to look forward to.

I look forward to Course 3 (Garde Manger). Why? Because they sent our class a very nice couple of terrines today. I certainly will not mind learning how to make those.

The day went quite quickly. I hardly noticed that the five hours of class had passed without a break. This is a good sign, I think.

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Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 5

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Posted by Ernest Miller

You know, cleaning and stemming spinach seems to be an awful lot of work for such a meager result. You get these big bunches of spinach, wash them and pull the stems out and are left with a large bowl of very nice (but bitter) leaves. After sauteeing in butter and garlic, the end result is a small pile of dark green spinach in the middle of the plate. Nevertheless, the taste can be quite sublime. Especially with the addition of the finely sliced garlic.

Of course, every time I slice garlic thinly, I reminded of the scene in Goodfellas where Paul Sorvino as Paul Cicero slices a clove of garlic paper thin with a razor blade. I'm not the only one apparently, as Chef Perez made explicit reference to the classic scene.

Unfortunately, though nice, my spinach wasn't sublime, according to Chef Perez, as it could have used another 30 seconds or so of sauteeing. I think one of the problems is that I tasted a leaf that had been cooking a bit longer than the one Chef Perez had tasted. The clean and stemmed leaves take up so much room that you can't add them to the saute pan all at once, but must add them a bit at a time, which will allow the ones in the pan to lose their moisture and shrink, making room for more spinach.

We also got to fabricate (basically, make ready), blanch, shock and drain (BSD) green beans. This is a very simple and common procedure for initial cooking of vegetables. You drop them into boiling water (blanching) then, after a short period of time, remove the veggies and drop them immediately into ice water (the shock). This immediately stops the cooking of the vegetables. Once drained, the veggies can then be used in other recipes or reheated for service. We sauteed ours in butter. Yum. I like green beans and these were very, very good. Chef Perez had no complaints.

Today we also had the opportunity to taste some more of the dishes from Course 4. The duck salad, which included one of my favorites, kumquats, was excellent. As was the dessert, which was poached pears with vanilla ice cream (which they got quite right this time). The entree, braised pork, was also good, though I thought the Risotto Milanese it was served with was not up to snuff. It was interesting to watch the kitchen at work. In a just a few days they students definitely seemed to be working together much more efficiently as a team, as one would expect.

After the wonderful meal, we had a lecture on various types of produce with a special emphasis on various "baby" produce. Good stuff. I can't wait to start playing around with these veggies.

We finish the class with a review of the first week.

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January 12, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 4

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Class ends around 11am, so about 10:15 I was really beginning to wonder how I was going to finish my vichyssoise. Sure, maybe the potatoes would soon be "fork tender" and ready for the immersion blender, but how in the heck would I be able to chill the soup to an acceptable temperature, even with an ice bath and ice wand? Of course, I wasn't the only person in this predicament ... I'm not sure more than a couple of people in the class had gotten their vichyssoise to the puree stage.

As I'm thinking about this and considering the best way to make an ice bath (hotel pan? bucket cambro?), Chef Guevara calls the entire class to a halt.

None of us are going to finish the vichyssoise apparently, though one student does try to bring her's up for judgement. It looks good. Too bad it is still quite warm.

"You're in the weeds now," said Chef Guevara. "This is what it is like when you fall behind, when the dirty dishes are piling up and your product isn't ready. You're in the weeds."

Basically, the entire class has failed. Everything that is prepped and not cooked has to go back into storage and everything partially cooked, thrown away.

Now the question is, can we clean and prep the classroom for the next class and still get out on time?

This time we organize into teams: Steward Team, Equipment Team, (something else), and Dish Team. Me, I'm on the dish team, which is the hardest hit of all the squads. The number of dishes is quite impressive. Everyone begins knocking out their responsibilities. In a short time, the kitchen lab is looking much, much better. However, we on the dish team are still overwhelmed. That is when those who've finished the work on their squads join in helping us do the dishes.

Amazingly, we finish everything with 5 minutes to spare. The dish team actually gets praised for doing a good job in tackling the mountain of dishes. It was definitely a good exercise.

As for the first part of the class, we covered clear and thick soups. I'm looking forward to making various bisques, chowders and etc. We discussed various thickening agents, of which there are many. Ultimately, we did plate and present glazed carrots, which were immediately turned into carrot puree soup. My glazed carrots were, according to Chef Perez, "perfect." Unfortunately, my soup was a wee bit too thin, but had excellent color and flavor.

Though I did well, it is sort of nerve wracking to bring your dish up for judgement. More so than taking a quiz or test in my book. I think it is because I feel like I have a little less control over the outcome, or because I don't really feel knowledgeable enough. For a written quiz, you generally either know the answer or you don't. For recipes, I can read well enough and follow instructions, but knowing what the dish is really supposed to taste like, the texture, I don't have quite a firm grasp on it all.

Perhaps I'll get used to it.

On an unrelated note, there was some filming going on near the campus. It was odd to see New York City style sets (Subway entrances, etc.) on Los Angeles streets. Made me do a bit of a double take.

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January 11, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 3

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Today, for the first time, we cook: a brown veal stock and white chicken stock.

First thing, Chef Perez has us turn on our ovens to 425 degrees. To me, it's a pretty darn impressive oven, having only done home cooking before. The burners look ready to pump out a nearly obscene number of BTU's as well.

We've already had the stock basics lecture yesterday, so we are able to move straight into the demo. Chef Perez doesn't demo the white chicken stock, which is very simple, but rather the brown veal stock which requires a few more steps.

Although this may seem very basic, both instructors emphasize the importance of creating good versions of these stocks, which will serve as the basis for many other dishes. They also note that many fine restaurants do make their own stocks on a daily or near daily basis. Thus, it is an important skill to master.

To make the stocks we pair up into teams of two at our stations. My partner is Danny, who was on the professional golf circuit, but tired of all the travel (85,000 miles flying last year and 32 weeks away from home). He grew up on the East Coast and went to Northwestern Univ. on a golf scholarship. We work as a team well. He gets the bones and mirepoix (which the class had made yesterday), while I get the other ingredients. This will be much simpler in the days to come, I'm sure, but this is the first time we're pulling together a number of components from the different storage areas: herbs, oil, wine, cheesecloth and twine (for the sachets) and a few other things.

I started the sachets as Danny got back with the bones. He has to wash his hands after handling the raw meat (wouldn't want cross-contamination), and I toss the veal bones with oil and set them in the oven to brown. After this, I need to wash my hands and Danny finishes the sachets.

Those burners are good ... it is amazing how fast such a large quantity of water in the chicken stock comes to a boil so quickly.

I've made chicken stock at home before, but never brown stock. Wow. One of the really wonderful things about brown stock is the rich aroma that arises when you sweat the mirepoix in the pan that had finished roasting the bones. Then the addition of tomato paste and, finally, deglazing with red wine. Each step has its own unique fragrance as the fond in the roasting pan grows with each additional flavor (until the deglazing, that is).

In any case, eventually both stocks are simmering away. After some cleanup and potato slicing, we merge all the stocks into two rather large (humongous) stock pots ... they'll have to simmer for many hours yet, another class finishing the process.

Our class, however, now gets to sample some of the product from the upper classes: Course 4, which is in a restaurant simulation, and Course 3a, which is cold cuisine. Course 4 provides a rather peppery arugula salad with beets, citrus and blue cheese. To be honest, I'm not sure how well the salad really melded together, though the combination of beets and blue cheese was quite nice. The entree was a grilled pork chop with sauteed cabbage and potatoes in a mustard sauce. Very good. Finally, dessert, which was fresh vanilla ice cream (basically, a disaster) and flour-less chocolate cake (good). Cold cuisine provided an assortment of fresh sausage. A most excellent bratwurst, but the other two sausages didn't reach the same level.

Although the food was somewhat uneven, I'm encouraged by the progress these earlier students have obviously made. I look forward to doing the same when I reach the advanced courses.

After this meal/tasting break it is back for a leek slicing demo (Vichyssoise tomorrow), food labeling and storage and more on production schedules.

Tomorrow we will be preparing glazed carrots, pureed carrot soup (from the glazed carrots) and the aforementioned Vichyssoise. We will actually be plating and presenting the food for the first time. The pace is slowly picking up.

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January 10, 2006

Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 2

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Today, I enter the kitchen before class to assist with setup. The dishwashing stations need to be filled with various combinations of soap, water and sanitizer, trash cans need to be placed and our personal stations need to be prepped. Not a whole bunch of stuff, but we're easing into the prep work necessary for a well-run kitchen.

The lecture today is on basic culinary terms, the kitchen brigade and professionalism. Our discussion of the kitchen brigade and culinary terms delves into a bit of the history and then a diversion into some resources that we may want to spend some time with. Herewith, some of the recommended basic books:

. There were also a couple of periodicals suggested:A great deal of emphasis was placed on organization, including production schedules and in-house grocery/shopping lists. These are important for efficient organization and mise en place. This way you know what you have to do and when you have to do it, as well as exactly what ingredients you need (so you can get them at once, instead of wasting time running back and forth to the various bins and refridgerators).

These lists, actually, are our first homework. You're not really going to get much in the way of homework at Kitchen Academy, but today we're asked to put together a production schedule and in-house grocery list for tomorrow's class, which will include a brown and white stock.

Following the lecture, we return to the basic knife cuts, learning two methods for cutting obliques. We will practice this on carrots and celery. We also learn two methods for dicing and slicing onions. All of our production (several buckets of it) is reserved for tomorrow's stock making.

Class is still moving fairly slow, and I am happy to be able to have the luxury of concentrating on my knife technique and uniformity of cuts. I fear being overwhelmed in the cutting department when the classes begin to move much faster. My concern is emphasized later when I observe some course 4 students (who are in a restaurant-style environment) get a mild rebuke from their chef instructor for taking too long slicing some beets and oranges ("This should only take 10 minutes. You've taken 45.").

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Kitchen Academy - Course I - Day 1

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Posted by Ernest Miller

With no traffic, the commute to downtown Hollywood is about 45 minutes for me, necessitating leaving the house at 5am. This really isn't such a big deal as I like to get up early, generally speaking.

I wear my newly issued uniform, which consists of: a basic chef coat, in white with cloth buttons and the Kitchen Academy logo embroidered above the pocket; black baggie pants; and skull cap. There is also an apron as well as a neckerchief, but I wasn't sure how I'm supposed to tie it (I'm taught later, windsor knot). The cloth buttons are a bit of a pain and I wonder how easy it will be to keep the coat and apron white.

Shoes are not issued, but slip-resistant restaurant-safe shoes are required. I decided on low boots with a composite toe - for the not-unknown event that heavy things get dropped. They have zippers on the inside ankle so they are also easy to put on and take off. Every student is also issued a knife kit from Mercer Cutlery (German steel, manufactured in Taiwan).

When I arrive the dining area is full of students, some obviously ready for one of the more advanced courses, many just as obviously new to the whole culinary school thing. As I walk in, there is one last piece of paperwork for me to sign and I'm issued my coursebook.

I grab a seat and a cup of coffee and page through the coursebook. A couple minutes after 6 we're introduced to some of the administrative staff (the ones who come in early, most of the staff doesn't come in until morning classes are nearly finished). And, of course, to our chief chef instructor, Alexx Guevara. Our other instructor is Chef Michael Perez. Chef Alexx, as he is known (though the students of KA aren't allowed to call him that), has 22 years of experience (although he is only 36) and specializes in sports nutrition. Chef Perez has more than 10 years of experience, including a stint as an instructor for one of the major restaurant chains (his training restaurant only a few miles from my home, actually, though I've never eaten there).

The first day is, of course, orientation, familiarization with the kitchen classroom, various adminstrative matters (grading policy, etc.). Food safety and sanitation are, of course, emphasized, as are professional standards.

After the lecture we are given a 15-minute break, which just so happens to coincide with with the course 3 class getting a demonstration of fabricating a pig. Virtually all of our new class watches the initial cuts, such as beheading the carcass and cutting through the spine with a saw. The squeamish are definitely not looking forward to their time with a pig.

But pig-fabricating is not for us today. Eventually, we get down to our lesson and demo. Knife basics (steeling, sharpening) and basic knife cuts. I quickly learn that I've been holding my knife improperly for years. However, changing to the new grip feels quite natural.

Precise and uniform cutting is nothing I've never really done. Oh, sure, when I've cooked before I've tried to get things fairly even, but never paid any real attention to it. Today, I learn how to burnoise and fine-burnoise, as well as the similar small, medium and large dices, and the rough dice or mirepoix. In order to burnoise, you basically also have to know how to julienne, along with the associated fine julienne and baton/batonnet.

Many carrots and some potatoes are used.

I do okay. More importantly, I enjoy it.

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A Little About Kitchen Academy

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Kitchen Academy is a new culinary school, having just opened the flagship Hollywood campus in July 2005. I say flagship because clones of the first school will soon be opening in Orange County, San Diego and even New Jersey. Basically, KA is expected to become a chain of culinary schools across the US. KA was founded by Christopher Becker, who founded the California School of Culinary Arts in 1994.

Unlike more traditional culinary schools, KA's program is much shorter and carries much less of an academic emphasis. The program is only 7 months long. Class are 5 hours per day, Monday - Friday, and are spent entirely in one of 4 kitchen classroom/laboratories. There is one 6-week externship period as well, where the students work with a food service employer. The school being so new, the first class of students will graduate next month.

Also being new, the school's facilities are state of the art. And seem, to my inexperienced eye, pretty nifty. In any case, the location of the school is pretty darn nice. It is located at the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Ivar, just one block from the well-known Sunset and Vine. Just across the street is the Hollywood branch of Amoeba Music - handy, that. The school itself is located in the Arclight Cinemas complex, immediately across the walkway from the famous Cinerama Dome. Bonus - great music and one of the best movie theaters in LA right there. Above the school is a 24-hr Fitness. So, if you're in the area, feel free to drop and by and take a look, especially as two of the kitchen classroom/laboratories have glass walls, for easy viewing by the movie-going public.

The actual size of the school is relatively small. Each kitchen classroom supports a maximum of 32 students, so the most students working at once is 128. Classes are taught in 3 shifts (6am-11am, 12pm-5pm, 6pm-11pm), for a total maximum enrollment at one time of 480 (don't forget to add the students on externship). Of course, current enrollment is no where near that number currently. The most popular class schedule (and the one I'm taking) is the morning class, which is currently full. The other shifts are less popular.

A Little About the Culinary Program

Kitchen Academy's program is basically divided into four six-week courses, followed by a six week externship. Each course takes place entirely within one kitchen classroom/laboratory. The first Course ("Professional Culinary Arts I") is fundamentals: food safety, culinary terms, standard knife cuts, stock and soup making, etc. The second course ("Professinal Culinary Arts II") focuses on proteins, aka meat. Butchery is covered and fundamentals are put to use in making complete and balanced plate presentations. The third course is broken down into two 3-week periods. The first is "Cold Cuisine Techniques", including the fabrication (complete use of) a pig, as well as such cold things as salads, sandwiches, appetizers, etc. The second is "Baking and Pastry Techniques", which is sort of self-explanatory. The fourth course is "Advanced Professional Culinary Arts", in which students basically work in a restaurant simulation, playing their parts in a kitchen brigade on a daily basis and reinforcing lessons learned in the earlier courses. The fifth course is the externship.

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And Now, For Something Completely Different

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Yesterday, January 9th, I began classes at Kitchen Academy, a new culinary school located in Hollywood, California.

Over the next several months, I intend to document my experience in culinary school on this blog. As someone who is quite ignorant about the whole food/restaurant business thing, it'll definitely be a learning experience.

I'll also be returning to blogging on the copyfight, as well ... but things will be a little different here (which may or may not be better than the entire silence of the past six months).

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