Cooking with Jason

Sunday, November 20, 2005

When days off are bad

I don't know about anyone else in my class, but I'm feeling like crap today. After six days of getting to school at 2:30am for Breakfast Cookery, I was finally get used to a schedule involving going to bed around 8pm and waking up around 1am. Last night I stayed up until a normal time, 11pm, and got up this morning around 9:30. Of course, that's about eight hours later than I'm used to getting my coffee these days, so I've had a pounding headache all day which coffee couldn't fix. I'm also tired, but figure I shouldn't nap because I won't be able to get to sleep tonight. So instead, I did my homework and am now blogging. Really, this whole thing would have been easier if we'd be able to do seven straight days of breakfast.

Tomorrow is the last day of breakfast. We have a final exam, which should be no problem, and I'm on the baking station. Yesterday I made dough for doughnuts, which I've never done before, so I'll let you know how they turn out. Tuesday we start the second half of this block, Lunch Cookery, for which I won't have to be at school until 8am (we also don't get out until 3:30, so it's a tradeoff), and we have our lecture before service instead of after.

One of the benefits of being a student is that we're allowed to order food from the storeroom at very good prices. With a few days of notice, you can get the same quality ingredients we use in our kitchens with all the benefit of the CIA's buying power. The one catch is that you have to order rare or hard-to-find items and spend a minimum of $20 -- so no putting in a order for a pound of onions, for example. Yesterday I placed my order: two ducks, one beef tenderloin, one bottle of white truffle oil, and one bottle of yuzu juice. To give you an idea how much we can save, the tenderloin runs $9.24 a pound. If you buy tenderloin steaks at the grocery store, they'll probably run you at least twice that. I'll pick these things up on Tuesday.

Yuzu tastes like a very tart cross between orange and lime, and I think it will go very well in a gin and tonic.

In other news, it looks like I'll be able to get Thomas Keller's autograph after all. In anticipation of his visit, I bought The French Laundry Cookbook on the off chance I'd be able to slip away from class and attend his book signing. When I went to return the book last week (we're poor, remember), the woman at the bookstore said she had five other books to send to him to be signed and asked if I'd like to add mine to the shipment. You bet!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Chicken Stock

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and I'm going to need chicken stock. I know you thought I'd never run out after making five gallons back in May, but sure enough, I used the last of it a few weeks ago. This time around I'm using chicken bones I've been saving in the freezer instead of another 40-pound case of bones, as well as some chicken necks, feet, and a stewing hen (a.k.a, an old chicken that's too tough to eat but has lots of flavor) I picked up at Adams yesterday. Chicken feet are a great addition to stock if you can find them -- they're almost pure collagen, which converts to gelatin during the cooking process and gives your stock good body. All told I've got around 16 pounds of bones going, so I should wind up with somewhere in the neighborhood of two gallons of stock.

As for Thanksgiving, I'm going to toss tradition aside and roast a duck instead of a turkey. Even a small turkey is way more than we can eat, and besides, duck tastes better. Also on the tentative menu are more traditional items such as stuffing, mashed potatoes (though these might also be tossed aside in favor of risotto), and cranberry sauce (not from a can), as well glazed beets and of course, pumpkin pie.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Odds and Ends

I finished Cuisines of Asia today, which was the most demanding (and most rewarding) class I've had so far. Three days each of China and India, and two days each of Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, and Korea make up the 14-day block. The kitchen, K-1, is different from most other kitchens in that is has two wok stations with space for a total of five woks, as well as such other unusual equipment as a Chinese roasting oven, Tandoori oven (India), and a large steamer used primarily for rice. There's also the standard equipment, like a grill, deep fryer, ovens, and so on.

With Asia out of the way, I'm now in the home stretch before Extern. Next block is a split block, much the same way Meat and Fish classes shared a 14-day block; I start seven days of Breakfast Cookery on Monday, followed by seven days of Lunch Cookery. For day one of Breakfast on Monday, we're required to arrive in the kitchen at 1:30am. That's right, 1:30 am. We open for service at 6am, and as it'll be our first time in a new kitchen, we'll need extra time to get the tour and hear Chef Johnson's expectations for the class, etc. Subsequent days will have more reasonable start times, which in this case means 3:00 or 3:30 in the morning. But hey, at least I'll be out of class around 10.

In other news, Thomas Keller -- yes, THE Thomas Keller of French Laundry fame -- was on campus today as this block's graduation speaker. Unfortunately, the only chance to see him was at a book signing this morning while I was in class, so I missed out. Since I arrived here in May, I've never heard campus so abuzz over a graduation speaker; most of the time people would be hard-pressed to name the speaker, but people have been talking about Keller for weeks.

What this made me realize, though, is that I don't want to have a boring, run-of-the-mill speaker when my gradutions roll around in January 2007 and August 2008. Why settle for the regional manager of Red Lobster when you can have Thomas Keller or Eric Ripert with a little effort? A few of us decided today that when we get back from Extern in May, we need to get involved with this effort in order to ensure a memorable speaker. Names tossed about today included Ripert, Alton Brown, Anthony Bourdain, and Michael Ruhlman. Names suggested jokingly included reality TV stars Rocco DiSpirito and Gordon Ramsay.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Worth 1,000 words?

One of the most common questions we -- and by "we," I refer of course to the dedicated team of trained monkeys who sift through all our correspondence -- get here at the Cooking with Jason offices is, "So, how do we know you're really in school? Perhaps this is all an elaborate ruse." To which the monkeys are conditioned to reply, "That's none of your business, and I'll thank you to stay out of my personal affairs. Good day."

In all seriousness, I took some pictures around campus the other day and present them here for your enjoyment.

The newly-completed Anton Plaza, overlooking the Hudson River. That's one thing about the CIA, by the way -- if you give enough money, they'll name almost anything after you. And if you don't like what's available, just give a bit more and they'll build it first, then let you name it.

Ristorante Caterina de' Medici ("Caterina" for short) one of the four student-run restaurants on campus. I'll spend time here working in both as a cook and a waiter late next year -- working in the restaurants is your last stop before graduating from the associate's program.

The Colavita Center for Italian Food and Wine (there we go again with our corporate sponsorships, and no, we're not done yet), home of the aforementioned Caterina. The restaurant occupies the upper floor, and there are kitchens and classrooms downstairs.

The herb garden behind Caterina yields fresh herbs (as well as peppers and fennel) for use in the restaurant when the seasons permit. Unfortunately, by the time I'm working there the entire Hudson Valley will be covered in snow.

A close up of some of those peppers.

Roth Hall, the main building on campus and home to the majority of classrooms, kitchens, and administrative offices, as well as American Bounty Restaurant, Escoffier Restaurant, and the Apple Pie Bakery & Cafe (sponsored by the Rich Products corporation!). This shot was taken from the herb garden; for reference, Anton Plaza sits directly in front of Roth Hall.

This covered walkway, convenient for Hudson Valley winters, connects Roth Hall (on the left) with the building which houses the baking and continuing education programs. My recent Cuisines of the Americas class was in that building, which was pretty cool because as the only culinary kitchen there, we were generally nice and busy for lunch. The kitchen used for the Certified Master Chef exam is also in the baking building.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

It's Official!

As of an hour ago, I'll be doing my Externship at Canlis Restaurant in Seattle. Carrie, Luke, and I will escape what everyone says is going to be a terrible winter, and we'll get to see friends and family for five months or so while we're home. I'll also be home for Seattle Mariners Opening Day in April, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Externship is a 21-week chunk of time between freshman and sophomore year during which we're required to work 18 weeks in an approved restaurant. The goal is both to put into practice what you've learned in the first year, but also to pick up new skills and practical knowledge. Externships often turn into jobs after graduation, and believe you me, I wouldn't turn down a job at Canlis. But that's getting ahead of the game a bit.

In any event, during these 18 weeks (exact start date still to be determined), I'll move through various stations of the restaurant, meet regularly with the chef to monitor my progress, and complete weekly journals which will be compiled in a notebook to be handed in when I get back to school. 50% of my grade comes from the chef himself, and the other half comes from a faculty member and is based on my completed notebook.

With Extern a mere two months away, this is a huge weight off my shoulders. In a word, 'woo'.