Cooking with Jason

Monday, December 26, 2005

Shut it down

Garde Manger, Grand Buffet, and 2nd semester are over.

Carrie and Luke fly to Seattle tonight; I'm leaving by car tomorrow. We'll see you in Seattle.

Extern, here I come!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

CIA declares: Jason *can* cook

Thursday's cooking practical came and went without much difficulty. The five of us (there were supposed to be six; nobody knows what happened to the other guy) showed up at 2pm, got a quick tour of the kitchen and Chef Coyac gave us a rundown of his expectations. He then assigned start times -- he prefers to start students 20 minutes apart rather than 30 -- and told us to come back ten minutes prior to our time for the oral examination.

After killing an hour, I reported to K-12 at 3:20, 10 minutes before my 3:30 start time. From where the first three students were working, I knew I'd draw either Saute, Stew, or Deep Poach. With my nemesis -- Shallow Poach -- out of the way, I relaxed a great deal. The questions were no problem... What's the difference between a stew and a braise? What type of cuts do we pan fry? What is the fond? What should be done to white meats before they're sauteed? What is resting? What is carryover cooking?... and a few others I don't remember. Ten for ten. And then the moment of truth. Chef Coyac placed the three menu cards on the table, face down, shuffled them around, and then motioned for me to pick. The winner? Deep Poach.

Deep Poach Salmon with Hollandaise Sauce, Jardineire Vegetables, Steamed Spinach, Tourneed Potatoes, and Beef Consomme.

Most of the ingredients were already on my station in a small, undercounter fridge ("low boy"), and the rest were easily located in the kitchen's larger fridge. After gathering everything I'd need, I grabbed an assortment of pots, pans, containers and bowls which turned out to be not nearly enough, but no matter. The kitchen is pretty small and it wasn't a big deal to go get more.

First, I put on the court boullion ("short broth"), in which I'd poach the salmon. Court boullion is like a quick vegetable stock -- onions, carrots, peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme sprigs -- with the addition of acid, generally white wine vinegar. Once this was going, I set about making my consomme. Whip up some egg whites (save the yolks for that hollandaise!), mince some mirepoix, mix it all together with tomato paste and ground beef, and presto, you've got your clarification. This mess goes into a pot, cold, with beef stock. As it comes up to a simmer and you stir, the proteins in the beef and egg whites coagulate and form a raft on top of the stock. As the liquid simmers, the coagulated proteins act as a sort of net, grabbing on to the little impurities in the stock. After about an hour, you've got a crystal clear soup.

As the court boullion and consomme were cooking, I prepped the rest of my vegetables -- battonets (1/4 x 1/4 x 2)of carrot, celery, and turnip for the jardineire veg, and brunoise (1/8 x 1/8 x 1/8) of carrot, celery, and parsnip to garnish the consomme. Each item was then cooked quickly in boiling, salted water, and shocked in an ice bath to be held for later.

At this point, despite feeling like I hadn't done very much, I was well past the halfway point of my practical. In particular, the last 30 minutes were extremely hectic as I tried to finish things up. The soup was strained and holding, the court boullion had been strained and was waiting for the salmon, the hollandaise was made and being held in a bowl over a pot on the stove in hopes that it wouldn't break, and the potatoes were in a bowl with butter and parsley over a double boiler.

At 5:55pm, five minutes before I was to present, Chef said, "Jason, you can bring up that soup any time now." "Yes chef" was the reply (when isn't it?). I lowered the salmon into the poaching liquid, tossed the vegetables into a saute pan, added the spinach to a second saute pan, and went about serving the soup. After bringing two cups of consomme up to the chef's table, I returned to plate my entree.

I gave my hollandaise a final whisk, finished the vegetables, and gave the fish a poke to check for doneness, then set about plating. Perhaps sensing he could catch me in an error, I noticed Chef Coyac standing over my shoulder just as I was about to transfer fish to plate, watching to see if I'd touch the fish with a bare hand (it's illegal to have bare hand contact with a ready-to-eat food, you see). Fortunately I was ready, and slid the fish on top of the pile of spinach with a pair of tongs.

Long story short, I scored a 92 on the practical. I lost points for little things -- a touch of seasoning here, could have cooked the fish a minute longer, celery a bit too crunchy. Nothing major, and I'll take that score any day of the week.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Cooking Practical

Well, tomorrow's the big day. Based on a randomly drawn menu and two-and-a-half hours in which to prepare it, the CIA will tell me once and for all whether or not I know how to cook. OK, so it's not quite like that. Not far off, though. You have to pass this practical to be allowed to go on Extern, and you must pass a similar practical at the end of 5th term in order to graduate.

Tomorrow, after a regular day of Garde Manger, I report to the Practical Kitchen at 2pm along with five other students. The kitchen consists of six work areas, with a tall wall between each so you can't see what your neighbor is doing. Everything we could possibly need -- food, pots, pans, etc. -- is provided. The first person begins at 2:30 (presentation time: 5pm), and then subsequent students start each half hour. I already know I'm going 5th, with a 4:30 start time.

Now begins the task of prepping for all six menus. Note cards with recipes, food lists, timelines, equipment lists... you have to be organized, or else (I suppose there are probably people who try to wing it, but why?).

Here are the six menus. Each menu has a protein, two vegetables, a starch and a soup. In most cases there's a sauce as well. You'll notice they cover six different basic cooking techniques.

  • ROAST: Chicken with Pan Gravy, Green Beans, Glazed Beets, Gratin Potatoes, Beef Consomme

  • SAUTE: Chicken Breast with Sauce Fines Herb, Sauteed Zucchini, Braised Red Cabbage, Fresh Pasta, Puree of Lentil Soup

  • GRILL: Mahi Mahi with Pineapple Salsa, Green Beens, Glazed Carrots, Rice Pilaf, Cream of Mushroom Soup

  • SHALLOW POACH: Sole with Sauce Vin Blanc, Broccoli, Duxelle Stuffed Tomato, Tourne Potatoes, Cream of Cauliflower

  • STEW: Beef Stew, Carrots/Turnips, Green Beans, Mashed Potatoes, Chicken Consomme

  • DEEP POACH: Salmon with Hollandaise Sauce, Jardiniere Vegetables, Steamed Spinach, Tourne Potatoes, Beef Consomme

  • Until I typed those out just now, I was only sure which menu I didn't want, but not which one I did... it's now obvious to me which is clearly the best option. I won't mention either one, for fear of jinxing the whole thing.

    Finally, here's a cool article about Canlis, my externship site.

    Sunday, December 04, 2005

    Protect that Food!

    Having finished seven days each of Breakfast Cookery and Lunch Cookery, where the goal is to turn out as much food as possible in a short period of time, tomorrow we take a giant step back from a production standpoint but a giant step forward from a food standpoint -- Garde Manger, the "Cold Kitchen," or literally, the "Protector of the Food." In a modern restaurant, this is the salad and sandwich station, with perhaps some fancier preparations such as pat├ęs.

    Back in the day, however, Garde Manger was a big deal. Without modern refridgeration and preservation techniques, chefs had to be creative in the way they preserved their foods. They were also very frugal, taking care to turn any scraps or trim into a new presentation. Garde Manger also encompassed butchering and charcuterie (making sausages, bacon, and other cured/smoked meats).

    In a high-end restaurant, this sort of thing is still done. And in a good restaurant, you're certainly worried about saving and utilizing those scraps. Besides that, some of this stuff is just really cool. And after three weeks of cranking out food, I'm looking forward to doing something a bit more classic, delicate, and refined.

    Garde Manger culminates with Grand Buffet, a presentation of a variety of dishes, held the day before graduation (in this case, Wednesday December 21st). I've talked about Grand Buffet before; it'll be strange to be on the other side.