Tuesday, December 8, 2009

First Buches de Noel of the 2009 Season

I very recently made my first buche de Noel of this year. Three of them in fact. It was for a catering job that I did for a private party of 65 people in a very nice part of Paris. The customers are extremely gracious people, who have both an air of approachability and warmth alongside a very hefty dose of elegance. I wanted to try to make a Buche de Noel that reflected this.

The occasion was a birthday celebration for the husband. So, of course, a birthday cake of some sort was in order. Why not in the form of a buche de Noel. It is the season afterall!

And with that as a backdrop, I have to share a little insight into the difference between the French and Amercian cultures...

What I just explained about using a buche de Noel as a birthday cake with candles and all.....that is soooo American! When I went to shop (and hopefully buy) a rectangular box especially made for a buche de Noel.......I received a look of disbelief from the clerk. The specialty boxes were stacked on the highest shelf in the store - not at all reachable -- as if it was just part of inventory (in a Costco kind of way). I had to ask for help to get them down (as tall as I am, I could not even consider trying to grab them myself). Eventually there were two guys helping me on this little project and both shook their heads, "No, no - pas possible (not possible). It's too early for a buche de Noel". I chuckled to myself (if only they knew the sacred Buche would be used as a birthday cake...). I chuckled some more to myself (it's not like it's July or something....it was already the 3rd of December afterall!).

After a bit more talking, and coxing, they eventually agreed to at least try to ring it up to see if it's sell-able. The skeptical clerks went all the way to the other side of the store.....and 20 minutes later I had my answer. With an air of perplexity and disbelief, they said "mais, oui". I could buy it afterall. And let me tell you something......this whole episode that I just described.........it is sooooooo french!

p.s. In case you're wondering, here are the flavors used in my modern take on the classic Buche de Noel: lemon genoise (sponge cake) with a rasberry jelly filling, coated with a layer of chocolate butter cream frosting, that was then coated with a dark chocolate glaçage (layer). And decorated as shown.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Three-in-One Lazer Event - Organized by Bernadette Martin

Last night a private event was held at our apartment for a small group of 10 people. Organized by Bernadette Martin, the evening was called a "Three-in-One Lazer Event". Think "speed dating" but with a business purpose in mind. Which is to say that each of the 10 attendees spent a brief period of time with three different consultants to pick up critical bits of information, or key "take aways", to use corporate-speak. The attendees, all entrepreneurs or highly successful business people, rotated amongst the three following "stations":

Station 1: This station included an assessment of your color profile to determine which are your most complementary colors (and most unflattering colors), tips on your appearance, and a make-up touch up to remove circles under your eyes....so that you would be ready for the next station. Consultant: Cécile Hasroyan, Image Consultant.

Cécile holding up a color swap

Station 2: Professional head shot photo taken (for use in Facebook, LInked In, blogs, websites, bios, etc). Professional photographer: Sue Ryski.

Sue setting up the photo studio (aka, my "arrière cuisine")

Station 3: Coaching on how to write an interesting bio, what purpose it serves, and individual commentary on each person's 1st draft bio that they wrote in advance as "homework" for this workshop. Consultant: Bernadette Martins, Visibility Branding, Career Personal Brand Strategist.

Bernadette's session - writing a bio

All of this was accompanied by some food & drink....supplied by yours truly, served buffet style. There were cherry tomatoes stuffed with guacamole, mini empanadas with chorizo & yellow peppers, warmed medjool dates stuffed with whole almonds with a sprinkle of fleur de sel, whipped feta cheese with roasted red peppers & camembert cheese served with baguettes, verrine mediterranean (roasted tomatoes, goat cheese, and smoked eggplant puréé), skewers of comté-green stuffed olives-proscuitto....and for dessert, a verrine tiramisu (chocolate biscuits, kirsch-soaked cherries & mascarpone cream).

The participants left the evening with a new color palette in mind (or reinforcement that they are using a good one!), a good sense of how to improve their personal bios & how to create a branded bio, and a professional photo downloaded on a USB key. Quite a nice package. And from all indicators, a good night was had by all.

The 2nd session is now scheduled for Thursday December 3th. Price: 130€ per person. Feel free to contact me for more information or you can contact Bernadette Martins, the organizer (www.visibilitybranding.com).


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Message from the Himalayas

I must take a break from all of the activities that have been keeping me away from this blog lately...and share a pure highlight of my day. Today the phone rang, and I answered it without giving it a thought.

Guess who I found on the other end: my sweetie! We could talk for only 2 minutes. The call was barely audible. I heard an echo -- my own voice reverberating....and then his, too....and the awkward pauses that needed to be had as we each tried to catch up with what the other had just said....and trying to squeeze the most in during such a short duration....

I have no idea where he called from - but he had been to 4000 meters and back down to sleep at 3000. So far, no altitude sickness. Even better than that...everyone is doing great! I told him I thought of him every night, alone in bed, all snugly & warm with our down-feather comforter....wondering how he was doing in his sleeping bag in the cold snow....to my surprise, and relief, he said the weather has been not at all cold! That's my 2nd biggest worry you know, that he'll be cold. The first one is not having enough oxygen....

What a great highlight! I wanted to share the word with our family & friends who are wondering how he's doing. It's more than half-way over, his trip there. Less time ahead than behind! To wait, that is.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chips de Banane - Banana Chips

I recently went on a hunt for colombo spice, an exotic-sounding blend used in Caribbean cooking. I was also looking for christophines (commonly referred to as chayottes in Mexico.) This brought me to the 18th arrondissement of Paris where there are a ton of epicerie exotique (literally, this means exotic grocery store). In these stores I found what I was looking for...and then some! Most stores greeted me with an unrecognizable odor until I spotted the open air bins of smoked fish piled high on top of each other or next to each other. I even saw a few bins of whole chickens just sitting there. I didn't get close enough to see if the heads were still there, but I definitely saw some feet....Luckily I saw those chickens at only one store because that kind of scared me. I sure hope they were smoked because they surely were not refrigerated! I also saw several types of vegetables I didn't recognize & other things I had no idea what to do with! I honestly like exploring these kinds of stores. Makes me feel like I'm travelling or something.

Anyway, I digress. It's here that I found plenty of plantain bananas. I brought some home and I made us some banana chips. Mighty good chips, at that. Even my sister-in-law, a doctor specializing in micro nutrition, thought they were good. And she's very picky about what category of food she nourishes her body with. Rightly so. I say, if she likes them, then you might like them, too!

Recipe for 4 people - for an Aperitif or Appetizer

2 plantain bananas (green)
bunch of oil in your fryer
salt & other seasonings of choice (colombo, paprika, pimento, etc)

Basically, peel, cut & fry the bananas. That's really all there is to it. But here are a few photos to further explain...

Use the green plantains for chips. I tried the yellow one, and as you might imagine, it was more ripe (or is it riper...humm...) and therefore it was more difficult to cut & fry.

Peeling these things is the most difficult part. You can see my knife cuts down the length of the banana (they look like black lines). I made the incisions and then removed sections of the peel.

This works pretty well, if I do say so myself.

A raw banana like this is just not edible. Yuk. yuk. You will want to spit it right out. Like someone I know! Very bitter and awful tasting. The texture looks kind of tough & mealy, doesn't it? Well, trust me, it is.

But this is exactly what makes them easy to slice! About 1-2 mm. A mandoline makes this job kids play. Less than 30 seconds to slice a banana. (I love my mandoline!)

Fry at 180°C about 1 minute, or until all of the water is evaporated off & they crisp up.

These are just about done here. After that, just turn out onto a paper towl, season & serve immediately.

They'll be gone in a second...

And for the curious, here's a picture are the "chips" made with the ripe banana (see below). They're actually very, very good. I just wouldn't call them chips because they didn't crisp up like the other one, no matter how long I left it in the hot oil. They turned brown before they wanted to crisp up. Kind of weird. But what happens is this: the sugar from the banana caramelizes & you're left with this really nice, tasty, sweat treat. They might get slightly stuck to your teeth because of all that sugary goodness, but you don't mind because the taste is so sweet & nice! For me, these would be perfect with dessert. Except, despite how enjoyable they are, I'm not inclined to make them again because cutting them was a royal pain. The banana was mush by the time I got 3/4 through. And the slices that I did get through the mandoline stuck together like glue, making them a real pain to get into the fryer. It would be great to find a solution to this problem, but until that happens, I won't be doing these again. Any ideas, anyone?

As for the christophines, well, they got dropped from the menu I was planning (too expensive). But I'm still glad to have looked for them. It led me to discover a new part of Paris I hadn't seen before. I would even say it felt like I wasn't even in Paris anymore! And it certainly led me to these banana chips. A good adventure all around. Enjoy!


Sunday, October 11, 2009

New Cooking Classes & Pastry Classes in Paris - La Cuisine Paris

On October 6th, a new company called La Cuisine Paris (The Kitchen) opened its doors for business. Here's their deal:
  • First & foremost, they offer cooking & pastry lessons to particuliers (non-professionals). Their classes are centered around different themes such as french cuisine, healthy cooking, global cuisine, special holiday cooking, and even non-kitchen topics such as wine tastings. They also offer special-event dinners, and other non-lesson things upon request.
  • They're located in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, near the metro stop Luxumbourg.
  • They've installed 2 stellar kitchens & 1 really great dining room. All done in very good taste. It feels like the designer kitchen & dining room you wish you had at home.
  • They can offer two different classes at a time (the kitchens are side-by-side & separated by a glass wall). The limit is 12 people per class.
  • The company is owned by a couple - he's French and she's an American who also hails from Chicago! They left their corporate jobs to start this adventure. Don't you just love the coincidences!
  • For the month of October, (its first month ever in existence) it's my understanding that they're going to hold the cooking classes no matter how many people sign up. Even if only 1 person registers for a class, the lesson goes on....that's a great deal if you're the attendee! Catch it while you can because the rules might change later or their popularity might take off...
  • Almost all lessons are given in french, but about once a week there's an class given in english. The website is only in french for the moment, but you'll find a little english.
So, why am I telling you all of this? Besides being food- & cooking-related, the real reason is because I'll be giving some lessons there this month! Yes, those English-based lessons would be the ones I'm giving.

My first class is scheduled for October 15th. It's a 2 hour session on Mediterranean tapas (warmed hummus with tomate confite, whipped feta cheese with roasted red peppers, coriander & spinach falafel with a harissa sauce, and chorizo empanadas). Another class is is set for October 21st - it's a 3 hour lesson on American cooking (think high-end hamburgers with foie gras, fries, and a caramelized apple cheesecake). A Halloween-themed cookie-making & cookie-decorating lesson is also scheduled on October 28th - labelled as patisserie pour enfants, but kids of all ages are welcome!

Anyone interested in taking cooking or pastry lessons in Paris should consider La Cuisine Paris....and please be sure to let them know I referred you there!


La Cuisine Paris
89, rue Saint Michel
75005 Paris



Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Pastry Class: Road Trip Cookies (Biscuits aux M&Ms)

A friend of mine recently left Paris to seek the greener pastures of food tourism (or I should say to go study those greener pastures). Amongst other impacts, this left an empty spot at the Centre Vercingétorix where she taught pastry class on Saturdays. Whereas I'd have preferred that she stayed in Paris, if she had to leave and if her old job needed to be filled, I was glad she offered my name as her replacement.

Now it's my turn to teach pastry class at the Centre Vercingétorix in the 14th arrondissement. There are 12 students. They simply want to learn more about making pastries, desserts and sweets things. It's nothing high strung - nothing requiring students to be perfectionists....it's a community center offering classes to residents of the city. Key words here include conviviality...fun...and pastry. I like those words!

For last week's class, I opted for a simple & manageable idea: cookies. We are, after all, still getting acclimated to the kitchen, its limited amenities & to each other! The class was divided into three groups, each with a different recipe in hand (two American & one French). See if you can pick out the French cookie (!) - the choices are: chocolate chip, sablé chocolat, and Road Trip Cookies. Gee I wonder...

Everyone in the class liked all three recipes, but it was unanimous - the favorite was the Road Trip cookie, which I'm loosely translating to Biscuits aux M&Ms....or Biscuits de la route, if you prefer! Because of its popularity that day, I thought it would be a good recipe to post. Hope you like it.

Adapted from the Cookbook: Death by Chocolate - Cookies
Author: Marcel Desaulniers (Despite the rather french sounding name, he is an American chef and part-owner of The Trellis Restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia).

Ingredients - for 55 small cookies

chocolate bar, (64% cocoa minimum) 170 g
flour (2 ½ cups) 340 g
baking soda (1 tsp) 6 g
salt ( ½ tsp) 6 g
granulated sugar (¾ cup) 160 g
dark brown sugar (¾ cup) 160 g
butter, room temp (¼ lb) 115 g
eggs (jumbo) 2
vanilla extract (2 tsp) 15 g
Peanut M&Ms* 200 g

1st step. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie**. Set aside.

2nd step. Weigh out the flour, baking soda & salt. Sift them & set aside.

3rd step. Weigh the sugars (granulated & brown) and the butter in a big bowl. Beat with a hand mixer until creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix well. Add the vanill & the melted chocolate & stir to incorporate.

4th step. Add the dry ingredients (from the 2nd step) to the wet ingredients (of the 3rd step) and stir with a wooden spoon. Form the dough into balls and let rest in the fridge at least 30 minutes.

5th step. Cook the cookies in a pre-heated oven at 175°C for 11 - 13 minutes on prepared cookie sheets (with parchment paper, Silpat or greased). Remove to cooling rack.

* the original recipe calls for 1 1/2 cup of peanut M&Ms. I used only a cup, or about 200g. I thought it was plenty of peanut, but feel free to add more than my suggested amount!
** bain marie = pan of simmering water over which you place a bowl for melting the chocolate. The water should not boil. The choclate melts faster when broken into pieces first.



Monday, September 28, 2009

New Patisserie Shop in Paris - Philippe Conticini

A new pâtisserie shop opened this month in the 7th arrondissement of Paris - on rue du Bac - called La Pâtisserie de Rêves par Philippe Conticini. This is no ordinary pastry shop. And one that I could definitely dream about!

This pastry shop is elegant, fun, creative, welcoming...and its pastries are superbe. Most of what they sell are the classics (brioche, Saint Honoré, Paris-Brest, Kouign Amann, madeleines, tart tartin, etc), however, these classics are cleverly re-visited.

Brioche Feuilletée

Deciding what to order here was unusually easy for me on my visit there last Saturday. Although I went into sensory overload just by being there (I absolutely love this kind of thing!), the selection is rather limited. And quite frankly, I prefer it that way! (Who likes going to a restaurant with a hundred things on their menu anyway?). However, I also think the way the pastries are displayed makes it easier to decide. Instead of the usual long glass display cases, they use rather demure bee-hive like glass canapes to show case their products. It's very design. Very cool. And very accessible because you can actually walk around it to see! As silly as that may seem, normally, you wait in line & nudge forward seeing a little at a time until the clerk gets to you....and you may not have had a chance to see everything yet!

And surely, my choice was made easy because I immediately spotted one of my favorite patisseries: une tarte au citron meringué (lemon meringue tart). So I inevitably had to try it ("market research", you know!). An order taker greeted me to take my order. I ordered. I went in line with my ticket. I paid, and my (designer) box of goodies was ready before I knew it. Very efficient. Having someone take your order like this is also novel for Paris....times they are a changing!

Absolutely, positively, the most géant madeleines I have ever seen!

Everything is cleverly color coordinated - from the paint on the wall, to the employee uniforms, and to the packaging. This all contributes to its "special experience" feeling. It is quite apparent that a lot of planning has gone into such a concept. I so appreciate seeing such things - it's forward thinking and modern. Bravo to the chef and his team! I can't wait to go back. I will warn you though - it's not cheap. I would also add that it's worth every cent, considering the artisinal quality and creativity behind its products. Definitively worth a drop in, or even a trip there. Enjoy!

La Pâtisserie des Rêves par Philippe Conticini
93, rue du Bac
75007 Paris
telephone: +33 (0)1 42 84 00 82


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Macaron Caramel au Beurre Salé

OK everyone, here it is. I'm sharing my recipe for Macaron Caramel au Beurre Salé. FINALLY! It is absolutely, without a doubt, my favorite flavor. The recipe is my adaptation - based on two very good sources: (1) The Pierre Hermé Macaron book, and (2) Chef Thierry Jamard, our pastry chef teacher at Ecole Ferrandi. Without further adieu, here we go:

But wait, what is a Macaron anyway?
I somehow feel a need to answer this question first! Not everyone knows what a macaron is, right? How to explain? Well, it's a specialty cookie that apparently has roots in Italy but it is definitely a "Paris thing", and the macaron madness is quickly spreading around the world. Simply put, it is a small round almond cookie sandwich with a filling (often a ganache, but confitures and other fillings can be used, such as caramel butter cream which is explained here). The original macaron is small in size, but they can also be made large, stuffed with fruit and used in a multitude of ways. And a french macaron is not to be confused with what we call in the States a macarOON (the latter being the coconut cookie).

This is a macaron...
And now, let's get started.

List of special materials & ingredients you need:
  1. Piping bag & tip size 11 mm
  2. Copper pan or other solid pan for making a good caramel
  3. A Kitchen Aid or other mixer. This piece of equipment will get you the most professional results, but good old-fashioned whisking will do as a substitute (be prepared for an intense work-out!).
  4. Poudre d'amande (ground almonds) - you can't make these without it.
  5. A tamis, or sift, for sifting the ground almonds & powdered sugar.
  6. The cookies themselves are colored and flavored with two ingredients: yellow food color and coffee extract. If you can't buy the coffe extract, I would take a couple of double espressos & reduce it until it's thickened. Then, it's "winging it" as far as quantity goes. You can do without these, of course, and end up with a nice macaron but the color will be dull and that "je ne sais quoi" taste will be missing (the coffee enhances the caramel but you don't taste it per se...)
  7. Thermometer

There are 3 parts to this recipe: The cookie, the filling, the assembly. You can do these in stages over a couple of days, if you don't feel like spending 2-3 hours at a time to do it all at once. Yes, these are labor intensive & time consuming...but oooohhhh so worth it!

Yield: 70 - 90 macarons (depending on the size you make)

The Cookie Recipe & Instructions

I've also broken down the cookie recipe into 3 parts:
Part A - Almonds & Egg Whites
Part B - The Italian Meringue
Part C - Mixing A+B and Cooking the cookies

Mis-en-Place: (1) Line cookie sheet with either parchment paper or Silpat, (2) Put piping tip into piping bag (3) Pre-heat oven to 180°C.

Part A - Almonds & Egg Whites
300 g ground almonds
300g powdered sugar
Sift these & put into a large bowl. Mix well. Set aside.

110g egg whites
15 g yellow food color
15 g coffee extract
Weigh & stir these in another bowl. Set aside & proceed to Part B.

Part B - The Italian Meringue
300g sugar (castor)
75g water
90 g egg whites

Weigh the whites into the bowl of your KitchenAid with whisk attachment. Heat sugar & water in a pan ultimately to 118°C. However, when the temp reaches 115°C, you will turn on your KitchenAid to start whisking the whites on medium speed. When you reach 118°C back in the pan, the whites should be at a medium peak stage. S-l-o-w-l-y (I mean slowly!) pour the hot sugar/water mixture into the bowl of the KitchenAid while it is whisking. Continue whisking until the temperature comes down to 50°C. While the KitchenAid is mixing proceed to Part C.

Italien Meringue at 50°C

Part C - Mixing A+B & Cooking them

From Part A, add your egg whites to the ground almond & powdered sugar bowl & stir.

Once the Italian Meringue from Part B is ready, fold it gently into the mixture from Part A (shown above). Put into a piping bag & pipe out small circles (not too close because they spread a little while cooking). You can cook them immediately 12-14 minutes. Remove to cooling rack. Can be frozen like this for later use. The size of my cooked cookie is between 3.5-4cm (around 1.5 inches).

The Filling Recipe & Instructions

Mis-en-place: (1) Put tip into piping bag, (2) Take butter & cream cheese out of the fridge hours before you will use them for the filling.

300 g castor sugar (or as fine as you have), weighed directly into copper pan
335 g crème liquide (called whipping cream in the USA), weighed directly in another pan
65 g beurre demi-sel (salted butter)
170g regular butter
120g cream cheese (Philedelphia)
  1. Make a good caramel with the first 3 ingredients: caramelize the sugar "dry", ie, pour about 50g of sugar into a copper pan (or other pan) & heat until completely melted. It'll turn a light brown color. Add another dose of 50g sugar & stir with a wood spoon (or heat-proof spoon) until melted. Repeat until all of the sugar is used. Careful not to overcook & burn the caramel -- it happens fast. For beginners, I think it's best to take it slowly & to cook on lower heat. It takes longer to do but it's almost fail-proof this way. And you need to stay at the stove the entire time...it's too sensitive.

  2. Towards end of the caramel cooking, heat the cream to a boil.

  3. Remove pan with caramel from the heat & add the butter, taking care not to get burned from any bubbling projections that may arise here. (Seriously.) Add the hot whipping cream & stir. (Again,be careful - it gets bubbly). Put back on stove & heat to 108°C. Pour into a flat pan (brownie sheet or something like this). Let cool slightly & then put a layer of film on top of the caramel & let cool completely; put in fridge until it is cold, or store in fridge until ready to use.

    Pouring cream into caramel...and taking a picture at the same time...what I won't do for you guys!

  4. Weigh softened butter & cream cheese in the bowl of your KitchenAid with whisk attachment. Whisk on med speed 4-8 minutes. The texture will become light & fluffy yet will hold its form. The butter lightens in color. Add half the caramel & whisk until incorporated. Add the rest of the caramel & whisk. Careful not to over whisk it.

  5. Immediately put the filling into piping bag with tip #11. Either use immediately or refrigerate for later use.

The Assembly

Mis en place: (1) If you have stored the caramel butter cream filling in the fridge, bring it to almost room temperature before using (1-2 hours).

Now, the fun part! Pipe a generous amount of the caramel butter cream filling into one cookie (the inside part). Top with the other cookie shell.

The assembly is the best part, because after that, it's time to test...

Just as it should be: a cookie with a slight hardness that gives into a moistness, with an explosion of caramel in the middle. Enjoy!


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Culinary Arts Schools & Career Changing

Here is the 3rd and last installment of the series of posts about cooking school in Paris and the culinary arts. See post #1 for a description of the full time programs I attended. See post # 2 for a review of Ferrandi & how I chose to go there.

Q: I'm considering making a career change also....how's it going for you? Are you glad you did it?

A: I feel very fortunate to have the ability to follow my dream. I'm still extremely glad I did it, 3 years into it. However, it is really hard work!!! This is a profession where you are on your feet all day, there's lots of heat at the stove, lots of pots & pans clanging away in the kitchen, and lots of cleaning up. So, forget the glamorous image that celebrity chefs can give...in reality, you're gonna sweat & run around a lot!

Another factor to consider is age. It's recognized that this is a "young persons profession"....it's very true. The average age of the people preparing food in fine restaurants is probably around 25 (and generally under 30), if I took a guess. So, have I experienced any age discrimination? Well, maybe. It's hard to say. A lot of people find it curious that I wanted to start this in my 40s, and they think that maybe I won't have the stamina for it (but they don't know the genes I inherited from the Rabideau-Manderfield clan where working like a dog is considered normal!)... I know that others seem to think it's almost courageous (their words, not mine) to do this at my age. My point is this: age is a factor in this game....just like Lance Armstrong is considered ancient for Le Tour de France at the age of, OMG, 37! Just like Nadia Comminich was done with her gymnastics career at something like 30! (Anyone remember Nadia?) Obviously, there are exceptions and some "old" people do just fine, and maybe even great. I'm just saying that don't have rose-colored glasses on if you're considering making a career change at the age of 40, 45, or 50....Make sure you're fit, it helps if you're athletic & coordinated (yes hand-eye coordination is important here as well), and don't even consider it if you have joint pains already!

Here's something else to consider: working in a restaurant kitchen is still a male-dominated profession. (Here in France, that is...I have no idea what it's like in the U.S. since I never worked there in this profession!). The number of male chefs far outweighs the number of female chefs...which means you can run into lots of testosterone, ego...and such. So be ready for some hot tempers. I was told once by someone I was trying to get hired by, 'women cooks are just plain calmer'. I think this loosely sums up what I'm trying to say about a kitchen full of guys.... Please understand that this is a general point that I'm trying to make. I did have one male chef welcome the idea of having a female enter the kitchen as he thought it'd change the dynamics nicely...which I suppose also supports the general point I am trying to make here!

Another point of consideration: I would add that it's not an easy profession to learn because the training format is very much in the style of military training. It's hierarchical, male-based (still), and there's little room for opinion when you are a student. That's OK if you understand that this is only a temporary stage....of learning. While working in a restaurant as an intern, I had a sous-chef (2nd in command) explain to me, "I must be critical of everything because this is the only way people improve". (OK, but did he also need to display signs of a stark, raving-mad lunatic, at times??!!) Yes, working in a kitchen can feel like a "negative reinforcement" environment instead of "postive reinforcement" one. If you're not used to that, it will crack you in a second. Having thick skin will carry you far! Or you must quickly learn to get thick skin to stay sane! I guess there are enough reality cooking shows on tv now to give you an idea of the stress that can exist in the kitchen...

Final point to consider: the starting pay is virtually minimum wage. The working hours in a restaurant are very long (typically double shift services from 8ish in the morning until midnight or beyond, with a short 1.5-2 hour break before dinner, multiple days in a row). It's a lot of work, for little financial reward (initially anyway....I guess there's always hope to become the next Charlie Trotter...).

Wow, there are a lot of not so nice things here. Well, trust me, there are also some really great things...otherwise I would've gone back to the office by now. I simply wanted to share with you a slice of reality that I didn't have available to me at the time I was considering a career change. Sure, I did my research, but I didn't really understand what I was getting into until I got there & experienced it first-hand. Therefore, I thought I'd write about it with the hopes that it helps someone else better understand the game. And therefore, play the game better.


After - Pommes Anna

Let me finish the question with the things I love about this profession....I love learning how to handle "raw materials", be it celeriac, a whole fish, artichokes, a rack of lamb....etc, etc. I love learning which cooking technique is best for which cuts of meats or ingredients. I love demystifying french cuisine, which appears at first glance to be snobbish at its base, but it turns out to be very approachable (hearth & home). I love learning to respect the codification of the french cooking techniques & all the prior generations who figured these things out & documented it. These are the starting blocks of countless other world cuisines. I love the challenge of putting together a well-balanced menu (tastes, textures, nutrition, portion sizes, colors, etc). I love trying which wines taste best with what menu. I love what food represents -- it represents bringing people together, no matter what culture you are from. It represents tradition and the passing down of information from generation to generation. It also represents taking the old & mixing the new. It means playing around in the kitchen trying to figure out why something works or doesn't. I love building on what I've learned or tasted and trying to come up with my own twist on it. I love reading what others are doing because it's constantly evolving and ever-changing. I love to see the free spirit of american cooking and I also love the long held traditions of french cooking. I see a place for both of these esprit. Sometimes together on the same plate! I love the fact that this is a life-long learning profession....there is absolutely something new to learn each day...I love to see reactions on people's faces when they taste something good....and I also love to see people's reactions when I can demystify the techniques ("is that all there is to it?? This is so good...and that's all it takes"? some will say!) - I love that! I love working with generous people & generally speaking, people working to prepare food for others will tend to do it from their heart. OK, getting back to the question. It's a tough road, but the rewards can be rich. So, the answer is yes, yes & yes!

Must end on a sweet note....wasabi & white chocolate ice cream, pistachio & strawberries, by Chef William Ledeui (Ze Kitchen Gallerie, 75006)


Monday, September 7, 2009

Michel Bras & Omnivore New York

"Cooking is the fulfillment of oneself, to share."

"To cook is to put your heart into your work quite simply: beautiful products, perfect cooking, delicate seasoning. One or more guests invited, and you are on your way. How I love the food born of emotion that has more to do with love than science." Michel Bras.

A rich sentiment. No surprise. It comes from one of the world's greatest contemporary french chefs.

For the full article, click here.

Michel Bras will be a guest chef at the Omnivore New York food festival starting September 13th. Yes, it's the same Omnivore group as Deauville (OFF4). This time they are co-sponsoring an event in New York. It's the first time that Omnivore is reaching over the Atlantic. Bravo!

Wish I could go....to either Laguiole or New York! And I hope to hear back from anyone lucky enough to have the chance...

Related links:
Michel Bras (a great website)
FIAF - Omnivore New York

Credit for pictures above:
Michel Bras website.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sheila Lukins

I'm saddened to hear the news that Sheila Lukins has passed away this week at the age of 66. She was diagnosed with brain cancer in June. And three short months later, that's it, she's gone.

Her book, "The New Basics Cookbook" influenced me immensely. This book was a collaboration between her and Julee Rosso back in the late 80s. They also worked together on "The Silver Palate", which sits on my shelf as well. I didn't get into Betty Crocker (was it too sterile or too old fashioned?...already too industrialized??), and I didn't have access to Julia Child's book....but my sister Fran discovered this (substantial) treasure & shared it with the family.

"The New Basics" helped get me started in entertaining & cooking adventures. It nicely unveiled its mysteries. It made obscure ingredients & party planning accessible, even in my 20s when I had no idea what I was doing! To boot, it's an entertaining read. How often did I sit down with that book simply to read it? And guess what, there are no pictures!! Unheard of in a cookbook, isn't it? As you can see, it has some drawings instead that I understand Sheila Lukins did herself.

My first beet purée came from it, to the initial horror of my parents when I decided to bring it to a Thanksgiving dinner that included screaming toddlers who were more content to be flinging food around than tasting it! (Luckily, no disasters, even with the white carpet/white walls in the dining room...). My first ginger pork loin & spring risotto came from there. In fact, a lot of firsts came to me from this book. I think this is the most used cookbook I own. Just look at the state it's in. I do take care of it, but it's gotten a lot of use! A bit frazzled around the edges. Definitely in need of a re-binding. And full of scribbled notes. I wouldn't trade it for anything!

Isn't it true that authors or artists can influence you but you may never know the creator first-hand? Yet it feels like I know Sheila...through her work. I feel like she was my first cooking teacher after I moved out on my own...(besides mom who I called often). To this day, I go to that book to seek inspiration. And for that, I will always remember her, and say my secret thanks...because, even if she was still with us, she would not necessarily know I felt this way. But what a a sign of a great teacher.... those who create and share and encourage....with the hopes that it inspires others...to step out & try new things....