Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Man In the Machine VS the Machine In the Man

* Caution:Rambling rant to follow.

Why is Canada so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to cell phone service?

Today as I was in mid conversation with my mom, my phone cut off. A message received afterwards informed me I had run out of minutes. No warning, nothing. 

Off to find more minutes. The first 2 places I asked didn’t sell “pay as you go” minutes. The third place sold them, but the girl first directed me to gift phone cards, then to international calling cards before she figured out what I was really asking for.

Once we had established exactly what I wanted, I put $40 dollars on my phone. This amount will only last a month, as opposed to six in Turkey and Taiwan, but ok fine, I’ll be sure to use up the minutes.

I dial the number on the receipt, and a machine comes on the line welcoming me and informing me her name is Melanie.

What? Why do I have to know the machine’s name? How silly!  It’s not a person, just a voice! There’s no brain connected to the voice and I resent the time she takes up with her quirky little Palin-esque “I’m gonna be askin’ ya a few questions today”. She finally gets around to asking me for my 4-digit PIN.

Why does everything in this country require a freaking PIN?

I come home, dig through all my papers and come up with the phone’s original receipt and the PIN and call the line again.  Melanie comes back on the line and goes through her tiresome spiel - again.

Finally Melanie asks for my PIN, I punch it into the keypad. She pauses and then goes on to tell me that I have 10 cents in my account, and that that 10 cents is valid for another 300 days! (Do I need to know this? There’s another number to call for this information. What a waste of time!)

Now Melanie wants to know if I want to add money to my account. (Isn’t this the number one calls to add money to their account?)

“YES!” I snap at Melanie.

Will you be using “pay as you go” or a credit card?

“Pay as you go”.

“I’m sorry I didn’t quite catch that, did you say “pay as you go?”


Now she wants that 14-digit number on the bill. I say the numbers clearly, she says, “ I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that, can you say the number again for me?”

I punch the numbers into the keypad.

Melanie says, “Ok, just let me confirm that number with you, was that number 9205....” and repeats the number back to me. “Is that correct?”

“YES!” I yell into the phone.

“Your new balance is forty dollars and ten cents, and is valid for 30 days from today. When you are finished your call you can simply say Goodbye or stay…”

What a ridiculous system. In Turkey you simply punch in * 122 * and your 14-digit number, and send. Five seconds later they send you a confirmation SMS. Done. Easy as pie.

This process was over 5 minutes of aggravation and tested my patience immensely. And I’m a patient person. (Really!)

When we lost our luggage coming through Chicago last Christmas we had a similar voice on the line, although this time it was male. “I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do for ya” and “Can you do something for me? Could you punch in your claim number now?”

When that failed I was forwarded onto a woman in Bangalore, who continued with her fake American accent and out of place idioms, (If you could just hold tight a sec, I’ll bring your data up ASAP!).

You know what would make me happy? I just want machines to be machines and people to be people. Why can’t the cell phone provider have a voice that simply says, “Enter your PIN now” and “Enter your number now”, or even better, install the efficient SMS system the rest of the world uses.

And why can’t the woman in Bangalore, just be a woman from Bangalore?

My best experience with an info line occurred when setting up “automatic payment” with my bank a few years back. The gentleman on the line was obviously Indian and giving me the standard company lines.

“Just hold tight while I update your info”, he parroted.
There was a pause.
“So…. Where are you?” I asked.
“I’m in Bangalore, Madam” he replied.
“Bangalore! I was in Bangalore two months ago.”
“Really? Did you like our city?”
“To be honest, I only changed trains at the station.”
“Oh Madam! You must come back! Bangalore is a beautiful city! My home! It's called the city of gardens you know! Why didn't you stay longer?”
We went on to have a much more enjoyable exchange and the tedious task of sorting out those annoying PINs became almost pleasant.

And when he finally wished me a good day and said “thanks for calling” at the end of our business, I actually felt he really meant it! 

Friday, February 26, 2010

Day 39: All Day Brunch!

Artichoke "benny"

Today's theme was brunch and we ate like kings! (And queens!) The day was fairly nice, being Friday and all.

In the morning, a classmate gave an interesting presentation on coffee.

Things I learned about coffee that I didn't know before, (and maybe you didn't either!)

 - You know when you see the words "Arabica" and "Robusta" on coffee labels? What does that mean? Robusta is a misleading name because it sounds like "robust", but they come from completely different trees.  Fast growing trees that survive anywhere! In contrast, Arabica beans come from slow growing trees that need specific conditions to grow successfully. Arabica is the higher quality bean, so that's the one to choose!

 - The big difference between medium and dark roast is, (not surprisingly) the taste. Medium roasted beans will reflect the taste of the region they were grown in, like wine. Dark roasted beans are caramelized deeper, therefore the flavours will homogenize and so most dark roasts taste alike. Wanna be a coffee connoisseur? Stick with medium roast Arabica!

- Also, there's slightly more caffeine in medium roasts, good thing to know on Monday morning.

Ricotta stuffed french toast
We cut rounds out of pannatone we made the day before 
and stuffed them with sweetened ricotta cheese, 
(that we also made the day before). 
The sauce is mixed berries, sugar, balsamic vinegar 
and a touch of  course pepper. Yes really, pepper.

English muffins - hard as rocks

On the food front, the French toast and artichoke benny were big winners, the English muffins need another chance, although I liked how we "baked" them on the underside of our cast iron grill pans. 

I didn't get the chance to work a lot with my partner this week due to the mid-term exams, but I really liked the way he worked. He was the kind of partner you could bounce ideas and questions off easily. I know he's a strong student, but his humbleness and humility was quite refreshing. I also like someone who works hard to get work done, and this guy was no slacker!

The course takes a bit of a shift next week, it's Italian week! 

But thats next week, the Olympics end this weekend and I'm planning to get out and about a bit tomorrow.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Scrambled eggs on toast 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Day 38: Failure and Success

I was exhausted last night. I came home, curled up in a little ball on my bed and fell into a coma. All the stress of the last two days gone, I finally dreamed about something other than school.

We had a bit of a make up exam today, each student was given a list of things to cook, some people had to re-do dishes from yesterday, I got a whole new dish; chicken broth with spinach chiffonade and tomato concasse, the exact things I'd been criticized on the day before. It went well, and I was able to add a few more points to a score I was already happy with.

I was really shocked to get my written test back, In my mind, I told myself I'd be happy with 80%, but I got 94! (Huh??)

When we got to the last page, the one with the "chicken and no oven" question, Chef T called attention to my contraption and that I had even drawn a picture. "What did you put your chicken on again? Was it a broomstick?" Not quite, but I noticed I got full marks on the question anyway!

Can you read what the chefs wrote to the right in red? 
The top word says "sneaky?" the bottom says "smart".

In my eyes, I've had a successful week, but other people who have done even better are still beating themselves up over their marks.

Success, failure, it's all relative. I know 8 weeks ago I couldn't even cut flour properly. Perhaps I put less pressure on myself because I'm not planning to "cook" when I finish. (Hello! It doesn't pay enough!) Or maybe because I'm older and I've been through failure, many times, and I've realized, I didn't die, I'm still here.

In fact, most of my best stories stem from some failure on my part; failure to catch a plane, failure to understand someone, failure to pick the right boyfriend or failure to properly pick thyme leaves off stems.

I have a new outlook on failure these days, and my sister will attest to the fact that whenever we really screw something up, one of us will say, "Well, at least we have a story to tell!"

And that's how you turn failure into success!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Day 37: Practical Exam

Before I left for school today, I carefully pinned and a Turkish evil eye to the inside of my uniform. 

When I was a teacher in Taiwan, I brought back evil eye bracelets for all the kids in my class as a souvenir from Turkey. To keep it simple, so they could understand, I simply told the students, they were "lucky". 

On exam day, every student wore their bracelet! One even wrote me to say he wore his for his Senior High Exams years later, that it had always brought him luck. 

Yesterday after the written exam, I returned to my room and looked over the four lists of items I had the chance of getting. Fish, chicken, quiche and consomme were the main components. I wet through each list and wrote up a game plan for each, starting at 1:00 and ending at 2:55. Between these two times I obsessed over the order of things, and tried to keep two or three balls in the air at once. I worked up the lists, re-worked them and finally outlined the places where I was likely to fall down, (serve soup piping hot!)

Sitting back upon completing these lists I looked at them realistically. I had my time planned out in 2, 5 and 10 minute increments for two hours. If I took too long on any of these tasks, my plan would be shot. There was a slim chance I was going to come in one time.

I wanted the consomme. Badly. I had done it a few times already, and felt very confident with it. I'd also nailed profiteroles a few times at home. I was rock steady with this list.

Next most desirable was trout. I can fillet one of those little guys in a few seconds! Pan searing is equally fast! The only tricky part would be the saffron velouté sauce, which is not so difficult, just a step up from a béchamel.

Next was the quiche; tedious in its multiple little steps. Make the pastry, let it rest, roll it out, let it rest. Coupled with quiche was cream of broccoli soup, lots of chopping and simmering, blending and reheating; and be careful you don't overdo it, or your soup will turn that crappy grey colour! Plus there was no "wiggle room" on this list, in the others I felt there was about 10 minutes leeway. On this list there was zero.

Lastly was the chicken. I have only de-boned one and a half chickens in my life, so I wasn't that comfortable with it, and this chicken was paired with a chasseur (mushroom) sauce that took a lot of steps, careful reducing and picky knife cuts. We did it once in the second week. Eons ago! Praying for a "pass" on this one.

Arriving at school, I walked out on the floor. On the demo tables were 6 blue trays, each filled with the main ingredients we'd need, and our marking sheet laid on top. Under the sheet I spied broccoli.


I sat and tried to clear my head. What's the flaky pastry ratio? How many eggs per liter for a custard? How much dairy? The answers were there somewhere.

My 2 hours went surprisingly smoothly. My soup remained bright green, my hollandaise didn't split and my quiche set perfectly. I nailed every single time on my game plan, which is still shocking to me. At one point I even got ahead! I actually finished five minutes early! I was the first one.

But I will say my hands shook throughout the first hour. And there was a moment where I started slicing veg that had me panicked. Chef T said, the "student with the sharpest knife always finishes on time", I'm sure he was speaking metaphorically, but I sharpened my knife to a razor's edge the night before. When I sliced into my veg and the knife hit the cutting board, it grabbed a bit. It felt different. My first thought was, "Oh my God! What have I done to my knife?!" But then I remembered this is how it felt on day one, when I first took the cover off it and began cutting flour.

I knew things were wrong though, my small diced potatoes were not exactly square, (due to shaking hands), I blanched my spinach when I didn't have to, and that made it very difficult to chiffonade it, (it just turned into spinach confetti).

I set my big tray of finished food on the demo counter for marking and retreated into dishwashing. I took a long time for Chef C to come around.

A few surprises! I got 10 out of 10 on my cream soup. This is really ironic as I was given chicken stock to make it with! I'd taste it and spit it out.

My quiche got high marks as well, but they would have liked more tomato.

My hollandaise did not split at anytime, I have made exactly 3 batches of hollandaise in my life and none has ever split. (Touch wood!)

But that small dice. Ugh!

Over all, my mark was 85%. In the 6 year history of the school, only 4 students have ever got over 90%, so I'm happy. Chef C confirmed, "you had a good day today".

But many people didn't have a good day. There were a few long faces and even a few tears at the end of the day. I saw deadlines whoosh by my classmates by as they struggled to finish their lists.

I came home and slept 2 hours, totally exhausted.  As I told Chef C, outside of my first time teaching a class, this is the most nerve-wracking thing I've ever had to do.

I'm so glad it's over.

Answer To Yesterday's Exam Question

There are many ways to skin a cat. A few friends who read this blog have come up with some really good ideas, better than the "real" answer, in my opinion.

My answer was to poach the little guy till the meat was cooked through, and then using an elaborate system of stock pots filled with water and a spider with a long handle, I built a rotisserie over a burner. My answer even had diagrams, arrows and schematic drawings! When I was done, I took one look at it and started laughing! It was totally ridiculous!

The answer my classmates  said was passed to them was:
 - steam the bird in a steamer till it was cooked
 - smear the oil over the outside of the bird
 - crisp the skin using one of those mini-torches they use to caramelize sugar on creme brulé and caramelized bananas.

Easy! Logical! But not as entertaining.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day 36: Exam Question

I wrote the written mid-term exam today. A challenging 12-pager full of recipes and methodologies!

I think I did ok, I know I missed a question about duck confit and at least one math question, (probably more - come on! It's math!)

But the most interesting question came on the back page. It was a "what would you do if...." question.

I don't feel bad about publishing it here because a) no one from school reads this blog and b) I found out post-exam that an alumni at one of the restaurants we observe at already filled 2 people in on this question weeks ago!

Here it is -

You work in a kitchen where the ovens are not working. But the cook-top is working and you have access to all the equipment and tools in the kitchen. You only have a 10 pound turkey and 2.5 tablespoons of oil. In 2.5 hours, how will you cook this turkey?

Note - the skin must be crispy!

Think on it - correct answer, (and my answer) tomorrow!

Last minute tips from the Chefs

Monday, February 22, 2010

Day 35: Halfway Point

Two of the 4 lists of food. 
We will be assigned a list minutes before we begin to cook.

This week marks the halfway point of our course. Gosh! We have come a long way in 8 weeks!

Today we did a practice run. With my group we ran through several dishes and products that we will be expected to produce on the midterm practical exam. Our group of four pushed hard, helped each other a lot and finished on time. Which is a miracle. Really. Out of the 7 stations only 3 finished on time. 

I'm still scratching my head over how I made such a kick-ass hollandaise, I got 9/10 on it. It's my second time to make the stuff. Can I do it again on Wednesday? 

I like my stove this week, I'm with 3 boys, one from England, one from Russia and the other from Mexico. We have to listen hard to understand each other, but I feel at home with them!

Sadly, our group won't spend too much time together though - tomorrow is a 3-hour written exam followed by the practical on Wednesday. (I go in the afternoon and get 2 hours at the station on my own to complete the list of dishes.) Thursday is the day we'll try to make up marks by re-doing whatever we screwed up on Wednesday.

So off to study pig and cow anatomy,  methodology and food costing. Right about now I'm wishing I could remember more from my biology, chemistry and math classes!

The other two lists. Wish me luck!
I am hoping to get the trout or the consommé. Fingers crossed!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Day 34: Week Seven Drain

Today wraps up seven weeks of classes. I'm starting to feel my energy lag. There are frustrating days, (today was one) and good days. There's a lot of talent in our class so the energy is high, but day after day, week after week of churning out food is pretty draining. 

We only produce 4 or 5 dishes a day, but we are totally in the dark about what exactly we're making until it starts to come together. Usually we only get a list of ingredients, but no instructions on how it goes together. Sometimes we're shown, sometimes we're only told what to do. It's very easy to stumble and fall if you don't do your readings, listen carefully and keep your logic and wits about you. 

This week I watched a classmate struggle with a weak partner and I felt her frustration mixed with my own trepidation as I haven't been partnered with that person yet, but probably will be at some point. How will I cope? Some weeks I feel strong, but other weeks I feel like I'm running in place. Up and down like a roller coaster. 

And just as I'm coming off a down week, I write an exam and score 96%.  Whoosh! Back up again!

We celebrated this week by meeting at the local watering-hole for a few beers after class where I learned things about my classmates outside of class. One classmate just broke up with his fiancee, an overseas student loves Canada because there's no history to depress him, a student gambled at a casino last night and lost $400, another is in love with Miami.

This next week will be the most challenging yet. It's mid-term exam week. More written exams and the dreaded practical exam, where we'll be given a list of items to prepare and a two-hour time limit to get them all done and presented at the table for the Chefs to critique. The Chefs mark hard, and Thursday is already reserved for make-up exams.

This weekend will be full of review; quiche, profiteroles, crepes and velouté sauce followed by baguettes, hollandaise sauce, knife cuts and chicken and fish processing. 
But first things first - I'm sleeping in tomorrow!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day 33: Thanks Jonny!

From the back, this is what happens 
when you finely julienne and deep-fry leeks,
 beets, carrots and red pepper.

Today in class we continued our vegetarian week. At the end of a lecture we were about to go and make three separate dishes when the chef asked if there were any questions.

I raised my hand.

"Chef, I'm looking over the recipe for tapenade here and from what I've learned if you don't add brandy to your tapenade then you're just making an olive paste."

You see, my friend Jonny is a stickler for proper techniques and ingredients, and nothing makes him more irate than when recipes are compromised and passed off as the real thing, (well.... except maybe Beerport). Tapenade is one of those recipes.

The Chef smiled and shook his finger at me. "Watch this one! She's gonna make us bring out the expensive stuff! Where's the brandy?! I know we don't have the traditional Marc brandy, but there's gotta be something!"

The booze cabinet was searched and  a few minutes later a dribble of brandy was added to every batch of tapenade, transforming it from "olive paste" to proper  tapenade.

Thank-you Jonny!

Squash Gnocci  with Stuffed Tomato

Aranchini and Zucchini Linguini!
(Was this named by the slap-chop guy??)

Sometimes the Chefs give us ingredients 
and ask us to "play" within a limited time period. 
This dish had to incorporate squash, spinach and a grain. 

So this is an orange and nutmeg flavoured squash,
 quinoa and spinach tienne. Sounds strange, but tasted Ok! 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Day (31 and) 32: Hippie food at last!

Quinoa salad! Thumbs up!

Finally after weeks and weeks of meat, we move into veggies and grains.  Many of us had been looking forward to this for weeks, tired of slicing and dicing various animals.

Tuesday morning we set right into a discussion on nutrition. Chef T mentioned that there will be two people coming around to speak to us in the coming weeks; Chef I, who is into sustainable organic farming, and a woman who teaches nutrition to kids in schools. I'm totally excited about doing some work with both of them!

From there we moved into cooking with all sorts of grains and legumes - kasha, lentils, quinoa, chickpeas, bulgur and wheat berries were just the tip of the iceberg. We made some spicy fried chickpeas which reminded me of bar nuts in Istanbul, and a pilaf dish with vermicelli  which reminded me of family dinners with the Elias family in Egypt.

Chickpeas in back, pilaf in front - both are good!

Probably the most interesting part of the last two days has been a series of debates we've had in class. So far we've had Spices VS Herbs (which are actually more complementary than contrary), and today GMO VS Organic. What a debate! I never knew half of the complexities of  what was presented, and the arguments on both sides are so compelling! Farmed VS wild salmon, organic vs GMO produce - we've covered these topics in depth over the last few weeks.

So a few interesting things I've picked up lately.

 - Bistro is originally a Russian word that means "quick".
- The oil with the highest smoke point is cocoa oil.
 - Quinoa you have to wash well, the seeds have  nasty sap around them on the bush that may not get washed off during the factory cleaning process.
 - The word tamale comes from the word mixtamalization, which is the mixing of foods to bring out complete amino acids.
 - If you boil cauliflower in salted water, it turns slightly yellow. To keep it white, add a bit of vinegar or lemon juice. Same thing with red veggies (cabbage, beets), they'll turn blue without an acid in the water!

Squash Risotto! 

On a more scholarly note, I have midterms next week. I'll receive a list of foods to prepare and a 2.5 time limit to produce them all plus a few samples of our knife cuts and bread making skills. It should be a push, so we'll have to work quickly.

So today we did a trail run on our knife cuts and baguette making techniques. We were scored out of 10 on all of them.

On my small dice, I was horribly disappointed with a score of 5/10. The highest in the class was 7.  I can see exactly where I went wrong, they're slightly too small and not square enough. I have some work to do on this.

On my julienne, I scored 8/10. I completed both these cuts very quickly, so I have time to slow down and take care with these.

I've struggled with my baguettes. They look good going into the oven, but something awful happens to them in there! I was pleased with an 8 out of 10 on mine. This weekend will be a flurry of practice!
I hated this. It's ugly. And it tasted ugly too. 
Beet carpaccio and turned carrots and a walnut feta vinaigrette. 
In the bowl is a veggie terrine that didn't set properly. 
Total fail.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Shangri-la or Hell?

Several events converged on Sunday to make it a day of note. The Olympics, Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day made the kitchen at Shangri-la’s Market restaurant busier than it had ever been since opening day a year ago.

I got there early and was met by the executive sous-chef who gave me the “5-cent-tour”. As we whipped around the kitchen he spoke at breakneck speed. It resembled something right out of a movie.

"This is the pastry section, nothing hits this counter except eggs, flour and sugar, understood?”
“Here we use the 3 sink method, do you know what the three sinks are for?”
“Wash, rinse and sanitize.”
“Yes, but switch that around, the far one is rinse and the closest sanitize.
"You see this yellow line? No one can cross this line unless they’re wearing a hat or hairnet. You gotta hat?”
“Yes Chef.”
“Put it on.”
“Tilt fryer here! Salamander up above! Pastry ovens! Garde Manger! Protein fridge on the left! Everything else fridge on the right! Never touch this slicer! Use the right colour coded cutting boards!”
“Yes Chef.”
“Here’s what I’m going to do Rene. I’m going to give you a station and a green cutting board. I don’t want you to move from that place. You need something? You go and get it and bring it back to your station. This is your space, never leave it. Got it?”
“Got it”
“You need a Chef’s knife, a steel, a paring knife and a peeler. Go.”

I spent the next 5 hours cutting vegetables into 6mm x 6mm squares. A box of peppers, a bin of carrots, a case of celery, a bag of shallots followed by cutting jalepeno peppers and ginger into brunoise, (2mm X 2mm squares.) I cut and cut and cut and cut some more, I hadn’t cut myself, but my fingers started stinging. I filled tub after tub with the little squares. My cuts looked good, but I was aware it was taking a long time.

Finally finished! I was given 2 hotel pans of cooked clams. I was to pick out all the meat and throw out the shells. When I completed that task, I was given what looked like an easy enough job, but turned into the biggest challenge of the night.

“Take this thyme and strip the leaves off the stalks. No woody stems. And fill this bucket.”

I started stripping. Half an hour later the bottom of the bucket was just covered. I picked up the pace.

As I stripped leaves, I started to think about Bulent’s Mom back in Cappadoccia. In the summer she used to harvest the mint when I was there, and we’d sit on a blanket out under a tree and pick the mint leaves from the stalks. It was something she did every time I visited in the summer because it was a tedious, long job and she liked the help. As we picked she’d talk and talk away - in Turkish, and I’d try to follow along, stopping her from time to time to look up words in my Turkish-English dictionary. She talked mostly about her kids and their problems. I learned the words for “lazy husband”, “money problems”, “troublesome kids” and “divorce” from her.

When we were done, my thumbs would be green and smell minty. We’d spread all the mint out on a blanket and let it dry under the harsh Cappadoccia sun. The next day we’d crush it up into a huge mason jar. She used all this mint for “ezo gelin” soup, which happened to be one of my favorites, (especially hers). Usually in the afternoon after we’d crushed, she’d make a big pot of the soup as a reward.

Two hours later my bucket was finally full. My fingers were green, my back and feet were killing me and my head was pounding. I’d had enough. I took my bucket to the Garde Manger (the guy in charge of soups and salads), he took one look at it.

“No, no, no! This is totally wrong! There can be NO stems at all. ONLY leaves. Go back and pick through it again".

I took it back to my station and dumped it out onto the counter and began to pick. And as I did I got angry. I’m smarter than this! This is a complete waste of my time! I didn’t need to pay a whack of cash and go through training to pick miniscule leaves off teeny stems!

Twenty-five minutes into picking, one of the sous-chefs came over and started helping me.

“Our Garde Manger is a bit obsessed with his thyme. I hate to see you pick over this stuff like this. Most of this is just fine so don’t be too picky. If he gives you trouble, tell him it came from me.” He continued to ask about the school and make some small talk and my anger disappeared.

I finally finished this task and left the hotel. I was there 9 hours in total. And I did it for free.

Most of my classmates reported that they had “fun” and they felt “empowered”. I felt angry and annoyed. But then, that’s not what I want to do. I don’t want to work in a big kitchen, and I don’t want to cook that way. I’m much more interested in the writing, photography, advertising, styling and publishing end of food.

If anyone goes to the Shangri-la this weekend: The clam chowder in the restaurant and banquet halls was mostly prepared by me. Please notice the consistency of the cut veg, and please, please take a moment to appreciate those tiny thyme leaves in the chowder!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Day 30: Long weekend!

My sister is in Town! Woo hoo!

And Monday is a holiday for us, (to keep all the terms the same, they need to take 2 extra days during this term as there're no stat holidays).

But I'm heading to the Shangri-la hotel on Sunday evening to do my first "observation", although you don't just observe - they'll be putting me right to work. What'll I do? Dice 20 bags of carrots? Shuck a few dozen oysters? Help on the grill line? I'll know on Sunday!

There should be come cool food  though, as it'll be Valentine's day. Although I'm worried they'll be so busy and I'll just be in the way.

In the meantime, the Olympics are underway!

My 3D holographic Terry Fox didn't light the torch. I was disappointed actually. Why wasn't Rick Hansen involved in the actual torch lighting? Why did VANOC come out and publicly say it wouldn't be Wayne Gretzky, and then it was? And then there was that malfunction at the pinnacle of the torch lighting.  Lots of Drama!

And the Chinese set the bar to impossible levels in Beijing. I watched their opening and closing ceremonies twice!

(Pictures to follow.)

Happy Valentine's Day and Happy Chinese New Year!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Day 29:Olympic Fever!!

Vancouverites are happiest when they're complaining. The weather, taxes, and how much they hate the premier of the province, Gordon Campbell. (Ironically, when I last lived in BC 5 years ago, there was a massive push to recall the election and have him ousted. Five years later, I'm passing posters along the street calling him Gordon "Scambell" and demanding they recall the election and have him ousted.)

The Vancouver Sun published bits and pieces of a 120 page protocol document published by the much reviled VANOC which encouraged people to "wear socks that match your pants, "to "smile gently and with sincerity, (but not too much!)", and to approach foreigners on the street and introduce yourself if you speak their language. 

This lead one guy to twitter, "My socks don't match. Am I still world class?" 

So the Olympics are an easy target, money is going out, and there's no guarantee money will be coming in. The Cowichan sweaters were not made by Cowichan Indians but rather in the USA, and the bouquet the winning athletes receive on the podium will have no flowers grown in BC, but rather Equador, (can you say carbon footprint?). 

But the fact is, the Olympics are here and there's nothing you can do about it now! You might not like it, but you may as well jump in, it's only ever going to happen here once. And that's what most Vancouverites are doing.

So yesterday when we heard the torch relay was going to pass by our school, we wondered if we'd be let out to watch. We were! 

It was grey and drizzly, and I only had my old crappy camera, but this is what I got. 

Easy to see us! We're all in white chef's jackets.
The Korean schoolgirl in front is sporting the coveted 
"red olympic mittens". Is the weather cold enough for mittens? No!
Is it warm enough for schoolgirl miniskirts? No!

Stories about the security for the games are already circulating. 
Tomorrow, spectators for the opening ceremonies must arrive 
at least 5 hours in advance!

The official Olympic Dogs.

Here is the van that carries the torch bearers and the extra flames, 
just in case the Vancouver drizzle puts one out. 

And there she is! (I have no idea who this woman is).

You can see a few of my classmates here, and the flame being 
passed from one torch to another in the center. 
The ladies hugged each other, 
posed for a few photos, and the new one was off with her flame!

The flame then wound its way up to my neighborhood, and passed by Riley Park where Trevor Lindon took over. There was also a rumor that Arnold Schwarzenegger will be running today. 

So the final buzz is all about the lighting of the caldron. Now that Wayne Gretzky has run, many people are disappointed, he was definitely the favorite in the running. 

Nothing about food today. Fish, fish and more fish. Processed two trout and a salmon today. While my filleting skills are improving, I'm so sick of looking at these. 

Day 28: Restaurant Day!

Home late. "Foodies" class tonight + one bottle of wine with Chef T and another volunteer.

Today was our first "Restaurant Day". One of the reasons, I picked the school I did, is because it doesn't have a restaurant. Too many complaints on the Internet about spending so much time setting tables, waiting tables and clearing tables. At our school, we eat everything we produce, which gives us a good indication of where we went wrong, or where we could improve.

My partner and I prepared the "mise en place" for four seperate dishes, slaws, marinades, sauces, salads - all of it. Then, one of the Chefs called out a stove number and two dishes, my partner and I had to prepare our dishes, have them ready at the same time, and present them to the Chefs, who picked over them. While this was happening more dishes were being called. Of the 8 dishes we made today, only one was sent back. It was my fault, I forgot to toss the salad in the dressing! (Oops!) Regardless, we got top marks and were first to receive second orders and first to finish. Whew!

All the dishes that passed inspection were set on this table, 
over 100 dishes were made in 35 minutes!

All the dishes involved some sort of seafood.



Tuna... and a lobster salad up top which
 I didn't get a picture of!

Afterwards Chef T went through an critiqued where we went wrong, and also pointed out which people really got it right. A very positive, empowering feeling!

Then we ate it all. Bon appetit!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Toxic Tomalley

The Chef who gave the lobster demo yesterday was not in this morning, but I asked the other Chef about eating the "toxic tomalley". His reply was..

"No! Don't eat it! I don't eat the livers of any animal anymore, it's the filtering system you know, it takes out everything harmful to you and stows it away! You don't know what animals might be exposed to these days!"

Ugh. Yet ANOTHER example of opposing opinions offered up by the Chefs.

In the culinary world there is a saying, "If you want 6 opinions, ask 2 chefs on 3 different days".

Day 27: Sole Food

Somedays just fly by. 
You're cooking along and you look up and it's 3 o'clock already! 
But that day wasn't today. Today was long. 

And the Chefs let us out way late. 

Today each student filleted 2.5 fish. We did 2 sole and half a snapper each. Filleting fish isn't really difficult, I can see it just requires practice and confidence. Once I've done 10 to 15 fish, I'll be just like those guys in Pike Place Market! (Ok not quite.) 

Sole before

Sole after 
(There are 4 fillets, one piece is on my cutting board.)

We took our sole and snapper and turned them into a few dishes. Here they are in order of how we prepared them, which is also, coincidentally, in the order I liked them.

Big bold flavour in this Sole Cevichi!

Ok, let me remember what's in the cevichi - get ready!

roasted red pepper
jalapeno pepper
tabasco sauce 
cayenne pepper
lime juice
olive oil
salt and pepper

Throw everything into a jar and shake it up.

Sounds hot, right? Well it had some kick, but if you're careful with the hot stuff you can make this South American dish quite mild. This marinade was poured over our cold raw fish and in 15 minutes, it was cooked! (I loved it!)

Really great bouillabaisse with an equally fine chardonnay 
from Sandhill Winery in Osoyoos.

This bouillabaisse is another dead simple recipe which involved throwing everything into a pot, boiling it and serving it. (It contained scallops, clams, trout and snapper.) We served it up with thin baguette slices spread with rouille. (Our rouille was a roasted red pepper puree with herbs, garlic and olive oil. Yummy.)

hmmmmm.... yeah.

Ugh. What to say about this one. To be fair, I couldn't eat all of this as it has chicken stock in the orange and green parts. But look at it! No texture! 1970's "flooding of the plate" styling!

So this is "poached fish filled with carrot mousse sitting in a pool of pea velouté with red pepper brunoise".

The girl next to me summed it up nicely as she finished her fish off, "It's the kind of thing you serve in a hospital to patients who can't have solids".  Another student gave it a one-word review - "Baby food".  

I love fish, but it can be fairly bland. I can think of three fantastic fish dishes I've had off the top of my head, tandoori fish at the Summer Palace in Udaipur, salt-baked fish under the Galata bridge in Istanbul and Thai Town Cuisine's lemon fish in Taipei. (There're more, but that's just off the top of my head.) All three of these dishes had big flavour. They cooked the fish perfectly, but they helped it out a bit with supporting ingredients - like the cevichi. 

The Chefs do have us prepare a lot of food which falls under the category of "Fine Dining". But I'd say I really "enjoy" only about 60% of the dishes we make. For me, there are more exciting dishes out there. One thing I understand is we have reserved some flavours for the Asian and Italian weeks which come in March, so we're shying away from some of those flavours for now.

But it's fun to critique, and it's great to hear what others would do with the same dish. We discussed the poached fish over the table and one student came up with poached fish stuffed with caramelized onions and saffron velouté, (caramelized onions and sole?? I'm not convinced), but the idea is that we're already thinking on how to change and improve on what we've learned. When the Chefs finally set us free to do some menu development, it's going to be interesting! 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Day 26: Lobster Murder

The best way is a fast and decisive stab to the brain and hard cut down through the head.

Rock Lobster

Dungeness Crab 
(He was mean and came without rubber bands on his claws - careful!)

Have you seen Jules and Julia? Jules had a harder time of it than I did. But you are aware that something sits under your hand alive one second, and dead the next. Whether you're stabbing a lobster through the head or dropping a flailing crab in a pot of boiling water, you know that a teeny life is lost in those precious seconds, and you alone are responsible for taking that life away.

Lobster bisque

I didn't expect the lobsters to be so beautiful. When you hold one in your hand and look at it's shell, a whole rainbow of colours can be observed from claw to tail, it reminded me of Japanese raku pottery.

But I killed them anyway. The lobster and the crab, and I ate them too. Both of them. And they tasted good.

Capellini with Crab and Lobster 
(bad picture! It looks very "Chef Boyardee" here, which it wasn't)

I'm learning something about myself. I've never considered myself an adventurous eater, I have two friends, Todd and Scott, who are never afraid to try anything, and they stand out in my mind as adventurous. But not me. But now I'm learning that I am adventurous too. Not to the degree Todd and Scott are, but I have my moments.

We mixed in the lobsters "tomalley" or liver in with the bisque. That turned half the class off right there. But I tried it. I read on the Internet tonight that there's a warning about eating it, as it can have toxins and pollutants built up inside. (Going to ask the Chefs about that one tomorrow!)

Plating the dish.

Crab Cake with Pineapple Salsa

As another costing exercise, we weighed our lobsters before cooking, then we cooked them and cleaned all the meat we could. We then weighed our meat . 

Next, we calculated the cost of buying them whole and the labour we used to clean them, to the cost of the meat we could have bought per kilo . 

Bottom line? If you don't need a whole crab for display purposes, then it's actually cheaper to buy the meat by the kilo! The Chefs only bought whole crabs for us to practice on.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Day 25: Pimped Out Pork & Poultry

Grissini - Italian breadsticks. Totally yummy.

Welcome to Day 25! The day all the products we've
put together this week come back to haunt us.
We started off the day making Grissini, 
Italian breadsticks with rosemary & parmesan. (Recipe later!)

We carefully unwrapped our hunks of meat 
and sliced them with precision. 
Then we glazed them and designed a 
platter and placed them just so. 
These big round lovelies came from the 
cornish game hen picture I posted yesterday!

This is the salmon Roulliade that was poached in plastic wrap. 

A very classy platter put together by a classmate. 
I like this simple design.

....and another. That's liver paté in the endive. 

We assembled our platers and displayed them buffet style, 
then we invited the pastry students to share with us! 
(I wasn't the only one taking pictures!)
Week in Review...

This wasn't an easy week for me. It was pretty demanding in terms of getting huge amounts of work done. You'll recall on Monday morning we were cutting the feet off of our pork, and by Friday the same pork meat was pimped out on silver platters. Lots of organisation and focus was called for. 

I wasn't in a great mood towards the end of the week. The late night with the foodies made me tired and grumpy on Thursday, and by today I was absolutely ready for the weekend. My stove-mates put up with me though, and together we finished the week on a good note.  

Normally next week we'd be moving into grains and vegetables - something the whole class is desperately looking forward to - but because of the Olympics starting on the 15th, the Chefs have decided to switch the next two weeks and we'll be doing seafood this week. (We get everything delivered fresh early in the morning, and we were told that delivery will be pretty unreliable during the Big O.)

So last Monday we butchered half a pig. Next Monday, we'll do in lobsters. 

Until then... the forecast calls for sunny skies this weekend! See you Monday!