Monday, April 26, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Mel and I decided to try our hand at 
cupcakes this week, our first attempt! 

We used the pastry bag and huge tips that came in my NCAV kit and made them work for this project. The icing recipe also came from my NCAV textbook, (hey I paid $100 bucks for it, gotta get some use out of it!) 
The colours are crazy because my 
kitchen is a bleak, fluorescent lit black hole. 

Surprisingly, this was Mel's first and only time to actually pick up a pastry bag and she got the hang of it in  only a few tries! Cake and cookie decorating is only something I did more as a teenager around Christmas, (except this year's gingerbread house), so my skills are rusty but getting better!

Next up....cookies!

Vancouver: The Lookout Tower


A few friends from Istanbul came to town last week and really wanted to see Vancouver from the top of "Vancouver's Lookout Tower", which is a really lame name compared to Seattle's "Space Needle".  Considering Neil Armstrong cut the ribbon and opened the Lookout way back in 1977, it should have a name like the "Astro Tower" or "Sky Point". 

Regardless, I was grateful for an excuse to do something touristy. Here are a few pictures of the city at sunset from way up there. 

Towards Stanley Park - Leaving the exit sign
 was intentional. Really!

Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre, 
notice the lights of the ski hill on the mountains in back.

BC Place or Staples Centre, as it's now called. 
The Canucks are playing there
 for the Stanley Cup playoffs as I write this!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Three Chefs

To wrap up the whole course, 
I feel I have to say something about these guys. 

Our Chefs - who guided us through cutting flour correctly with our brand new, super-sharp knives on day one, to cooking a full four course meal for industry experts four short months later. Here's the proper attention they deserve!

Chef Christophe

He earned the reputation as being the toughest chef. On days Chef Christophe was walking the floor, you stood a little straighter, spoke a little quieter and made sure you used a catch pan! When he observed your stove, sauces split, pots boiled over and your hat mysteriously disappeared. 

Chef Christophe loves to man the pass where we bring our finished plates for inspection. He enjoys jabbing a thermometer into everything to ensure it's food-safe, hovering over the plate looking for fingerprints, and will even check the bottom of plates to ensure they're clean as well. He never misses to point out a mistake, and always pairs his criticism with a fantastically sarcastic comment delivered like only the French can!  We'd sometimes gather after school on bad days and trade the jabs we'd earned, outdoing each other with caustic remarks! 

But we actually really appreciated his comments, and sometimes students would wait for him to critique their dish, even as it sat on the table, getting colder, getting rubbery, because we knew he'd tell it like it is. Praise from this man was well-earned and highly regarded.

Chef Tony

These pictures give you an idea what Chef Tony is like. Full of energy and enthusiasm, it was many student's first contact with the school and Chef T that convinced them this school was for them, (I include myself in that group). 

On cold January mornings, when the sun wasn't up, and according to the drizzle outside, it wouldn't come up - Chef Tony motivated us in a way that is truly remarkable. 
I realised that this guy could motivate anyone the day he gave an early-morning, 20-minute lecture on how to boil an egg, and made us laugh, shake our heads a few times and reconsider the hard-boiled egg as a fine dining ingredient. 

Every Wednesday, I'd watch him show up at 7am and prepare for our class, teach us all day and then teach a "Serious Foodies" class until 10pm with the same energy and intensity. At the end of the night, he'd share a glass of wine with all the volunteers and tell us endearing stories about his Grandma or reminisce fondly about how difficult it was during his first year the school was open and how he slept next to the dryer on a bench mat.

Chef Tony led us through Italy week during the Olympics. While the rest of the world was focused on ice and snow, Chef T pushed us to think of the sunshine and herbs of the south mediterranean. That was the first week we really had the freedom to create some great dishes. He taught us about grains and herbs and thanks to this man, I'll never eat white rice again!

Chef Warren, keeping it together!
Chef Warren is new to teaching, but not new to the Chefs, he was their student years back when they taught at Dubrulle! After a career that has taken him from "Red Lobster" all the way to Executive Sous Chef of the "Taipei American Club", he came to share his knowledge with us.

Where Chef T is the inspiration and Chef C is the discipline, Chef Warren is the practical knowledge. He showed us how to put out fires, fix a split hollandaise and save sauces on their way to burning. He saved our demi-glace during the final by finding scraps of beef when there were none, lent us his own personal tools when we needed them and gave us tips and suggestions to make our service better that only years of experience in the field could offer. His after-school tutelage on knife-cuts and advice to "imagine yourself going though the steps" contributed greatly to my own success.

And if he ever reads this, I'll bet there'll be a tear in his eye!

And this concludes my posts on Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver.

People have asked what I'll blog about next. I have no idea, but a summer full of markets, an up-in-the-air teaching gig back in Abu Dhabi and some plans taking shape for September will surely give me some good material.

So stay tuned....

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Graduation Day! At Last!

Friday morning, we donned our uniforms as a a group for the last time and headed to a nearby church for a few formalities, some food and a lot of pictures.

The man who did us proud in more ways than one. 
KK, our valedictorian and top student, delivered 
the speech we knew only he could. 
He made us laugh and (one of us) cry, as he summed up our 
last 4 months with grace, humor and insight. 
Three students I loved working with! 
The banquet we prepared the day before.
Including Carla's Special Banquet Rice!
Hunter poses with some of the "little ones".
My partner for the last three weeks, the "yang" to my "yin"! 
The best partner one could hope for!
And our Chefs who made it all possible.
What a team! More on them later...

...the morning after.

The morning after the night before, we dragged out burned and beaten bodies onto the floor one last time. This time to set the kitchen back to the moment we arrived 4 months ago. We scoured the burnt caramelized sugar off the inside and outside of the cookware, we picked clear-meat out from between the cracks, and we scrubbed the grease out of the hoods one last time. 

When we were done, the kitchen stood ready for the next class. Somewhere out there, there are 26 people excited and nervous people who most likely aren't thinking about us, but we were definitely thinking about them. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Best Menu and Feedback Ever!

Best menu design ever! 
Courtesy of Bowes' cool girlfriend, Rachelle!
The best menu feedback ever!  
Courtesy of Ella's cool boyfriend Chris!

Day 70: The Big Night

The final night set up.
I usually include a lot of pictures of food in this blog, but tonight, food takes a back seat. This blog is about the people who make it happen - my classmates.

3 out of 5 of our stove members 
with our mentor, Chef Warren just before final service.

Amy wrote "success" and "victory" on each member 
of our stove for good luck!
Pre-service confidence!
Last minute chiffonade!
The Guest Judges arrive and watch our every move....
....while banquet prepares the graduation dishes!
Service begins! My team in action.... focused, they never even noticed I took these pictures.
Chef C mans the pass with his terminator vision 
and trusty thermometer, nothing substandard gets past him, 
especially split beurre blanc!

Relief!! It's all over but the dishes.
Big shots finish the night back at Barneys...
...with tequila. Of course. Thanks KK!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Day 69: Final Practical Exam Day 2

Morning prep begins at 8am, here our classmate who 
came to us all the way from South Africa is 
making cones for chocolate writing.

Second restaurant day today. I can't say the last 2 days have gone smoothly, but they weren't total disasters either. In fact, each day that goes by, my team of five gets better and  better. I know I still make a lot of mistakes, and I could still make better choices, (especially when it comes to choosing the right tool for the job), but we are all slowly getting better. Here is our day today in pictures. 

Setting the table for our guests.

Last minute instructions for the servers.
(Yes that is the same girl in all three pictures!)

On the line! 
My stove-mate plates up our quail appetizer...

... and another partner steps in with the sauce.

Another stove's cream soup.

Our consomme. 
That's a little rice paper bag of brunoise veg. This presentation
 got good comments from our guests.

Pear 3-ways! (Next stove's dessert.)

Our dessert just before going to the pass. 
I swore at this dessert all morning, it 
worked out (mostly) in the end, but this 
was a challenge to put together.
 It's delicious though, my classmate 
Tristan gets all the kudos for inventing it..

So tomorrow is it! The culmination of the last four months, there will be a bigger, longer service and a few of our guests will be chefs from some of the busiest kitchens and catering companies in the city who will give us 20% of our final grades.

I'll be leaving my team of five to take my turn on the banquet team, and although it's a little disappointing that I won't be on the line -  I'm also happy, because I really need a break. My hands and arms are all blistered up from various burns from working the stove, and I think I might be developing tendonitis in my right wrist.  I'm also hoping that being on banquet will allow me to take more pictures.

It's a cliché but - I really can't believe it's almost over.