Thursday, July 29, 2010


Eggs. The perfect food is what the ads say. I have cooked eggs most of my adult life. I'm 61. Today we cooked eggs; over easy, a French Omelet, an American Omelet and Eggs Benedict. Obviously with poached eggs. Chef demonstrated how to cook eggs over easy. I told myself, "Don't waste my time". Then I paid more attention to the demo of omelets and poached eggs as I don't do these very often. Off to our stations to do eggs.

I set out to do the over easy first. Get it out of the way, sort of. Two eggs in, let coagulate and get ready to go to flip my eggs, broken yoke. No problem, just need a little more clarified butter in the pan. Two eggs in, let coagulate, flip the eggs, too browned. Two eggs in, let coagulate, flip the eggs, broke the yoke. Twelve eggs later, I'm crying uncle. Chef Wang tells me he'll work with me on my over easy eggs after class. I readily agree.

Omelets, and Eggs Benedict go well. Fluffy, no browning, trifold for the French omelet, folded in half for the American omelet stuffed with saute mushrooms and cheddar cheese and my Eggs Benedict were perfect.

Eggs over easy? I really like my eggs Basted.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

At's Italian

Pasta! I can remember my mom's mom making homemade pasta for lasagna. When we were at my aunts house, she, along with my aunt, would make Ravioli. Great childhood memories.

Today we made pasta. One pound of bread flour, 5 eggs, some olive oil and salt. Made the mound of flour. Made the well inside the mound, put the eggs, oil and salt in and did our thing. It was glorious. Kneaded the pasta dough. Cover and let stand for about 45 minutes and then rolled it out and made fettucini. Then I made some Alfredo sauce that was nice and nape(napee) with fresh garlic and parmesan cheese. Topped with parsley and then I ate it all.

God it was great!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Now I'm Cooking!

Yesterday I wrote about how weird pressure can be. Little did I know.

I got to class later than normal. I had arranged a field trip for another class and met my ServSafe Chef, Chef Haines at Arrowhead Water, my old company, to tour the facility. But it took a bit longer than usual, so I was running a bit behind. Walking up a moving escalator at my last train stop, I tripped and gouged open my thumb at the base of my right hand. No sweat, but a little blood. I'll use a band-aide and glove up during my cooking. I get to class 5 minutes before the test starts. I get all my stuff (mize en place) and start par-boiling the carrots that I have to Tourney for the Glazed Carrots I mentioned yesterday. I'm in a groove and trimming my last carrot when the carrot slips out of my hand and the paring knife goes halfway into my left thumb. No sweat but lots of blood. I have to get another bandage and re-glove both hands and wait for the bleeding to stop which takes about 15 minutes. Now Chef Wang is feeling a bit sorry for me and gives me an extra 5 minutes to make my window for presentation. BullSh*t! I say to myself, I'm making that window. And I did, but my carrots were a bit under cooked. Still three more entrées to make.

The Green Beans and Roasted Peppers come off without a hitch. I make that window too. I get the rice pilaf going and start to rice my potato for Potato Duchesses and I'm doing really well. Next dish up is the pilaf. I take it out of the oven, I burned the heck out of it. Damn! Someone asks me a question as I'm reaching down to pick up the pan I just took out of a 350 oven, I burned my left palm. Damn, Damn! I present about 2 tablespoons of rice which is supposed to be 1/2 cup. Damn! Last up, the Potatoes Duchesses. Mashed potatoes piped out of pastry bag into little star shapes and browned in the oven. I take them out of the oven with two minutes to spare, plate them and they come out PERFECT!

The final tally reads; four entrées done on time, one burnt, one undercooked, two perfect. A gouged right thumb, a cut left thumb and a burned palm.

After the practical, Chef Wang comes to check on my thumb. I tell him it doesn't hurt, but the burn on my palm is really stinging. He laughs! "Now you know you're cooking".

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pressure is wierd

I can make dinner for two, or six and sometimes at Christmas, twelve. I can do this with an ease and usually the food comes out just like I want it to. In fact, people I cook for tell me this is restaurant quality. So why is it when I cook one portion of a simple dish, really, how hard are glazed carrots, I sweat a bunch and over salt and under sugar or cook too long or not long enough. It's pressure.

Pressure to make the grade. Look good in the eyes of Chef Wang, my instructor. By the way, this is self-imposed pressure. Probably the worse kind. In sports, it's called choking. In culinary we don't call it choking, that's not a good visual, it's called getting lost in the weeds. I mentioned this before in an earlier blog.

So tomorrow, I have another cooking practical. Four dishes, three are relatively easy, to make in like 2 and 1/2 hours; Green Beens and Roasted Red Peppers with Bacon, Rice Pilaf, Glazed Carrots with Parsley and Duchesse Potatoes. I am refusing to put pressure on myself. There, I said it.

Now, no choking!


Some losses are tougher than others. Since I started school, I have lost about 6 towels, a measuring cup. I have lost my golf game. I simply don't have the time to practice, much less play golf, since I started school. I have lost the opportunity to watch some of my favorite TV shows as I do about 4 hours of homework nightly and my DVR collection is mounting to the point I feel I'll never catch up. These are not earth shattering or gut wrenching.

Friday I attended a service of a former co-worker and friend of mine named Rob Humphreys. His son Dallas, all of 12 years old, lost his battle with leukemia and and was laid to rest at Forest Lawn in Cypress. I can think of no greater loss than this. In his short twelve years, he affected the lives of countless kids and adults with his easy charm and radiant smile. I always felt as a parent, the most you can hope for is that your kids can make a positive change in someone's life or to the community at large. At his service, I feel that Dallas did indeed accomplish this feat. Hundreds attended to celebrate his all too short a life and grieve with Rob and Hollye in placing Dallas to rest.

Dallas will be missed more that I could ever imagine.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Just along for the Ride!

Since I started school, I have been commuting on the light rail system here in LA. For $36 a month, I take the Blue Line from Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles. There, I transfer to the Red Line that takes me to Hollywood and Vine Street. Home of dreams. Seems simple enough. Ah, but let me continue.

The train messages come in two languages, English and Spanish. The signs on the trains are in English and Spanish. Who needs Rosetta Stone? The Blue Line travels through, probably, the toughest areas in all of Los Angeles. Compton, Watts, South Central and the lower section of downtown LA. All types of folks, all ethnic types are represented. Old, young, very young, homeless, students, gang bangers, tagger's and graffiti artists as well as a few everyday working types. Then there are the pan handlers, preachers, bike riders, and the con artist doing shell games for $20. That guy is a scream. People selling water, sodas, candy, flowers, bracelets and freeloaders getting bounced off the trains by the Sheriff's Dept. Never a dull moment on this line.

Then there is the Red Line. More working types on this line. Now that it's summer, I see many tourists as well as Hollywood starlet want-a-be's with tattoos', piercings and women's outfits that would make most men go....well let's just say it's revealing what's revealed.

Me? I'm in a chef's outfit that gets many looks and a few questions. "Are you on Top Chef"? Nope, I'm just here for the ride!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What a difference a Day Makes

Flying high in April and shot down in May.

Risotto! The bane of every culinary student. That hard long bit of arborio rice that needs to be cooked with liquid till almost dry, more liquid added till almost dry. Still more liquid added till almost dry. Add some cheese, salt to taste and you have either a sticky, gummy, gooey mass of rice OR something you can break your teeth on. You see more Risotto menu items in restaurants than just about anything. In case you didn't know, Risotto is a cooking method, not a type of rice. Now you know!

Mine sucked. I had a combination of both bad results. Gooey with cheese and under cooked. Hey, Rome wasn't build in a day. And, Risotto takes practice. So, tomorrow I'll stay after class and work on it some more.

To be honest, they have some good frozen Risotto at Trader Joe's.

Monday, July 19, 2010


Our soup practical was today, I mentioned it my last blog. Consomme and New England Clam Chowder. As far apart in the soup world as you can get. Ultra clear beef broth that uses a technique called CLEARMEAT, served hot in a hot bowl compared to a bechamel style soup with lots of chunks, bits and pieces of stuff. Maybe not the most appetizing way to describe soups, but you get what I mean.

We have to make windows, a restaurant term, when we present anything to the chefs to grade. Nowhere does 11:15 look like 11:30, but there I was 15 minutes early. Sent back sulking to my station to try and keep my chowder for 15 minutes without the clams getting chewy. So picky, these chefs. Finally get it up there, get the review and promptly turned and dump my chowder on the floor. I felt like Charlie Brown, Aaarrrrggghhh!

Consomme takes a long time to clarify thru the CLEARMEAT. I open a small window in the raft that is the CLEARMEAT and start to ladle out the broth thru 4 layers of cheesecloth. Season with salt and warm my bowl to serve it. I taste it and it tastes like cloves. I had put two cloves in my CLEARMEAT and I was tasting cloves. Oh well, at least it was clear as could be. I drop off my Consomme one minute from the window close and walk away as he has about six in front of me. One of the students tells me that when the chef tasted my Consomme, he said, "Oh Wow!" I'm figuring it was the extra clove I put in and was expecting to hear about it.

He calls me up after class, tells me he has a friend who is opening up a restaurant in Santa Monica, a Tapas bar, and he is looking for students to work. Two days a week. I tell him I'd love the opportunity, not really, so I say sure. He will put my name on top of the list to be considered. Wow. Then he says my Consomme was the best in the class.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

The space and font thing!

When you start something new, like learning a new technique or an entire new way of doing something you have done very well before, their seems to be a time when nothing works. The new ways just don't make sense, so you try and go back to what you know, knowing that isn't what you're suppose to be doing, because you are spending all this money to learn something new, and the chef's are not going to let you get away with it even if your old way works. It's frustrating and discouraging.

The chefs warn us about this. It's like when you hear about the star athlete moving up to a higher level of competition and everything is going so fast, they just can't seem to adapt to the different pace they find themselves in. I find myself there at this point in time. Not that I'm a star cook, but it's the analogy I can relate to. So here is what I did. I re-wrote my template for the prep sheets we use to make our new dishes. I made the font bigger and bold. I doubled space and spelled out each technique so I could read it and understand it at a glance. I tried to make it fool proof.

Monday, I have a Consomme and Clam Chowder practical exam. We'll see if this fool can adapt to his new space and font thing.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Soup lovers usually agree, Consomme' is one of the least found soups. The clear broth with not more in it than a few julienne carrots or some fine noodles is only found at high end, fine dining establishments. After making it, I can understand why. My God, what a pain in the A.. to make. If you want to know more about making Consomme' then Google "Clearmeat". If that doesn't put you off this clear broth, nothing else will.

On the other hand, we have French Onion soup. We made that too. The two are the extremes in soup making. French Onion was the soup of the poor. After Bastille Day, peasants could only afford onions and some beef stock. So French Onion soup was the soup du jour. Every day. For a long time.

I once offered French Onion soup to our friends Linda and JC, they live in France and JC is a native Frenchman. They politely declined. I made Mushroom soup.

We haven't made that in class yet!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Question Redoux - Stock vs Broth

I'm reading more about soups and broths and come to find out that broth is not just a seasoned stock. My mistake. Broth is made from meats or vegetables. Because no bones are used, the stock is richer in gelatin, and therefore better in sauces. But, because stocks are not seasoned, broths have a more pronounced flavor than stocks and are better in soups. All this by reading chapter 9 in my Professional Cooking book, by Wayne Gisslen. If you bought it by the pound, it would cost several hundred dollars.

The book, not the broth!

Also, we had practical tests this week. Got a 97% on my written, product ID and knife cuts. I got an 80% on my sauce practical. However, my chef actually paid me a compliment today. I failed to make a Bearnaise sauce because I had run out of shallot and did not want to make a sauce I knew was incomplete. He told me I should have made it anyway, during school, and present something. But what he said later made me feel good. "I know you are not a flake and I know you want to learn, it doesn't have to be perfect for me to evaluate. But, I can't evaluate a dish you don't present."

That made me feel good!


We're practicing our sauces. The most troublesome are the butter sauces. It's not that they are the most taxing, or that using butter, egg yokes and cream is all bad. I gotta tell you, the toughest ingredient to get off pots, pans, tools, cutting boards or anything is butter. We all have kitchen duties and we rotate each day. One day sweeping, next day picking up the pantry area. Yesterday, I was on sink detail. Cleaning 30 pots of butter sauce, I was in a grease nightmare.

Where's Olivia Newton John when you need her?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Culinary and Coach Wooden

Monday, we had four sauces demo' for us and then we had to go and make them. That's four sauces simultaneously. We had to mize en place for each sauce, ingredients and equipment. Moving quickly to acquire everything you need, dealing with 20 other students who were on the same mission and not sure where everything was meant one thing, "stress". That night, we had to prepare for our first written test, put together our time lines and prep sheets for sauces we were going to make in preparation for our sauce practical final on Wednesday and outline everything we had learned in our first 5 days. Again, more STRESS!

So I'm driving home from Smart and Final, because I bought my own prep bowls, so I won't have to go looking for them at school and I pass a sign at one our neighborhood churches going down Wardlow Rd. It simply read;
"Be quick, but don't hurry" J. Wooden.

Now I am not a religious person, but that was the best sign at a church I have ever read.

This early AM, I wrote my outline. At the same time, that was studying for the test. Actually, it was one in the same.

Be quick, but don't hurry.

Thank you Coach Wooden!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Making Sauce by Can

Friday we made tomato sauce. One of the five leading sauces. This isn't like the tomato sauce my mom made. She browned a 7 bone roast and threw in pork chop or two. My mom was Italian and always said, "you browned the meat until there was no more liquid in the pot." And, to the best I can remember, maybe used canned tomato paste, just a spoonful, plus canned tomatoes and tomato sauce from Hunt's, usually. And, cooked it for an eternity. People raved about my moms tomato sauce. We called it spaghetti sauce.

The classic Tomato Sauce is a bit different. We render some salt pork, add a mira poix of onion and carrot, dice up canned tomatoes, add canned tomato puree, add pork neck bones, sachet of garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf and thyme, bring it to a simmer and stir it once in a while for 1 to 2 hours. Put it through a food mill, then season with salt and sugar. We only had an hour, so that's where it ended. Mine needed more sugar. The salt was good.

So you might be asking yourself, what's the difference between the two? Well, it's not what's different so much, Le Cordon Bleu uses canned tomatoes!

Who knew my mom was so classical in her tomato sauce making?

Friday, July 9, 2010

I get questions

I got a question today, from my sister, about stock. If stock is made from bones and broth is made from meat, how is vegetable stock made?

So I went to explain that broth is just a seasoned stock and that bones could have nothing and everything to do with making stock. But you don't have to have bones to make a stock. Vegetables, a sachet of herbs and spices in water make a stock.

Then she questioned me again.
Well on they said that broth is made from meats.

So I again explained that in the classical sense, broth is a seasoned stock. And it doesn't matter if it's made from meat or bones or whatever.

Then she said she didn't want to 'steer' me wrong. Just wanted to know what bones were in vegetables?

I'm glad she lives in Yakima!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Day 2 Roux

So yesterday, I was in the weeds. Today, not so much. Although we get enough homework to choke a sous chef, it felt good to be back into a groove. We got to "make" chicken stock and the three types of Roux. Roux, you have all heard of it. Fat and flour. Two nutrious ingredients that every growing person needs. Equal parts of each to thicken a sauce. There are actually three kinds of roux. White; not cooked too long but has the best thickening power. Used in Bechamel.
Then there is blond; nutty in flavor and color, used in a Veloute sauce. And then brown, used in gumbo. So there you have the three roux's and what they're used for. We got to make them and tomorrow we get to use them in sauces we're making.

This just keeps getting better and better.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Foundations II (mise en place)

After 10 days off we were back at it on Tuesday. This time it's different. I have to admit, there was a comfort in just listening, observing and taking notes. There is an expression in a kitchen when your are lost and not organized. It's called "in the weeds". First day back and I felt in the weeds. The only way to get out is to be organized, listen and not be running around like a stewing chicken without a head. How is that done? It's called Mise en place, or everthing in place. From our uniform to our tools, anything out of place and you're in the weeds. A small bit not organized snowballs exponentially until you're completely lost.

The good news, every Chef has felt this. It's about the learning to get us out of the weeds and back to mise en place.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Grillin' for the Fourth or Not!

During the cooking techniques in Les Cussions discussed last month by our Chef Brown, he talked about the difference between Grilling and BBQ. I didn't know this difference and maybe some you don't either. So I'll explain.

Grilling is a direct heat cooking method in an open environment. BBQ is an in-direct cooking method in a closed environment. We grill hot dogs, burgers and steaks. But we BBQ ribs, chicken and brisket. Sometimes we do a combination of the two methods.

So you may be asking yourself, why would I now discuss this after the Fourth of July? Well, as I have found out, it's never too late to learn something new. Besides, there is a lot more of both to be done this summer and, if you're invited over for a BBQ and the host is doing steaks, you can now enlighten them on your expert knowledge.

Just make sure it's after he has grilled your steak. Nobody likes a know-it-all!

Viva la difference!