Tuesday, March 29, 2011

My Journey - Your Journey

I was asked my opinion of one time cooking classes versus the expense of going to a culinary school?

Culinary schools are expensive.  Learning about the culinary world is fascinating and it opens many avenues for people to explore.  Its about the why's of cooking that a culinary education teaches.  My last chef instructor said it best, "The hispanics who never went to a culinary school who cook in restaurants will cook circles around a culinary graduate.  But, they don't know the why's about the tasks they do. They are shown the task and they repeat it."  Grilling a pork chop is easy, understanding how to use that pork to make Thai cuisine is not.

Cooking classes are fun.  Learning how to make a sauce or how to make bread are fun things to learn.  And, at $75 a pop, not too expensive.  However, they don't build on a foundation.  You are shown how to do a task and you repeat what you are taught, much like the untrained hispanic cooks in restaurants.  My journey in culinary started there, in cooking classes.  No pun intended, it was a layer in the onion that exposed me to wanting to learn  more.  I wanted more of the "why's" answered.

A great book to read to get this perspective is "Medium Raw" by Anthony Bourdain.  One of the chapters, "So you wanna be a Chef", explores just this question.  (note, I had my title of chef wannaB long before I read this book).  It gives great examples and insights about this and many more culinary tidbits.

So my opinion about cooking classes is; take them.  If that's what you want, take the classes.  But ask questions.  Just don't keep nodding to what your told to do.  Talk to the chef instructors after class.  Get the why's!  Get their insight on this seemingly simple question.

I hope Your Journey will be as fun as My Journey.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Sunday, Chris and I went to a new Farmers Market just a stones throw away from our house.  It's there every Sunday.  It wasn't there before I went to Italy.  These markets are fun and can have some amazing food, snacks, vegetables, honey and 100 other assorted items.  I read an article in "bon appetit" about roasting root vegetables.  I got radishes, golden beets and Yukon gold potatoes and roasted them with a free range chicken.  Tossed in a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and enjoyed them ever so much.

Sunday Dinner
We also went for a late breakfast at the Village Cafe.  It's a local hangout that could easily be on Drive-ins, Diners and Dives.  It was packed as usual with about 12 people waiting outside for a table.  I went in and the counter was empty.  I could not believe my eyes.  Nobody wanted to sit at the counter.  Lucky for us.  I guess some folks don't want to see how their food is cooked.  Well, I do.  We conversed with the cooks and watched them do magic with eggs, fried potatoes and breakfast meats.  It's not rocket science, but great to watch.

If ever that opportunity presents itself to you, I recommend you seat yourself at the counter and enjoy the show.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Looking for the next Journey

Yesterday I went to a job interview.  It was a very, very strange to do this.  When I left Arrowhead Water, I tried for 16 months to get a job interviews in logistics or warehouse management.  I had one interview in all that time.  You get out of practice.  When culinary school came along I told myself, "This is just for me, I'm not going to work in the industry".  Well, never say never.  I won't know the result for a few days.  The Executive Chef was very young,  but I could feel he had a very good grasp of what he wanted to do at the galley he oversaw.  I say galley as he is the chef at a private yacht club here in Long Beach.   I took some chocolate covered candied orange peels I had made and gave to him to try.  That's something you really can't do looking for a job in a warehouse.  Some may call it a bribe, I prefer to call it a resume.

If you ever decide to go to culinary school or work in the culinary industry, you should know two things.  One, it is very hard work and two, it pays next to nothing to start.  Paying $25K to $50K to go to school to start out making $10 or $12 bucks an hour is something they tell you before you start school.  So why do it?

People gotta eat!  And, you get to meet people like Tyler or work at a private yacht club.  Not everything is about money.  Sometimes, its about finding the next journey.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Getting Pissed and Taxes

Got our taxes done today and then talked to our accountant for about an hour on, what else, cooking.  Seems he likes to cook, but has troubles with a few of the mother sauces.  Like Hollandaise for example.  Well, I could have told him that Hollandaise is a bitch of a sauce to make and besides its full of just about everything that's bad for you.  But, then he told me he likes everything that is classically French, like butter, cream, eggs and fat.  Why have a tablespoon when a pint is so much better, he said.  When I said that Europeans usually take hours to eat and really only have one big meal per day, he kind of scoffed and said, "if I don't have the dinner check in my hand in 45 minutes, I go nuts."  Very typical for most Americans.  The lengthy meals and just the one big meal per day is the one of the reasons most Europeans are not obese.   Plus fast food in Europe is not as big as it is here.  At least not yet.

Speaking of fast food;
Last night I watched Food Inc.  If you have not seen this documentary film or read Fast Food Nation, then I would say you need to watch the movie or read the book.  Maybe not do both however.  You will then be really pissed off like I was when I did both.   Every chapter of Fast Food Nation made be more angry than the previous one.  But I couldn't put it down.  Food Inc. is not a great movie.  But, it conveys the message very well.  Companies like Cargil, Nestle, Swift and McDonalds control what you and I eat.  They buy up any competition.  They control how workers are trained and paid.  Controlling how food factories (NOT FARMS) must raise their stock. How they are made to upgrade these factories that continually keep them in debt and in line for the companies purpose.   How E-coli viruses, once very rare, are now widespread and the culprits go unpunished because the people who oversee the food industry in Washington have come from the same industry that they are paid to oversee.  Then do nothing to the offenders.   It really was unsettling and it made me angry.

So, I was pissed off but I did get a refund.  The American Way!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pork Belly and Jackson Brown

Chris and I purchased tickets to see Jackson Brown in an acoustic performance here in L.B.  We went to one of our favorite restaurants, Delius, before hand and I had Crispy Pork Belly.  Now if you never have tried this somewhat disgusting sounding dish, I can only say you are missing out on one of the truly wonderful tastes in all of culinary.  Asian in its influence, the tidbits of pork melt in your mouth.  Having just read "The Last Chinese Chef" while in Italy, Asian cooks seem to relish how fat plays on the tongue.  Next time out, give it a try.   I promise you won't be disappointed.  Delius does a great job of pairing it with scorched hot peppers, cucumbers and a honey glaze...Sweet, spicy and umami.  Three of the five taste senses all in one dish.  Mmmmmm!

Oh, Jackson Brown was good.  I have to admit, what was billed as an intimate evening with Jackson Brown became a yell fest with concert goers screaming out songs for him to sing and then yelling and whistling during the song to hear their own loud, shrilled voice in an otherwise quite setting.  Not what I had hoped for.

Guess I'm getting old.  I like to hear the music at concerts, not rude concert goers.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Retirement for Donna & St Paddy's Day

Last week, my good friend Donna retired after 35+ years at Arrowhead (now Nestle) Water.  We worked together for many years but my last two years we traveled and worked closely to ghether learning and doing SAP training.  Two great things about working with Donna were these; she loved to eat great food and she loved to drink good wine.  Maybe not in that order, but you get the drift.  Me going to culinary school and writing about it was like her going to wine appreciation school, and...drinking the wine.  Her party was at the venerable steak house called Dal Rae's in Whittier, Ca.  An old-school place with red naugahyde booths and great martini's.   Filet with peppercorns, huge baked potato and green beans actually cooked perfectly.  Donna's husband, also named Tom, works for Chimney Rock Winery in Napa and brought the wine.  Also on the menu were two other items, a Baked Sea Bass and a Salmon dish.  I always find it curious when people order seafood at a steak place and visa versa.  Why?

Saturday night was the Orange Country Fire Authority's annual St. Patrick's Day party featuring their Pipe and Drum Corp.  Four other pipes and drummers from Cleveland, Boston, NY and Tacoma, Wa, plus Irish Dancers and Finnians Irish Rock Band.  All we needed was Bono to show up.  Corn Beef and Cabbage plus free beer supplied by (what-else?) Firehouse Brewery.  Lets see, bagpipes, free food (with a donation), drums, dancing, music and free alcohol.  A firefighter's dream come true.  Had their been a fire in the kitchen, it would have been nirvana for them brave and fun people.

Mi familia.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I'm Baaack!

Ok, as things pop up that are culinary related, I will relay them on to you all.  During my externship, we are asked to fill out a survey regarding Le Cordon Bleu.  Here are the two questions they asked.

1. How likely are you to recommend attending Le Cordon Bleu to a friend or colleague? 

(0=Not at all likely; 10=Extremely likely) 10 and 9 are good scores > I gave it a 5

2. What is the most important reason why you gave this score?  > There were several, but most of my response concerned what I seemed a lack of maintaining professional standards with students who missed class, didn't follow instruction and were disruptive in class.  If you read any of my class time blogs, you may remember the burned pot incident.  I also felt that getting students thru the program, i.e., completion percentage was the culprit behind some of the latitude given to those and it sort of pissed me off that it was allowed to go on.  Since I asked to be contacted regarding my answer, I went up to Hollywood campus and spoke with Chef Storms, the dean up there.  

He agreed with me.  All  except for the completion percentage thing.  He denied that.  What a shock!  So it was sort of a wasted trip. But, it was good to see Chef's Brown and Toomey, two of my former instructors.  They were excited that I had gone to Italy and wanted to know was I going to move there.   That's up to Chris. (no)

Coincidentally, I also received that same question (#1) from a former co-worker who left Arrowhead and is moving to Seattle to attend a culinary school.   I recommended Le Cordon Bleu over Art Institute of Culinary.  It's less expensive.

I rode the train up to Hollywood.  For old times sake.  Its even a bit more scary later in the morning than I remember.  Plus, being out of chef uniform, I was just a civilian on the metro.  Zuben Mehda was receiving his Star on the Walk of Fame.  Always something going on in Hollywood.