Sunday, April 25, 2010
Let's talk failures, whadya say?
Back in culinary school, I performed the worst in the baking class and the breakfast cookery class; baking because it requires the accurate measuring of each ingredient-for which I have no patience. The other reason? I was a pitiful baker, even before I had a passion for cooking. I had tried breads- hard as rocks; a thin crust pizza that had the crust of a deep dish pizza, watery fruit pies, etc., etc. Why, just last week at work I was asked to bake who knows how many dozens of coconut macaroons-you know those moist and plump cookies? Yeah, mine didn't have those characteristics. In fact they were flat as pancakes. Delicious none the less, but turned out to be more of a coconut crisp.
Okay so in the second class, the dreaded breakfast cookery I was a failure for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it was that we had to show up to class at 3 am. Maybe because I was a Nervous Nelly about egg cookery. Or perhaps it was because the Chef was a very militant Lesbian (Hear me: I have no issues with gay people, some of my favorite friends are gay, I am just PETRIFIED of militant Lesbians!), one who had a reputation- she was known to make students do push ups if they called her "Ma'am" and sent home students if they were ill -prepared for class. She expected us to arrive with all home work (of course), tools (no brainer), recipes written out (why wouldn't I bring my recipes?), a station layout/map (helpful), an equipment list (again, sure, helpful), and a description of the criteria of each food item to be made at our station (a little bit crazy), and everyone else's station(are you out of your mind?). If you got sent home not only were YOU screwed, so was your partner and everyone else in the class because they were expected to jump in and help the one person station. Hence, why she wanted us all to be aware of every one's station. This woman terrified me.
Everyday, we entered the kitchen running. We had some time to prep for our stations, then off to lecture for an hour. Back in the kitchen at full sprint prepping in order to be prepared at 6:30 to serve breakfast for 500 or so students and faculty.
Each day, I came to class with what dignity and confidence I could scrape together, hoping that this day would be the day I got it all right. I was sorely disappointed most days. I would trip, fall and lose any sense of my ability over and over again. Now to be fair to myself, we all struggled in this class, but some more so than others (me). Broken Hollandaise on Day One, burned hash Day Two, Day Three fruit smoothies where you couldn't discern what fruit was used, undercooked eggs, overcooked eggs, the list goes on and on.
The class was only seven days, so I knew my humiliation and torture would end eventually. And in the end, I developed a fear and aversion to breakfast cookery, but I also have a lot of great stories. The day I am now going to share with you, is the best of these stories. On this day, I was prepared to be successful because I was partnered up with my best bud Paul. The night before we poured over every detail of our station. We worked on our game plans and felt solid. We knew that we could communicate well and hell, we were on the meat and potatoes station. How the hell could we F that up?
Ha, ha, ha.
The day started like every other day, my confidence high, a little less than yesterday's, but still, this was going to be my day! I had my game plan in hand that I had gone over and over, set up my station, ran about the kitchen collecting my mise en place, did the prep I could before we had to go out for lecture. I began filling up the steam tables with water on the line where Paul and I would be keeping our bacon and hash browns hot while we served the students. Next, I ran to the oven to check on my potatoes and then we all went to lecture. Even though this was the day everything was going to turn out perfectly, more than half -way through lecture I decided to check on things in the kitchen to make sure nothing we were preparing for our station was amiss. I walked in the kitchen door to find the front part flooded...I had forgotten to turn off the water to the steam tables.
I felt as though I had been kicked in the stomach. I wanted to melt into the water and disappear down the drain. I wanted to sob and call out for my Mommy. I wanted to curl up in the fetal position and rock back and forth.
But, I knew none of those things were going to get rid of the 3 inches of water collecting on the ground. I quickly pulled myself together, ran and got the ever useful squeegee and began pushing the water towards the drains...luckily for me all industrial kitchens have drains in the floors. Unluckily for me, the drains were a bit sluggish, hence the growing sea at my feet. I worked so vigorously I soon broke out in a sweat. Just as I was finishing up, lecture was over and my fellow students poured back into the kitchen. Some asked why the floor was damp, I just ran back to my station gulped down the tears and continued my prep. I was beating myself for forgetting to turn off the water, but kissing myself for getting it all cleaned up before our Chef had seen yet another of my follies. Boy was I THRILLED to get that day over with.
Alas, things never really got better for me in that class. Each day was yet another nightmare. But at the end of Day Seven, I knew I had passed and clicked my heels as I left the Kitchen From Hell.
Oh, but the story doesn't end there. Years later when my bud Paul and I were reminiscing about our horrors of culinary school, the steam table incident of course came up. We laughed and laughed, because Now it is funny. I told Paul how relieved I had been that Chef had never found out about the Flood. Then all of a sudden Paul frowned and said, "You know what? I just remembered something! That day when you ran into the kitchen Chef looked at Andrew and asked, 'Did she JUST realize she left the water running?'"
The bitch knew the whole time. Do you believe that?
So, now you know. Needless to say, I wouldn't describe culinary school as a confidence building experience. My ego was scarred for a long time after that class. And though I enjoy beating myself up and breaking myself down, when it came time to choose a place to go for my internship, where do you think I choose? Yup, a breakfast place on Nantucket. Everyday I made Hollandaise from scratch, poached, fried, scrambled eggs, worked the griddle, and made waffles. But I became a Breakfast -making machine! I redeemed myself after my horrible experience in my Breakfast Cookery class. And to this day it is one of my favorite meals.
(So Chatty Cathy, when are you going to fork over the recipes??)
Let's talk Scrambled Eggs. I know, what could be simplier than that? What could I possibly share with you about scrambled eggs? Well, prepare to be AMAZED.
I am not talking the rubbery, dried out, brown eggs you get at a diner. I am speaking of lovely slow cooked, pale yellow, creamy, tender egg curds. Why not served over crusty french bread topped with salty prosciutto? Now we are talking. M.F.K Fisher said that the best scrambled eggs should be made in a double boiler, constantly stirred with a wooden spoon for 30 minutes. Escoffier added bits of cold butter to his uncooked scrambled eggs, because as they cook the eggs are basted with the slow melting butter. To make them even more decadent, why not a bit of heavy whipping cream?
How about fried or poached eggs over steamed asparagus topped with Hollandaise?
Eggs fried in bacon fat is a staple at my parents' house, served with cheesy grits, and tomatoes tossed with a bit of garlic, cilantro and drizzled with olive oil, mmmm.
Eggs should always be cooked over low to medium-low heat. Over high, the proteins immediately seize up and makes rubbery eggs. Low heat=tender eggs.
Also, keep in mind that the residual heat in the eggs means they will continue to cook after they are taken off the heat. Because of that, I always under cook my eggs. And, please, please please! Love your food-serve your eggs hot, don't let them sit! I hate cold eggs, it's such a pet peeve of mine. And even more importantly, when cooking anything: if you are going to go through the process of heating your food, why, oh why would you serve hot food on a cold plate? Hmm?
I know I have been away for too long, but I am going to write three times a week, at least. And as always, I take suggestions!
Saturday, April 24, 2010
I made my classic Fennel, Orange and Feta salad but substituted Blood Oranges. Yeah, no. Since the juice is pink, it turned the fennel and the feta pink, not really the look I was going for. So, for the future, if you use Blood Oranges with lighter colored ingredients, be prepared for a little color change! But I must say it was delicious.