This blog has always been about self-training and learning. As a result, I’ve created a new blog On Becoming A Chef, to chronicle my journey from enthusiastic cook to chef. The first step in this process has been enrolling in culinary school at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and you’ll find a detailed account of my studies, learning and experience going through culinary school. This blog will continue to figure posts about learning at home, in recreational classes or general observations about food. I hope you enjoy them both.
Last night was hopefully the second easiest night I’ll have in culinary school at The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. The easiest night I hope is graduation! I got to meet my classmates, most of the staff and finalize details like taking a picture for my student ID. I was also given my student binder with syllabus, recipes for the program and student handbook. All that remains is finding the right shoes, non-skid closed toe shoes appropriate for the kitchen. I can’t wait to start next week. It’s all very surreal.
Things are definitely getting real now. I showed up at school today for a fitting which was pretty exciting. On my way in, I was greeted by Matt, another admissions staff member I have been working with over the months. He showed me downstairs to purchasing to be fitted for my uniform. I tried on a few jacket sizes, pants and t-shirts, and narrowed them down to what fit and felt best. The jackets for students will all be embroidered with names, but I was able to bring home the rest including my knife and tool kit and books. Going through the process, and getting all of my stuff made all of this even more real. I’m so close to starting class. The payment of tuition definitely grounded it if all the stuff I had to carry home didn’t!
With orientation right around the corner next week, I’ll be starting classes including my knife seminars where I’ll ultimately pick out my chef’s knife after trying out a few sizes and styles.
The Christmas holiday brings about a great time of year. I really enjoy it because it allows me to spend a lot of time with family and friends and it’s a perfect time for baking and making food to share with others. Over the past few years I’ve made croissants and palmiers and kouign-amann. This year I wanted to make something different. Having spent the past several months in New York, I’ve been exposed to a lot of great food. From a business perspective, food service is ultra-competitive and everyone has to keep coming up with ideas to stand out. One place that I enjoyed going to is ‘wichcraft, an affordable gourmet sandwich shop opened as part of Tom Colicchio’s company which owns Craft, the famous restaurant. I particularly enjoyed eating their cream’wiches which are just small cookies put together and filled with cream to make a sandwich. After eating more than I probably should have, I decided that this year I would try and make them myself to share with family. Lucky for me, the ‘wichcraft blog had the recipes for both the chocolate and peanut butter variety. I made both, but only remembered to take pictures of the chocolate ones. I had fun, mixing and matching the fillings to add variety. I’ve posted some pictures below.
Peanut Butter Cream’wich
Great news to share, I’ve been accepted to the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in the Culinary Certificate Program! I arrived home today find a packet in the mail with an acceptance letter and relevant school information. I’m super excited!
Based on the guidance from many people I spoke with at the school, I applied to the Culinary Certificate Program. This will enable me to get a solid grounding in cooking and baking along with seminars covering a variety of topics each week. The school allows students in the Certificate Program which is essentially the first half of the Professional Program to opt into the full program at the halfway point during the semester. The class is a mix of students in either the Certificate or the Professional program. There was no risk and starting this way enables me to immerse myself in the program and then continue or even switch over to the Certificate or Professional Pastry Program if I choose.
Over the next week I need to be measured for my uniform, and take care of other administrative items. Orientation is January 6th, 2015 with school starting on January 12th!
I also know that our texts will be On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals (5th Edition) by Chef Sarah Labensky, Priscilla A. Martel and Allan “Skip” M. Hause and On Baking (3rd Edition) by Chef Sarah Labensky, Priscilla A Martel and Eddy Van Damme. Surprisingly these books haven’t made it on my shelves yet, so they are welcomed additions. On Baking was recommended to me by Bonnie Slotnick of Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in the West Village of New York City when I popped into her store this summer, so I’m pretty interested in reading it.
Even more to come as the program starts. Stay tuned.
…that was fast! I had just dropped off my application to the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts when my phone rang while I was in the checkout line at the supermarket. My heart sank when Denise in Admissions told me she was calling from the school. I quickly asked if I had forgotten anything in the application, the application I knew I had triple checked. As it turned out she was free and asked if I had time to come back for an interview. This was great news and definitely better than finding out that I had forgotten something.
I returned to the school about 30 minutes later and we spoke for a while, I answered some questions about my background, motivations and goals and even had to write a short narrative about my most memorable food experience. I left even more excited about things to come. I should hear back next week and hopefully with positive news. Fingers crossed, this blog is about to get a lot busier.
In 2009 I started out the year with a daunting goal, the goal of learning how to cook, the impetus for this blog. I later enrolled in a Basics class, starting with Knife Skills at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts in March of that year and over the years have pursued additional classes there and other places. More and more I’ve tried to immerse myself in the world of food, something which has become part of my identity and personal brand. In 2010 I considered applying to culinary school and did some initial research. Ultimately, I ended up starting my own company, leaving little time for blog entries, but not deterring my desire for cooking or additional learning. The gaps in this blog are clearly evident, but my skill has improved over the years undocumented. In January of this year, I sold my company to a company based in New York and as part of that I had to do some transition work. With the work coming to an end, the goal of applying to and attending culinary school quickly became a reality again which brings us to today. I have officially applied to the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts to start in January!
I dropped off my application personally as I live very close and hope to hear back soon. Orientation starts on January 6th and classes begin shortly after on January 12th. If I am granted admission, I plan to document my experience and learning (the good and the embarrassing) to provide insight into the program and to help me solidify what I have learned. More updates to come shortly!
I got Elizabeth a class at Dave’s Fresh Pasta for her birthday. I chose a new class being offered, Puerto Rico, Island Food, because we went to Puerto Rico for our honeymoon and I wanted to have an evening focused reliving our food memories and the amazing time we had. On the menu for the evening were mofongo, pasteles, arroz con gandules. In the kitchen teaching was Chef Jason. He apparently teaches all the classes; as we learned, he went to a Boston high school that was predominantly Puerto Rican and this class was focused on food he group up eating at friends’ houses during his childhood.
We were greeted with some amazing wine and cheeses that he select from the store and the class started off with an interesting discussion on the ingredients and what we would be cooking. After that, with some quick demos on the cooking process, Jason put the class to work, getting the ingredients ready and cooked. There was definitely some experimentation going on and some of our classmates with Latin backgrounds did some riffing providing interpretations for food that they had grown up with. That combined with the impromptu Latin music in the background provided with an “authentic” cooking experience, lively laughter and delicious food. Here are some pictures I took from class.
“Rebuilding” a kitchen and improper planning sometimes result in lessons learned. Sometimes that lesson is simple, follow the directions.
I like making pound cake. For one thing it’s simple. It’s also a quarter butter and a quarter sugar. The rest is just a matter of necessity. I’ve definitely experimented with size and shape before, but it was more calculated versus a last minute decision. The great thing about ratios is that you can scale up or down pretty easily. In baking, a key component for cakes is the pan in which they are baked in. Not having a loaf pan, I opted to pour my batter into my nine-inch square pyrex pan and hoped for the best. The problem here was that I was now baking in a new oven, with a new pan shape and had to figure out what my new cook time would be. That aside, the one thing I didn’t account for was the pan depth. The batter of course was quite spread out and as a result, the finished product was more crust and less soft and buttery cake. Pound cake requires a particular depth to crust ratio for success which this end result didn’t meet. As I commute back and forth between Boston and New York, I’ll have to bring down a spare loaf pan for my next batch.
Some food memories stick with you for one reason or another. Sometimes the reason is not explainable and other times it’s crystal clear, serving as a reference point to a period in our lives that we hold dear. I was barely 10 when my grandmother, my mother’s mother, passed away. She often stayed with my family for long periods of time taking care of me and my sister. She would pass the time with us by playing games and cooking. The house always smelled amazing. She was adept at cooking many delicious Latin meals and basic food items like rice and beans or fried sweet plantains. The fall before she left, for whatever reason, we grew a bit of corn in our back yard garden, enough for a few meals. While different than corn from Honduras (where my mother’s side of the family is from), she took it upon herself to use some of the corn to create corn tamales or as they are knowing in Honduras, montucas. I remember peeling them open after they had just been cooked, the steam escaping and the sweet aroma of the corn escaping into the air. We devoured them instantly. The semi-solid, slightly creamy tamale, a combination of sweet with a bit of salt was amazing. It was one tradition that my mother didn’t pick up before moving to the US and as a result I never had the likes of it again. I would ask my mother every so often if she would attempt to make it, but without any basis or experience for making it inevitably she didn’t know where to start.
Cultural heritage and tradition are just as much a part of if not entwined with cooking as the ingredients. Meals start with a blank canvas that is shaped by the experiences, traditions and tastes of those who cook. I was listening to an episode of the podcast, Chef’s Story. During the interview, Chef Joe Viehland stated, “if you don’t cook with flavors from your childhood, you have no frame of reference.” In some ways I agree with this. When I cook, I’m often drawn to using ingredients like tortillas or plantains and spices like cumin to shape my meals. I believe that you can learn and develop perspective for new flavors, although it may take more time and effort for them to feel “authentic”.
Last night I visited my parents’ house to see my mother’s stepmother, Bella. She was on vacation and visiting the Boston area. While making plans, my mother said that she was running to the grocery story to pick up corn to make montucas. I smiled. I wondered if I would finally relive the taste memory that I had longed for. We sat down for dinner. I happened to sit in my childhood chair location. To my delight, Bella served up some amazing montucas.
Each bite brought me back to that day when I first tasted my grandmothers. This time around, my mother was around watching and learning. It’s funny, as Bella made the same remarks about the corn being different, more sweet and watery than the savory and hearty varieties found in Latin America. Despite the differences, the end result was right for me. This was my memory and I know I’ll be there at the stove, watching and learning when it’s time to make them again to keep that memory alive.