A Fine Kettle of Fish! (bones)
The title of this post is somewhat deceptive, as my first semester winds down at the Culinary Institute of America I’m really having a great time. As I mentioned in my previous post there are some challenges, but I’m happy to report that in spite of my lifelong fear of “all things math”, classes are going quite well! As of today I’m sitting on a solid B in Culinary Math with high hopes of turning that into a real life A!! (after the final exam is graded) Of course there are lots of numbers and tons of studying to do for the final, but between my “team of tutors” and my collection of lucky pencils things look pretty rosy on the old culinary math horizon.
We have learned quite a bit in the kitchen since the last time I’ve posted. We continue to practice the classic sauces and “small sauces.” One that I have found the most fun to work with and of course the most challenging is hollandaise. While I don’t like the flavor by itself it does transform food into amazing delicious creations. Ohhh! And taking Béchamel into Mornay might be my favorite. There’s something about cheese…
There was also pasta day. I’ve made fresh pasta at home a few times but making it “the CIA way” always takes things to a better, more refined level. I adore learning the details- the small and sometimes large pieces I’m missing. I am (almost) always pleased with the results. The pasta was delicious! We ate a little at school, and I took the remainder home for dinner. YUMMMMM! It’s not all cooking in the kitchen-there are days when we spend a few hours on “product knowledge.” In the first semester this is learning all about produce; how to select it and what it ‘s uses are. Chef Sartory gathers us all around a huge farm table and we taste as he talks about each product and their varieties. It’s interesting to see how different students who have not seen or tasted some of the produce get excited (sometimes not so excited) to try what’s new to them, rhubarb (raw) offered a few particularly hilarious moments!
There were a couple of breaks from all of the studying and books, we took field trips! One of the most beautiful places that we visited was Bluebonnet Hydroponic Farms. We met with the owner David Anderson, “the gentleman farmer” and he took us on a tour of all of their greenhouses. If you’ve ever bought fresh live basil in the South it was probably from Bluebonnet Farms. They have an amazing operation growing basil, lettuce, micro greens. You can see in the photographs I shot there how incredible it is. I’ve never seen so much basil in one place! And you can’t even imagine the fragrance!
We also went to Sysco food services of Central Texas. Sysco is the distributing company for food and dry goods used by many commercial kitchens. It’s a massive operation. The New Braunfels, Texas location is the largest distribution center in the corporation. It was quite interesting; there were robots in HUGE warehouses, a couple of test kitchens, and I got to meet Robert Irvine of the food network! He’s much taller than I expected! ;-) We also visited Chef Sartory’s personal garden. It was wonderful to see how so much food can be grown in a small space and yield enough to feed several families. Urban gardening truly is the future of “eating local.”
I continue to practice my knife skills and a found the perfect at-home dish for doing so, TABOULI! I love the stuff and it’s all about the chopping. If prepared correctly it’s essentially a parsley salad with a little bit of wheat bulgur. I love the fragrant “green-ness” of the prep work. I usually sneak several bites as it all comes together. (no surprise there!) It’s delicious.
The last couple of weeks remaining are all about finishing up projects and reviewing for finals. It’s a little stressful, but I think our class will do quite well. The majority of my fellow students take the days quite seriously and we are all ready to see how this first semester ends. It’s been challenging and fun and often times filled with laughter. Mostly, it’s been an amazing experience. I anticipate next semester will be just as thrilling.