Saturday, January 31, 2009

Working for the Weekend

Yesterday (Friday) I had two practicals, one cuisine and one pastry.  In cuisine, we plated our chicken fois gras ballotine, along with an aspic made of a clarification of the ballotine's cooking liquid.  We also made white sausages with sauteed apples.  I'm not much for chicken jelly, but the chef liked my plating and my chicken foie gras ballotine.  I had trouble with my clarification and managed to slice my pinky, but all's well that ends well I guess.  After the class, I was in the dishwashing area cleaning up, and I left the unsliced portion of the ballotine on my cutting board.  I heard a huge SLAP and then my friend hysterically laughing.  Apparently, my ballotine rolled off the table and landed (loudly) on the floor.  Thankfully, the chef didn't see, and I didn't really care to eat any more meat stuffed with other meat covered in meat jelly.
In pastry, we worked with milk chocolate, making praline and muscadine truffles.  I still need to work on tempering, the process of melting chocolate, pouring it on the counter and playing with it to cool it to a precise temperature, then reheating it to some other precise temperature.  Because I did the tempering incorrectly, my chocolates weren't as shiny as they could have been.  Luckily we had Chef Walter, one of the nicest chefs at school.  When he walked in the room, our tense class gave a huge sigh of relief and we had a very relaxed day.  No one was even bothered when the power went out and we dipped chocolates in the dark for 20 minutes.
To celebrate the end of the week, my friend and I went to Rue Saint-Anne in search of wonderful Japanese udon.  This street is filled with authentic Japanese restaurants, all with very reasonable prices and some with very long lines.  The udon shop we went to find has a line of 30 people, so we went to another one and had wonderful gyoza and heaps of soba noodles for only 10 Euro!  In contrast, this morning we met up for a deliciously posh brunch at La Duree, the famous tea house/pastry shop.  We had an amazing time chatting and sharing a plethora of wonderful and elegantly presented dishes.  It's amazing that you can find such great meals at either end of the spectrum.  Exploring all the different cuisines is one of the best things about being in Paris.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Day I Did Everything Wrong... (at least in cuisine)

Today I had 2 practicals, one cuisine and one pastry.  Cuisine came first, and we were supposed debone a chicken, stuff it with pistachios and fois gras, then roll in up in plastic and poach it in court bouillon.  First, I started deboning the chicken at the breast.  WRONG.   We were supposed to debone starting around the spine, so from the get-go my chicken was lumpy  I managed to hide my mistake from the chef and get everything wrapped up.  We cooked the bird for the rest of class and will finish and plate it during the next practical.  Attached is a picture of my bird mid-procedure.  
While the chicken was poaching, we practiced making hollandaise.  In basic, my hollandaise was relatively easy and the Chef raved about it.  My first attempt was too thick, so I warmed it a bit, which caused it to break and curdle.  Chef Thivet told me to make another egg yolk emulsion, but instead of adding clarified butter, throw in my ruined sauce in the end.  I should have trusted my instincts and NOT tried to make a new sauce out of my first horrible sauce, because the second attempt was even worse.  Finally, Chef came over to my station and made a new hollandaise, showing me every step in detail.  How embarrassing.  But at least I got some one-on-one instruction and hopefully I will get it right next time.  
In pastry practical, we made the bavarian 3-chocolate cream cake.  It was delicious and mine turned out ok.  I needed to work more on my layering, which was fairly sloppy.  It still tastes great and is currently hidden away in my freezer.  

Bon Appetit!  

Sunday, January 25, 2009

(Not Very) Experimental Cocktail

All through the past week, a group from school had been planning a night at a hip bar called The Experimental Cocktail.  Jameson's World's Best Bars website lists it as a great place to go have fun, funky cocktails.  We made reservations for Saturday night and were giddy with anticipation.
Last night, we showed up for our reservations and were greeted by a bouncer in front of  a posh-looking red curtain.  He asked for our names and reservation and we were whisked in to a beautiful bar.  Unlike other bars in Paris, this hip, 2nd arrondismont scene wasn't crowded at all.  High ceilings and exposed brick walls added to the cool atmosphere.  Bartenders were friendly without being overbearing or overly familiar.  Once we got situated at our table, we were eager to see the list of exciting drinks.  We got the menus and pored over them in excruciating detail.  They were all very fun, but none as exciting or "experimental" as we expected.  I had the "Tobacco Sour" followed by the "French Pearl", both of which were delicious, just not as off-the-wall as I had hoped.  
After the bar, my friend and I wandered looking for a taxi and like magnets were drawn to the legendary Au Pied de Cochon.  This temple for classic French fare is open 24 hours a day and a haven for intoxicated foodies.  Perfect!  As the name suggests, it is most famous for its pigs feet dish, something I've never tried.  The restaurant a little touristy and the food isn't the best you can get in Paris, but after a few drinks, the boisterous atmosphere and the French onion soup or anything with bearnaise sauce is just what the doctor ordered!


Photo - Katherine and I at the Experimental Cocktail

Friday, January 23, 2009

Non C'est Pas Jolie!

Today I had two practicals; one cuisine and one pastry.  In cuisine we made a rather uneventful meat pie with guinea fowl, livers, and cabbage.  Not quite my cup of tea so I split it into ziplocs and handed it out to homeless people on Blvd St Germain.  In pastry, we made the classic Opera Cake.  Layers of cake, imbibed in coffee syrup, layers of chocolate ganache and layers of coffee buttercream.  It is then cut into a beautiful square and decorated with the name of the cake in elegant script.  
I love the french way of making buttercream; you head syrup to about 118 Celsius, then frantically whisk it into egg yolks.  You then continue whisking until the mixture is cool and frothy.  The point of all the aggressive whisking is to let the hot syrup cook the eggs without turning them into scrambled eggs.  Then you whisk in room temperature butter and whatever flavoring you want.
I do not love the french way of "imbibing" cakes.  I am a huge fan of cakes, but here, we soak them all in flavored syrup.  Instead of moist, light, fluffy cakes, they're just wet, soggy cakes!  The chefs all love LOTS of syrup on the cakes, they want them to be sopping wet.  
After all the preparation and assembly, it was time to decorate.  we folded parchment into "cornets" -little pouches you can use to drizzle chocolate.  Everyone took a few turns practicing the OPERA script on paper or the backs of baking pans.  Finally, I went for it.  I thought I did a decent job until the chef came around, took my cornet, drizzled a fantastic decoration onto a piece of cardboard and had me admire it.  Then he pulled my cake towards him, said that the cake itself was wonderful but the decoration, "Non c'est pas jolie!"  Direct translation - "It is NOT pretty."  Everyone in my class got similar reviews.  Apparently it might be on the final so we should all go home, mix nutella with olive oil and practice scripting.

Perhaps I will practice another weekend...

Disappointing Guest Demonstration

For the past week, 3 of the top chefs in China have been attending classes at school.  They each won competitions using French ingredients and yesterday, they put on a demo.  Everyone at school was very exciting.  We usually have 1 guest demo per week but this one was special because the guests were coming all the way from China (it is usually a French chef).  The chefs had several translators, one into French and then our regular translator for and English version.  
Just like in regular classes, we got a list of ingredients for each dish to be presented.  I looked over the recipes and was a little bummed out.  I had imagined haute cuisine and instead, I saw that we we would be making; chinese noodles with eggplant, fried fish, and fried prawns with broccoli.  I still had hope that these dishes would be more complicated and involved.  
The lecture was supposed to take 2 hours and lasted over 3.  We learned a few interesting ways to decoratively use vegetables, including making a cucumber slinky, but I was really unimpressed with the dishes.  I did learn really innovative ways to cut fish and a lot about cooking eggplant without adding more grease to a dish.  It turns out that you can saute diced eggplant in oil and then blanche it to remove the excess oil.  Other than these few tricks, I didn't take much away from this demonstration.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Trying Harder at Presentation

Today was a challenging day for presentation.  Recently, my presentation has been lacking.  I have either made it sloppy and uninteresting or tried too hard and created something to corny.  Today we had 2 back to back practicals; the first being raspberry anise macaroons in pastry class.  This was one of the first desserts we have plated.  I thought about it ahead of time, something I've learned is very necessary with plating.  We were to make medium sized macaroons and I made a few minis to plate along with it.  I think the chef really appreciated my efforts, although he said that I needed to add more sauce to the plate.  
In cuisine, we made duck leg pot-a-feu, a stew like creation that is very tough to plate well.  Not only were we presenting a stew like, monotonous dish on a plate (rather than a bowl) but we also boiled marrow bones that we were supposed to plate AND making a tartar sauce to go along with it.  I plotted ahead of time with my friend and she lent me a small porcelain dish to hold the tartar sauce.  We also decided to run out to the delicious local bakery and get a baguette.  With that, I made wonderfully buttery croutons and spread the marrow onto those; MUCH prettier than plating a clunky bone.  Chef Thivet didn't have much to say, but I was definitely pleased with myself.  I also talked to the new chef about ways to improve my plating.  He mentioned making sure that the main part of the dish (usually the meat) is on the lower right hand side, making easier to eat.  He also said to look at cookbooks for inspiration and then to try to find my own personal style.  

Off to oooh and aahhh over some Thomas Keller cookbook photos...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Last Week's Pretty Cakes and a Cuisine Catastrophe

After completing basic cuisine and pastry, I thought I had a good idea about what I would be learning in intermediate.  Boy was I wrong.  The cakes are so much prettier than the more rustic desserts we made in basic pastry!  This past week we made 2 beautiful cakes, one Jamaique and one Fraiser.  The Jamaique combined chocolate cake, mango-passionfruit mousse, coconut mousse, and a delicious topping of fresh tropical fruit.  The Fraiser was a bit more traditional, with genoise cake, vanilla pastry cream, loads of strawberries and a meringue topping.  

Every day in cuisine demonstration, we are taught 3 recipes, one of which is always a dessert.  I find this convenient and it definitely makes for a more well-rounded meal, giving everyone a better idea of what desserts might pair well with what entrees.  Of course, in practical classes we don't have to make all 3 recip
es, just the main course along with the appropriate garnishes.  

We have one new chef, who speaks perfect english.  He is also teaching us a lot about keeping our work areas tidy and well organized, a lesson I desperately needed.  I have had him supervise 2 of my practicals so far, one of which I completely bombed.  We were making potato gnocchi with a basil cream sauce and I decided NOT to dry my potatoes after boiling them and before running them through a food mill.  Because of this small error, the gnocchi fell apart upon cooking and turned into a runny, floury paste.  Needless to say, I was very disappointed.  At least my duck "salmis" turned out well.  It was one of the more confusing poultry recipes we have used.  After browning the duck, we roasting it for a very short time, then removed the breasts, thighs, legs and wings, cooking them all completely differently.  

Until next time... Bon Appetit!