Sunday, November 28, 2010

Internet silence, explained.

The long and short of my sporadic posting: I have way less free time than I would have thought possible.

I thought that being on my own in a new town, in school full-time meant that I was going to have tons of time on my hands, that my weblog was finally going to be picture-rich, that I was going to knock off some knitting projects that have been dragging, that some pressing paperwork was finally going to be dealt with.

As it turns out, I was mistaken.

Those of you that know me, know that I am in general, fairly organized, and an accomplished multi-tasker. I can shoulder a heavy load, and can get incredible amounts of work done cheerfully and efficiently. And yet here, in Stratford Chefs School, I am nearly drowning in my workload. The work is not particularly difficult, but there is a lot of it (and I mean, A LOT). For the most part, it is fascinating, and every chapter, every assignment, totally deserves my fullest attention, and completely rewards that attention with an incredible amount of knowledge that I would be hard-pressed to gather for myself, unguided.

And so, I have written encyclopedic treatises on boiling, poaching, pan-frying, sautéing, stir-frying and pot-roasting (which is not what I thought it was!). I am reading beautifully written work about food by important authors. I am learning about classical menu design. I am familiarizing myself with the principles of nutrition (and the Canada Food Guide is damaging my self-esteem). I am learning to serve guests graciously (a stretch. I am mostly serving them awkwardly, but hope springs eternal). I am coming to understand wine. And colour theory. And the history of industrial agriculture. And the history of food culture. And the rudiments of food costing. I am tasting, trying and learning.

But I am not knitting, I am not dispensing with my paperwork, and I (unfortunately) am not taking pictures for this weblog.

I am drowning in my workload, and I couldn't be happier.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

You can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs

This is the way you make a french folded omelette, if you are a Michelin-starred Italian chef/demigod who trained under Alain Ducasse:

First of all, you should, at all times, look cool and composed. Your immaculately white neckerchief should stay tucked in, as it is largely for show: sweat wouldn't dare break on you.

Your pan and butter rise to the perfect temperature under your gaze, and your whisked and seasoned eggs leap into the pan just to please you. You can, apparently, communicate with the eggs telepathically, because all you have to do is wave a fork at them, and they are perfectly fluffy, and they don't even dream of browning.

When you are ready to flip the omelette, you nonchalantly tilt the pan, and with your free hand, gently drum on the panhandle, and the omelette turns itself over, and you slide it onto the plate, like it ain't no thing.

This is the way you make a French folded omelette if you are a first-year apprentice in week three at SCS:

8 attempts later, I have no idea.

There was no part of Chef Camanini's demonstration that I could replicate. I get that the omelette is devious in its simplicity. With so few ingredients, and no elaborate filling, sauce or garnish to hide behind, the execution of the omelette must be perfect.

I did not attain perfection.

My butter browned, the eggs wouldn't flip, and when they did, they were either over- or undercooked.

I ate a lot of omelette today. For those of you that know me, it wasn't a pretty sight. I couldn't stomach the thought of that much perfectly good food going to waste (plus: free meal(s)). As it turns out, I could stomach the omelettes even less.

Fortunately, most of my classmates were in the same boat- collectively, we scrambled, flipped and burned our way through well over a case of eggs.

This Saturday night will be remedial omelette-making, with a few of my delightful classmates. I'm living a wild and crazy life, here in Stratford.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The word is...overwhelmed?

A little over a week ago, I uprooted myself from comfy old Kingston, and headed to Stratford, Ontario, to attend Stratford Chefs School. The decision to go to culinary school was not easy- there are loads of pros and cons, and every chef, cook and dishwasher has an opinion one way or the other (and this is not a group of people that is reticent!). Once the decision was made, however, the choice of school was easy- SCS is, simply put, among the best cooking schools in North America. It is tiny in comparison to some of the big name American schools: think fewer than 80 students across both levels, compared to the nearly 3000 at the Culinary Institute of America, but it is mighty, and its curriculum packs a wallop, let me tell you.

I have an incredible course load- I am in practical cookery 4 hours per day (except for Thursdays, when I am in practical pastry for 4 hours); theory-wise, I have Food Costing (math), Gastronomy (food history), Food Style (art, design and concept), Nutrition, Writing, Wine, Commodities, Kitchen Management, and a surprisingly intense aerobics and movement class called Body Moves, which I swear to you, is going to transform me into a beautiful, graceful butterfly.

Oh yeah, and one of the school's restaurants, the Old Prune, is open during the school year, but is staffed by a rotating schedule of second year student chefs, who execute and expedite a nightly four-course menu. The dishwashers, servers and buspeople? First year students, i.e: me. Serving actual haute cuisine to actual paying customers. Granted, these customers are generally aware that they are participating in a learning experience and so are somewhat more forgiving than they might otherwise be, but it has been some time since I've been out of a kitchen, and the tidy hair and tucked-in dress shirt is so disconcerting. I'm not on dinner service every night- just once or twice a week, which is plenty, thank you very much!

All of this is in the interest of giving us a well-rounded education in the culinary arts.

And now, back to my Commodities reading. Please stay tuned for reports on my Michelin-starred chef-instructor, the ultra-cute town I'm living in, and my beyond creepy accommodations.

I miss you.