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CIA Boot Camp: Day 2

September 30, 2008

Day 2 of Boot Camp saw our class arriving around 6:30 in the morning to grab some food before lecture started at 7. The main building on campus, Roth Hall, used to be a Jesuit seminary — and you can see evidence of that nowhere better than in Farquharson Hall, the main dining hall where we’d groggily eat breakfast each morning (looks like a chapel, right?) The CIA students currently taking the Breakfast Cookery  class worked the kitchen — preparing a few hot dishes like eggs benedict, frittata, or pancakes — or on the “stage” in the rear of the hall, making omelettes. Oh, and as we rolled into campus around 6:30, still in the dark, what time do you think they had to be there? Someone asked one of the students and they said 2am. Ouch.

Anyway, besides all of the hot food you could get, they had fresh bread baked by the Baking & Pastry Arts students (chocolate cherry sourdough, mmmm) and the most gourmet oatmeal bar I’ve ever seen: you could top your bowl with dried strawberries, golden raisins, currants, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, slivered almonds, toasted walnuts, vanilla sugar, maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, etc.

Inside the kitchen that served hot breakfast dishes each morning, after the shift was over.

After filling up our travel mugs with coffee, we scooted over to the lecture hall for Day 2’s lecture on roasting, grilling and braising. Some good things learned:

  • Myth busted: marinating meat before grilling does nothing to tenderize it; marinades add flavor only.
  • When grilling, it’s best to have a dry surface – so if you have a marinade, wipe the item off first, grill it, then brush the marinade back on towards the end of cooking so it doesn’t burn.
  • NEVER press down on the item you’re grilling. This will give you a one-way ticket to culinary hell.
  • Roasting tips: season the outside with just salt and pepper. Unless it’s a chicken (which has an irregular shape), you can sear the meat right in the roasting pan before putting it in the oven to bake – this helps a fond develop. Really rub the salt in (otherwise, you just get a salt crust) – salt is hygroscopic, so it pulls the proteins to the outside of the meat and this contributes to browning. Put herbs and any flavoring agents like lemon slices, onion wedges, etc. in the cavity of the chicken (rather than rubbing them on the outside, since they’ll just burn away.) Add mirepoix to the roasting pan before the roast is done; use the drippings and roasted mirepoix to make a pan sauce.

At the end of lecture, we went over the recipes we’d be cooking that day — each team was responsible for about 3 recipes each, and all teams had at least one recipe that utilized the cooking method(s) we’d just discussed. Then it was into the kitchen for our first day of production!

So: this first day was fun, but kind of mildly stressful — it was fun to be cooking in this professional kitchen, but of course no one knew where anything was, and we were getting used to the equipment (the 8-burner range and grill top are HOT.) But, there wasn’t much time to worry about all of that; we had to get cooking!

Chef started off with a demo of how to truss a chicken for roasting (I wish I had pictures of this, but sadly I do not. I will, however, try to replicate it at home and if I have success, I’ll certainly post about it!) Our team’s recipes were roasted chicken with pan gravy, french fries, and sauteed carrots and zucchini (shaped with the tournee cut, a pretty — but time consuming! — method of cutting vegetables with a paring knife into oblong football shapes with 7 sides.) Chef told us a story about when he was working in a kitchen and had to tourner 15 pounds of carrots — only to have the head chef look at them, notice some weren’t exactly 7 sided, say “these aren’t tourneed!” and throw them out. All 15 pounds. We all gasped and cringed.

Our team tackled the recipes we were assigned together; I made the french fries – mainly because I have actually never made them before and was a little nervous around the large vats of hot oil, so I figured why not try to learn something new? So, fry away I did. First I had to blanch the potatoes in hot oil, then take them out (their outside surfaces start to feel a bit like sandpaper when they’re ready), crank the heat up even more, and finish cooking them right before service. Once they came out of the fryer, we tossed them with salt…lots and lots of salt.

Speaking of salt: that was one lesson we all learned over and over this week. Think something is seasoned? Chances are you probably need to add more salt. Salt was likened to the “volume switch” for flavors. I usually *do* season things with what I (previously) thought was enough salt and pepper, but even I found I needed to add some more.

And, speaking of service: something we learned and practiced each day was what you could prep beforehand and just finish at service. This was really useful, and I’ll be using these ideas at home, especially when we entertain.

me standing with our finished dishes. I was happy to have those french fries done and tasting pretty good.

Every day for service, we had to create one demo plate with our dishes (a single serving of everything we’d made, plated with a nice presentation), and a large platter to be set out on a table in the kitchen for the whole class. As I said yesterday, our lunches were absolute feasts.

Our day 1 recipes came out well! Roast Chicken with Pan Gravy, Zucchini and Carrot Tourner, French Fries.

Grilled salmon with caraway orange glaze, rice pilaf, spinach with bacon & pine nuts, sauteed mushrooms.

Grilled pork chops with pommery mustard beurre blanc (SO GOOD), glazed sweet potatoes, green beans with toasted walnuts, parsnip and pear puree (again, SO GOOD!)

Roast Sirloin of Beef with Duchesse Potatoes (so pretty, and so delicious!), broccoli rabe, and grilled yellow squash

the spread.

taking pictures of our demo plates.

Now, why did we get brown chicken with brown gravy and brown french fries?? It was a little hard to come up with an attractive plating scheme. All the other dishes looked lovely.

The roast chicken our team made was so delicious – so, so juicy. I definitely have to try to duplicate it at home.

In the afternoon, we had a wine tasting lecture. This was okay, but I wish it had been a bit more instructional in what we should be looking for in comparing the different wines…the instructor told some good stories about different vintages and wineries, but I may have just had less knowledge in this area than others and so found myself wanting more explanations or background behind what he was telling us. In any case, I did find a few wines out of the ones we tasted that I’d like to try again.

Dinner Tuesday night was at the Escoffier Room, the CIA’s French restaurant.

outside the Escoffier entrance.

This was a really delightful dinner: the food was delicious, the wine was delicious, and the student waitstaff practiced traditional french table service (i.e. all the servers would arrive at the table, each carrying one dish for one person, and then they would all set the dishes down simultaneously. I wondered what they were doing the first time they converged on the table, but after it dawned on me, I just sat back and enjoyed!) I had:

  • amuse bouche: lobster terrine with tiny watercress and a berry sauce. Mmm.
  • starter: goat cheese tart with microgreens, squash, zucchini, tomato and olive, topped with a tiny scoop of tomato sorbet and a fried basil leaf.
  • entree: roasted duck glazed with lavendar honey, served with a pan sauce that had raspberries in it, bruleed mango slices, and saffron rice with steamed julienned zucchini & carrots
  • we had a delicious cheese course!! YUM!
  • profiteroles for dessert (sadly not worth saying any more about)

I had to take a picture of my starter — the presentation was beautiful.

The scoop of tomato sorbet on top was the exact same size and color as a cherry tomato.

Coming up tomorrow: sauteing, deep frying, pan frying, stir frying (again, good thing we had those elastic-waisted chef’s pants!)

12 Comments leave one →
  1. September 30, 2008 6:19 am

    This is so much fun to read! I’m terrified of frying things too and have never made french fries either, so I can definitely appreciate your bravery in stepping up to the plate to tackle that particular challenge.

  2. Trish permalink
    September 30, 2008 8:05 am

    I am enjoying your CIA series very much – I can’t wait to see some recipes and techniques you learned!


  3. September 30, 2008 9:15 am

    Amy: These posts are incredibly envy-inducing, but also really, really fun. It sounds like you really lived it up and enjoyed every second. I’m so glad. Also, that oatmeal bar? The pork chops? French fries? All in one day?!?

  4. September 30, 2008 9:31 am

    great tips for the grill! and way to go to step up and do something you haven’t done before with the fries 🙂 that spread looks amazing!!

  5. September 30, 2008 9:48 am

    It looks like they kept you busy!! The marinating piece is totally news to me – I can’t wait to see your roast chicken post, that is a dish I would like to perfect.

  6. September 30, 2008 10:14 am

    Oh I am loving these posts on the CIA bootcamp! And your pictures are drool-worthy!

    PS I am tempted to sign myself up just to get to experience that oatmeal bar….

  7. September 30, 2008 4:43 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us! I looks like a blast.

  8. September 30, 2008 10:20 pm

    Oh, the duchesse potatoes are SO cute! Looks like you’re having a great time, keep up the good work!

  9. Katie :) permalink
    October 1, 2008 8:31 am

    Oh, my darling cousin! This sounds like SOOOOO much fun and you seem to be learning a LOT! All of the plate presentations look great…..did you guys have a lecture in this too, or have some of you done it before? Are there a lot of rules or do you just kind of “roll with it”?

    I’m missing you, and can’t wait to read Day 3! 🙂

  10. October 1, 2008 8:54 pm

    Wonderful fun to read these posts. The pix of the kitchen look as though you could eat off the floor without needing plates!

  11. October 1, 2008 9:06 pm

    Erin – thanks. I have to admit that it was a lot easier knowing I could ask someone nearby questions…if it were just me alone I would have been a bit more nervous. 🙂

    Trish – thanks! I’m mulling over some recipes to share…

    Kristin – I KNOW. SO much food. Really, I was quite thankful for my elastic-waisted pants during the day…though my “going out to dinner” clothes got a little snug by the end of the week.

    ttfn300 – thanks! Yes, the spread every day was so enticing.

    sue bette – you and me both. I will do my best!

    Rachel – I looked forward to that oatmeal bar every morning! So glad you’re enjoying the posts.

    K8 – you’re very welcome!

    Piper – aren’t those adorable? The woman who piped them did a really terrific job.

    Katie – hi cousin! 🙂 We did get a lecture beforehand, so we knew kind of what to do and what not to do…but it was good to have the instructor there to remind us, too. 🙂 xoxo

    Jean – so glad you’re enjoying them! Actually, I had never really thought of that before…yes, you’re right; the kitchen *was* quite clean. I guess it’s the kind of thing you take for granted (but great to have!)

  12. November 10, 2010 9:14 am

    If you have not read “The Whitehouse Chef”, you ought to read it! It is fascinating and has recipes in the book. Your descriptions are “delicious”!!

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