Friday, 30 September 2016

First Service to Staff ... 30 Sept 2016

After a time of introduction and practice, there is nothing quite as exhilarating, bracing and terrifying as actually showing one's craft to others who may be critical. That's what life in the restaurant business is like ... every single day, every dish, every plate, is a test. Chefs have to keep earning 100% on every test ... those are the rules of engagement ... and then the public willingly pays.

Today was the students' first test. Our school staff was offered either a delicious risotto al zefferano or home-made pasta con olio e aglio. Choose ... and a goodly plate of it is yours for $7.00.

Two teams were established ... the pastas and the risottos. One student, Quinn, was set aside to be the go-fer, dish-pit kid and the cook for the student lunch.

All the others (two teams of 7) had to start from absolute scratch and produce. This was the first day they would actually feel me breathing down their necks ... PRESSURE!! ... and they rose to the challenge beautifully.
Pasta was hand-made from scratch.
Bitter butter was prepared for the risotto and sweet onion sauteed in butter to which the rice would be added for toasting.
Every group had a tailgate meeting with Chef to ensure they knew what to do.

Then ... do all the mis-en-place, then get cooking!

Plates were heated in the dishwasher and Quinn laid them out and polished each one so service could be as professional as possible.


One student, Colin, was designated Sous-Chef for the day. He did not cook BUT had to make sure that everything actually happened and that rigid timelines were adhered to. He had to check every plate on the pass before it was sent on,
and his work was precise, exacting, careful, fast and ... well, I hope someone hires him. He did a superb job. Congratulations, Colin, on a job well done.

Well done, chefs!

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Great Food, Guided Tastings and The Bagel Wars at St Lawrence market

This old chef has a few strongly-held personal opinions about food (no kidding!), and one of them is about bagels. There are two kinds of bagels in this world ... Montreal bagels, and rubbish. Toronto bagels, New York bagels, all the others ... only good as pot-hole filler on the streets or feeding to voracious ducks.

Toronto (thankfully) has a few places where a really good bagel may be bought, and yesterday the MPC Culinary students spent the morning at St Lawrence market learning about good food, fresh food, local food and enjoying three guided tastings.

We started with a history lesson and scavenger hunt ... in one hour the entire market had to be covered and stall-keepers interviewed, small tastes begged for,
displays observed and questioned, prices researched. Chef and Ruby (our wonderful community volunteer) got the major tastings ready ... warm bagels from St Urbain, recently out of the wood-fired oven, three cheeses the students had never had and four kinds of cured meat.

At 10h30 after the hunt time had wrapped up we all met across from Scheffler's stall for the tasting. Ruby had laid out the fare ... Leah and Keely
had gently torn up the bagels ... and our guided tasting began.

Three cheeses were featured ... Gorgonzola picante,
aged Mimolette and La Tur (a soft cheese made from a mix of sheep, goat and cow milk). All the cheese was bought from Chris' Cheeses in the market. This was in follow-up to the tasting class we'd had in the kitchen the previous week. Everyone had a chance to try everything ... and the two favourites were the Mimolette and La Tur. Hearty gorgonzola ... not so much. I still have a goodly chunk of it in my fridge at school! (It will go into omlets next week.)
We spoke about rind and paste differences, about the subtleties of flavour and the position of the flavours on the tongue. The mimolette is very hard and the Tur is very soft, but each received rave reviews but for different reasons. "What is it about these cheeses that constitutes good?" chef asked? Each young chef had an opinion, and could bolster it with fact. the La Tur was just dreamy-creamy smooth, doing a delicious dance in every part of the mouth. Mimolette was assertive and had intention ... and the texture was enjoyed as both different from usual fare AND sharing great 'mouth-feel' at the same time.

Four cured meats were tasted ... a good quality Italian proscuitto, a proscuitto from Chef Mario Pingue in Niagara, a Jamon Serrano and Schinkenspeck.
All four share similarities (made from the same part of a pig) but there are also considerable differences. The animals' diets make for a large amount of flavour difference, then the length of time for air-curing and salting. The runaway favourite was the Spanish jamon Serrano. At the end, predictably, there was absolutely nothing left of the meat.

Two styles of bagel were on offer ... one with sesame, the other with poppy seed. No favourite ... all of them disappeared as though by hoover.

Aaand ... inevitably, a few students had to supplement their field trip with a fresh dose of poutine :)

That evening we catered to our Monarch Park School Community Council, so stayed and worked until about 19h00. A long day ... but worth it!

What a wonderful day!

Thanks Ruby for all the support of our students.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Preparing for the Culinary Olympics - Canadian Junior Culinary Team @ Niagara Culinary College

Everyone needs to be measured sometime, in their chosen work. The measuring can help improvements, guide the path, suggest subtle changes ...

The Olympics are the Ne Plus Ultra ... the absolute top o' the heap, in anything. We usually associate Olympics with sport ... but these outstanding young chefs are preparing for the world culinary Olympics in exactly one month, in Germany.

The Canadian Junior Culinary Team is headquartered at the Canadian Food & Wine Institute, in Niagara College. The team has been preparing for this competition for almost 2 solid years, developing menu concepts and working with coaches to refine ideas, techniques and find the perfect presentation for each dish / course. Now they are ready to represent Canada in the eyes (and to the taste buds) of the world!

This team, like all Olympic teams, has coaches. Coaches are the guides, advisors and careful critics ... but the young chefs have to do all the work. Last night ... what an outstanding menu! What a divine experience... Oh La La! Chef Youdale (the Dean of the Culinary Arts & Hospitality School in Niagara College) and his mighty team of coaches deserve to be pleased and proud of what their young chefs have accomplished. Chef Youdale is also the Head of the Canadian Food & Wine Institute there.
The Niagara College program includes courses in Viticulture (wine-making). At least three distinct Canadian wines are produced by the students; Rose, Chardonnay, Gamay. Last night the 60 guests, which included supporters of the Institute such as the CCFCC (of which I am a member of the Oakville chapter) and a large collection of members of Les Marmitons (a men's cooking club, with many chapters world-wide) enjoyed this sumptuous repast with student-made wines offered ... the last time this spectacular menu will be offered as practice before Olympic 'showtime'.

The event in Germany will require cooking for 60 guests. The judges there will choose three of the plates coming out from the kitchen at random from each team ... so each plate, every single offering, must be perfect. The young chefs will not know which plates have been chosen.

The menu ... is a secret! I cannot reveal it now (but will, after it has been presented in competition) by name or photo. Suffice it to say that Canadian cuisine is highlighted at every step.
Fish, flesh, fowl, grains, fruit, veg, dairy ... nothing is left out, and the abundance and variety of Canadian products are featured in delicious ways.

Chef Youdale is confident in his young chefs ... they are formed into a mighty and imaginative team with enormous depth of skills and personal passion. Chef's confidence is perfectly placed: This team will do VERY well!

When permitted I will update this blog entry with precise photos of the dishes and the menu. Until then ... stay tuned here AND see this website.

Good luck Olympians! Thanks Chef Youdale. Bon Voyage!

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Risotto, and a Lesson about Poor Peoples' Food

Throughout western world history the rich and wealthy and powerful have almost always had it good on the food front. Have someone kill something (usually large), chop it up into big pieces and then cook it some way and eat the chunks. Poor people usually had to make do or get by somehow with leftovers from the rich; with what could be scrounged, stolen or hunted for after the wealthy had taken what they wanted, or could.

Risotto is a good example of poor peoples' food ... it is made from little bits of things ... from leftovers, essentially. A little old wine, a little rice, a bit of onion or garlic, a bit of cheese, some water or stock ... nothing large, nothing which would be noticed if purloined from the kitchen of the wealthy.

In Italy Chef Gualtiero Marchesi has elevated risotto to the absolute top of the food world ... serving this classic dish of the poor as though it is the most expensive thing ever. He offers it with a piece of gold foil in the centre, makes it with saffron (the most expensive thing, per gram, to buy on the planet)
and presents it on dishes of royal blue with a gold rim.

Monarch Park Culinary Arts students don't have the fancy plates, and seem to be short of gold foil...but they do have lots of passion for excellence, great food and a desire to learn. So ... this week was risotto week ... and learn they did. And they worked with leftovers.

First, the concept of mis-en-place. Literally meaning 'put-in-place', the culinary world uses this phrase to say 'get ready'. Before that we have to get ready to get ready. Are the counters clean? Do we have the basic bowls and tools? Then, after successfully setting, the preparation is done. Measure the rice (100 gm per person if a main course, 65 gm if a starter), prepare the onion and garlic (remembering to remove the anima), melt the butter but not too hot, then infuse it with the garlic. Have the stock heated to simmering, and the wine for pulling the fond nearby. This is the mis-en-place for risotto

The last thing a good cook does is ... cook. Do all the preparation THEN start with the heat to make the magic.

INFUSE the bitter butter and reserve after straining.

SAUTE the onions, and add the rice for toasting when the onions are fairly dry

TOAST the rice until a little colour starts to appear and the bottom of the pan is dry and beginning to resist the spoon as the remaining butter has been absorbed

PULL the fond with a goodly splash of white wine

REDUCE the wine to almost nothing but don't allow to dry

COVER with hot stock and reduce heat

Keep rice slightly covered with hot stock for about 18 minutes

STIR occassionally

SHRED the parmegiano and reserve

INFUSE saffron tea in a ramekin and reserve

SAUTE the mushrooms for risotto al funghi (if desired) and reserve

WARM the serving plates

STIR IN saffron at the 16 minute mark

When rice is al dente, remove from heat

STIR IN bitter butter

STIR IN parmegiano and adjust liquid if needed

ADJUST flavouring with S/P

STIR IN mushrooms (if desired)

SERVE on heated plates, with saffron 'smacked down' to a flat presentation to the beginning of the rim but not over it


Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Aaand ... Here We Go Again!

Here we are ... September again ... another year of school, exploration, personal growth and challenge ... and wonderful food from the young chefs in Monarch Park's Culinary Arts and Hospitality program.

Some days this old Chef is probably seen as just old and tiresome, with worn-out requirements. I insist on good behaviour, proper attire, safe habit development and honest and fair dealing in every way. These are old values ... and to my delight not one student really pushes back much, and then only really against my uniform requirement. I have no mercy in class for those who improperly drag out their cellphones.

On the first day of the semester the course is introduced and a comprehensive tour undertaken. It is a challenge and expected to be a feat of memory (as is most of the chef world).

On the second day we have a tradition ... I hand out a pretty good recipe from a 70 year old cookbook and say to my new students "Make Me Cookies".
The pantries are loaded up, the fridges groaning. I got a good deal on butter recently and we have almost 50 pounds of the stuff in the fridge (and it will soon all be used and enjoyed). The flour is fresh, the ovens clean and, well, everything is ship-shape.

Everyone is divided into teams (three teams usually) and my only job is to stand back and not help. This is a day for exploration.

Ingredients are found. Measuring devices are discovered. Trays are hauled out of the stacks. Parchment paper is unrolled at great length.

This year one group thought to turn on the oven before they wanted to bake.

The results were ... um ... results.
Some were edible.
This process took about 2 hours.

On the next day the students got a demonstration of how to use and follow and prepare for a professional recipe. It takes 25 minutes from beginning to eating.

After the demo the students are challenged to do it Chef's way, not the previous way. The only thing done for them in advance is that the butter has been allowed to soften and the ovens are on. The same groups ... but this time only 40 minutes are allowed. There will be no mercy ... measure everything, create the batter, form the cookies, bake them, cool them and share ... 40 minutes. At the 40 minute mark, all hands are off (just like at a rodeo) and the results (or lack of them) are judged.


The demo paid off ... the level of cooperation just shot straight up ... the focus and speed increased dramatically and there was 100% success.

EVERY group fared well. EVERY group produced good to excellent cookies.

And all of a sudden there are no complaints about the uniform, there is full buy-in and this old Chef knows that we are off to another very successful semester.

Away we go again!