Thursday, 18 May 2017

Service and Giving at The Good Shepherd Mission

Again (and for the last time this semester) we went to The Good Shepherd Street Mission to serve lunch to about 400 clients. Meghan, a grade 8 student who has heard about our work there has joined us ... and today's brigade did wonderful service to the community.

Big respect to each of you ... and heartfelt thanks.


Ciabatta and Disgusting Biga

Sometimes you have to start with something pretty plain and humble to create something beautiful. We did that.

On Monday we made biga ... a bread starter that was tossed into a huge bowl and covered with plastic wrap, then tossed into the bottom of a cupboard for a week to ferment, bubble, grow, collapse and ooze while it made a wonderful sour base.

Some students arrived early at school ... these two were at the back door when I arrived at 05h45.

Start in the kitchen at 06h00.

It takes real dedication to come to school over 3 hours early ... by 06h30 the whole brigade was hard at work
using the biga we'd made 4 days previously to make a big, fat, sticky, ciabatta dough ... which oozed out of every bowl and plopped onto the racks.

Someone has to do a full and complete clean-up ... Willem volunteered to come in 3 hours before his co-op time usually starts to be the 'kitchen bitch' and help everyone. What a wonderful guy!

Then ... wait for 75 minutes ... so Jahquane and Herold and others got to serious work and made breakfast for everyone. Yum ... delicious! And great attitude, everyone!! A few people caught up on their Zzzzzzs in my office.

Then ... bring the ploppy risen dough out of the bowls and splat it onto the counters.

Start kneading and form basic shapes and start proofing.

Then ... learn how to make a steam oven, and do steam injection ... and bombs away! Bake and enjoy t
he results.

Results = 100% delicious, with wonderful crust and delicious, slightly sour crumb.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Creating Perfect Sticky Buns! (a.k.a. inducing diabetic collapse if not careful!)

Well, this is the second-last day of "Bread Week" ... it is time to take on the world-famous (or they should be) UBC Sticky Buns. These are famous at the University of British Columbia (where Chef did his undergraduate work and part of his graduate school) ... and now, as they have been enjoyed by generations of Vancouverites and students of UBC, they are sold all over Vancouver to students, and former students, who still have the habit.

How to make?


Start the night before combining warm milk, a bit of sugar, and bit of salt and a lot of butter. Melt the butter into the milk
and cool to room temperature. Get a pair of eggs and about 2 1/2 litres of flour, and make a soft dough. Raise for about 75 minutes above a warm spot, then turn out and roll into a rectangle. Smear the inside with melted butter and them smear on a thick base of brown and white sugars combined into a goo with more melted butter. Today we added raisins that had been soaked in brandy for about 2 hours. Roll up the dough
with the filling,
and cut into disks. Place into a deep prepared pan, and bake for about 40 minutes.

What could be simpler?

Invert onto a rack-lined tray, allow to drip and cool. Prise buns apart with a pair of pallette knives.

MMmmmmmm .....

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Fougasse ... Deceptively Simple Bread

There are two things you can say about good fougasse ... 'YUM', and 'Wow, how did you make that excellent bread?'

Let's just leave the YUM and go to part II (above).

Fougasse is a simple dough to make ... blossom some yeast in sweetened water, add some basic-quality EVO, pour it into flour and salt mixed (with maybe a little herb added) ... and ... VOI and LA, you've got the beginnings of some serious classic french bread.

So today we just practised rocking another great bread ... and learnt some cultural history along the way.

Make the dough, allow it to rise, then roll it out and cut it to a classic shape. Add a little egg wash or milk wash ... or perhaps some light flour topping ... and bake at 425 for about 25 minutes.

Along the way the students learnt that really good bread should not be cut, but torn. This is a reflection of old, old roman catholic history, with the stabbing in the side of Christ on His Cross.
Because of that, and the representation of the risen Christ through the risen loaf (see how this ties together?), no blade should be applied to classic loaves. Use your fingers and hands, and don't squash the life out of the poor thing! This is why we "break bread together". Break gently, not saw apart or flatten. We join and share, not cleave. This tradition of tearing rather than cutting is also reflected in the Jewish Challah (see the previous blog-post) shared on the night of the Sabbath. It is torn and shared, not cut.
Bread brings people together to stop their busy-ness, to spend time together, to be grateful and to make community.

Everyone practiced the gentle tearing and was successful ... and Makayla made a just delicious gentle garlic butter shared as a quick dip.

Results were delightful. Well done everyone!

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

(Not Quite Kosher) Loafers! It Is Challah Time!

Well, this week is all about breads ... good breads ... and starting at work VERY early! What a learning experience.

I arrived at school at 05h55 to unload. Jahquane was already waiting there ... Herold showed up about 2 minutes later. We unloaded the car of supplies and went into the kitchen. Willem turned up about 3 minutes after this, kindness of Mom's taxi. We all needed coffee (and Willem was up to the job of making us all wake up in the nicest possible way)! Coffee it was, all 'round.

Challah takes time to learn to make ... it is not the simplest of recipes, although it is a straight-dough. The three secrets of making good challah are; get all the temperatures right (including those of the bowls and racks), move rapidly to make the dough after a completed mis-en-place, and braid and egg-wash with verve after proofing! These are easier said than done, but today's excellent results speak for themselves. It takes a lot of practice to be able to rock this stuff with confidence and panache.

The brigade arrived and was all at work by 06h20.
This was QUITE the shock. The brigade looked ... tired. Except Coco, who is the DuraCell Bunny of student chefs (and just a fabulous cook).

The bowls were warmed ... the yeast carefully blossomed ... the mixers used ... the flour added and stirred by hand to make a ragged dough ... and then the dough put on the hook for about 4 minutes, with a finish of hand-kneading until supple and just slightly damp-feeling (tested with the baby-formula-check inside of the wrist). Then ...


Have a little discussion about the intimate relationship, over centuries, perhaps millennia, of bakers and brewers ... both are the yeast-users and collectors and cherishers of any long-ago village ... and beer or ale and bread-baking are intimately inter-twined in western culture.

My students do not wait well. They have little patience (typical), so everyone made themselves breakfast. AND cleaned up beautifully. This chef had more coffee. If I cut myself this morning I would bleed brown.

Then ...

Set up the boards and clean counters ... bring down the risen dough (Yahya and Makayla demonstrate)
... turn out the dough ... cut into two large portions then each portion into three lumps.

Roll the lumps
into long cylinders,

and braid them together.
Proof them on baking sheets

Add a slight egg wash and, if desired, sesame seeds or poppy seeds (as Jenny is demonstrating)


Voila! Challah!

And it was delicious.

Jahquane kindly shared half of his loaf ... ALL the rest were carefully taken home, with blushing pride.

Well done, Bakers! (Or should I call you Loafers?!) See you again wicked early almost every day this week!


Thursday, 4 May 2017

Mac-And-Cheese-And-Mac-And-Cheese-And-Mac-And-Cheese-And-Mac-And-Cheese-And-Mac-And-Cheese-And-Mac-And-Cheese-And-Mac-And-Cheese-And-Mac-And-Cheese-And- ...

OK, what could possibly go wrong with making Mac-And-Cheese?

Not a lot! But ... first you have to know how to make a good roux ... and do something magical with it! Bechamel and Mornay, here we come ... and the whole concept of mother and daughter sauces.

Learn to get the butter to just the right temperature, and sweat the onion
and/or garlic if you want that flavouring. Then get the flour slowly sifted in, then the cream and watch the whole structure come together quickly! Stir without stopping!
Thin down with milk,
correct the flavouring and add shredded or powdered cheese. Get it to melt into the basic Bechamel to make Mornay.

While this is going on have another brigade member heat up water and get it boiling, then salt it well.
Cook the dried macaroni noodles for about 14 minutes, until 'al dente', then pull out of the water with a spider. Get the mac into a smallish roasting pan and stir in all the delicious sauce. Top with more shredded
or powdered cheese mixed with herbed breadcrumbs. Bake in a 350 oven for about 20 minutes.

Loud, official, YUM !!

Today one group decided to play with their food, and added food colouring to the sauce. (Not traditional, but playful!) I encourage my students to play with their food (as long as it is not on contract for others) and experiment. Today it was all about "What will you do when you 5-6-7-8 year-old niece or nephew comes to play at your house, or one of your kids later in life? It is rainy and you're stuck inside. What is something that you can do WITH the kids and have delicious fun while you do it! See if you can get them to 'taste' red or green or blue or yellow.

So ... green sauce. :)

Dig in, kiddies!!

And today was a delightful former student's birthday ... so he was invited down for a special birthday celebration. Every chef worth her / his salt has a stash of candles in their desk ... and today we put two of them to use.

Happy Birthday, Noah.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Wall of Thanks at The Good Shepherd Street Mission

Every month possible my chef students go to The Good Shepherd Street Mission and serve clients their lunch and help prepare dinner. We welcome between 300 and 450 people each time we go. The pace is frenetic, the need almost overwhelming. After two hours of flat-out service my students have nothing left to give, physically or emotionally.
We are on the Wall of Thanks at The Good Shepherd...humble but delighted to be so as we have the chance to serve.

As always, I am very proud of my students .

George Brown Chef School Visit

Inspiration ==> Perspiration ==> Inspiration ==> Perspiration ==> Inspiration ==> Perspiration ==> etc.

Once in a while it is important to remind one's self where the trajectory leads ... why the learning NOW is important so doors will open in the future. Having a vision is important, and a sense of the possible. This creates hope...and without hope we are nothing.

George Brown Chef School is one of the premier places to get a wide and solid grounding in Culinary Arts in Canada. From personal experience I can attest to the quality of programs AND the absolutely terrific support offered to students and graduates as the move is made into professional work and life. The Director of Chef School is Chef John Higgins, who always welcomes my students to a tour of their possible future with a wide smile, a strong handshake and gentle, wise advice.

We chatted with Chef Higgins then were welcomed into the kitchen of Chef Dario Tomaselli, who gave my students 15 minutes of professional time and encouragement as well as a specific look at a professional teaching kitchen at College. Keep a good work / life balance, he encouraged my students, and aim high ... very, very high ... you'll never know how far you can go.
Be willing to take risks, and always keep'll never be 'full'. See the rapt attention!

Then we were off to The Chefs' House Restaurant, the teaching restaurant operated by the students of Chef School.
Teaching Chef Oliver Li welcomed my students, then had one of the student chefs do a "Chef's Call" for us,
teaching the front-of-house staff about the dishes on card, and features that are special. Thank you Chef Li!

This is what excellence looks like, and today my students learnt what it takes to be this good, this respected. That you, Chefs!

Friday, 7 April 2017

Mid-Term Exams!! (Are We Nervous Yet??)

Aaaargh! Time for an exam!

First, the REALLY hard part ... the written part. I offered students all the instructions on how to make beautiful focaccia. All they had to do was put the 34 steps into perfect order.


We practised yesterday by writing out, working in pairs, the instructions for two basic recipes requiring technique; making filled profiteroles,
and classical cheese risotto. Every pair wrote out the method of performing the recipe, and handed their writing to me. And waited a little whilst I took a look at their work ... then, with great glee I tore all the papers into small bits. Students blanched!

"OK", I said, "Now just stand up, in your pairs, and TELL me what you wrote down. Everyone else add, correct or encourage the speakers." With some nervousness and glances at each other, every single student stood and spoke ... and had to do BOTH recipes.

Today, each pair of students was told to simply prepare a basic station for two chefs. then, after the morning announcements, each pair was told what to make ... with no paperwork, no access to phones ... no support EXCEPT each other.
They had 90 minutes from cold start to absolute finish, including cleaning their stations and having the place literally perfect.

Enough talk from me ... here are the results, in photos.
Every single student did VERY well ... almost all marks are in the 90s ... and I am delighted.

After the exam was over we sat all together in my office and talked about how they're feeling about being ready (or not), and how they feel their skills are developing, and their confidence in themselves.
Every single student has discovered a new confidence in themselves, in their skills and abilities to accept a challenge, trouble-shoot on the fly and think creatively while all the time keeping clear, focused communication with their partner. I asked them all to think back to the very first day ... "Make Me Cookies" ... and there was rueful laughter.
Jacquane reminded us all how every cookie went into the trash ... they were, truly, awful.

Now? Wow.

We wound up with me presenting an alternative form of imagination and excellence to my chef students ... the amazing Maestro Cameron Carpenter, organist. (Listen and see Maestro Carpenter here.) He is a punk in style, but one of the world's best organists. He has taken oodles of classical training, then added his own sensibilities and style and made both the instrument ("The King" -- the mighty pipe organ) and the music his own. I shared with them also the fact that HE had a mentor, someone to follow ... and my students met the amazing Virgil Fox.

"Work towards being one of these two dreamers", I suggested. "Get a solid, solid training in the classics of your trade, and then reach beyond what you've been taught and make it truly your own."

Congratulations, all.