"Sauces make the world go around," Chef D.J.

Learning at culinary school is a bit different than an average university. Aside from the fact that an everyday university does not teach classes in kitchens, instructors don't wear tall hats and an average homework assignment doesn't mean memorizing the difference between a white roux and a blond roux, culinary school curriculum moves much faster. We focus all of our minds, energy and sought-after talent on one course for five hours a day, five days a week, for three weeks. What this means is our focus on each subject is intense, there's absolutely no room to miss a beat, and we share the total joy of knowing that every three weeks will be finals week. The majority of us made it through the last round of finals week - which included two major written exams, a product I.D. test where we were expected to name 80 different herbs, spices, oils and vinegars from memory just by viewing them, a knife skills test on our precision with cutting potato pieces into perfect 3/4 inch cubes and carrots into perfect julienne slices, as well as a written paper accompanied by a presentation of our chosen topic to the class. Whew. It was a crazy week and for a moment I wasn't sure how it was all going to come together. But it did. And I remember thinking the next round would likely be more controlled as it was just one class (the first round was two). I was wrong.

Week four marked the beginning of Culinary Skills II. The follow-on to Skills I, Skills II teaches the basic cooking methods, stock making, mother sauces and secondary sauces. The worlds of protein, starch and vegetable cookery are also emphasized as well as continued conditioning on product identification skills and utilization. From the syllabus:

Upon completion of this course, the student should be able to:
  • Prepare a Classic White Stock (Fond Blanc)
  • Prepare a Brown Stock (Fond Brun)
  • Prepare a Vegetable Stock (Fond de Legumes)
  • Prepare a Fish Stock (Fond de Poisson)
  • Prepare a White, Blond and Brown Roux
  • Prepare the [five] Mother Sauces of Classical French Cuisine
  • Prepare Derivatives [Small] Sauces of Classical French Cuisine
  • Prepare Thin soup
  • Prepare Thick soups, creams and purees
  • Demonstrate how to control texture, flavor, color, and nutritional changes while preparing vegetables
  • Prepare vegetables cooked to their proper doneness
  • Describe the methods of handling dried legumes
  • Identify the major types of potatoes and their best uses
  • Identify the major types of rice
  • Prepare rice by the pilaf method
  • Prepare and cook dried pasta
  • Describe the various cooking methods associated with proteins
  • Prepare protein dishes using a variety of cooking methods and protein sources.

As Monday of this week was Chef's in-service day, we started out Skills II on Tuesday. No, this didn't mean that we would cut out a day's lesson just because of the short week. Instead, this meant we would have five lessons in four days. In looking at the syllabus's we were to learn and study 74 cooking terms, complete six recipe conversions and read 45 pages from our textbook, Professional Cooking. A large feat for one week, but we made it through and got our first taste (as a class) of working it in the heat of a culinary kitchen. Below are some photos from the week.

The French Chef! Chef Jacky demoing how to make the the perfect Hollandaise sauce. Just about everyone knows that Hollandaise can be tricky. It's a finicky sauce and one must be careful when preparing Hollandaise as it's incredibly easy to get the eggs to curdle if the heat is to high and it's common for the sauce to break if it's not watched closely. We all made it, though! Chef Jacky thought there would be tears on Hollandaise day, but we proved him wrong. I think he was a bit dissapointed.

Chef D.J. (our associated Chef) instructs students on obtaining perfectly caramelized onions for our French Onion Soup while others work feverishly over hot stoves in the background. And it was hot. That day was the first time of really feeling the heat. Like an orchestrated Broadway show, we all worked to create French Onion Soups, toasted baguettes, and Duxelles (minced button mushrooms and shallots sauteed in clarified butter).

That's me working like mad to get those darn onions to caramelize!

Chef Jacky's spicy shrimp and my spicy shrimp. Can you tell who's belongs to whom?
Spicy Shrimp:
3 Shrimp
1/2 tsp Paprika
1/4 tsp Cayenne
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
1/2 tsp Thyme, dried
1/2 tsp Basil, dried
1/2 tsp Oregano, dried
2 oz. Onion, julienned
1 ea. Garlic Clove, minced
2 oz. Clarified Butter
Warm butter in saute pan. In a separate bowl, combine shrimp with paprika, cayenne, black pepper, thyme, basil, oregano, onion and garlic. Add to saute pan and cook until shrimp is done. Place on a serving plate and savor immediately.
Oh, and one more thing:
Under no circumstances. No matter what you do in life. Don't ever, ever, ever forget the five Mother Sauces: Espagnole, Tomato, Veloute, Bechamel and Hollandaise.



Vacation Over: A New Routine

It's Sunday evening and I'm taking a break from my new Sunday-night routine of ironing all five uniforms for the week. Ironing five sets of commis hats, cravats, chef's aprons, chef's jackets and chef's pants calls for a long session at the ironing board, but I've learned in just three weeks that it's worth it; to get it all done in one shot. Because when those weeks start, I've realized, they fly by in a whirlwind that is called the adventures of culinary school.

The first three weeks proved to be eye-opening. The hustle and bustle of getting my unemployed self back up and running and into a new routine was a wee bit challenging and, quite honestly, down right comical at times. As downtown parking can be an absolute shock to anyone's debit card, I've vowed to include a ride on Portland's MAX lightrail into my new daily school commute. Though catching the MAX would be an entirely new adventure for me, I decided why do a practice run? I've seen the MAX station in Beaverton, I've driven past it at least once. I've got it down. I'll give myself plenty of time to get there, board and be on my way to slicing and dicing and prepping for my future showdowns with Bobby Flay, Giada de Laurentis and maybe even Chef Gordon Ramsay. I was wrong. While on my way to the easy-to-locate transit center, I received a phone call from a long lost colleague who is now based in Hawaii. I couldn't pass up this conversation and decided he would keep me company during my first day of commuting to school. I soon learned that the multitasking game of talking (with an ear piece!) while driving does have it's downside. I was so consumed by catching up with my dear friend that by the time I arrived at the "area" where I believed the transit center was located, I could not find the exact spot of where I would catch MAX. Fifteen minutes of driving and blabbing and I gave up. Bob, my friend on the other end of the phone, noticed my drive getting louder. "I just got on the freeway," I said. "While talking to you I couldn't figure out where to park and catch the MAX; I'm driving." I was then joined by chuckles from Bob on the other end of the phone. We decided to end our much overdue conversation and I continued my drive into the city.

I arrived into the city successfully, found a Smart Park and picked a prime space on level two. I grabbed my book bag and my perfectly ironed chefs ensemble - neatly covered in a dry cleaning bag - and was off down the steps, over the sidewalk, across the MAX lightrail tracks (how fitting) and into the Galleria building on SW 10th. I made it up to the 4th floor and entered the reception area of the school. It was a mad house. Students were everywhere asking where to go and some of the school's admissions reps were waiting in the lobby. I found Heidi, my admissions rep, gave a smile and asked if I should just come back down to the lobby after I changed. She nodded. I made it up to the 5th floor - the home of our kitchens and my locker for the next eight months - and grabbed my chef's shoes. I headed into the ladie's room for a quick change and was welcomed by a hoard of females with similar intentions. We were all so nervous. Why? The cravat. That darn cravat. Within our student manuals we received at orientation is a fool-proof instruction sheet on tying the cravat. With 18 steps included, tying the cravat can seem a bit intimidating. I appreciated the veteran students assisting us newbies with tying it. In all honesty, the thing can be tied in five steps - five and you're good to go. Bye bye, long brown curls and hello white, fitted-to-my-head toque. Bye Bye fitted, sleeveless tops, fitted capri's and new summer sandals and hello loose chef's jackets, MC Hammer black and white checkered pants and black, leather, steel-toed shoes. Vwala...it's the new me.

I hurried back to my locker to leave my book bag, grabbed the books I needed for Culinary Skills I and headed back down to the lobby. There I found...no one. It was completely empty. "Oh perfect," I thought. "Where in the world am I suppose to be?" Immediately sensing my panic, the receptionist returned and suggested I head back up to the 5th floor kitchens. Oh yes. I'm in culinary school after all. The kitchens may be a good place to start. I scurried back upstairs and was greeted by the school's president. (Side note: as Portland really is such a small city, it's not surprising to run into familiar faces who are connected to you in some way. The president of the culinary school went to high school with my brother.) Naturally, I wanted to come across as being totally organized and knowing all that is going on. (Second side note: I have a terrible game face and don't hide well on the outside what I'm feeling on the inside.) I think she sensed that I was a bit lost and pointed me in the right direction.

I made it into room 510 and found a spot in the last row of the lecture room adorned with rows of eight-foot steel tables. I'm usually not a fan of the back row. My lack of organization apparently caused me to be one of the last to arrived. Mental note: get to class at least 30 minutes early. In class we were greeted by Chef Stephanie and Chef Jacky, both of whom would be our leaders for the next three weeks. Beginning her culinary career at age eight, Chef Stephanie has worked her way through an interesting culinary career which included working with chefs such as Alton Brown, Caprial Pence and Nicole Aloni. She's also written six cookbooks. Chef Jacky was born in France and decided at the age of 14 that he wanted to be a chef. He was once the Personal Chef to the Commander and Chief of the French Armed Forces in Algeria and also worked as a Chef at the London Playboy Club in England. He was perfect. Standing no more than 5'3", he wore black, wire-rimmed glasses with lanyard and spoke in a very soft and incredibly thick French accent. I couldn't understand a word he was saying. That said, all I could do was smile at him and make another mental note to myself to absolutely get to class 30 minutes earlier to sit front and center for the days of lectures.

At the kick-off of the class we were also greeted by an ensemble of faculty from the school as a means of introduction with who was who, who was responsible for what and where we could locate anyone if we had any questions. I will say the school is pretty organized in that way. This was the third time I had seen these faces as I had attended a president's luncheon a month prior as well as orientation a few weeks before classes began. They definitely want you to know who's around and running the place.

At the end of the first day of Skills I, I did walk away with not only an overwhelming excitement for actually starting my program, but a few words from Chef Peter, Dean of the Culinary Arts and Patisserie and Baking programs at the school. Chef Peter made some comments that I jotted down for the day. I always appreciate words of wisdom or thoughts that stop and make you think. With a good luck to us all starting that day, Chef Peter parted with the following:

"Opportunity knocks. You just have to be willing to open the door sometimes." Chef Peter E.

And that's just a snippet of Day 1. 149 to go!


My first scholarship win!

I arrived early to school today to meet the head of the school's Food Writers' Club to discuss my involvement in the club. I was absolutely ecstatic when she told me that I had won the school's "I Have a Dream" scholarship contest. This is the first scholarship I've ever won! I've pasted it below. Cheers, JF

My Culinary Dream

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was shopping at my local Whole Foods market and found my way over to its impressive selection of wines from around the world. As I do love good wine, being faced with a multitude of varieties is still a bit overwhelming to me. I am no expert on wine by any means, but am always looking to improve my education on the internationally adored drink at any chance I get. Much to my surprise and sheer delight I found the latest edition of Food & Wine’s Wine Buyer’s Guide. Upon arriving home, I quickly restocked my pantry and my refrigerator with the goodies I had purchased and made my way over to my living room sofa to be enlightened on the famed publication’s recommendations for selecting the best wine, as well as its top choices from around the globe. What I wasn’t expecting was to read something that would have an impact on my life from that moment on.

As I began to read the guide I was intrigued by the writing within the introduction. It was much more than just listings of countries, grape varieties and ratings. The person who wrote the introduction and compiled all of the information for this year’s guide, I thought, had to know what they were talking about. He, or she, had to be an expert in the field and be well educated on the information that got included into the guide. At that moment I stopped and thought about how much I enjoy not only wine, but also the world of food. A Journalism major, a lover of a good read and one who’s always had the desire to grow my skills as a writer, it was that moment that I realized that this is what I wanted to do. I would enroll at a culinary school in my area, go through the training that professional chefs go through and use my knowledge to explore the culinary world, and most importantly, write about it.

Exactly how many varieties of salt are there in the world? How does one know which variety to use for each dish? What is the difference between a $6.99 bottle of extra virgin olive oil from Italy and a $37.00 bottle, also from Italy? As my mind opened and my curiosities took hold, I knew I had found something special; a calling. I immediately ventured out to my neighborhood Powell’s bookstore and absolutely fell in love with my new favorite bookstore section; gastronomic literature. Reading excerpts from famed food writers such as: Anthony Bourdain, M.F.K. Fischer, Julia Child and Ruth Reichl had me completely hooked. A deep passion for food and a talent for communicating their passion with words on paper were apparent within their pieces of work. It’s the caliber of these writers, and more, that I look up to and hope to join the ranks of in the future.

Today, I’m embarking on my dream by first, enrolling into an accredited culinary diploma program; second, writing about the findings of my curiosities in the culinary world on a blog I recently created; and three, researching the market to pitch story ideas to local and national publications to, in hopes, become a published food writer. As I continue on this adventure it amazes me how extensive the world of food really is. In my quest to become a published food writer, I want to not only find answers to my own curiosities, but explore other topics that range from the importance of buying organic foods to the affects global warming could have on the quality of our food. Food is a commonality shared throughout the entire world. Everyday we might not go for a swim in a pool, or take a drive in a sports car, or a hike through Multnomah Falls, but everyday we eat. It is an act that is sometimes taken for granted. Through my writing I hope to bring curiosity and education about the culinary world to the masses in hopes to inspire everyone to savor every bite that’s taken.



It's the evening before the first day of school. I can't believe the time has finally come; it's a bit surreal. Tomorrow evening I'll be heading downtown to Western Culinary Institute (http://www.wci.edu/) to begin my 30 weeks of professional training of the Le Cordon Bleu Program. Like a good little student getting ready for her first day of school, all pieces are good to go with just a few items I'll need to class.

Kitchen Uniform and dress code:

  • White chef's jacket with all buttons attached (since it's brand new I'm crossing my fingers that I have not lost any buttons so far)...check!
  • T-shirt worn under the chef jacket must be white in color with no patterns, words, designs or hood...check!
  • White cravat (or neckerchief)...check!
  • White commis hat...check!
  • Student photo ID badge to be worn and clearly visible...check!
  • School-issued black and white checked pants. Pants must be neatly hemmed and properly worn around the waist. Rolled up pants will not be permitted. Properly sized school issued checkered pants are the only pants allowed. (Got it)...check!
  • School-issued kitchen shoes (these aren't your mother's Jimmy Choos)...check!
  • Clean kitchen apron and two kitchen towels...check!
  • School-issued hats, aprons, and side towels are to be worn in all kitchen classes...check!
  • Aprons and side towels are not required in lecture classrooms or the library...check!
  • Chef jacket, hat, apron, pants and cravat are to be wrinkle free, neat and clean with no stains, at the beginning of each class...check (well, assuming I can get them there clean and wrinkle free)!
  • All hair must be clean, properly restrained, worn above your coat collar and under your hat. If hair extends to the collar or below, a hairnet must be worn...check! (And yes, I will most likely need to wear a hair net...perfect.)

I will say this once and only once; over the next eight months I will give up my usual ensemble of the latest clothing styles for one that is uniform, rigid, but most importantly, respected. Being covered from head to toe in a white cap and hair net, chef's jacket, chef's apron, black and white checkered pants and steal-toed black, leather shoes wouldn't be my first choice, but I will wear it all with pride. From the beginning of time in the culinary profession, many great culinary students and chefs have adorned such outfits and I'm happy to now be among them.

Oh, and I cannot wear nail polish - not even clear. They take enormous precautions of anything unwanted getting into the food and that includes chipped off nail polish. This will be a first for my nails since...oh...high school?

And there are 18 steps involved in tying the cravat; the 18th step being a repeat of step 17.

Here we go!



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