Posts Tagged ‘kitchen

27
Oct
08

Earliest Food Memories

One of my earliest and fondest food related memories comes from my early childhood, when my Grandma used to babysit me. I would have been about three years old.

 Every morning we’d walk to the post office and get the mail. We would also pick up the mail for one of her elderly neighbours, “Ms. F-.” 

Ms. F- was always very good about paying her postman. I’d hand her the mail, and she would disappear into her back kitchen, only to return with an old cookie tin. The tin was always lined with wax paper, and always contained homemade chocolate covered raisin clusters. I’ll never forget the smell when she removed the lid, or the taste of those clusters.

To this day, I like chocolate covered raisins, but the individually coated ones you get in stores now are a pale comparison to the ones I ate in Ms. F-‘s sun porch as a 3yr old mailman.

The closest I’ve ever come to tasting those wonderful little clusters again came unexpectedly about a week ago. I had a Toblerone fruit and nut bar that almost had the ratio of chocolate-to-raisin mouth feel dead on. But alas, it didn’t include the old cookie tin that smelled like heaven. Maybe one day I’ll have the good fortune of coming across that Pandora’s box at a yard sale.

I’m sure everyone has similar memories of a favorite food from when they were little and the world was big. So, what’s your favorite food memory?

19
May
08

La Maison Du Chocolat

 

 

Ah, mon Dieu! C’est magnifique! Just yesterday I wrote a post about making truffles with a soft center. I somewhat crypticly mentioned that there are other types of ganache, as well.

In this video from La Maison du Chocolat, you can see how they make a slab of ganache behind the scenes at one of the best chocolataries in France. http://www.lamaisonduchocolat.com/en/

I just want to point out that, although the kitchen looks big and industrial, and there are a lot of machines helping to do the work, making the chocolates is still very much a hands on process.

Also note that, aside from the flambe for flavouring, the ingredients are simple. Chocolate and cream. This is why I stress using the best quality chocolate you can get your hands on, and using fresh cream.

I once found myself in line at the local grocery store behind the owner of a local chocolate shop. I had learned from a former employee that they used Merckens chocolate flavoured candy coating instead of real chocolate. I therefore wasn’t surprised to see her cart loaded up with cans of evaporated milk.

 The result? Grey imitation chocolate that tastes too sweet and has a gritty mouth feel. What a shame.

24
Mar
08

The Ten Commandments of a Chef

1. Thou shall not work with dull knives.

Every kitchen I’ve worked in has had a large knife rack. The only kitchen I’ve ever worked in that didn’t make keeping those knives sharp a priority, I didn’t stay at for very long. In my opinion, if you use a tool all day, every day, you should keep it in top working condition. Hone that edge.

2. Though shall not work sloppy.

Keep your work area clean and well organized. If your space is sloppy, so is your mind. This goes for counter space, as well as the fridge and floor around you. If you don’t work clean, you also don’t work safe, and may injure yourself or others in the kitchen.

3. Honour thy master

Make sure you work only for the best people. If you work for the best, then do what you are told. Learn from their years of experience. Listen to what they have to tell you. Stand on the shoulders of giants. There is usually only room enough for one ego in the kitchen, therefore if you are there to learn, respect your superiors. Although I have moved on and worked at several other kitchens, I still have great respect for my first master, who helped me build a strong foundation from which I was able to build my career.

4. Thou shall not waste.

Use everything. Use all parts of the animal. Have a recipe that calls for only egg whites? Use the yolks for something else, like creme brulee. Leftover cake or bread? Dry it out and grind it up. Use the resulting filler in place of a little flour in a recipe that needs just a little dryness. All of the world’s great cuisines have many examples of economical uses for the whole product. Use everything.

5. Honour thy classics.

No matter what your culinary background, honour the classics of that cuisine. The classics are the building blocks you should use to perfect your technique. Once your technique has been perfected, then you can start to modify and create.

6. Write it down.

Each kitchen I’ve worked at has had a seperate set of recipes they work from. When you learn a recipe write it down so you don’t forget how you did it years down the road. Also, When you try something new, and it works for you, write it down so you’ll remember what made that recipe work.

7. Thou shall not ignore the world of food.

It can be tempting to put on blinders when learning a specific cuisine, but don’t block out other areas of food just because it doesn’t fit what you are learning right now. A pastry chef who learns charcutterie (meat) will be able to produce superior savoury pastry. A French Chef who studies the flavours of Asia will be able to use them to tweek the classics of his cuisine and create something new and unique.

8. Honour thy tastebuds.

I don’t trust a cook who doesn’t taste his own cooking. Only by tasting can you guarantee the best results everytime. Learn to season things properly. If it doesn’t taste right, don’t send it out to the customer.

9. Honour the fire

I have already written a post about the use of fire in cooking. Master the use of fire, and respect the properties of heat. This is what transforms quality ingredients into amazing meals.

10. Thou shall not ignore criticism.

Criticism, as long as it’s constructive, can be a great creative force. A lot of ego and emotion goes into cooking, so it’s easy to get angry at a critique, but if you are able to learn from it and use that knowledge the next time around, you be sure to get good results. Back in commandment one I mentioned the kitchen with dull knives. The head chef there was very insecure, and wouldn’t accept input from customers or co-workers. He would just get angry. This attitude doesn’t solve anything. It creates an environment of hostility and indifference in the kitchen. If you ever find yourself working in such a place, get out. It makes it impossible to follow commandment #3 if you don’t.

23
Mar
08

Elements of Cooking: Fire

The chemistry behind cooking and baking happens while following a recipe. Most of the chemical reactions that take place between ingredients happens during the initial mixing and blending together of those ingredients. The biggest difference I found between a pastry kitchen, and a restaurant kitchen is how fire is incorporated and utilised in the process of producing the finished result.

Fire in a pastry kitchen is utilised in two ways. The first, and likely the most obvious, is through baking.

Ingredients are mixed together, allowed to react to each other, shaped, and nearly finished before they are put in the oven to bake. The use of fire in this instance may or may not be direct, depending on the type of heat source being used. People traditionally think of baking as happening in an oven, however there are some instances where dough or batter is baked over direct heat. Many flat-breads are baked on a metal dome over an open fire, and pancakes, crepes, and waffles are poured into a pan or griddle over a heat source.

One of my favorite bread related memories happened on a three week canoe trip on the Buffalo River in Arkansas. We made bannock, a traditional Native American bread. We stuck the raw dough on the end of sticks, and baked it over the open flames of the bonfire. The finished result, when spread with homemade strawberry jam, was phenomenal. A raccoon even tried to get in on the action and scared the daylights out of my friend Jere.

The other type of heat generally employed in the pastry kitchen is direct heat in the form of boiling. Whether this takes the form of boiling sugar for confectionery work, boiling fruit for a puree, or boiling water for a bain marie, doesn’t really matter, since it’s the same general idea. Often boiling and baking can occur together in the same recipe, as in the case of a pie, where the filling is prepared by boiling ingredients together, and the crust is baked. 

Fire in the restaurant kitchen, on the other hand, is the nearly alchemical process by which a cook takes a single ingredient and transforms it into something different.

Roasting, braising, sauteing, poaching, grilling, broiling, sous vide, frying, steaming, all have their own unique purpose in the cook’s repertoire. Where a pastry chef follows an exact recipe to bring about a desired reaction, chefs use an exact cooking technique.

Through the application of fire, a cook is able to extract and reabsorb juices. They are able to reduce a liquid and caramelize an ingredient. Using these techniques allows them to concentrate flavours and reintegrate them back into the food.

How well you are able to heat, concentrate, and reintegrate through the use of fire will determing how good you are at cooking.

21
Mar
08

Swedish Chef, Jamaican style

 

http://www.dayrobber.com/content/view/170/

Professional kitchens are full of interesting characters. I think it’s a basic prerequisite of the job to have a few screws loose. Perhaps it is due to working long hours, in close quarters, with fire, knives, and copious amounts of ego.

My favorite chef steryotype has got to be Jim Henson’s Swedish Chef. I’ve never worked with a Chef from Sweden personally, but I have worked with enough hyperactive culinarians from other parts of the world to know that Mr. Henson may have been on to something.

John Bull is a very good real life example of what I mean by “unique character”. His laid back approach to his cooking and his sense of fun are exactly what I love to see in a kitchen. Oddly enough, he is based out of Stockholm, Sweden. You can watch all of his videos here: http://www.dayrobber.com/content/category/1/15/6/

 Of course, the master biographer of unique kitchen personalities, Anthony Bourdain, is himself just such a character. I love how he is able to cut through the Bulls***, straight to the heart of the matter. Even with the punk-rock attitude, you can still see that laid back approach and sense of fun I mentioned earlier.

His book Kitchen Confidential has almost become a sacred work among professional cooks. It rings true to working conditions and day-to-day life in restaurant kitchens. No one can work in the industry for very long without stockpiling their own list of horror stories. Perhaps I’ll share some of my own in the future.