Day 49: Ramps, Tubes, & Tentacles

Sorry I haven’t given you words.

This week, I’ve been thinking in tablespoons, dreaming in dishes, making up menus. Last night I was up into the early parts of the morning working on costing out my final project menu…deciphering things like the cost of ⅛ tsp of chili powder per serving on my entree and 2 oz of chocolate in my dessert. I felt like I was back in high school again, although let’s be real, I was much much better at mathematics then. Anyways, I am sure I made it more complicated than necessary, but it has been super insightful thinking about food in numbers and understanding how to successfully make a profit while running a restaurant.

Can you believe that in just one week from today, I will be finished with my final?

All of this aside, I have been well fed this week. Let me tell you about it.

Monday, we worked full lunch service at Island Creek Oyster Bar. I was on hot apps, making parsnip soup and fresh ricotta gnocchi.  I kicked myself a few times for asking silly questions to the chefs, like where the “tasting spoons” were. Overall, an exciting, fast-paced experience of working in a grand restaurant kitchen. The ceviche and taro root chips were my favorites.

image
Lunch service at Island Creek.

Tuesday was Middle Eastern day with Chef Cara from Oleana. Homemade hummus, pita, kibbheh, sarmas, lots of bulgur. Yum day.

image
Tuesday’s Feast.

Today, Wednesday, was our last market basket with Chef Michael Leviton.

The ingredients we had to use were:

  • Ramps – what on Earth is this beautiful thing? A wild leek.  A spring beauty.
  • Whole black sea bass – my chance to roast it whole.
  • Squid tubes and tentacles – yikes.
  • English peas – I can deal with this.

Ready, go!

Funny enough, we all managed to cook the more exotic items somewhat decently, but those gosh darn peas…

“ALL OF YOU, and I mean ALL of you, have served me UNDERCOOKED peas,” remarked Chef. Oops.

image
Meet ramps.

I learned a few lot of things…

I learned that using the grill is incredibly simple. Not scary. And that the charred flavor imparts such a lovely contrast in dishes. I also learned that big tongs are necessary – I set my forearms on fire by grabbing the little tongs that I typically like to use.

I realized that I can cook a whole fish, something that I have been wanting to try for awhile. I just need to add way more salt (Salt x 10) and budget enough time for it to cook. FYI, according to chef, a temperature of just under 130 degrees internally is what you need to have it flake cleanly off the bone.

I discovered two new foods that I liked today and had to make a wish. Ramps are so special! Spicy, fresh, and perhaps one of the most beautiful things I have ever eaten. And squid? Who knew I would like it so much. Previously, I had only met calamari in fried form, and I really don’t eat fried food ever. But man oh man, seared squid is delicious, and squid the grill is something else.

image
My grilled squid.

Just some food for thought – while ramps are $14 a pound, squid is maybe half that cost. Hmm.

What a week so far. Going home to rest, read up on filter feeders, and dream of summer barbecues.

sonia

Day 46: Bread?

Today was supposed to be BREAD DAY.

I could not wait to get my hands dirty in sticky, wet flours.

I was ready to wrestle with glutenin and gliadin.

I was even looking forward to the sting my nose from the sour yeast. And of course, the aroma of browning crust in the oven.

Chef Priscilla Martell, veteran bread maker and bakery owner, gave excellent demos in the morning – slapping the dough on the table, forming bagels, kneading and mixing, revealing the threads in the live, natural starter. What an exciting day ahead of us, right?

image
Chef Priscilla shows us the active starter.
image
Beautiful threads.

EXCITING? SURE. BUT NOT QUITE WHAT I HAD IN MIND.

Just as we set up our stations in the kitchen, a shadow fell over me. I felt strange.

Am I seeing things? Everything looks…hazy. Is it smoke? What is falling from the celiling? Are you seeing it too? OH MY GOODNESS, EVERYONE OUT!!!!!!!!!!!

No, it was not a fire. Thank goodness.

Something about the vents reversing, blowing gross dust particles into the entire industrial kitchen. We all were sneezing and coughing. My chef coat was covered in “soot” or whatever it was.

And in result, bread day, you could say, ran away from us.

Gluten 1, Sonia, 0.

Instead, I walked home in the lovely seventy-five degree weather, made a coconut milk mocha milkshake, and took a nap in supta baddha konasana next to the window, with a blanket of sun streaming across my waist.

Bread Day to be continued. All is well.

sonia

 

Day 45: More Pastry

I am happy to report that…

There are good people in the world.

I arrived at school with a big smile on my face. It had been a good morning – I had responded to a few nagging emails and had even made some headway on my final project. Yet just when I thought I had caught up on life, just when I was feeling a bit settled, the carpet was pulled from beneath my feet. Somehow on my way to school this morning, ear cocked to the right as I chatted with Mom and knives slung across my torso, my little purse decided to slip off my shoulder. I had lost my pocket book.

I emptied and re-emptied my bags, searching, like a dog chasing its own tail, until I finally confirmed that my suspicions were true. Giving Valencia a nod, I raced out of class onto Commonwealth Ave.

My search was in vain. The street was teeming with people of all sorts. Students, professors, homeless, everyone and anyone you could imagine.

Defeated, I spent the next half hour on the phone, cancelling important cards. Thankfully we were doing more pastry today – something that was sure to cheer me up.

I kept a little “don’t-worry-be-happy” vessel of chocolate chips on my station too. That helped.image

French Macarons – chewy, sweet, perfectly smooth. Ours came out wonderfully, despite the fact that we almost committed an unforgivable crime. Metiga and I had switched the sugars on accident, and luckily caught the mistake just in time to quietly throw away our wrong batter and start fresh, before Chef noticed.

image
Vanilla Macarons with Coffee Buttercream

Bostock – A delightful almond toast. Like an almond croissant.

image
Bostock

Pate choux filled with chocolate pastry cream– A nice little review after making these with Chef Jean Claude too. Very cute.

image
Chocolate Cream Puffs

Poached pears – what a great technique to learn. These were my favorite. You know why? They reminded me of the canned pears my mom used to give us back in the day.

image
To poach a pear.

I was happy that everything my team made today was quite successful. I had made peace with the disappearance of my pocket book situation too.

AND THEN, as we were washing bowls galore, I got a call from the Boston University police. Someone wonderful had found my purse! Party at the dishwasher.

I could not resist leaving a nice box of cream puffs with the cops. It only seemed right.

sonia

Day 44: Island Creek Oysters

We are all sitting in a Thai restaurant today for lunch waiting for our food. As we stare at the decorative fish tank, filled with exotic and beautiful fish, the first thought that comes to our mind is, “Okay, so how would we fillet that flat guy?”

We spend the rest of the conversation discussing how we would cook the silvery guy in the back, the fat black one, and the tiger striped one to the left.

Yes, we are a strange bunch of kiddos.

Today, it was Island Creek Oyster Day. Out the door at 7 am, we rode over to Duxbury Bay, took a boat out on the water, and got a chance to see how oysters were spawned, raised, and grown.

image
I am on a boat. Woohoo.

Did you know that oysters are hermaphrodites? Or as the boy showing us around at the farm explained, “so they can first be a dude and then be a chic.”

image
Spawning Oysters.

Did you know that oysters live off of algae?

image
Algae for the oysters.

Did you know that oysters purify 50 gallons of water per day?

This tour truly made me understand why oysters are such an exquisite item and special food. So much work goes into cultivating them.

Carrying home fresh bay breeze and a bag of Island Creek Oysters, we returned to school for some time in the kitchen.

We shucked oysters.

We filleted all kinds of fish.

We cooked a lot of sea creatures.

image
Hello Mr. Salmon

Today, I worked on a GIGANTIC salmon.

Holding it by the tail, I scraped the scales off. It was quite heavy and many times wanted to slip from my grip. Scales went flying everywhere, on my face and chin. I filleted it and scraped the spine for pieces I could use for tartare. No waste.

Then I grilled it and it was delicious.

Good eats today.

image
Chef grilled some oysters.
image
Team 1 on crab cakes.
image
My team’s beer battered clams.
image
Mr. Salmon’s belly grilled. 
image
Team 2’s whole roasted Branzino.
image
Team 1 on seared scallops.
image
Team 4 on poached fluke.

Am I the same girl that used to be afraid of fish?

sonia

 

Day 40-43: Jean Claude and more.

First, the good news.

There is more sun. The walk home in evening light does put a skip into my step, despite the fact that I am buried under my knife case and bags of various food.

Now the other news.

The days are getting longer and yet moving faster, if that makes sense. Early starts. Late nights. Final projects. Tick-tock. These next three weeks are going to fly by.

I missed you all last week. However, I can’t not share some quick recaps from some amazing days.

Day 40: Catalonia Day with Chef Dante!

image
Potato and Smoked Mozzarella Croquets.

We made recipes from his childhood. Steak Candy, the most delicious cornmeal cake with vegetables, and smoked mozzarella potato croquets.

Day 41: Four Seasons of Pasta with Chef Sara Jenkins from NYC’s Porsena and Porchetta restaurants. This was a night event that we helped Chef to cater. Besides lots of handmade pasta, we made the most delicious pea-mint raviolis. The best part was that after all of the guests were fed, we got to celebrate in the kitchen with leftover Italian wine and the homemade pasta that we had made. A very fun night indeed.image

Day 42 & 43: Jacques Pepin and Jean Claude

We had the opportunity to Skype with Chef Jacques Pepin, the founder of our program. Unfortunately, he could not make it in person.

image
Talking with Jacques.

I asked Chef: “Chef Jacques, how do you stay healthy while living a chef’s life, long hours, high stress…”

Jacques Pepin responded without blinking an eye, in his jovial voice, “You drink a lot of wine!” We all laughed. Then, after pausing, he continued. “And, well, you know your body. The life of a chef is tough, tasting everything and at the end of a long day, all you maybe eat is a piece of bread and cheese. This is why it is also important to work with really good ingredients.”

What an amazing teacher.

His partner Chef Jean Claude spent two days with us, creating magic right before our eyes. The 80 year old pastry chef spun sugar from his fingers. He was loving, he was cross, he was incredibly ambitious, and our strictest teacher ever.

image
Chef said, “Pleez don’t show zis photo to mi wife!”

He yelled at us. He grandfathered us. He kept us on our feet moving for two good 9 hour days. He would not eat until he made sure we were first fed. We followed him around with a small plate of food and kept encouraging him to leave his choux pastry for just a moment to take a few bites and get some energy.

image
Eat something, Chef!

When he became really cranky towards the afternoon, our program directors gave him a cup of “water” which he later revealed to us with a wink, was actually some nice white wine. That really cheered him up. A true Frenchman.

“Sonia! Who iz Sonia?!” He asked, pulling out the first slab of puff pastry that met his palms and reading the label on the plastic film.

“Me, Chef,” I said, raising my hand and speaking loud enough so that he could hear me. He was rather hard of hearing.

“Okay, so, well, we are going to use your puff for the orange tart. I hope you don’t mind. And now we will all see how well your puff pastry came out,” he said quite firmly in his heavy French accent.

Yikes.

He unwrapped it, pounded it intensely with his rolling pin, cut it in half, and paused. “It is perfect.

I emitted a sigh of relief. “Well, you are a great teacher, Chef.

He turned to the others and while lovingly brandishing my nose with his finger, he said, “See, she is a diplomat. She should run for president.”

Maybe. But I was not just throwing out nice words. We had spent the whole previous day under his watchful eye, painstakingly making this prized dough.

We shared a feast with Chef Jean Claude, and before he left, he kissed us each on both cheeks.

image
Fresh Orange Tart, Kouign-amann, Cheesecake, Choux Pastry Swans, Noisette Cookies
image
Salmon en Croute with wine, of course.

What a special man, what a special experience.

sonia

Day 39: Market Basket

Today’s menu must incorporate…

Dun…dun…dun…

  • Fluke
  • Fava Beans
  • Count Neck Clams
  • Fingerlings, and
  • Jumbo Asparagus

Appetizers up by 3pm. Entrees up by 4!

YES, CHEF!

But, what is fluke again? Umm, clams? And, how on Earth do you cook Fava beans…?

I am incredibly impressed with my mini Chef family today. Not only did we pull off some more than decent dishes with these somewhat foreign ingredients in a short amount of time, BUT we performed with an elegance, grace, a sense of confidence.

The fire in the belly feeling.

The amount of variety that we experienced today was amazing. Everyone’s personality showed up in their dish. It was beautiful to see, share, and taste.

Here is what I made:

image
Pakoras

For my appetizer, I made asparagus, fingerling, and fluke pakoras with tamarind-date chutney. (Pakoras are a popular fried snack in India made from spiced gram flour.)

image
Clam Curry with Fava Bean Rice

For my entree, I made a South Indian clam curry with fava bean pulao. The seasoned Basmati rice made me homesick for my childhood days and the coconutty curry was not too bad at all.

I helped myself to seconds.

sonia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 38: Fish

 

Fish are friends, not food. Oops, sorry Bruce.

image
Go Fish.

 

Imagine cooking and eating the freshest seafood you have ever tasted from 10am to 6pm?

I am SO FULL. 

And I feel good inside too. Something about becoming one with the sea is strengthening and nourishing.

Today we had Max Harvey.

“DON’T CALL ME CHEF,” he said in his rough, straightforward, seaman’s voice. “I’m old school, don’t hate me.”

Max Harvey is a fisherman. He lives in Jamaica Plain. He enjoys his coffee with cream and sugar. He can fillet fish perfectly in seconds and make it look like he is cutting through butter. His face is tanned from the sun, his skin is salty, and his hands are well, what I imagine fisherman’s hands to look like. He speaks quite softly, or QUITE LOUDLY depending on the occasion or his mood. He knows a wealth of knowledge about the sea, and about fish.

image
Max Harvey

While Max does not want us to call him “Chef,” he is truly a skilled chef in the kitchen; okay, perhaps he is rather “unorthodox” as he keeps telling us, but he sure knows how to make fish taste delicious.

What did we do today? More like, what did we not do?

The warm up…

Max makes us fish chowder.

  • Tip: Don’t cut the fish into pieces, just let it flake apart naturally.

We shuck oysters, clams, and day-old scallops.

  • Fact: Scallops live the high life in these big mansions of shells. Sometimes they let little hakes live with them. How generous.
  • Fact: West coast clams literally made me homesick because they tasted like the Pacific Ocean.
image
A scallop in it’s shell.

We make ceviche from scallops, shrimp, Spanish mackerel (my favorite), and clams.

  • Fact: Ceviche is good for about a day.
  • Fact: I have not had ceviche before. I like this.
image
Tuna Crudo

We make crudo from char, Spanish mackerel, and tuna tartare.

  • Fact: I like this too.
image
Ceviches and Crudos

The work out…

We make monk fish.

  • Note: This is a tough little monkey to cook.
  • Tip: Hot pan and hot oil or the fish will stick.

We sear tuna and cook swordfish collar.

  • Note: Practice this.

We roast whole black sea bass and porgies.

  • Note: Such a beautiful presentation and also a delicious way to eat fish.

We slather compound butter on filets and broil them.

  • Tip: Hot oven and hot broiler. Different fish will react differently to this bake but all will be delicious.

We fry fish of all kinds – flounder, redfish, fluke, mackerel.

  • Note: Flour, egg, panko, fry it up.

Chef makes us a Bluefish dish with eggs.

image
A feast of fish.

The sprint to the finish…

We kill a live, wriggling lobster and pan sear it with a buttery roe sauce.

  • Note: The most exhilarating thing I’ve done all day.
  • Fact: It continues to wriggle for most of the cooking process so just pretend it’s having a nice time.
  • Tip: Not for the squeamish.
image
The specimens.
image
Lobster and butter.

The cool-down…

We eat more buttery lobster and do dishes.

Yes, my tummy is happy. I don’t think there was a single dish that I did not particularly enjoy. I am proud of my mini chef family today.

We really pulled it off.

sonia