This past Tuesday, I finish my second of five culinary course segments for the winter term. Before winter break, I had Introduction to Meatcutting and then started Fundamentals of Food Production for two days. The third day of the course was probably the worst day of culinary school. It was the Thursday right before our two week winter break, so that day was reserved for a “deep-cleanse” rather than class/production. I cleaned for four hours. FOUR HOURS. Pots, pans, measuring instruments, all utensils, every nook and cranny of that kitchen. Needless to say it was exhausting, frustrating, and seemed almost fruitless especially when the “inspector” instructor came in and started to list off a billion other things we needed to clean. On the plus side, we did get out of class early, right around lunch time. Two classmates and I ventured to the Uptown area and had lunch at Vapiano’s, an Italian bistro where you order at different stations — pasta, pizza, salad, the bar, etc.. whatever you are in the mood for and they scan a card you are given by the hostess when you came in then the food is either brought to you or you can pick it up. We shared a refreshing vegetarian appetizer plate filled with green and black olives, sliced mozzarella and tomato, toasted bread, and bruschetta. I had the bruschetta pizza, it filled my hangry attitude from cleaning all morning. The crust was freshly tossed to a thin consistency topped with arugula, bruschetta mix, olive oil, garlic, mix of cheese with a tomato sauce baked in a stone-pizza oven.
To be frank, I felt not so much in the culinary mindset when starting this term. After a week break for Thanksgiving, I was looking forward to getting back into the routine of classes and my afternoon/weekend activities around Charlotte, however I began to feel a detachment from my reasons to pursue culinary school and the type of courses I was going to have during winter term. I needed to reevaluate how I approached my culinary school studies and practice. I desired some sort of validation in that the time, blood (seriously, knife injuries), sweat, and the piles of pots and pans I washed were actually worth it. I’ve tossed around the idea of applying for a few jobs but with the schedule of the next few weeks/weekends being not so concrete, it’s hard to imagine someone would want to hired me. But I have drawn up a resume — quite different from the resume I had during undergraduate studies — and emailed a few places I am interested in. That’s a good beginning right?
Introduction to Meatcutting
On our first day we watched a video about the brutal, inhumane treatment of factory farm animals from their living situations to their deaths at the processing plant. I am very well aware of this issue; it being one of the many reasons I choose a vegetarian/pescartarian diet. I was interested in hearing my classmates’ responses and of course, the discussion with my professor about the culinary industry’s dilemma in utilizing those products. Though conversation did not go too in depth,we all agreed that the factory farm processing is wrong and change can happen when we as future chefs utilize our economic purchasing power to source our meat products based on the conditions they were raised, fed, and slaughtered.
Each day our instructor led us through simple yoga-like motions, then we would run around the circular loop of the culinary lab hallways — we sure looked silly jogging in our checkered pants and undershirts. In between our stretches, we would point out certain parts of our bodies and relate them to the “cut” on beef, veal, pork, and lamb. For example, our butt is known as the “fresh ham” on pork or “round” on lamb and beefs. I found the exercise very helpful to visualize the animal anatomy in relation to the cuts of meat we prepare in class and understanding where the tender meats are and tougher meats ideal for braising and stewing are located. Now I know where the tenderloin is!
This was a difficult course for me to stomach at some points — like seeing fabrications (cutting) of large carcasses. I still have various issues with meat-eating and the possibility of raising “humane” veal. But the tone my instructor set during those few days of discussion changed my former expectations of the course and garnered my respect for chefs and butchers who are being socially responsible.
Fundamentals of Food Production
Compared to my fall term culinary labs..this class seemed like a breeze. I found myself quite frustrated by the lack of challenge. This course focused on three other “dry” cooking methods — sauteing, shallow frying, and baking. For practical, I pan fried chicken and made a creamy mushroom Marsala sauce.
There were some positive notes though — my group and I enjoyed the liberties of experimenting with whatever ingredients we were assigned. It was almost like a “Chopped” competition. Usually, we were assigned a specific protein to be prepared with a certain sauce, to practice our pan sauce technique. For the carb and vegetable side items, we wanted to get more creative than mac&cheese, potato gratin, and green beans saute with olive oil and garlic– boring! (Especially if you have had it for 3 days..) We also become the “Soup of the Day” group too! I think I made more soups in this course than in the Stock, Sauce, and Soups course last term.
Here are some photos from production:
Asparagus Cream Soup
Other soups my group made were light vegetable, Thai Sweet Potato, and Tortilla Tomato. A heartwarming bowl of soup was perfect for those chilly days last week.
Pan-Fried Pork Cutlets with Marsala Mushroom Pan Sauce
Chicken En Croute
Chicken stuffed with Spinach, Bacon, and Cheese, wrapped in Puff Pastry
Vegetarian version of “En Croute”…
Spinach & Ricotta Puff Pastry
Vegetarian Stuffed Red Peppers
Brown rice, mushrooms, onions, garlic, and zucchini
Ok, so maybe I influenced my group to make more vegetarian dishes…but no one complained and the serving dishes were always empty during clean up.
Can’t wait to shared my next post about my Introduction to Beverage course! Have a wonderful weekend & Happy (early) MLK day!