Thursday, 21 April 2011

A good choice

This week has been all about tackling one of my greatest fears in the kitchen......pastry. I wouldn't say pastry scares me but until this week I've never used flour except to thicken sauces and batter fish. I'd never made a dough in my life, pastry was something I stayed away from at all costs and I don't really know why, it's quite strange really. Suffice to say, this week I didn't operate in the kitchen with as much confidence as usual as we confronted various pastries from puff pastry to sweet pastry.

Below is a random selection of photos of some of the things we cooked. Unfortunately I keep forgetting to take photos of most of my finished products before I present them to the Chef and he/she dissects it completely and I subsequently eat, sorry!

Quiche Lorraine

Crepes with lemon syrup (I folded this one inside out, oops!)

Our puff pastries before being chilled over night

Everyone in action. I'm in there mixing a roux. We were only using two of the five hot plates to keep the kitchen as cold as possible for pastry.

What have I learnt this week? Some basic and some not so basic pastries used commonly in cuisine. 

I also spectacularly (at times) reaffirmed the fact that I'm not destined to bake cakes and desserts, and I made the right decision to focus solely on cuisine and not on patisserie. Evidently making pastry is not like cooking anything else, one cannot throw ingredients together to fix a mistake or get a desired taste. With pastry everything must adhere to a strict formula and if it doesn't it'll spectacularly fail...

Today we had a lecture on cheese from a seriously passionate cheese guy. We tried around 10 cheeses including some seriously noxious varieties which I really enjoyed while he made cheese from scratch. Cheese making really is fascinating, I can see how some people are fanatical about cheese like others are about nice wine and old whisky. I'd definitely like to learn more in the future.

Finally to end, a photo of the tray of ingredients some of the superior cuisine students were using in one of the kitchens.

Thats right, live lobster and quail. I really want to find out what they were cooking, what an interesting combination.

I'm really loving this school, I'm learning so much at such a furious pace. I can't wait to progress further and make friends with ingredients above!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Glorious Meat

Today we moved on from vegetable cuts and basic stocks and mother sauces to meat, chicken or poulet to be more exact.

Today we roasted a chicken and plated it with a jus, caramelized baby onions and broccoli. I was very happy how mine turned out, the jus was incredibly rich and tasty, nice and clear, everything cooked well. I was really chuffed with the presentation so I took a photo when I finished plating it. On reflection the presentation wasn't as great as I thought it was when I compare it to Chef's demonstration, it's something I need to work on definitely.

Some photos below, first Chefs demonstration dish in the morning, second my version in the afternoon with poorer presentation, hah.

                                                                             Chef ^

                                                    Mine ^ Christ it looks ugly in comparison

So yes, it definitely looks bad but more importantly the flavours were on target and the cooking good. I obviously totally drowned my dish in jus, I think that was a combination of liking it so much and also the good old Kiwi tradition of drowning our roasts in gravy, each to ones own.

We're finished for this week, next week is totally crazy with all the Easter and wedding holidays and interruptions so until then..


Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Bricks, mortars

Just a quick update tonight with a couple photos. Since my last post we've been in the kitchen 3 times I think.

First day we made mayonnaise and tartar sauces which we added to more salads, prepared with our rapidly improving knife skills. I don't think anyone had any hitches with this one, except for maybe one or two mayonnaise sauces that were irreparably split.

Yesterday we learnt the toughest of all the vegetable cuts which is 'turning'. Basically the idea is to cut a barrel shaped piece with pointy ends out of out any sort of root vegetable.The size is variable and has to be cut with a short curved knife called a paring knife. The shape is very similar to the lead end of the fishing sinker in the picture below..... yes this honestly was the first thing that came to mind when thinking about how to describe the shape, I am a proper Kiwi after all!
The barrel has to have 7 sides and of course all of them have to be identical in size and length, we also found out we have to prepare 5 portions of turned vegetables in our final exam so getting these little buggers perfect is crucial. It was tough for me in the beginning but I got the hang of it slowly with practice, I had the size and shape ok, but uniformity was not present at all. More practice needed!

Anyway back to the food. We prepared a mushroom duxelle, which is like a slowly cooked dryish mixture of button mushrooms shallots and parsley that lends itself well to stuffings for meats, it's a match made in heaven for chicken. I love mushrooms so I demolished mine when I finished while waiting for others to finish up. Taste-wise mine was spot on but it wasn't finely chopped enough, a common theme in the last couple days; food tasting good and seasoned well, but more attention to detail needed for the small things.

We also made a tomato concasse, and with our turned vegetables (in this case mouli and baby onions) we cooked and then glazed. All went well, apparently in the time we spend at Le Cordon Bleu we'll prepare 2 million portions of glazed vegetables so it's important to get the glaze right, not too, not too salty.

Today, between all of us we must have produced and surpassed the entire schools' veal and chicken stock needs for at least the next month or so. Stock day went rather well apart from a large stripe on my hand where I grabbed the handle of my veal stock pan after it came out of the 200 degree oven, ouch! We made veal stocks and chicken stocks, nothing difficult here, the former to be finished off in the production kitchen because they need a minimum of 6 hours simmering and our time in the kitchen limited to 3. We also continued with our learning of the 'mother' sauces and made bechamel and basic tomato base sauces, nothing plated today so no photos of food still, sorry!

I do have two other photos for you though, one of me in my full kit in the kitchen and the second is me with the glorious invention.....the beard net. I couldn't be bothered shaving this morning and of course Chef instantly noticed my 1 day of stubble growth, and hence I got to experience the much maligned obstacle to beard glory. It was a revelation! I completely forgot about it. It totally wasn't a big deal at all despite looking ridiculous. I think I may have been wearing it wrong in this photo, who knows? I've noticed loads of guys in the superior courses with them I may just follow suit, kitchen is for work not fashion after all. Five more minutes sleeping in > shaving every morning I think....

Tomorrow poulet


Tuesday, 5 April 2011

System Shock!

Well today was end of day four at school and its been a busy few days getting into the swing of things. First things first, day one involved picking up our uniforms and knives, some introductory speeches and admin. I really like our uniform and I managed to choose the right size pants and jackets when I applied back in New Zealand which was a bonus.......but surprise surprise my hats are too small. My chef hat currently sits precariously on the top of my head performing very little of its intended function, I can force it on to some extent but I'm afraid it might make my brain explode, especially when all the elements in the kitchens are on and the room heats up. I would have thought the second largest hat possible on the chart would have been big enough but nou! There's just no denying it I have a huge nut on the top of my shoulders.

We met a number of the chefs at school and they're all very approachable and have good senses of humour which is awesome. We also met each other, the entire group consists of about 50 people in total divided in groups of 10, there's a huge number of nationalities, only about 5 people from the UK I think. Some of the countries just in my group of the top of my head are: Turkey, Alaska (it's a country I swear), Canada, Australia, India among others. There's some really great people in my group, we all went and grabbed a beer down the road after day one which was cool.

Day two consisted of a whole day of health and safety lecturing culminating in a multi-choice test for some national standard qualification. It was good to get that out of the way early, now we can all actually get jobs working in kitchens hopefully.

Day three was exciting, it was our first exposure to how the teaching and learning is done. The way it works is: the day begins at 8am with a 3 hour demonstration of various techniques and recipes by one of the chefs. There are mirrors and numerous cameras so it's easy to catch everything and take notes if you need too. Later on in the day or the next day you then go with your group to one of the kitchens where you do a three hour practical demonstrating some or all of what was shown earlier, the supervising chef then looks over, tries and critiques what you've built thus letting you know what to work on.

Our first practical focused solely on the various cuts of vegetable and for many of us including me it was our first exposure to our new knives which incidentally are reee-diiculously sharp as the hole I made in my thumb inside 30 mins can attest. Some of the cuts we were doing included: julienne, macedoine, jardiniere, brunoise, hache, enmincer, chiffonade to various vegetables and herbs. It all sounds very simple and it is, but chef really wanted to see perfect, uniform cut vegetables, it was an eye-opener to the level of precision we're going to need in the not too distant future.

Day four focused on salad hors d'oeuvres. Salads and vinaigrettes in various forms. The practical was fun, we had to produce 3 different salads with a couple of different vinaigrettes, there was a lot of time consuming prep but once that was done it all came together in the end. Managed to cut another hole on the tip of the same thumb which I cut the day before, the knives really are bloody sharp, its awesome. I know now that younger brother Mitch the designated 'knife-sharpener' back home in Auckland really had been slacking off his duties. The main critique for me today was being too heavy-handed with the basil infused vinaigrette on my tomato salad, as it started to invade one of the other salads when I plated everything, oh well, tasted nice though.

I've really enjoyed the way it all works and the first few days at school here in London. I'm even starting to get used to 6:30 starts for my 8am lectures, although I definitely admit the first day or two were a hell of a shock to the system!

Tomorrow is another day of different salads and things I think....

Sorry for the lack of photos so far, I'll take one tomorrow if I create something I think is worthy :)