Tag Archive | culinary school

10/20/16

Not a lot of people realize this, but we’re very selective about the help we get. For example, we would gladly accept it from the teacher because he is the one who knows everything about the class and you’re the student. That’s obvious. It’s when our peers offer advice where we store a little more doubt in our hearts. Depending on our mood, it either sounds helpful or nagging. It’s all to do with your attitude around your acceptance of the extra tips.

I feel like it’s really been a while, huh? Being a culinary student, of course I’ve been cooking a lot. In fact, we just started the second round of the fall semester’s classes. I was busy with exams, so I figured I’d hold off on this update until afterwards. I’ve gotten back two out of four final grades, both A’s, so woot-woot! Although for PCB, the class is literally called “Professional Cooking BASICS”, so Chef Michael said you really had to try if you wanted to fail the class.

He’s got a point there too. Like most other classes, the biggest part of the grade is attendance and participation. As long as you go that far and try, you’ve got a great chance of passing.

My worst class was most likely Sanitation & Safety since I never really studied the material until the day before, and even then, I knew that what was probably most important was foodborne illnesses and how to avoid them. My notes on all the names was really funny. For example, for staphylococcus aureus, because “aureus” sounds basically like “Oreius” (one of the centaurs from “The Chronicles of Narnia”), my note was, “Oreius got sick from a serious staph infection.”

Also, there’s a toxin called “histamine”. In order to prevent a customer from getting sick, you need to avoid time-temperature abuse (basically, keep food out of the Temperature Danger Zone during the Time Danger Zone, which is 41°-135°F and 4 hours, respectively). Therefore avoiding time-temp abuse is an antihistamine. I know, it’s bad, but if it’s enough to remember the important stuff, then it’s good! Still, I got an A in Sani & Safety, but only because I did the extra credit I could: I wore my uniform for at least five classes and then showed Chef Christine my Food Handler’s Card (I’ll go more into detail later).

Okay, I’m going to list this stuff the way I have it here. I’ve got at least 15, but I’ll try to leave out the ones that don’t need to be said:

  1. It’s okay to cook poultry and beef on the same grill as long as poultry is cooked where poultry was last cooked as with the beef. As long as they don’t cross, they won’t contaminate. This was after my comment on how the waiters at the restaurant I went to in LA were grilling our food in front of us, but failed to switch the grates after each layer of food.
  2. There is no janitorial staff in the kitchen, mainly because the chefs have to clean up their own messes, probably. Or, at least, whomever is assigned scullery duty (in our class anyway).
  3. Is it okay to touch food with your bare hands to check status? While making pancakes, I noticed that one of my classmates would use her entire hand to check the doneness. All I could think of was, Whoa, isn’t that contaminating the food? I then asked Chef Michael if it was okay to use our bare hands to set up the food on the plate and he said it was fine. I still wasn’t sure about using it to check the doneness. Not with your entire hand anyway. Don’t you just need a finger to feel it?
  4. People are coming up with creative ideas to make this culinary fusion. One of my classmates in Culinary Arts Survey was talking about how she had the idea to basically be a private chef for clients who don’t have time to cook, but care about what they put into their bodies. The first person I thought of in my life who might want to hire me was my sister since she’s a doctor and she really is a health nut when it comes to her eating habits. She’s always on a diet, but cheats when she comes home because I always want to cook. It’s pretty funny, actually. So I figured that was a really nice idea and a good business to pursue. My personal goal was to be a private chef for families, but maybe I can add something a little extra to my résumé: expert in nutritional values. I’m not though. I mean, whenever I crave sweets, I’m motivated to go out and get it.
  5. The new classes I’m taking are Meat & Sauce Prep, with Chef Michael, and Intro to Baking & Pastry with Chef Doug (I literally just misspelled his name to “Dough” :D). Remember in this entry when I discussed this professor? Well, he doesn’t own it anymore and he hasn’t visited in years, so he doesn’t know how it’s doing, but it’s good! He’s very nice and makes baking fun, which, for a career like this, should be the case. Whenever I saw him around the building, he reminded me of John Malkovich, but since I sit in the front during class (and this may be my CSI-marathon getting to me), but the bottom half of his face looks more like Ted Danson’s. Even sounds a bit like him, but maybe with a slightly higher pitch.
  6. So the Food Handler’s Card! At least in California, you pay $9.99 after you pass the test, which consists of Safety & Sani questions. It’s really easy; you just need common sense, honestly. For example, they asked when it’s best to wear gloves. All the questions were multiple choice, so the options were, like, “After you wash your hands”, “Before you wash your hands”, “Before you put on hand sanitizer”, or “In lieu of hand washing” or something. If you think about practicality, obviously, the first answer is correct because why would you need to wash your sanitize your gloves? It wasn’t the final option either, because it’s basically a no-no to wear gloves if you’re too lazy to wash your hands. If you’ve used rubber gloves before though, your hands need to be dry in order to put them on easier. Once you’ve got the first one on, the other hand slides on more smoothly, for some reason. For the record, I got 85% on the quiz and I think you needed at least 70% to pass. As usual, I’m an average student.
  7. If you’re a student, then you probably notice how the syllabus is always so strict, but most of the time, the professors are more laid back. First of all, there’s probably the school policy over stuff like plagiarism, which is definitely prohibited and grounds for expulsion. However for cell phone use? First, there was my Knife Skills teacher who took that seriously, but I guess was more lenient. It was more like she gave up because we always used our cell phones during breakfast anyway. I mean, what’s the harm in that? It’s not really class time since she’s not officially teaching us. Not even Chefs Michael or Doug are (argh, I said “Dough” again!!!) strict about it and they have more power in the program. Although, apparently Chef Michael is NOT the head of the department–it’s Chef Jim, who I don’t personally know. In fact, the only contact he and I have had is when he offered me a bread sample from the bakery. (Ah, the perks of being in the culinary world: constant free food, although you’d think that as a culinary arts student, we’d have more time to actually eat.)
  8. Here’s a fun little exchange! So in PCB, during the class time right before the exam, we basically played a game similar to the show Chopped! I’ve never seen it, but if you’ve seen Gordon Ramsay’s MasterChef, you know that they oven have those Mystery Box Challenges. This was basically that, except we don’t get extra ingredients, not even if they were already in our boxes. So if we had eggs, we needed approval for more. One of the ingredients was “Gochujang” and, being Korean and always eating Korean food, I was like, “I KNOW THAT!!!” In fact, when Chef Michael said, “If you don’t know what Gochujang is, use your phones and look it up”, I replied a little too excitedly, “Pepper paste!” Then he smiled and said, “That’s right. Well, you’d know. It’s good, isn’t it?” I was so proud.
  9. If there’s one thing I learned through this experience in the professional kitchen, it’s that timing isn’t everything as long as you know what you’re waiting for. That’s pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it? As a professional, you just need to train yourself to recognize the texture you need to look for in your food.
  10. I also learned this in the Mystery Box Challenge: when plating noodles for the importance of presentation, use tongs to place them in a spiral. They form this little anthill, which is cute. You can also place something in the center or on the tip; some kind of garnish.
  11. I think this goes without saying, but cooking games are totally inaccurate. Even during the start of my culinary education, I’m still playing those stupid games like Restaurant Story and Bakery Story (same company, different game). I was pretty far ahead the first time I played both, but I quit, assuming that if I wanted to take it up again, it’d save since it connected to Facebook. Nope. I was stupid enough to pay a lot of money for extra coins and gems and all of that is gone now. I missed the game though, for some reason, so now knowing this, I don’t pay for anything anymore unless I know that it’ll last. Anyways, in those games, it takes just two ingredients to prep and then you just wait. Once it’s ready, you need one more ingredient and then you can serve it. However, in that game, the food spoils, I’m predicting if it’s been out the same amount of time it took to make, but not often. Well, that’s not accurate, because of the Time Danger Zone. 4 hours. The Temperature Danger Zone is where bacteria grows, which is why the fridge has to be 41°F or lower. In this case, the food spoils too easily. Just sayin’.
  12. My PCB practical final was sort of a mess. The over-easy egg was perfect, but the other six were less than perfect. I think I had two “unacceptable” grades and the rest were either adequate or pretty good. The worst grade, I think, was in the red beans. It takes, like, an hour to soak them and then there’s another step to cook it. I didn’t cook it for the sake of time, which turned out to have been a waste. My entire urgency was a waste because I still had at least an hour left of cooking time. The rest would have been perfect if I had just not rushed, which I didn’t have to do because of that extra time. SMH, huh? Still. I have an A in that class, so as long as the lesson is learned, right?
  13. If you need to take over for someone because they’re lazy, is that your loss or theirs? You get the experience, which makes your career that much richer.
  14. Dropping jewelry in food is a good comedic tool (i.e. Yolanda in Young & Hungry and Rachel Greene in FRIENDS), but not ideal for the professional kitchen.
  15. During the first day of Intro to Baking, we also discussed the difference between the professional and the laid back kitchen settings. Chef Doug (ha! I said “Doug” this time!) made an interesting comparison: it’s like symphony vs. rock band. Someone who plays in the symphony would be completely comfortable in the rock band. However, someone from the rock band wouldn’t really be comfortable in the symphony. He explained it better, but you probably get it, right? I just wanted to bring it up.
  16. Get in the habit of sifting flour. I’ve always just dumped flour into the bowl, but apparently it makes a difference when you send it through a strainer.
  17. When baking, always keep one hand clean. This is actually true for breading food as well. It only takes one hand to drown your food in flour, egg wash, and panko crumbs. It’s a lot neater when you have one hand free since you don’t need to keep your hands up like a surgeon trying to get to the nearest sink to wash off.
  18. In our kitchen, the only jewelry acceptable are wedding bands because they don’t fall off easily. Watches are okay, as long as they are worn on the jacket on the buttons. I’ve however never heard of earrings that you screw on. The girl who was almost not allowed to cook said that they DON’T come off? I thought that’d be okay, since the purpose of that rule is the risk of them falling off and into the food, contaminating the entire batch. I didn’t say anything since I figured Chef was aware of that. A few minutes later though, I saw the girl’s ears and her jewelry was off. So it’s not impossible for them to come off, but it’d be a hassle to. Still, if you want to get into this line of work, you have to get used to it.
  19. In the first 8 weeks of classes, we had to memorize culinary math: how many tsp go into a Tbsp, how many Tbsp go into a fluid ounce, etc. There’s even a so-called “phone number” that we memorize: 3, 2, 8, 2, 2, 4. That’s basically this:  As you can see, I also wrote down 16 oz = 1 pound. In other words, 16 oz = 1 lb. When you write out the latter, it looks like you have one 16 on each side of the =. To me, it does, which is how I remember how many oz go into a lb. It’s simpler for me to think that way, I guess, similarly to the “aureus/Oreius” thing. It’s one of those things that nobody else would get, even if they knew how my brain worked.
  20. So remember my mise en place idea where, if the recipe calls for adding multiple ingredients at the same time, I just put them all in one small bowl anyway? According to Chef Doug, at least with baking, that’s more of a professional way, not because it’s so advanced, but because we’re still beginners, we should add ingredients one-by-one just so we know what it should look like. I still want to limit the amount of dishes that go into the scullery, but that’s just me.
  21. Speaking of cleaning up, need to clear up multiple eggshells? Just stack them! 🙂
  22. Apparently, you can’t microwave lasagna because it explodes. That’s why on Melissa & Joey, Joe and his daughter, Dani, threw a fit when Mel said something about microwaving leftovers. (04X11: Gone Girl…I think.) I microwaved it anyway because I don’t follow rules, but it was covered. So I bend the rules.

And here is the update for my home cooking:

  1. Thursday, Oct. 6: Lasagna with a Twist (Recipe)
  2. Friday, Oct. 7: Quinoa and Rice Bowl with Kale, Kimchi and Egg (Recipe) This was actually a recipe my dad chose. I wanted me to try it and my first response when I saw the video was, “Easy…” Once we tasted it, it really was like the Korean dish “Bibimbap” (if you’ve eaten out at a Korean restaurant before, you’d probably recognize it the way it’s spelled in English). But, like I said, easy. We had extra kale, so I personally used it for leftover lasagna. I just chopped it up and garnished it like this: You can barely taste the kale, but I suppose that’s good because apparently kale is gross. I’ve never had a kale smoothie before, but the actual vegetable itself isn’t so bad.
  3. Sunday, Oct. 9: Honey Garlic Chicken (Recipe
  4. Friday (Oct. 14th) was pretty special. My sister was visiting for one night, so I wanted to show off that I actually had improved my culinary skills, so I went with Lasagna with a Twist again with another shot of Bruschetta, and as an extra for dessert, Honey Banana Muffins Here are the Honey Banana Muffins, since you haven’t seen what mine look like:  Too dry though, for some reason, so it’s better as a bread.

Well, that’s all I made. Here’s a funny thing though: what do you do when you find THIS at the store? Leave it alone, definitely, but is the entire container done for?

Here’s a nice way to end an entry after so long: so for Knife Skills, one of our last assignments was carving. We decided as a group what our set-ups would look like. Here’s ours:  And guess what I made: 

Break eggs, everyone! And remember: if you want to clean them all up in one swoop, stack the shells!

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9/18/16

So I was continuing my Grey’s Anatomy marathon this morning and then during Bailey’s wedding (yeah, I know, I have a lot to go through since this happened like two years ago), they served mac-and-cheese cupcakes. I thought, Oh yeah, I should see if I could make that. Shouldn’t be too hard. Just prepare small portions of macaroni (cooked, probably) and lots of cheese inside each cupcake cup and bake them. And then one of the guests suggested other types of cupcakes that could be made from common dinner items like lasagna and mashed potatoes. I can definitely see the lasagna idea, but not very confident about the mashed potatoes. I mean, I suppose you could, but I’m not really seeing how that’d work because you don’t really bake mashed potatoes. I don’t know, maybe it’s very delicious and I’m just not being very imaginative here. I’m sure there’s a recipe for it out there though.

It really did get me thinking though: what else could be made into cupcakes? You see this all the time in the short cooking clips and Tasty also has a few dinner cupcakes. I think the most recent one I saw was a hot dog cupcake.

FYI, I just learned something: I’ve always struggled with finding my drafts on the computer on WordPress. On the phone and tablet, it’s easy since they have a completely separate tab for drafts when you click on “posts”. I looked it up and even wanted to ask WordPress how to access drafts since the Drafts list only SOMETIMES shows up on the right-hand side when I look at my posts list. The problem with that was they charge you even to ask questions, so it just doesn’t seem fair. I don’t know if this is the official way that those of us Pressers who knew how to do it initially, do it, but I clicked on “Add Blog Posts” and it sends me to a brand new note, but on the upper left-hand corner right next to the “back” button is “Drafts” and then a number right next to it. I always found it weird that I had to create a new post in order to access drafts, which is why I never did it until today, but hey, at least it gets me to the list of unpublished posts.

That was just to let you guys know, if you didn’t already. It was a big struggle with me, which is why it was worth bringing up, in case someone else was wondering how. I still don’t understand why the list only sometimes shows up, but that doesn’t matter now. I can access my drafts without fail.

Anyways, there was no cooking today, but I have some notes that I learned from class. Just to let you know though, I’m not completely confident that I haven’t mentioned the first couple points before because I remember writing something down, just not sure about the specifics. Plus, I don’t recall typing any of these out, so I’ll just bring them up again:

  1. I sliced my finger in their kitchen a while ago, but I took care of it myself: cleaned up the wound, put on a Band-aid and cot (AKA the finger condom), and sanitized the knife and board, as well as throwing out the food I was working on. My question is, at what point during the healing process is it okay to work in the kitchen without the bandage? Obviously, if there is still blood visible, dry or not, keep it on, but is it still safe to work once you know it can’t bleed anymore even if you can still see the cut? Also, apparently, I was supposed to tell a professor so we could file an accident report, even if it’s small enough to be a paper cut.
  2. My Knife Skills professor, who is this adorable little Chinese lady who looks exactly like my own grandmother, wanted us to compost carrot peels because she wanted to make kimchi. Coming from a Korean family, kimchi is a part of our daily meals and we buy ours from the Korean market so there’s still some authenticity, if there is any question about it. I’ve just never really heard of carrots being in kimchi. I mean, I suppose it could be her specific variation or the Chinese variation, but it was a new thing to me. Just thought I’d put that out there.
  3. Speaking of compost, my school is all about being green. In fact, they specifically don’t have pamphlets or brochures on their program because they want to avoid printing. (At first I thought it was nice, but even my culinary history professor who is a vegan and admittedly very against printing, needed us to print out our assignments so she could have them in her hand even though we can just email her questions. I don’t know whose rules those are, man.) Oh, the COMPOST thing: they have the same attitude about the food we use and the key to avoiding waste is in how we cut. That’s why I think it’s fitting that we have that cute grandma to teach us how to use most of the fruits and vegetables we cut. She is also a vegan, so she cares a lot about waste and uses up all the edible portions of ingredients. I personally still have to learn how to “square it off”, which is basically turning it into a rectangle. For example, potatoes look like butter once you square them off. I’m a very lazy squarer though, so my ingredients tend to be uneven or slightly too large. Then once I cut off a teeny strip, it turns out to be too small, so I can’t win. It helps to have the ruler, which shows how big the squares need to be and how long the rectangles should be. I’m just not practicing, but that’s because I’m not too worried about it.
  4. While we can’t have phones or radios in the kitchen, I can’t pass the time with music unless I’m singing or humming. Logically, that is why I’ve decided to do so in the kitchen while we’re cooking. That way, not only does time pass, but everyone can hear my beautiful singing. Just kidding–it’s just so it feels less like something I have to do and becomes more enjoyable.
  5. For ten minutes at the beginning of every Knife Skills class, we must sharpen our knives. We have to hone with the steel and whetstone. (Ooh! Sample lyric right there! I think I mentioned in my first entry about culinary class, that I’ve considered writing a musical about cooking, much like the new Broadway musical Waitress is about baking.) I used the steel to sharpen both the house knife and my own chef’s knife. The sound is substantially different. For one, the new knife makes this nice little “Shwing!” sound against the steel. The sound just…follows through, which is the best way I can put it. This is something you have to experience to learn and understand what I mean.

Well, I’ve got a quiz tomorrow, so I should go. I’m just going to read through the material, but I feel like cooking school tests are easy. At first, they want to quiz you on the basics of sanitation and safety, which is really just common sense. I’m guessing that tomorrow, it’s going to be more about the specifics of recipes, but the first quiz was literally one page, one side. I don’t want to fail, of course, but I don’t want to stress out either. The biggest part of passing each class is attendance and participation, which makes sense if the class works in the kitchen. That’s the only place you’ll really learn: through hands-on experience, which has always been my philosophy anyway, making this an even more perfect career for me.

Break an egg!

8/30/16

Today is my busiest day of the week–Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I only have a single class each while Tuesdays I have two lecture classes a couple hours after the first. I considered going back home last week, but during the drive back to school (which my mom did since I had car trouble, so no need to worry about parking), the middle school also gets out and since none of them drive yet, their parents have to pick them up. I figured I could use this time to update Chef’s Delight even though I have a quiz tomorrow night over stuff I wouldn’t ace if I took it at this very moment, but it’s not like I have just a little bit to talk about. This is cooking school, so there’s a lot to cover, even with the list of lessons or thoughts I made.

Still, my priorities venture elsewhere in this lonely habitat of cyberspace. It’s difficult though–since my parents are still out of town, I had to leave the dogs home and it’s for the entire day this time. They’re big boys, so I know they’ll be fine. We’ve done that before when visiting relatives a couple hours away, so they can survive. (Probably sit around, napping all day.) I left them with two bowls full of food and a large bowl of water. They have plenty of room to run around and play in the kitchen, and their bathroom crate is right in the corner and they know to go there (for the most part). I also left the lights on in order to keep a sense that they’re not alone. I should probably devote at least an hour of studying though, so I’ll try to make this quick with the stuff I do have written down:

When I look for recipes either on Facebook or the Food Network app, I realize I either have or should start to find something that can cater (no pun intended) to my specific needs as a culinary arts student when I make food for the family. If I need to practice chopping methods, salad might be the way to go. Not only do I have to be a better recipe hunter, but I also need to think about what I still need to learn while I have people who can teach me in the professional setting.

One small thing that I noticed while chopping in Knife Skills was how long my nails were. The way they determine if it’s short enough is if you look at your palms; if you can see the nails over your fingertips, then they’re too long. For me, when I’m cutting and using my non-dominant hand in the claw position (pretend you’re holding an egg), my nails feel like they dig into the food and that’s not exactly comfortable. That’s why I cut them a few days ago–it just feels more sanitary that way too, because scrubbing your hands for 20 seconds doesn’t guarantee you get every little piece of dirt out from under those nails.

If you’re a reader who either studies everything I say or at least skims through my entries, then you’ll be familiar with one of my biggest questions in cooking: when you have to cut a recipe in half, is time also affected? For example, if I have to cook 2 cups chicken broth, but want to cut that down by half, obviously I’d have to cook just 1 cup, but would it take as long? That’s a really stupid example because the obvious answer is, yes, it would take less time to cook, but you get the idea, right? If a recipe says to bake three chicken parmesans, does that heat affect all three with the same amount of heat as if I’d bake one? There, that’s a better example: would I have to punch in a shorter time for just one chicken instead of all three? The official answer was “yes, but not always.” It depends on the ingredients, temperature, and I think even what tools/appliances I use.

This morning, I also came up with a new study technique that probably won’t catch on: spending each night at the awkward stage when you’re already in bed, but waiting to fall asleep…flipping through the material you need to know. Not skimming, but actually reading and processing all the information–soaking it all in repeatedly everyday so you gain more retention. I’ve heard that the brain either is a muscle or it’s like a muscle; you need to exercise it everyday so it can get stronger.

I have a quiz early tomorrow morning, so that doesn’t do me much good at this point, but it’s a theory. I take photos of everything I think I need to know from the textbook–diagrams, tables, photos, side definitions, etc.–and so I just have to swipe left when I’m done with the page. (Anyone else think of Tinder just now, because of the “swipe left” thing? I’ve only used it once, but don’t have it anymore, but because of that app, the only thing that my generation at least, applies the act of swiping left to that social network. Sorry. Sidetrack.)

Anyways, then, on weekends at around the same time you’ve been looking over the material, quiz yourself on what you remember. Then, if you need to look at it again, it’s right there.

I also made Key Lime Pie last night. I’d gotten home from class and was like, “I’m probably set for dinner”–which was rice, steak, and salad–“so if I want to make something, it should probably be dessert. I want cake. Or at least pie.” So I flipped through the Tasty app (which needs improvements), the Food Network app, NY Times Cooking app, even some new ones I just signed up for called Kitchenbowl and Yum-Yum. I wanted something delicious yet simple. I aimed for what was easier because I’d already spent a good hour on it and I was starving.

 

I tried following the recipe exactly, but I feel like there was too much graham cracker involved. I remember from last time I made a pie crust using these exact same crackers, but they didn’t use the entire box, but the recipe told me to. That’s why I added the top garnish, and that was about half of what was left of the crust and I wanted to use as much as I could.

The butter also seemed scarce. Also, tip: butter pops in the microwave so make sure to cover it. I didn’t think it was too important even though that wasn’t the first time I’ve microwaved butter. Oh, I still have yet to clean the kitchen… Tomorrow after class. Maybe. I hope.

Anyway, you see how the crust didn’t stick together very well? Otherwise, it was good though! That’s what matters, right? And apparently there’s a difference between lime juice and key lime juice. We had two bottles of lime juice so I just substituted with that and, honestly, it tastes exactly the same. I think. My tastebuds aren’t quite trained enough to be able to distinguish that.

Speaking of training your tastebuds, in this morning’s class, one of the activities is to taste basically an entire pallet of all five or six flavors. (The sixth one is oleogram or something, which is the oily, rancid taste.) Through experience, I learned that often times, you can correct something if it’s too bland by adding something to literally spice it up a notch. This may have been obvious, but it goes deeper than that: the lesson was to try something else besides salt to un-bland a dish. I can’t tell you any more since I left my notes in my locker at the culinary building across the street and my memory sucks. I’ll fill you in next time, if I remember, but like I said: my memory sucks.

Back on track, the next point on my list was the PCB quiz I told you about (probably): it took about ten minutes total and we went over the answers after we turned them in. I got 10/10 and two of them were guesses! Although I don’t suppose they were guesses, since they were mostly multiple choice, but he was very flexible on the answers: if it was multiple choice and one of the answers was very close in theory, he accepted both.

The questions were really easy too and only like two of them covered sanitation while, like, four covered weights/measurements, which are both what he said they were on. The rest of the questions were about cooking eggs. One of the questions was literally “list three types of eggs we learned to cook in class.” I’m just like, “Take your pick.” Just list all the basic breakfasts where the egg is the main ingredient and you’ve got your answers right there.

One question that I’m still kicking myself for missing was one of the extra credits. There were two, and one of them was a measurement one that was like “how many oz. in a pound?” I recalled the number 32 somewhere so I took my chances and wrote that down. Turned out to be 16. I feel like that’s close, considering you just have to double to get my answer.

The big question that really got me described how to cook something. We had to answer with what the dish was. I knew that it was clarified butter, but for some reason, I can never think of the word “clarified”. I knew it started with a “c”, but I couldn’t picture what it was called: “Chlorinated?” “Colonized?” “Classified?” My brain was even convinced it was “Solidified”… I mean, at least it was an extra credit question, so I didn’t get any points off for leaving it blank. Maybe I should’ve written down “butter” with an underscore right before it, just to imply that I knew what it was, but couldn’t think of the word. Then I’d at least get .5 extra credit.

I also wondered why some classes were at least five hours long and others were two or two-and-a-half. It took actually attending all of my classes that first week, to realize that the regular-lengthed classes are– how is “-lengthed” not a word?–are actually straightforward lectures. No kitchen work is done because it’s just like any other class that involves an actual classroom with pen and paper. The stinkin’ long ones involve cooking and it takes a lot of time to cook and clean. For us, we have to devote at least half an hour to cleaning up the kitchen, even with everyone working together.

And final point even though I know I have lots of other things to say: so right now is around the same time where I felt really overwhelmed last week about everything happening at once. I was depressed and unsure if this was what I wanted to do and even considered dropping everything. Of course, I didn’t do that because smart, sane me said, “Wait a few more days and you’ll be over it. Soon, waking up at 6AM won’t be such a big deal to you. You just jumped into real life too quickly.” So fortunately, that’s all it was. I do get excited when working in the kitchen, especially with my classmates, who help out a lot. As long as this is the main feeling and it lasts all day, that’s fine.

I know there’s a lot more to say on that, but we’re down to one hour left and I should look over the material for tomorrow’s quiz. Not that I have anything on my person to study over, but that’s why some dude invented the Internet!

We cook everyday now and we’ve gotten more into how the kitchen works on a regular day, but I’m still making mistakes, which I know is fine since it’s school: we’re there to make mistakes and learn from them. I’ll see if I can list each one and talk about it next time too.

Till then, break an egg!

For the record, all this took, like, two hours, which surprises me. It feels like only an hour has passed.

8/26/16: Culinary School

Welcome back! Since I just got into cooking school and that means I’ve been cooking, of course I have a lot to update you on. The problem with that is classes start as early as 7:00 AM and since I love my sleep, I have to devote at least eight hours. So because I would probably need at least an hour to get ready and get to the place, that means my alarm is set for six o’clock. The last time I had to wake up that early was high school. I mean, college classes started as early as 8:30 when I went in Michigan, which I thought was bad enough. All I had to do was wake up at 8:00 and went out the door by 8:20 since I could just walk to class from my dorm.

Because classes start so early for me (7:30 Mondays and Tuesdays; 7:00 Wednesdays and Thursdays), I decided to update you every Friday, especially for this first week, since the outside world sort of hit me so suddenly after an entire year of nothingness at home. In fact, on Tuesday, I felt so overwhelmed about it that I considered dropping altogether. I had an internal panic attack to the point where I texted my best friend and a guy friend who understands this feeling, just to get some comfort–an assurance that this was normal because I was jumping into an actual life so soon. Of course, they told me all this and I felt better knowing that my assumptions were correct: that this was just a mood because I was being hit with all this responsibility at once.

I think on Wednesday, I just told myself that even if I end up deciding not to go into cooking as a career after all–well, I need to eat too, so I’ll know how to prepare my own dishes professionally. Well, even if cooking isn’t my ultimate dream, I still love to do it and I’m apparently good at it even though I’m still learning, and I think documenting as much as I can is really helping, thanks to my passion for writing.

On the very first day, I had Professional Cooking Basics with Chef Michael. He’s an older gentleman, but he’s been cooking almost his whole life, so he has a lot to teach us. When we first stepped into the kitchen to cook, it was eggs. A whole lotta eggs. We needed to make sunny side up, over-easy, scrambled, omelet, and poached eggs. Before this class, I could at least make the first three. I’d never made the latter two however. I’ve seen all of them done before, of course, but it’s different when you’re the one actually doing it.

I chose to keep them all in one plate for the sake of dishwashing (which takes place in a room called the “scullery”, which is called that because it’s just what the Navy called it and the name stuck…according to Chef Michael anyway). I haven’t had a job in the scullery so far, but since our little kitchen teams (of six people) switch off cleanup duties each day, I haven’t personally gotten a job in there. That’s why I only know how to leave dishes there unless they are knives. The rule is to never leave a knife unattended in the scullery, especially under bubbly water, so if we need to wash a knife, we have to do it ourselves.

On the day I felt down, which was only the second day in, I was annoyed by everyone. I didn’t show it or anything–I tried to be polite and open, and all that. The only thing I could mentally ask them was, How could you be so happy being here? Why don’t you feel the way I do about this? Are you really excited to be here?

Well, that feeling fortunately died down soon for me. It took a day or two, but hopefully the same thing won’t happen during Week 2, because I’m not sure I can survive seven more weeks of this. I know I just need the time to get past the bad mood each time, but there’s only so much that one person can take.

You know, it’s funny in a twisted way: I was miserable those two days, but that’s about all I can say about it. During the lectures, I was thinking of what to say for this entry once I finally had the opportunity to allow everything to pour out, but now…nothing. I suppose that’s a good sign. It might mean that I haven’t felt that way most recently, so I forgot what else needs to be said about it.

Anyway, a lot of more culinary thoughts came to mind during each session in the kitchen, like “how do the home cooks on Master Chef know what to make after receiving an impromptu dish?” There was one episode where everyone was supposed to make lemon meringue pie and I replied, “Well…I’m out. I wouldn’t know where to begin.” At the time, I still thought that the “meringue” part was just whipped cream, but no–it was just heavily beaten egg whites. I’d always thought that they get the recipes the night before to study with, which makes sense if you want to keep the show flowing well. I suppose that could still be the case, but I don’t see a lot of those chefs being good actors. Then again, it’s a reality show–some of it is scripted.

Also, in a professional kitchen, is just one chef in charge of the entire dish or are there specific stations devoted to separate tasks? I know that’s probably something I’ll learn toward the end of this semester, but it’s sort of something I’d like to know now so I have a better idea of what to expect. I suppose I could try to get back in touch with the personal chef I’ve been meaning to have coffee with, but she hasn’t responded to my previous email.

So in summation of what I learned in Week One: Monday was PCB with Chef Michael and it was mostly class orientation stuff and then a tour of the kitchens and scullery. We didn’t walk into the baking scullery since they have their own and we don’t work with baking, since that’s a completely separate class. Then we went over egg introductions and he showed us how to make these types: over-easy, sunnyside up, scrambled, omelet, poached, and hard-boiled. The latter two were done altogether in our groups since they involved one large pot (per group, I mean). I couldn’t take a photo since no phones were allowed in the entire first floor where the kitchen is and rules are rules for a reason. In this case, not only is it a distraction, but smartphones have way more bacteria than toilet seats. I actually saw the BuzzFeed video where a college professor swabbed both surfaces and the side of the petri dish which housed the iPhone’s germs…ew. They were basically having their own party. Here’s the video if you’re in the mood to be grossed out enough to never want to touch your phone again (or at least swab it clean every night with sanitizer): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67S4SBuYQEw

So that’s why no phones in the kitchen! You’re supposed to wash your hands whenever you can: after you touch your face or hair, between separate tasks, even between similar foods, especially raw meat. Not only is it disgusting, but it’s a serious health hazard and we watched that video on Tuesday actually, for a different class (appropriately, it was Sanitation & Safety class) and that was the day I had my minor freak-out. Part of the reason was because my personal hygiene is already poor enough to the point where I’m wondering, what if my laziness gets to me and I get someone sick? It didn’t help that in that S&S class, the professor also shared a recent article about a chef at an Indian restaurant who never told anybody else that he switched to peanut oil and a customer specifically said “no peanuts” in his order because he was deathly allergic. I’m sure you can see where this is going, so now the chef has to spend four years (I think) in prison for that one fatality. I make mistakes like that all the time and fortunately it has never cost a life or gotten anyone sick. I know my own mind though: I’ll get lazy in letting someone know I made a little change or I don’t read the ingredients on the label of a new ingredient I want to try. In fact, I’m so forgetful that I’ll gather all this information, but never connect the dots and serve a customer something specifically said they were allergic to.

This is a lot of what I panicked about when I texted my mental blowout to my friends during break. I mean, I’ve calmed down about it since then, of course. I actually put on my Advice Columnist’s shoes and told myself to look at the big picture: if I start these germaphobic habits now and train myself to pay closer attention to the ingredients on the label, then I shouldn’t worry at all. It’ll become second nature once I step into an actual professional kitchen.

Speaking of “germaphobe”, I actually wrote that down in the Sanitation/Safety handout they passed out at PCB: they listed all the steps for a complete handwashing technique and I wrote, “Basically, think like a germaphobe.” That’s basically what you have to do, right? You want to avoid contamination at all cost, and the only way to do that is have that obsessive cleaning mentality.

The good thing about the S&S information is it’s pretty much identical between all the classes, so the quizzes over that should be a piece of cake…which I will probably learn how to properly bake in about eight weeks when I start Intro to Baking :P.

To be honest, I’ve reverted back to my old studying habits: skimming the night before. That’s mainly because I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time at night reading when the professors already assume you haven’t read it for that day anyway. I would rather devote my weekend to catching up when I’ve had a breather and can really focus and retain all the information. Let’s just hope I’m right because if not and I actually do have to read each chapter thoroughly, then…jeez…I’ve gotta man up.

Oh, by the way, you remember that highlighting technique I just started? I just highlight all the ingredients that can go into one bowl so I take up less space in the kitchen during prep time and cleanup time. Well, that’s called Mise en Place, which is French for “everything in its place”. Actually, I think what it actually means in culinary terms is setting out each ingredient with the right measurements beforehand, not the putting-it-altogether part.

Which takes me to the other thing I wanted mention about cooking professionally since both of these thoughts have been on my mind ever since I stepped into their kitchen. I never considered how similar it was to surgery. Obviously there’s never any death (for the most part), but you have to scrub in once you get to the kitchen, for a certain period of time longer than normal (in this case the soapy portion takes at least 20 seconds). There’s a lot more science involved than you think–for example, if there’s an unintended grease fire in a pot or pan on the stove, don’t panic and add water to it. Because it’s grease, it’ll just make it even worse and cause an explosion inside the contained area. Instead, try covering it with a metal top first. Then use salt because that apparently cools the temperature (which I found weird since they add salt on the streets during winter if it gets icy…maybe salt is some kind of neutralizer).

Even if you’re not confident enough to do all that, don’t sweat it (no pun intended); someone else will jump in. When cases of emergency like that happen in a professional kitchen, you find that your coworkers will help any way they can (according to the Orientation I had to attend). If there’s a fire or something breaks, other people will help out, which is awesome, since being in the kitchen is like being part of a team.

Also, in S&S, I’m a little less frightened of the class now that I know that A) the professor is so laidback that she admits that she would be singing in order to loosen up the class; and B) the actual quizzes don’t even affect our grade. It is just a review, and I’m not sure if this is her or the class I have right after, which takes place in the exact same classroom, but the professor will correct something on the quiz or homework sheet if it is apparent that we are actually trying. I forget which class this is for since both professors are women and both of these classes are lectures, not labs (kitchen sessions).

I think that other class though, Culinary Arts Survey, is going to be the most fun even though it doesn’t involve any actual cooking. It’s more of an informational class, involving history and how food affects different societies and cultures… During our first class, we learned about the importance of local vs. organic. Basically, we have to support our local farmers by buying their food because they get all the money you pay them. With that money, they can grow better products. It’s sort of a way to give back to the farming community. That’s why one of our writing assignments is to visit a farmer’s market and create a paper with no minimum or maximum limit about our experience there. We don’t have to buy anything, but ask questions and learn more about how this food is grown and prepared or what dishes it would be best used for.

There is also an extra-credit option of any food movie or documentary and writing a critique and describing what we learned. There is a complete list of options somewhere (she didn’t mention where), but I’m considering Julie & Julia. I mean, I’ve already seen it so many times because I relate to Julie Powell so well (obviously you’re aware, if you’re reading this–my very own chef’s blog about my personal cooking experience). I’m just not sure if it’d be any use to critique something I’ve seen numerous times.

I’ve never seen “Ratatouille”, so that’s another option. I really want to though. Now that I have enough money to live carefree again. (I have the house to myself for a week and whenever I do, I only get excited to get singing time because I always forget that whenever my parents go out of town for a few days or more, I get paid to watch the house and dogsit.)

So I think that’s basically all I can say about my experience with Culinary School so far. Then again, there’s probably a lot more I’ve been meaning to bring up, but I’ll remember right after I click “Publish”. Okay, if I do miss a crucial bit of information, I’ll make an actual note of it rather than a mental one, and mention it in next Friday’s entry. Or tonight’s or tomorrow’s. I’m on my own for meals, so I have to survive, which means more cooking updates.

Break an egg! Or in the case of our PCB class, break lots and lots of eggs till you’re all egged out, but get each cooking technique right!

P.S. It didn’t help that at the beginning of Sanitation & Safety, the professor said on her PowerPoint: “Pay attention. Someone’s life may depend on it.”

P.P.S. Now I’m starting to remember tidbits I forgot to mention before: I’m already starting to correct things around the kitchen and teaching my own mother what I learned. For instance: the white vinegar we should be using for cooking is dry white wine vinegar, not distilled, and I know that we use distilled for cooking because I specifically suggested white wine, but Mom said we have distilled, which is fine for cooking. Apparently, it’s not because in order to make distilled vinegar, they use wood or petroleum, neither of which are something you’d want to eat. Also, I taught her the correct way to hold a knife, and that bamboo cutting boards are one of the worst to use. I specifically remember my Knife Skills professor, Chef Mary, saying, “Nonono. Just…no” when someone asked if bamboo boards were good. They’re too weak or something, as evidenced by the broken bamboo board that we have, which is the only wooden board in the house and it actually says “Tropical Bamboo” or something as the label. I remember when I first read that after that lecture, I was like, “Huh…I guess we need a new cutting board.” See? I’m learning and passing on the education to my family, since they were just raised to know this kitchen information–they never got a formal education on it. They just did it. #TheMoreYouKnow