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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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’.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Speaking of cleaning up, need to clear up multiple eggshells? Just stack them! 🙂
- 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:
- Thursday, Oct. 6: Lasagna with a Twist (Recipe)
- 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.
- Sunday, Oct. 9: Honey Garlic Chicken (Recipe)
- 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.
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!