critics choice

I have been in the public eye long enough to have met my critics.  Those individuals for whom my work does not only displease, but offends.

My first year at Eva, my use of huckleberries in February sent a customer into a snit.  “These taste as if they had been frozen, and that’s disgusting in and of itself.  I can’t say anything more for this dessert.”  The offending dessert, a huckleberry trifle with layers of huckleberry soaked genoise, a thick huckleberry compote, and none other than pierre herme’s lemon cream layered in a highball glass was on the Valentines Day menu.  The comment was delivered to me along with the picked at dessert, and it sent me reeling.

Of course my huckleberries were frozen, it was February.  Jeremy, our forager had picked them himself, frozen them properly during season, and stored them in his deep freezer for us.  Sure, we were on our last of the stock, but they were still absolutely delicious.

I dropped everything I was doing, pulled another trifle from the reach in, and started tasting.  A slight relief came when it tasted exactly as I wanted it to, exactly as it had when I made them, exactly right.  But then I wondered, was it me?  I made everyone taste it until the owner started laughing.  He reminded me in his way that you set your own standards and live up to them, because no matter what you are going to have critics.  Like the huckleberry hater.

Teaching is yet another avenue for me to collect critics.  My first class, called “Tips from a pro” had an outright heckler.  You see, I am young for a chef, 28 now and this was 2 years ago.  So I was standing up there professing knowledge at a mere 26, and I tend to look even younger than I am.  This older woman had clearly been baking longer than I had been alive, and was vocally skeptical of my tips and tweaks to the recipes.  It was really starting to get to me, but I pushed on.  And after the class, when we tasted everything, her face brightened and she said, “Well, I’ll be.  This really is the best lemon tart I have ever had.  And that pie crust is flakier than mine!  I am going to freeze my flour every time now.”

It doesn’t always end that way.  One woman wrote down every word of mine that she didn’t agree with, and called a culinary school to prove that how blatantly wrong I was.  She then provided the school I teach at with a list of my offensive quotes and her contradicting information.  She said I was a terrible teacher and was hampering the education of the students in my class by giving them false information.  She also wrote a paragraph about my hygiene, with a hand washing count, and focused on my coffee cup I had been drinking from while lecturing.  She thought the class was a failure because I had to bake a cake in a sheet pan instead of a tall pan to save time.

When this email was passed along to me I knew how to handle it.  I screamed in my head, vented to my husband, and simply wrote, “I have had critics before and will have them in the future.  I stand behind every word I said, and will take from this what I can.”

What offended her most was my method of measuring dry ingredients with a cup measurer.  She was taught to sift the flour before measuring, I never do and told the students so.  But that isn’t the problem.  The real problem is the fact that we are using the cups in the first place.

This is such a perfect example of why the professional pastry chef employees a scale to weigh all their ingredients.  My cup of flour will never be exactly the same as your cup of flour, but 6 ounces will always be 6 ounces.

Now I will do you one better.  Not only have I completely converted to the exclusive use of a scale to measure my ingredients, I have also converted all my recipes into metric measures.  So my cup of all purpose flour is 150 grams.

Why would I do this, when I live in a culture of cups and spoons?  It is a million times easier to increase and decrease recipes based on grams.  It is also much easier to understand what percentage of the bulk of a recipe an ingredient occupies.  When a recipe needs tweaking, it is much easier to think about adding 30 grams of sugar to 100 grams of sugar than it is to add 1/8th of a cup to 1/3 of a cup.

My work is much more accurate now, and as a baker that is something we all strive for.  It’s not enough to know how to make an amazing brownie, you have to make it equally amazing every time, in any size.

So if that woman every sat in my class again, I would start the lecture with a little bit I do every time, that if you ask 100 chefs how to cook an egg, you will get 100 different answers.  I simply give the information I use to achieve my best results, and why.  And I would tell her to forget what her grandma told her about sifting the flour and buy a scale.

12 Responses to “critics choice”

  1. Leslie says:

    What I find befuddling about those types is the utter lack of charitable mindset. It’s valid to disagree with, dislike or question someone’s output, but why they gotta be so grumpy and adversarial about it? That always bugs me.

  2. Spring says:

    Well, count me in as a big fan :) . I’ve tried your desserts and they were wonderfully creative and delicious. And, by the way, I also love it when a recipe uses grams instead of cups and spoons – the results are so much more reliable.

  3. That’s such an interesting point about being able to tell the percentage of a recipe’s weight and easily adjust it when it is in grams. I love using a scale for the accuracy and the ability to do tares, but that never occurred to me that I could use it to understand and tweak as well. Very cool. Have you found any advantage to switching to metric liquid measures as well?

  4. adey says:

    Hahaha I liked that, but what is your freezing flour trick?

  5. Pigwotflies says:

    Point of cultural puzzlement: why do US recipes use cups etc? I’m British and used to weighing out with ounces or grams. Converting is pretty easy once you know the volume of a cup, (though I’d always befuddled by “a stick of butter” or “a square of chocolate”) but is there a cultural or historical reason why?

  6. Brittany says:

    I am convinced some people are just looking to pick a fight! I get the same delicious huckleberries from Jeremy (am using them on my current menu) and don’t they COME previously frozen? This woman who expects fresh huckleberries (in FEBRUARY no less) obviously knows nothing about huckleberries and the pains taken to bring them to dessert menus. It’s funny that she was able to both be pissy and display her ignorance. The trifle sounds as mouth watering as all of your desserts are.
    Sheesh. I have a co-worker who loves to say those who can’t cook critique instead.

  7. dana says:

    Brittany- Yes, or those that can’t do, teach. Although I teach too, so I don’t know where that really leaves me.

    Pigwotflies- You have tapped into my biggest pet peeve, a recipe that gives an assanine measurement like one square of chocolate, or one stick of butter. Worse yet for me is one packet of gelatin, or one package of yeast. I despise seeing that in a recipe.

    But to further explain, butter is sold here by the pound, and the pound is broken up into 4 individually wrapped sticks, each with 8 marks dividing the stick up into tablespoons. Two tablespoons equal one ounce, and 4 ounces equal one stick. Two sticks equal one cup, two cups equals one pound.

    A square of chocolate is usually a reference to the use of a brand of aweful grocery store chocolate called Bakkers chocolate. For a long while, it was the only “baking” chocolate sold in american grocery stores. Don’t ask me why, because the stuff is terrible. Anyways, one square is equal to one ounce.

    Adey- I freeze the flour for pie crust for half an hour before cutting the fat in. It helps keep the entire mixture cold cold cold which allows the fat to break up into little pieces coated in flour, rather than smearing together with the flour.

    Michael- It’s not the wet or dry of the ingredients, but the use of metric units as a whole that is adventageous. You can’t use one without the other.

  8. Chris says:

    I always thought Baker’s chocolate was awful because it was entirely unsweetened…? Though I now learn it’s made by Kraft, which explains quite a bit =)

  9. Pigwotflies says:

    Thanks Dana, that’s really useful.

  10. Neil says:

    Hi,

    Lovin your work, This is the problem I have when using US recipes.
    How do you measure a cup of flour, were as Dana has pointed out that 6oz will always be 6oz if you weigh it & thus crosses all boundries.
    Yes there are conversion sites out there for us Limies, but I don’t always have my laptop in the kitchen.

  11. Yes. Yes, yes and then yes some more. I hear you on the puzzlement over people being offended by your work. Although at the same time I often wonder where a certain seasonal restaurant near my house has the gall to serve English peas in February…

    As a teacher myself I hear your pain about those students who have it out for you once the class displeases them in some way.

    Keep on keepin’ on girl– there are few opinionless people in our industry worth anything!

  12. Tiney says:

    Hey! Your blog is great! I really enjoy all of your pictures. I recently started my own blog: http://iheardyoubakecakes.blogspot.com Any advice would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

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