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21 mozarella prosciutto and roasted tomato terrine.jpg

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A Week at the Culinary Institute of America (continued) - Cooking, Hyde Park, NY, tasted on December 19-22, 2005  We're finally back in the swing of things here at tastingmenu, and it's time to pick up where we left off recounting our week taking a class at the Culinary Institute of America (the C.I.A.). We've covered a variety of topics already including: the facilities, student life, and the lectures. Enough beating around the bush, it's time to get to some cooking, and in fact that's today's topic. Cooking in our spacious classroom kitchen. Actually, cooking was what we spent most  of our time doing during the week (with eating a close second) so it's time we got to it.

After lecture each morning we hit the kitchen. Our class was organized into 3-4 person teams. Each team had a series of dishes to prepare. We prepared the first round of dishes over days one and two, and the second round during days three and four. Some dishes or elements of dishes could be prepared a day in advance so it worked out. And this is a fine thing whether cooking for a couple of people, or cooking at a slightly larger scale (a dozen or two) like we were.

In fact, scale is really the operative word when it comes to all the cooking we did. When it comes to food, scale is the enemy of great. A great dish is a living thing. Chemical reactions are happening especially when it comes to hot dishes. And each dish, each ingredient (even ice) has a window in which it's at its peak. Making a great dish is all about great timing. Making sure that all the ingredients come together when they are all at their peak. This is hard enough. Try doing it with multiple dishes for dozens (or hundreds) of people is an unbelievable challenge. And cooking professionally is much less about (in terms of energy spent) about creativity in cooking and ingredients than it is about what many companies call - program management.

Program managing your dishes requires careful and thoughtful preparation. But it also requires creativity. What do you do when you've got dozens of people coming for a meal, you've got several more dishes to prepare, and a key piece of equipment is missing? You improvise. I needed a way to make sure the top on my Mozzarella, Roasted Tomato, and Prosciutto Terrine stayed depressed so the terrine set tightly. It was nothing that couldn't be fixed by some of the attachments for the industrial strength mixer that each weighed a ton. It's possible that someone in the afternoon session needed those mixing attachments and couldn't find them because they spent the night in the fridge keeping my terrine compressed. This is of course not the optimal way to operate as it can bite you in the ass as well. For example, on one of the days I had some extra chicken and decided to make some chicken soup. My father and I were having our regular debate about who makes a better chicken soup. (I do of course.) I put the soup in the fridge overnight so we could try it the next morning. The next morning I walk in to find it gone. I searched the entire place for it. No luck. I can't prove that our student teacher who showed up early that day to make lunch for the staff of the Continuing Education Office used it. But when I rolled in at 6:52am he already had the start of his paella going. Last I checked you need stock to make paella. I'm guessing a seafood stock would be best, but chicken wouldn't be the end of the world. And this particular student teacher, while super helpful and knowledgeable around the kitchen had an aversion to going down to the storeroom to get anything. I suppose an alternate possibility is that my soup was so damn good, the evening class ate it. Unfortunately this will remain a mystery. The main lesson that I took away was that I was on my own and had to worry about every detail of what I was doing. Nobody was going to look out for me, and in the most extreme cases other people's behavior might either purposefully or inadvertently really screw me if I wasn't careful. Luckily my soup was only something to prop up my ego and not something I needed to serve the dishes I'd committed to deliver.

It was funny, each team got about 3-4 dishes to make each day over several hours. I've mentioned that the class is tough because people with all manner of skills come to the class with an even broader range of expectations. Luckily Chef DeShetler (Chef D) our instructor was cool with us taking on extra dishes. This is more complicated than it sounds as it involves getting the ingredients on short notice from the storeroom. But we managed.

I should say that the kitchen was where Chef D really came into his own. Whether it was learning to make our own mozarella, deboning a chicken properly, the instant demonstrations were particularly educational. Chef D was particularly good with charcuterie which we later found out was his expertise.

What really matters of course is how the food we slaved over tasted. We'll get to that in the next post. :)











Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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