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06 bruschetta with oven roasted tomatoes and fontina cheese.jpg

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A Week at the Culinary Institute of America (continued) - Finished Dishes, Hyde Park, NY, tasted on December 19-22, 2005 — In the last post we covered the actual cooking of the food. At the ends of day two and four we gathered all our creations and laid them out on a table in the hallway outside our kitchen - cruise ship buffet style minus the ice sculptures.

And as much as we learned during the hands on portions of the class, the time in the kitchen was at its most useful in giving a sense of what it's really like to work with professional equipment, in a true commercial kitchen. And frankly the experience is exciting and fun. Unfortunately the food we made, well, to be honest, for the most part wasn't that good. I'm sure that part of it was our lack of skill. But part of it is also about, as discussed earlier, scale. We were cooking lots of dishes for lots of eaters (us mainly). In fact we ended up wasting a lot of food which was kind of a bummer even after all the hungry people sampled our cooking. There were a few dishes that came out decently, but in terms of quality of flavor, texture, and temperature at the time the food was served our dishes were American hotel buffet quality... and not some of the better buffets either.

This fact didn't take away from my satisfaction with the educational experience. In fact it made me appreciate even more how hard it is not just to make food for lots of people with high expectations in a timely fashion, nonetheless make that food really high quality. It's unbelievably difficult. And while learning the key lessons of how to cook at scale don't guarantee you'll make great food at scale, you can't get to great food and commercial success without being grounded in those same lessons.

The dishes we made included: Cheese Sticks, Palmiers with Prosciutto, Smoked Trout Canapés, Pickled Shrimp, Bruschetta with Oven Roasted Tomatoes and Fontina Cheese, Veggie Sushi, Crispy Scallion Pancakes with Dipping Sauce, Grapes Rolled in Bleu de Bresse, Smoked Whiskey Shrimp, Smoked Breast of Duck Niçoise Style, Mushroom Terrine, Mozzarella, Prosciutto, and Roasted Tomato Terrine, Wontons, Seafood Sausage, Grilled Honey-Smoked Quail with Mango Sauce, Crab Meat Rolls with Infused Pepper Oils, Fried Ginger, and Tamari-Glazed Mushrooms with Vietnamese Dipping Sauce, Roasted Pepper and Eggplant Terrine, Chicken Breast Roulade with Marinated Tomatoes and Papaya Catsup, Smoked Duck and Malfatti Salad with Roasted Shallot Vinaigrette, Gravlax with Potato Galette, and Tuna Carpaccio with Shiitake Salad to name a few.

After serving and sampling our creations we would gather round single plated versions we'd done and critique our creations. I often felt that we were more hardcore than Chef D was in terms of judging what we'd made. That said, I imagine that most of the people who take this class aren't looking to get their ass kicked and told they sucked. Strangely enough that's exactly what we were looking for. I don't know if this is some masochistic tendency but basically we were eager to get pushed to do better.

I don't know if the advanced chocolate making class on the other side of the kitchen was hardcore either. But I do know that they were making gorgeous chocolates and we were coveting them. Deeply. It felt inappropriate to go there and ask to try their chocolates. And at  the end of day two when they were reviewing them and chewing away we were bordering on psychotic as we stared dreamily across the kitchen and fantasized about how we were going to try their creations. At the end of day four I think our long hangdog looks finally got irritating to the chocolate students and they broke down and invited us to peruse their leavings. The effectiveness of the scrum that ensued was inversely proportional to the dignity we demonstrated. But a little shameless chocolate grabbing was the least of our concerns as we stuffed our pockets. They did a good job. Those chocolates were delicious.










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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