Makin’ that Dough

Makin’ that Dough

apple8Just this morning I worked a stage in the Breads Department at Apple Pie Bakery and Cafe on campus. I worked with Courtney on lamination. It is the dough technique used in the process of making croissants. We used this big sheeter to roll out huge slabs of dough into thin sheets with layers of butter in between them. It is imperative that each layer of dough has a layer of butter in between it. Or else it won’t be a proper laminated dough. I learned the four-fold and three-fold method that is in most bakers’ repertoires and also happens to be in one of our school spirit chants.

Over the course of about four hours, Courtney and I made plain croissants, pain au chocolat, ham and cheese croissants, almond raisin croissants, and danishes.

apple7

apple4

apple3

apple2

apple1

This job was a random opportunity that came about after I ran into one of the Apple Pie GMs on the elevator while restocking the coffee lounges for my other job. I asked if the Bakery ever hired culinary students, specifically in the Breads department, and after asking a few questions about my interest in breads, he allowed me to stage specifically with laminated doughs. And at the end of the stage, I got the job! I’ll be going in for a few more training shifts, and then I’ll be already to laminate on my own.

This past weekend I also went on another hike. There were yellow, orange, and red leaves everywhere! It makes me super excited to spend this fall in the Hudson Valley.

sh-hike-2

Be Bold,

sig_al

Oui, Chef! A Day with French Society

Oui, Chef! A Day with French Society

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of volunteering at the Société Culinaire Philanthropique Annual Picnic. The Société is the oldest Association of chefs, both culinary and pastry, that works to promote French cuisine in the United States.

The event was for around 1,000 people and took place on the property of the Culinarian’s Home Foundation, a retirement facility in New Paltz. It houses members of the Société and of the culinary/hospitality profession. Our kitchen was a barn and the outdoors, and it led for quite an adventurous weekend of cooking.

 

Saturday prep started at 8am, battling the rain. Eva and myself sliced mushrooms under a pavilion and then attended to jardinière vegetables of green beans, turnips, carrots, and pearl onions. All the veg was stored in these giant roast pans that took both of us petite women to lift…prep for 1,000 takes a lot of food. The rain was on and off all morning, but it didn’t stop us from practicing our sauté skills!

french-7We ate lunch the French way, with a huge buffet and wine, communally gathered at long tables underneath an outdoor tent. We were very much ahead of schedule, so I spent some time cleaning dishes, and filling up giant marmites (stockpots) with drinkable water from a hose attached to the house. After these tasks, Eva and I went to a hotel in town that the Société had graciously given us for the night to clean up and rest.

That evening we returned to the property for a delicious dinner prepared by some of the chefs of the Société. One of which owns a rather successful smoked salmon factory in New Jersey and provided some of the best filets I’ve ever tasted. french-13I happily loaded up on salmon and all the appetizers and salad offered, and went to town, thinking that this was a wonderful meal! I mentioned how good dinner was to the CIA instructor sitting next to me, and she clued me in that this was only 1 of FOUR courses for the evening. This is when the dinner got a little more interesting…

french-19The second course was beef tenderloin with demi-glace, green beans, and potatoes. I tried to take a less eager portion this time, but the French were more than happy to share and loaded my plate a second time. I did my best to eat everything, but the tank was starting to reach full capacity.

Then came the cheese course. Have I mentioned how much I love cheese? Well, I went back to my over-eager ways and got a big slice of each type of cheese just so that I could taste them all. (We also just had cheese day in Product Knowledge, and I was ready to eat some more). Shortly thereafter, I found myself staring at my plate of half-eaten cheese slices to avoid the glare of the Frenchman sitting across from me. He scolded me for wasting food, and expressed that this wasn’t the French way. My instructor tried to help matters, saying that I had no control over the generous portions on my plate, but that didn’t soften the harsh glare he gave me for the duration of the meal.

Finally, dessert arrived, and I was forced to eat every bit of the very decadent chocolate mousse cake put before me before the Frenchman had time to speak. I will say though that he got two slices of dessert by mistake, and did not finish both of his portions!

I also should mention that I must learn French now. The same man mentioned above spoke of his 5-year-old granddaughter who can speak 3 languages, and I am lacking because I only know one…I guess Spanglish doesn’t count. Lo siento señor…

The following day, we got to the site around 7:15am to begin prepping. The day got off to a great start: Eva and I jovially slicing watermelon. Then I was exiled to the popcorn and cotton candy machine for the next four hours…I wasn’t exactly thrilled to be sent away from the kitchen to sell popcorn for $1 while the rest of the students got to continue helping with prep, but, what else can you say besides “Yes, Chef.”

french-18
My station for the morning…

People had started to arrive and enjoy croissants and coffee, and I noticed that students were passing around these blue straws to people called “tumblers.” Apparently, they’re sold 4 for $1 and you take the paper out of each tube to see if there is a number on it. If so, you win French wine or mustard or even Nutella! All the fancy French things. I had no money on me, but the girl that was stationed at the cotton candy table with me bought me 20 of the little guys! ALL of which unfortunately were blank.

When people started to head to the tent to grab their seats for lunch, I practically ran back to the kitchen to start passing out food. It was a interesting system. Each table seated 10 people. There was an envelope on each table with 4 tickets inside, one for each course. Someone from each table would come up to the barn or the grilling area and receive a tray that would feed everyone. A family-style French picnic.

french-19

french-8
The first course: sliced tomatoes (w/vinaigrette), seafood salad, bean salad, pate, and cured sausage.

After the dessert had been served, we headed back to the same tent we ate under the day before to sit down and eat with the team. It was a collection of about 25 students from various culinary schools around New York State. All of which had instructors that were members of the Société. Once we finished, we broke down the entire tent, trays, trash, tables, and chairs, before heading back to the barn to clean some more. Eventually we headed back to school, and I promptly took a 3-hour nap.

 

Overall it was a good hard-working day. And I must go learn French now.

Être Audacieux (Be Bold in French),

Sig_Al

This. Is. CANADAAA.

This. Is. CANADAAA.

Happy belated Labor Day! If you couldn’t tell from my Instagram (@im_alyon), I went to Canada this weekend! My friends and I woke up at the early hour of 3am this past Saturday, and drove across the border. We drove straight to Niagara Falls, and spent the day there.

falls-pan

After the falls, we got some lunch and I tried poutine for the first time. One of my favorite foods…no my FAVORITE food is French fries. And a close second if not tied for first is cheese. So combine two of my loves with a nice ladle of gravy!? Allison was happy.

 

poutine
Look at all that goodness…

Next we stopped by the Niagara Falls History Museum where we tried on some red coats and drew our self-portraits.

We were staying in the middle of wine country, and since my friend is in the Wines class (and because we like wine), we drove to Cave Springs winery. After a couple $1 wine tastings, we bought ourselves a bottle of Reisling. We also got those tastings for free! (perks of a CIA student).

cave-spring-2

The next stop was a cheese store (sadly, their cheese was not up to par), and then the quaint town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The architecture and the stores themselves reminded me a lot of downtown Breckenridge, CO. We found the good cheese there, and went to our Airbnb in Hamilton for wine and cheese night.

town-pic

The next day we ventured to Toronto, parked in High Park, and proceeded to walk endlessly in search of a good brunch…after walking one way and the retracing our steps and walking the other direction, we finally asked a nice local who told us of the strip of restaurants and shops we could find 3 blocks to our right. Huh-zah! We found brunch and man, it was good.

canadian-brunch-again
Apparently Canadians don’t put powdered sugar on their French toast…

We went to a place called Coffee and all that Jazz (sadly no jazz was heard) for a devo and some much needed rest after all the walking and eating we did. There was an awesome used book store down the street with an incredible culinary collection, so we spent time in there and talked to the guy at the register about his favorite local spots. We walked all the way down the street and back, taking notice of all the milk stores and fruit stands…and I hadn’t seen many coffee shops before this, but there was one just about every other store on this street.

As the sun started to set, we went back to the park and saw Shakespeare in the Park while sitting on a very steep incline and enjoying our college-budgeted pb&j sandwiches.

shakespeare-in-the-park
Trying not to slide down the hill…

cider-mill-donutThe following morning, we said goodbye to Canada and crossed back over the border. However, we took a different route and went to a The Cider Mill. Sadly, they were done making donuts for the day, and no cider production either, but that didn’t stop us from buying some for the road! We got back to campus around 8pm, just enough time to prepare for class the following day.

It was Day 21 of Fundamentals for me, and we made roasted chicken! We also graded ourselves. I am much harder on myself. I already knew this about myself, but seeing the numbers I scored myself on each component was still a bit shocking. It was my lowest scoring day in Fundamentals thus far, but probably some of my best food. I will always strive for perfection though…

roast chicken.JPG
Roasted chicken with roasted rosemary potatoes, sautéed broccoli rabe, ratatouille, and pan gravy. 

Have a wonderful Wednesday!

Be Bold,

Sig_Alme-at-falls

Back in the Kitchen

Back in the Kitchen

friend wallIt was so nice to be off for three weeks and see so many friends and family! I even made myself a friend wall so I can see everyone’s faces everyday. Also, if you’ve written me a letter or sent a card, it’s most likely made its way onto the wall (hint hint).

It also felt good to get back into the kitchen. This week was pasta day and egg day. For both of these, we didn’t necessarily have a set time that we had to serve the chefs our food, but rather we got to focus on the technique of fresh pasta making and egg cookery. On pasta day, we made fettuccine and ravioli. The fettuccine was served in the classic Alfredo sauce (parmesan cheese, cracked black pepper, and olive oil), and the ravioli was served in a brown butter sage sauce. Simple and delicious.

pasta

Egg day was a little more complicated for some, but a pretty fun day overall. Each student begins with a Teflon pan and a flat of eggs. There was a list that we had to produce of each type of cooked egg, and we weren’t finished until we completed each one successfully. It was definitely not relaxing, but I liked that they allowed us to make as many mistakes as possible and only grade us on the ones we cooked correctly. They also explained why they wouldn’t accept our eggs every time we brought them something that wasn’t just right. And man, it feels good when it takes five tries and then you FINALLY get the perfect over easy eggs. We had to make: soft- and hard-boiled eggs, poached eggs, sunny-side up eggs, over easy eggs, and scrambled eggs (the French way with chopsticks). And then we had to execute two perfect French omelettes (cooked eggs, small curd, ZERO BROWN COLOR), Eggs Benedict, and creme caramel. We have to take pictures for our end-of-class portfolios, and sadly, I keep forgetting, so these are not the best quality photos, but just so you have an idea:

I think it took me a little less than 50 eggs (2 flats) to finish everything, but the record for an entire class can be upwards of 1,000 eggs in a single day…Unfortunately not everyone made it all the way through production, and we even had a student walk out of class during clean-up, but some days the heat is just a little hotter in the kitchen, and the pressure a little more intense. You cook, you clean, you move on.

The Duchess County Fair is supposed to be one of the top fairs in the country, and my classmates and I went on Wednesday night after figuring out that hey, we should spend time together outside of the kitchen as well (yay for bonding!) Some rode the rides, others just ate. And we saw some exotic animals (cows and goats), but WE MISSED THE PIGS! How sad.

fair corndogs
The Foot Long Corn Dog: class fair food.

fairfair skyfair goats

fair cow
Huh?

(So much excitement over goats)

Across from the Egg, there is a teaching garden. Before Friday, I hadn’t really noticed much going on in there teaching-wise, but during my morning Intro to Gastronomy class, we had the opportunity to work in that garden! We pulled a lot of weeds, and harvested amaranth and some of the most beautiful corn I’ve ever seen. These two products will be given to a class that is studying early agriculture.

This week was a good one, and next week I will make my first entire plate of food in Fundies, and I’m going to Canada for Labor Day! There will be a lot to share for sure. Have a great rest of your Sunday!

Be Bold,

Sig_Al

My First Stage

My First Stage

This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to stage at the number one rated restaurant in Dallas. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, “stage” is the French word for “intern,” or in other words, “I work for free.” The purpose is to gain experience in different professional kitchens. It can also be a prerequisite for a job in a kitchen. And most of the time, culinarians have no problem with free labor, so they welcomed me with open arms!

I arrived for my stage at 2:51pm and was immediately faced with the dilemma of which door to use. Yes, I understood that I was supposed to use the back door that leads to the kitchen, but there were like 12 different doors to choose from! The one without a handle was the one I was supposed to pry open…Luckily  a girl came out of it soon after I had finished searching for a way in, and she pointed me in the direction of the chef. After a very brief introduction to the sous chef and the chef de cuisine, I signed a liability waiver, and the sous chef immediately gave me a recipe to follow. A habanero-tomatillo relish. He showed me where the ingredients were, set me up with a cutting board, and then I pulled out my knives and got to work.

Unfortunately, halfway through brunoising the ingredients, I was told that it was supposed to be fine brunioise (mistake numero uno). So I changed my cuts and then had to go back over everything I had already cut. I also had to de-seed various peppers, but I was too nervous to ask for gloves, so I just did it with my bare hands…and then my hands had a nice slow burn all over for the duration of my stage (mistake #2).

While I was chopping my mistakes and worries away, more cooks started to arrive for their shift. Everyone was friendly but surprised to see a newbie in the kitchen. This was by far a veteran team as the newest member had arrived over a year ago, so they were wondering whose job was in jeopardy by this newcomer. After I introduced myself to everyone and explained my purpose for being there, everyone seemed very willing to show me around.

I would be assigned to trail the hot apps guy for the evening. The restaurant was on summer hours (6pm to 9pm) and because the majority of their clientele was off at their vacation homes in the Hamptons, the restaurant was slow. However, this allowed me to move around the kitchen during service and see all the stations in action.

I found out all of this information while I was still working on that first recipe that they gave me. Once I FINALLY got everything to the size they wanted, I cut more veg for the hot app station and then joined him on the line to prep for service.

The line is an open kitchen set up much like the traditional French brigade system. Sauté, grill, and expo down the left side, and hot app and hot app sauté/sides down the right, with sushi and desserts out front on the left or right where it is nice and cool. I got a brief tour of each station, complete with tastings of Coppa over at the sushi area and a medley of aiolis at the hot app station.

For the beginning of service, I stayed with the hot apps guy and saw lobster shooters and fried calamari being plated, and then directed my attention to the hot app sauté cook when she plated this beauty:ABhot saute 2

Because the kitchen was slow for the evening, I had plenty of time to chat with everyone on the line. The sauté guy had been “sauté-ing” for 16+ years at various restaurants, and he was unbeatable. I noticed that all the front burners were turned on high with a pan over each flame all the way around the line. That way, as soon as an order came in, their pans were already blazing hot and ready to go.

ABsaute
The scallops dish that comes from the saute station.

During a busy moment in passing, the grill station/sous chef slipped me a piece of heaven for me to try. By heaven, I mean a bite of the most delicious pork chop I have ever tasted IN MY LIFE. It just so happened to be a 20-24oz hunk of love from some magical farmers in Alabama, marinated in the house blend, wrapped in bacon, and cooked sous vide in a water bath for 4-5 hours before being finished by a kiss from the grill and a hug from the oven. IN.CRED.I.BLE. I have now tasted why they’re considered the number one restaurant in Dallas.

The hot app station was done by 8:45, the restaurant closed at 9PM, and we were gone by 9:15.

All in all it was quite an adventure and I asked to come back over my winter break in December to which they happily agreed! I would love to come back when they are busier and experience a longer night. Hopefully on New Years? We’ll see.

I did have three realizations though: 1) I need to pick up speed, 2) I need to focus more on precision, 3) I need to be working in a kitchen while I go to school. And I’ve really missed working in the kitchen while I was on break…I was so nervous for my stage, but the moment I put on that chef coat and saw myself in the mirror, I felt a million times more comfortable. So I will now walk away with this stage knowing that I am more prepared for my next one, wanting to do more, and even more willing to make this my career path. There are definitely moments where I start to doubt myself, but the Lord also blesses me with moments of absolute certainty that I am doing what He wants me to do.

Overall, this was a great learning experience, and I look forward to doing another one!

Be Bold,

Sig_Al

It’s good to be home

It’s good to be home

HELLO FROM TEXAS!

Wow it feels good to be home. And drive. And eat good Mexican food.

On my last night in New York, I went on a night hike with my friend Lydia and some people from the church we attend. We hiked a pretty steep and narrow trail up Mount Beacon in the dark and found our way at the very tip top with an incredible view. You could practically see all the way from New York City to Albany! There was also an observation tower that you could climb and get a better look.

When I arrived home, there was a pretty important letter waiting for me. I have spoken before about the challenges of paying for culinary school, and how I am predominantly relying on the Lord and a LOT of scholarship applications for all of it. Well, I got the bill for my second semester of school, and I had just spent the last few days calculating exactly how much I needed to find in order to pay for my second term. When I got home, there was an envelope with my name on it from the James Beard Foundation. And inside, was a scholarship that will allow me to continue my education at the CIA for my second term!!!! GOD IS GOOD Y’ALL.

I’ve been dealing with a lot of doubt and worry recently about whether or not I would be able to afford staying for my second term at the CIA, but this confirms it. I get to continue my dreams of going to school at the Culinary Institute of America. I will continue to rely on the Lord and work and apply for scholarships and more scholarships for the remainder of my academic career, however, the relief that comes with having my next term taken care of is truly incredible.

This was the biggest news that has happened to me so far on my time off from school, but be on the lookout for another update soon! Today is my mom’s birthday (Happy Birthday Brenda!) and tonight we go to dinner, tomorrow we have a girls’ day with Aunt Jeannie, next week is my birthday, and then I am staging at Abacus in Dallas. Stories will follow I’m sure!

Be Bold,

Sig_Al

ONE. MORE. WEEK!

ONE. MORE. WEEK!

Hello friends,

This week just happens to be THE LAST ONE until we get three glorious weeks off for “summer break.” It is a far cry from the 3 months I got at OSU, but I will take any amount of rest that I can get.

Last week, we had our midterm for Culinary Fundamentals. Technically, it was the final for Skills One. Tuesday was our knife practical followed by a 50 question (all short answer) midterm, and Thursday was our cooking practical. For our knife skills practical, we had 35 minutes to cut, chop, dice, and slice the following:

  • 2 tournes
  • 1/2 potato batonnet
  • 1/2 potato small dice
  • 1/2 potato allumette
  • 1/2 potato brunoise
  • 1 tomato lozenge
  • 1 onion julienne
  • 1 onion small dice
  • 1 shallot brunoise
  • 3 ea garlic fine brunoise
  • 1/4 bu parsley fine chiffonade
  • 1 sachet d’epices 

I finished in approximately 24 minutes. Sadly, I don’t have a picture from this day or Thursday, but starting from now on, we will be constructing portfolios of our daily culinary creations, so you will all get to see more of the food I’m producing in class. Thursday we had 2.5 hours to make:

  • 1 portion broccoli
  • 1 portion cauliflower
  • consomme a la julienne
  • espagnole
  • hollandaise
  • mayonnaise

My team and I were the first students to begin production, followed by the rest of the class in 20 minute increments. Time goes by a lot faster than you think it does, but fortunately I was able to complete all required items and present them on time to Chef K. As soon as my food was graded and I saw my mid-semester grade, I felt a huge relief. We are officially halfway through Culinary Fundamentals!

I also received some incredibly exciting news about a possible externship site. This will be taking place from January through May of 2017, and while I will wait until it is 100% guaranteed that this is where I am going, let’s just say that it might require a work visa and my passport…

In the three weeks of my time off from school, I will be returning to Texas for some much needed rest, especially mentally. These last few weeks have been especially taxing, so I am looking forward to some time away. I also am SO EXCITED to drive. I didn’t know I would miss the small luxury of driving as much as I do. This eagerness to drive also means seeing friends and family that I have not seen in a while in both Texas AND Oklahoma!! Lastly, I will be undergoing two stages (essentially you work for free in a professional kitchen for the day) at a restaurant in Dallas and another one in Oklahoma City. I’m sure I will have plenty to share from both of these experiences.

I am looking forward to coming home for a bit!

Be Bold,

Sig_Al

P.S. The feature picture is the downstairs dining room in Roth Hall. I did an event for my job in Functions this weekend called “Journey for Juniors.” Just so you know what a little bit of the underbelly of the school looks like.