Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Magnolia trees are popping out in big white and pink blooms all around my block this week, getting me all excited for spring to advance a bit further. My apartment is stocked with spring flowers as well—cherry branches loaded with puffy blossoms, daffodils, and tulips are positioned at key points in my pad to provide little pick-me-ups as I pass by; I love spring and its many colors and scents.
The second week of class brought with it a heavy dose of tarts and tartlets, further heightening my fling with spring as we learned the proper way to cut fruit to top both fresh and baked fruit tarts. I’d always had a terrible time dissecting orange segments from the pith without mangling them into indistinguishable bits, but after Chef Cynthia’s demonstration and some practice with a sharp knife both in class and at home, I think I’ve finally got it down. We also picked up a useful tip for loosening the skin around kiwi fruit by cutting off both ends with a knife and then pushing a spoon underneath the skin and twisting the fruit around it in a circular motion until the skin is removed.
Tarte alsacienne, pot de crème, chocolate heaven cookies, vanilla crescents, and fig newtons also made appearances on the schedule, which was much faster paced than the first week. Besides having to learn a wide array of pastry techniques in a relatively short time period, one of the hardest things I’m going to have to battle and correct is my tendency to leave a path of destruction of dirty bowls, utensils, and countertops when I’m in my own kitchen—something that won’t work well both in The FCI classroom and in an eventual workplace. And so, while it’s still early on in the program, I’ve been making a conscious effort to work clean and stay organized. So far, so good, although I’m sure I still qualify as sloppy by most standards! I’m working on it...
We finished up the week with another sanitation lecture from Chef Guido. It’s one of the last ones before our first test on sanitation that takes place on Thursday of week three—wish me luck!
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Exciting news at The FCI! Starting March 28, our restaurant, L'Ecole, will be serving brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 11:30am to 2:30pm. For $19.50, diners will enjoy a two-course meal, including a basket of freshly baked pastries and bread as well as choice of beverage.
This is a great opportunity for our Classic Culinary Arts students to show off their egg cooking skills (they say a well-made omelet is the sign of a well-trained chef). The kitchen will also turn out house-made terrines, smoked salmon, and juices.
The menu strikes the perfect balance between classic French (Croque Monsieur and French onion soup), classic Brunch (French toast and Steak and Eggs), and classic Lunch (the L'Ecole burger and duck confit).
To make a reservation, visit L'Ecole's website or call 212.219.3300.
Since enrolling at The FCI, I’ve been paying special attention to the many restaurants in my own neighborhood started by FCI graduates. Right now I’m eating lunch at alumni Ori Apple’s Hummus Place, which has a location situated about a hundred feet from my house. I’ve long been a fan of their hummus, which is smooth and flavorful, made fresh to order, and served with hot homemade pitas. But the hummus isn’t the only thing I come here for—most often, it’s the shakshuka that draws me in. Shakshuka is an Israeli dish made with stewed tomatoes, onions, garlic, eggs and peppers that is also traditionally served with pitas. If you haven’t experienced Hummus Place, there are several locations around town. Check out their website HERE for the one nearest you.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Dean of Food Journalism and Food Writing teacher, Alan Richman, is nominated in two categories, Magazine Feature Writing without Recipes, and Writing on Spirits, Wine, or Beer for his pieces in GQ, "Made (Better) in Japan," and "Viva La Revolucion!"
The FCI's president and founder, Dorothy Hamilton, has been chosen to be inducted into the Who's Who of Food and Beverage in America. Dorothy was also recently nominated for the 2009 IACP Award of Excellence (Entrepreneur category).
This year we have six alumni representing six categories. The FCI alumni nominated are:
Outstanding Chef Award
Dan Barber (Classic Culinary Arts '94), Blue Hill, NYC
Best New Restaurant
Momofuku Ko, NYC, Chef/Owner: David Chang (Classic Culinary Arts '01
Outstanding Service Award
Vetri, Philadelphia, Co-Owner: Marc Vetri (Art of International Bread Baking '98)
Best Chef: New York City (Five Boroughs)
Wylie Dufresne (Classic Culinary Arts, '93), WD~50
Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic (D.C., DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA)
Maricel Presilla (Essentials of Pastry '93 & Italian Master Class '93), Cucharamama, Hoboken, NJ
Best Chef: Midwest (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI)
Alexander Roberts (Classic Culinary Arts '93), Restaurant Alma, Minneapolis
Congratulations to all nominees and good luck in the final competition!
Sunday, March 22, 2009
It had been a while since I’d been in a classroom setting, and I was admittedly feeling a tad on the nervous side in the days leading up to the start of class. So nervous, in fact, that I broke out in hives—not an uncommon thing with me, really, as everything from crowded subway cars to too many houseguests at once can bring out the red, splotchy rashes that find itchy homes on my arms and legs. I’m sensitive, what can I say? I think I was suffering from some kind of Freshman Syndrome, worrying about fitting in, catching on, that sort of thing…
It didn’t help that, upon arrival on my first day, I found myself bumping elbows with a rowdy, energized group of Classic Culinary students changing into street clothes after class in the second floor lockers. As I struggled to find room to set my bag down amidst the chaos and colorful banter, I couldn’t help but summon images of me being crammed into my own locker as the final step of initiation into the program. (The visualization was heightened by the fact that it’s a teensy-weensy little locker!) Within seconds, however, I realized my nerves and hives were all for naught, and after exchanging a few friendly words with the guys and donning my uniform for the first time, I felt totally at ease and excited to be embarking on a nine-month adventure in the Classic Pastry Arts program.
Immediately after changing and gathering with the rest of the class in the hallway, we were lead to the Pastry Level One kitchen. Our head instructor, Chef Cynthia Peithman, greeted us warmly in the classroom before quickly launching into basic classroom rules and equipment instructions and beginning a demonstration on our first assignment—apple tarts! We made sweet pastry dough (pâte sucrée) and let it chill while peeling, dicing, and cooking apples on stovetops into compote for spreading into the bottoms of the tarts.
As counterpoint to Chef Cynthia’s pastry instruction, Chef Timothy Shaw sang to my germophobic tendencies by starting the second and third classes with lectures on sanitation. Detailing the many germs and diseases that can be spread by improperly handling foods, he made learning about common foodborne illnesses such as the Norwalk virus to extremely rare afflictions like brain-eating pork tapeworms both surprisingly fun and entertaining. No, really! Sanitation certification is a big part of the beginning of the course, and successful completion of the accompanying exam can help in making a student’s prospects for finding employment in the culinary field all that much easier.
It’s no surprise that the first week, while a lot of fun, was a bit daunting, with lots of information to take in from every direction. Chef Cynthia’s style was such that I never felt overwhelmed, and she remained focused and cheerfully in charge of everything. I had nervously envisioned having a baking disaster of epic proportions involving the fire department on the first week for all to witness, setting the tone for the months to come and perhaps leading to immediate expulsion, but my apple tart turned out well and was eagerly devoured by friends in Brooklyn later that night.
Saturday marked the end of the first trio of classes, and besides apple tarts we whipped up large batches of pastry cream, which was used to make delicious banana cream tarts. We also made classic pastry dough (pâte brisée) and mounds of gingersnap cookie dough for use next week. I can’t wait!
Thursday, March 19, 2009
The winners of the 2008 FCI Outstanding Alumni Awards are:
Outstanding Culinary Award: Tyler Kord
Tyler Kord is the Owner and Chef of No. 7 in Brooklyn. After graduating from the FCI in 2002, Tyler stayed on at The FCI and worked as a Sous Chef in the a la carte kitchen for Alain Sailhac and Patrick Farrel. He then went on to work for Jean Georges Vongerichten at Perry Street, for 2 years, as Sous Chef. Tyler has recently opened a restaurant in Ft. Greene Brooklyn called No. 7. The restaurant serves contemporary new American cuisine in a casual setting. Tyler supports The FCI in his kitchen by hiring grads.
Outstanding Pastry Award: Michael Zebrowski
Michael Zebrowski is the Executive Pastry Chef at The Westin Governor Morris Hotel. After working with Chef Thomas Ciszak at The Manor in New Jersey, Michael Zebrowski went on to work with two of New York's top chefs: David Bouley and Daniel Boulud. Finding the need to broaden his culinary horizons, Chef Zebrowski went to work at The Pierre Hotel where he learned the fine art of producing and serving high end desserts for large extravagant banquet events, often serving heads of state, dignitaries, and celebrities. Zebrowski then traveled to France to intern at 3 Michelin star restaurant Le Jardin des Sens. Chef Zebrowski is now responsible for the overall management of the pastry department at The Westin Hotel in Morristown as well as the Copeland restaurant which has received 3½ stars from the New Jersey Star Ledger.
Outstanding Achievement Award: Robert Bleifer
Robert Bleifer is Executive Chef of Culinary Productions at Food Network Robert worked as a freelance photographer after graduating with a MFA from Rochester Institute of Technology. Bleifer realized his true love was food and moved to New York City. Once he completed his studies at The FCI in 1994, Bleifer worked as a line cook at Park Avenue Café for a year. Bleifer took a freelance job at Food Network and worked his way up to Executive Chef where he now oversees in-house food production, location production, photo shoots, vignettes, and food for over 75 Food Network events annually.
Outstanding Management Award: Dan Rafalin
Dan Rafalin is Principal Partner of AvroKo Restaurant Group. Dan has been immersed in the culinary world from the beginning of his career when he graduated from The FCI in 1996. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Food Management from New York University and worked as the financial and business analyst for the Clark Wolf Company, a New York based food, restaurant and hospitality consulting firm before joining forces with AvroKO. Dan Rafalin oversees operation of the AvroKo group's four New York City restaurants - PUBLIC, The Monday Room, Double Crown and Madam Geneva. Dan has helped garner a wide array of awards and accolades for the restaurants, including a coveted Michelin star for PUBLIC and two stars from The New York Times for AvroKO's newest restaurant Double Crown.
Congratulations to all the winners!
Between our culinary and pastry classes, chef demos, and special events, the halls of The French Culinary Institute are always packed with activity. Yesterday, the place was really buzzing when some of the city’s top employers and around 300 students and alumni came together for The FCI’s Spring 2009 Career Fair.
Our career fairs are biannual events, designed to connect employers with job hunting students and alumni. Despite reports of a hiring slowdown in the culinary industry, employer participation was as strong as ever. In all, a total of 44 restaurants, restaurant groups, and food-related businesses signed up to interview FCI students and alumni for internships and positions in
For our staff in the Career Services Department, who have been keeping a watchful eye on the job market, this was a very positive sign. Though there may be fewer jobs out there, demand remains high for the highly skilled, passionate, and motivated graduates The FCI’s known for training.
Here are just a few of the employers that joined us yesterday:
Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group
Culinary Concepts by Jean-Georges
Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Gordon Ramsay at the
The Standard Hotel
Park Avenue Spring
Breslin at the Ace Hotel
View more photos from The FCI’s Spring Career Fair.
The Fall 2009 Career Fair will take place in September.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
When I was a little kid growing up in Colorado, I’d make oatmeal cookies with my Great Granny Pauline every weekend—big, lumpy, super sweet creations that stuck hopelessly to the roof of my mouth and required large glasses of milk to wash down. It was a bittersweet moment because, while I loved spending time with my feisty Granny, the cookies themselves were disgusting pucks of indigestible goo that somehow had both charred bottoms and uncooked centers, with bits of eggshell thrown in for extra crunch. She was a horrible cook, ruined every recipe she attempted, and her kitchen had a persistent burnt fish smell that stemmed from a botched pan-frying effort involving Great Grampy’s hard-caught rainbow trout. While it seemed unlikely, Great Granny Pauline was my inspiration for learning to bake and cook on my own, if only because I knew that even a six-year-old could fare better in the kitchen than her and I was tired of the tummy aches and vomiting.
Given that I started out on the rough side of the tracks and didn’t have much exposure to culinary experiences that would broaden my abilities in the kitchen outside of Wonder Bread, gallon-sized tubs of margarine, and five-pound blocks of government cheese, some might think it’s amazing that I’d remain as interested in food as I am today, but my cooking instincts came partly by necessity. My mom worked long hours at odd jobs to make ends meet, and because I was the oldest it was expected of me to take care of my brother and sister and keep them fed while she was away by whipping up whatever little there was in the house to work with. Generally that meant lots of boxed mac ‘n’ cheese and Top Ramen, but every so often we’d get chocolate in the house that I’d use to expand and improve on what my great grandmother taught me by making big batches of homemade chocolate chip cookies and brownies. While they weren’t made with the best quality ingredients available and probably wouldn’t hold up to the memories I have of them today, at the time everyone thought they were incredible—delicious, bite-sized retreats from fractured realities that I’d (perhaps in my earliest attempts at drowning mixed bags of emotions in baked goods) devour entire pans of in a single sitting.
As the years went by and circumstances changed and improved for me, baking and binge eating still remain strong themes in my life. And it doesn’t just stop at things that I’m making from scratch: From weekly college pizza eating contests in Seattle, to my gluttonous forty-cupcake eating spree at the Beverly Hills Sprinkles Cupcakes over a ten-day trip to L.A. last year, to an episode involving Amsterdam’s most special brownies that I’m still not ready to talk about, to my spontaneous obsession with trying out hundreds of different macarons from dozens of pastry shops on a typically dreary Paris weekend earlier this winter—my devotion to eating—and sharing my finds with others—has no bounds.
This unrelenting passion for good food is what has ultimately drawn me to make pastry my life’s primary endeavor by enrolling in the Classic Pastry Arts program at FCI, which begins this week and runs Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings through graduation in early January 2010. For the past five years, I was the studio manager for a fine art photographer named Matthew Pillsbury, who’s work and exhibition schedule took me all over the globe. As luck would have it, a lot of that time was spent in Paris, particularly the past year when I assisted him on shoots for a commissioned series of images from all around Paris with the French Institute. The time I spent in France experiencing the great pastry shops and restaurants, more than any other influence in my life that came before it, is what ultimately caused me to make this major life career change and push in a new direction. Whether the end result finds me one day owning my own bakery, writing about food, or working on the staff in some capacity of a food related television or radio show remains to be seen—I’ll be thrilled to be playing a role in an industry I have always been passionate about! I’m excited not only to be starting class and learning how to make pastries myself that I constantly obsess over when I’m in Paris, but also to have the opportunity to share my experiences with you as I work my way through the course via the FCI blog.
On top of reports on classroom activities, I’ll also be covering a wide range of other goings-on around campus, as well as sharing some adventures on the food scene in NYC and around the world. I’ve had the fortune of leading a most curious life that has blessed me with a quirky sense of humor, a myriad of awkward memories I tend to mix into whatever story I’m telling with no warning, and an obsessive compulsive relationship to food that drives the very beat of my existence. From the falafel joint on my street corner to the tasting menu at Le Bernadin; from my favorite Sichuan restaurant in Paris to the poularde en vessie at the Bristol; from the best tonkatsu in Japan to the breathtaking views over drinks at the Park Hyatt Tokyo—I love it all.
And I can’t wait to share my thoughts, stories, and experiences with you this year during my time at FCI!