Thursday, May 28, 2009
Pierre Hermé’s flawlessly formed croissants are one of the reasons I enrolled in the Classic Pastry Arts program at The FCI—they are that good! Everything I’ve tried in his Parisian pâtisserie is delicious and gorgeously presented at an almost obscene level of perfection, but it’s his croissants that keep me coming in again and again whenever I’m in Paris. Not only are they unbelievably flaky and delicious, but because the French regulate the cost of staple food items such as croissants (only in France would a pain au chocolat be considered a necessity), they are also affordable compared to the other offerings in his shop. And so, I start each morning in France by popping one of his croissants into the oven and waiting impatiently for it to warm before taking that first bite with large dollops of jam.
As we embarked on making our first croissants in class this week, that’s the vision I nervously held onto. Taste and texture-wise, they were pretty good, but in terms of form I have a long, long way to go (as evidenced in photo). The rolling out of the croissant dough turned out to be the relatively easy part—it’s the shaping part that takes lots of practice. Thankfully, we’ll all have a lot more chances in future classes to master croissant making techniques.
Besides croissants, we also made brioche, fruit cake, pecan Danishes, blueberry muffins, and Kugelhopf. Amanda Beun, my fantastic partner for the unit, made the cutest bumblebees out of marzipan for the sticky meringue beehives we made in the last Viennoiserie class. The unit will return later on in the curriculum, but for two more classes we focused on puff pastry once again and made chocolate mille feuille, banana tarts and dartoise.
Up next: the puff pastry practical and written exams and the beginning of the cakes unit!
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Once reserved for advanced students looking to master sous vide and other low temperature cooking techniques, their high-tech course offerings have expanded to the Recreational Division at The International Culinary Center.
On June 12 from 6:30-9:30pm, the pair will teach High-Tech Cocktails, a three-hour demo and tasting class showcasing some of their latest innovations behind the bar, including an edible martini, and a fizzy "gin and tonic" made without the tonic.
Adding to their growing press, High-Tech Cocktails has already received coverage on a number of NYC and food-related news publications. Most recently, a Village Voice article promoting the class included a few techie tricks of the trade from Dave Arnold himself. Another story on Cocktailians covered several techniques to be taught in class, breaking them down into "reasonable," "semi-reasonable," and "unreasonable" for the home cook to perform.
Whether you're an experienced bartender or a curious home cook, High-Tech Cocktails promises to be an exciting evening. There's still time to register but space is limited, so reserve your seat before it's sold out!
Read more about Dave and Nils' high-tech food experiments on their new "tech 'n stuff" blog, Cooking Issues.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Following the original Top Chef format, each episode will feature two challenges in which four chefs compete against each other to name one winner. In the final four episodes, the six winners will risk elimination each week until the final two remain to fight for the grand prize of $100,000 donation to the charity of their choice.
Watch the interview on Bravo's website to learn more about Chef Nils and Top Chef Masters.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Early in May, Rhonda and students of the Italian Culinary Experience took a trip to the farm at the Center for Discovery in upstate New York. Impressively, the farm is biodynamic, a method of organic farming that treats farms as unified and individual organisms. Emphasis is placed on the balance and interrelationship of the soil, plants, animals, and even the farmer as part of a whole, self-nourishing system. It takes a farm three years to get certified as biodynamic.
Rhonda was first introduced to the farm when Cesare Casella, our Dean of Italian Studies, received an award there. Chef Cesare had been working with the farm by helping them make connections with NYC restaurants, and by training some of their kitchen staff in technique. Rhonda was so impressed with the farm, she vowed to take another trip as a student outing.
A year later, the unofficial "Italian Club" was finally able to make the trip. They toured the farm with the head animal and head vegetable farmers, tasted biodynamically grown vegetables picked straight from the earth, and gathered beautifully colored eggs from Araucana chickens, a breed originating in Chile known as the South American Rumpless.
At the end of the day, the group made dinner for the farmers using the greens, herbs, and eggs they gathered. The menu included bruschetta with sautéed mushrooms, arugula, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese; a frittata with goat cheese, spring onions, and arugula; fresh greens salad with mint and lemon dressing; grilled asparagus; rigatoni with summer squash and scamorza cheese sauce; and a ricotta mousse with fresh fruit.
Click here to view more pictures.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Chef Cynthia announced to the class at the beginning of the Viennoiserie unit that this is when she suggests we all join a gym, and she wasn’t kidding, as I’ve been eating the orange swirl bread, challah and Sally Lunn Buns (pictured) pretty much nonstop. Viennoiserie are baked goods that are created from a yeast-leavened dough that often contains rich ingredients such as eggs, butter, milk, and cream.
We swiftly navigated from puff pastry directly into Viennoiserie, which is related in a way given that several of the recipes, such as croissants and Danishes, use similar techniques of rolling butter into the dough, folding it, and rolling it again to create layers of flakey, buttery pastry in the final baked product.
My new partner for the unit, Amanda Beun, just turned 21 last week and has been working as a cake decorator and bakery manager for Stop & Shop since she was 16. She has plans to open up her own bakery in the next couple of years… I wish that I was half as organized and driven at such a young age as she is, and I can’t wait to see how her education at The FCI is going to sharpen and influence her already considerable talent!
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Following three years of working at L’Ecole post graduation and two years as the sous chef at Perry Street, Tyler opened No. 7, his first restaurant, last fall to solid reviews. He called me over for a quick tour of the tight work area while he sharpened knives and I jumped right in and asked him why he didn’t open his own place sooner. “One thing I learned right out of FCI is that, unless you have the money lined up, it’s pretty unrealistic to think that you could work in a high end restaurant for six months and then open up your own place.”
Even with solid backers and friends helping with the renovation of the space, there was still a rush to open quickly (and initially sans liquor license) to start cash flowing into the operation. Tyler loves his job and thankfully lives a few blocks away from his restaurant, which enables him to come in around 10am and he often will stay on until after 2am the following morning. “Why sit at home on the couch when I could be here making my restaurant even better?” He then added that on Mondays, his lone day off, he does indeed like to sit on the couch while watching Bond flicks.
Tyler’s lively personality is reflected in striking, colorful dishes that have been called a fusion of Hungarian and Korean fare, something Tyler didn’t intend at first but has come to embrace and expand upon. The roast chicken with peach gelée, truffled corn, and sugar snap peas I ordered a few nights after my meeting with him was beautifully plated with medallions of tender meat resting comfortably around crunchy fresh veggies. And the carrot ginger soup of the day (pictured) couldn’t have been prettier. A friend who joined me ordered the fried broccoli, dill, grapefruit, and black beans appetizer—admittedly an odd-sounding combo—but it came together beautifully.
Several of Tyler’s employees have been brought over from Perry Street, including his pastry chef, Amanda Clarke, who has also worked at Jean Georges. Don’t even think about leaving No. 7 without ordering her chocolate pudding with root beer chantilly, cocoa streusel, and peanut brittle crisps.
As someone who’s working my way through The FCI program, I was curious to see what advice Tyler had to give to students who are looking to find jobs that will eventually lead to opening their own businesses: “Prepare to work long and hard. The last thing most restaurants want to hear from a new graduate is that he or she wants to learn. Sure, you’ll end up learning a lot on the job, but this isn’t a classroom and as a restaurant owner I need employees who are ready and willing to work and do what it takes to get the job done. That’s the only way you’ll get ahead and form solid professional relationships that will lead to opening your own establishment.”
No. 7 is open for dinner from Tuesday through Sunday from 6PM – 2AM; Visa and MasterCard are accepted; Reservations: 718-522-6370; Visit their website for directions.
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Read more about the event on Chef Cesare's blog.
Regardless of their culinary prowess, even top chefs are faced with the same dilemma all parents do at mealtime: what to feed the little ones. Babble.com talked to five talented chefs who are also parents, to find out what's on their dinner tables.
Read the article, written by FCI alum and Assistant Director of Career Services Phil Gutensohn, hear about their kids' likes and dislikes, and get some of their favorite kid-approved recipes to try at home.
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Although he loves life on the water, he still keeps an apartment in the city for when his wife visits, because "boating and high heels don't always go together."
Watch the video on WSJ.com.
Monday, May 04, 2009
If I can make a palmier as beautiful, flakey, perfectly formed, and buttery crisp as the ones found in Paris' Ladurée pastry shop, I’ll be a happy guy. It’s a tall order, as they make some of the prettiest pastries around, but I went into the first week of the puff pastry unit with that end goal in mind. Puff pastry has always been something that scares me a wee bit—if everything from the room to the rolling surface and particularly the ingredients themselves aren’t kept cold, the end result could produce, say, cheese twists that resemble misshapen churros—something I know firsthand from fumbles I’ve had at home.
We started the week by making quick, inverse, and classic puff pastry doughs, which all use similar techniques of rolling and folding dough that’s chock-full of butter multiple times to produce a baked product that has hundreds of crisp layers stacked one on top of the other. From these doughs, we made apple tartlets, cheese straws, bar tarts, mille-feuille and pretty little savory treats called vol-au-vents (pictured) that I can’t wait to make for the next gathering at my apartment.
Another unit means another changing of partners. I’m now working together with a cheerful woman named Brie De Felice, who lives in Brooklyn and is so organized and on top of things that I barely turn around for a minute and she has the next recipe not only mise en placed for her, but for me as well! We’re slowly working our way toward making croissants, which will happen in a few classes from now. I truly can’t wait for that… patience, patience…
By the time I arrived at the Hudson Street location of Jacques Torres a little after noon on Wednesday, there was already a small group of people surrounding a woman holding a tray loaded with one of Torres’ creations—the Champagne Kiss. There was also a public relations team on hand for fielding questions and a camera crew lurking in the background to capture all the action and get quotes from customers on the unfolding drama between Hershey’s Corporation and Jacques Torres that’s been the source of much discussion in the news as of late.
There was a ballot box next to the chocolate-wielding woman where samplers could decide for themselves whether Torres’ square, flat, champagne-laced confection stamped with red lips resembled anything like Hershey’s foil-wrapped Kisses, a debate that was set off in early April when Hershey’s, claiming trademark infringement, issued Jacques Torres a cease-and-desist order regarding his new Kiss.
I was more than content with eating free treats and managed to steer completely clear from making statements on camera regarding Torres Gate (besides, it’s not polite to talk with my mouth full), but from what I could see during my time there, nearly every visitor was siding with him. Chef Torres has also taken the battle into cyberspace by launching SaveJacquesKiss.com, where you can sign a petition and voice your opinion on the matter, receiving a coupon for free samples of hot chocolate or bonbons for your time—what are you waiting for?!