Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Spoon in Many Pots

Brandon Johnson
Program: Classic Culinary Program, Evenings, March '09
Age: You don't get this without a martini.
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Current City: Brooklyn, New York

What brought you to The French Culinary Institute?

"I love to experiment with savory recipes, but my main reason for [choosing to go to] culinary school was to master the basics, [so that I could] merge all of my creative passions—design, cooking, and entertaining. Food is one of the most creative forms of art to me; you can transform it into colorful flavors, shapes, and smells. And The FCI’s invaluable techniques helped me grow my culinary creativity."

What were you doing before you went to culinary school?

"I was a project and marketing manager for an interactive website for architects. To feed my creative gene, I also wrote short stories and interviewed artists at a multimedia studio in Washington, D.C. Every weekend I would have dinner parties, which grew into catering. So, culinary school was a no-brainer."

What are some of the aspects you enjoyed about culinary school?

"I was in the Classic Culinary Arts program. I worked during the day and enjoyed class at night. Three things I cherish about The FCI are: the people, the canapé station, and Eat Life FCI. The people include my chef-instructors, who are so passionate about food and techniques; they were such an inspiration. I also love my classmates. They became my friends; we still talk and work together. Meeting this culinary group of peers and mentors has been priceless.The practical experience at The FCI sparked my passion for catering and recipe development. As an FCI student, I worked for L’Ecole (the school's restaurant). That portion of the program allowed for creativity; students could cook their own recipes at the canapé station. I remember making a crêpe bundle canape with panzo sauce and thinking I can make small beautiful bites all day. I’ve been happily catering and recipe developing ever since.

I also loved creating the student blog, Eat Life FCI. I went to my student services advisor and proposed starting a community blog that would be a voice for The FCI students. After the first issue in August of 2008, the blog grew from 1 to 15 student and alumni bloggers. Eat Life FCI has opened doors to me and other students interested in food writing. It has taught me the value of a great team and continues to grow my new media experience.

What have you been doing since you graduated?
"Food media and catering is my life and love. Since graduating, I’ve catered for Danny Meyer’s Union Square Events, I've tested recipes for Saveur magazine, and I've consulted and written for the Cooking Channel’s, Food Network’s and Saveur Magazine’s websites. I also do chef instructing for Share Our Strength. If you’d ask which is better, I'd say, "Thank goodness I don't have to choose." I am wild about food media and cooking. Although, I must admit, there is nothing more enjoyable to me than slicing, plating, and flavoring food."

You have a spoon in many pots right now. How do you see these various aspects of your career coming together or meeting your ultimate goal…which is?

"My goal is to use food to fuel various creative avenues. The cooking and media experience blend beautifully. I can cook, then share the technique and recipe on the web, just like in the video we did below. I have an ultimate goal, but I’m taking it one step at a time. Stay tuned."

What are three ingredients you can’t live without?

"Bone-in rib-eye, tomatoes, and garlic (and seafood!). What can I say? I’m a savory girl!"

What is your best advice for someone starting out in catering?

"Learn and be confident. The great thing about catering is that the menu is always changing so you can learn a lot of different recipes, plus you learn how to plan for large-scale events. Catering menus are composed of a lot of canapés, so precision and technique are crucial. Challenge yourself, stay focused, and soak up all of the technique, planning, and recipes that you can."

And what about new media?

"If you’re starting in the food media profession, it’s best to have culinary and media experience. Food media has various avenues: film, web management, print magazines, cookbooks, etc. To start in new media, look at successful websites and programs, take notes, and then be proactive. Create your own personal blog or vlog and use the notes you’ve taken to successfully share your culinary passion with others."

You are going to make a salmon croquette for us today. Why did you choose this particular recipe to share?

"Thank, Mr. Johnson (my dad) for the salmon croquette recipe (get the recipe below). He used to make salmon croquettes for Sunday brunch, and I wanted to make this recipe personal—something that represented my family and my love of creative appetizers. You don't see brunch appetizers every day, and this is a unique and easy appetizer recipe with good techniques. I hope you enjoy eating it as much as I enjoy cooking it!"

• Feel free to ask Brandon any questions you may have about The FCI, catering, and new media through the blog comments or email her directly at

• View Brandon’s culinary portfolio at

Salmon Croquette & Quail Egg Appetizer
As this recipe is for catering for hundreds at an event, canned salmon works best. You can keep it on the shelves longer and it’s efficient with flavorful results. You may cook and flake fresh salmon if making this recipe for a smaller crowd. You may also can your own salmon using a pressure canner.
makes 15 mini croquettes
1 can salmon, drained

1/4 cup bread crumbs

1/4 red onion, cut into small dice

1 large hen egg, lightly beaten

kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

15 quail eggs
canola oil

Basil-Champagne Vinaigrette Marinated Tomatoes (recipe follows)
fresh thyme leaves, for garnishing
1. Mix salmon, bread crumbs and onion in a bowl. Add the hen egg, and season. Mixture should be moist but should not stick to hands. Form into small, slightly rounded discs; reserve.
2. Heal enough oil to coat bottom of large sauté pan set over medium heat; add salmon croquettes, and sauté until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Remove from the heat with wide spatuala, and place croquettes on a paper towel–lined plate. Reserve.
3. Wipe out pan, and return to heat. Add enough oil to coat bottom; add quail eggs. Cook until white has set, about 3 minutes. Season lightly. Remove from heat with a spatula, and place on a serving plate. Reserve.
4. To serve, arrange croquettes on serving plate; top each with a fried quail egg. Place some marinated tomatoes on top; garnish with thyme leaves.

Basil-Champagne Vinaigrette Marinated Tomatoes
1/3 cup champagne vinegar
 1/2 shallot, cut into small dice
 2 cloves garlic, minced
 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 bunch fresh basil

1 tomato, blanched and cut into small dice
1. Combine vinegar, shallot, garlic, and thyme in a bowl; season. Gradually whisk in the oil. Adjust seasonings as needed; reserve.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil; add basil ; blanch 30 seconds. Remove from water, and place in ice-water bath to stop the cooking. Remove from water; press off any excess water. Place in vinaigrette; let stand until flavor has infused oil, 30 to 60 minutes.
3. Remove basil from vinaigrette; discard. Whisk vinaigrette; add tomatoes. Let stand at least 30 minutes before using.


Unknown said...

in keeping with your high standards FCI you've turned out another impressive chef who appears well on her way. from rosemary, sage and thyme.

Anonymous said...

@ linda - Thank you! I hope you enjoy the recipe. Let us know how it goes after you cook it at home!