Thursday, August 26, 2010

Holy Moles

This week Chef Jose "Alex" Alejandro, chef-owner of
El Parador Cafe in New York City, demonstrated his techniques for making a good mole to an eager audience in the school's amphitheater, shedding some bright lights on an often overlooked cuisine. Fun to watch, Chef Alex introduced students to a variety of chiles and ingredients by making a pumpkin seed, a peanut, and a fig-pineapple-jicama based mole. After the cooking was finished, we all sat down with freshly toasted corn tortillas and chicken to taste the results for ourselves. The plates were licked clean.

Chef Alex is a graduate of The FCI ('94) himself and took over this popular and successful restaurant from his father Manny, who purchased the restaurant from the original owner in 1990.

Here are the ingredients for the three moles Chef Alex shared with us. The general instructions for assembly each one is farily simple. Mix prepared ingredients with warm stock in batches in a blender. Blend until smooth and place in a bowl or clean pot. Once everything has been pureed, you can fry it for a few minutes in a little canola oil heat in another large pot. You need a large pot because the mole does splatter when it first starts to cook. You should add a bit of mole to the pot at a time. If you want the mole to be smoother and less rustic, strain it through a fine chinois before serving.

5 cup chicken stock, heated
3 cups pumpkin seeds, hulled and toasted
1 bunch fresh cilantro (leaves only)
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, roasted over open flame
1 romain heart, loosely chopped

5 cups chicken stock, heated
3 cups peanuts, roasted
5 plum tomatoes
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
6 cloves garlic, roasted
3 chipotles packed in adobo
6 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick

3 cups chicken stock, heated
6 huajillo chiles, rehydrated
6 ancho chiles, rehydrated

6 cascabel chiles, rehydrated

5 plum tomatoes, roasted, cored, seeded, and cut into chunks
1 cup fresh pineapple, roasted and cut into chunks

1 cup jicama, peeled and roughly chopped

1 cup figs, roughly chopped

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Student Profile: Les Dames d'Escoffier Scholarship Winner Luciana Davidzon

Luciana (far right) with fellow scholarship recipients.

Born in Buenos Aires, Luciana Davidzon, 34, found her way to a career in food through business. Coming from a medical family (her father, husband, and brother are all doctors), she picked a different route, studying business administration at the University of Buenos Aires instead. After completing a six year program, she worked for companies such as HSBC, KPMG, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and finally Dannon, where she worked in marketing.

After she and her husband moved to New York City six years ago, she knew she wanted to be independent and do something more creative. She had enjoyed the package design and other creative work she had done while at Dannon. With a good business head, she knew she was ready to set out on her own and started Lola Mora Catering. "Emulating what my grandmother did almost 100 years ago, I found myself as a new immigrant in a strange place, looking for a brighter future. While trying to be part of this social, economic, and cultural (fantastic and yet tough) experience called New York City, I was able to take a step forward with the opening of Lola Mora, [where we offer] a mix of Latin American, Eastern European, and French style dishes and pastries," she says.

After building her business over the past few years, Lucinana wanted to increase her skills and gain a professional edge. Enter pastry school. Starting the evening Classic Pastry Arts program this past January, she feels she can be a good example to fellow immigrants. "It can be a challenge to study with English as a second language," she says. But she also feels that if you love what you do and truly want to learn nothing is impossible.

For Luciana, this has been a great experience, but to her the greatest achievement is being awarded a $5,000 scholarship through Les Dames d'Escoffier. More than the money, she is thrilled to be able to participate in their mentoring program and even more thrilled to have been paired with Liz Neumark, owner of Great Performances. The opportunity to learn from her and ask her questions over the next year feels like an amazing grace and a boon to the success of her own fledgling catering company. Graduation may be just around the corner, but Luciana has many new and exciting food experiences just ahead to help her build her own dream.

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.

Out on the Grange

Student club outing to: Bklyn Grange Rooftop Farm
Heirloom tomato plants

Rows of heirloom tomato plants spanned Brooklyn Grange Farm on the roof of an office building in Long Island City, Queens.

We had just eaten samples of those heirloom tomatoes in the lobby where the farm has a market stand. The tomatoes were luscious—sweet on the tongue. I imagined I could bake a savory tart with those tomatoes.

On the rooftop, Anastasia Cole Plakias, one of the founders of Brooklyn Grange, led us—The French Culinary Institute's Forager Club—on a tour on August 12th. She emphasized the importance of supporting local farms by buying their food. Eating locally grown food enhances the economy, supports farmers, and cuts down on the energy used to dispose waste and transport food into the city, she says.

Gesturing to a large compost pile, Anastasia said if all of us composted, more trucks wouldn't have to dump waste somewhere else.

Anastasia Cole of Brooklyn Grange Farm
Anastasia Cole Plakias, cofounder of Brooklyn Grange, pulling out a weed among the eggplants

Heirloom tomatoes
Heirloom tomatoes at the market stand

The farm was founded by Ben Flanner, who also cofounded Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Greenpoint, Brooklyn; Gwen Schantz, cofounder of the Bushwick Food Cooperative & CSA and farm manager at Roberta's; Chris Parachini, co-owner and CEO of Roberta's; Anastasia Cole Plakias, who recently served as communications director for Batali-Bastianich Hospitality Group's copresident, Joe Bastianich; and Brandon Hoy, co-owner and operator of Roberta's. With the help of friends and volunteers, they began planting in spring 2010. The founders had called the farm Brooklyn Grange, thinking they would be located in Brooklyn. But the arrangement fell through, and the group found another location in Queens.

37-18 Northern Blvd, Long Island City, Queens
37-18 Northern Blvd., Long Island City, Queens

During the tour, Anastasia pointed out the okra plants. The okras were larger than any okra in a grocery store.

Okra plant

The soil had been built to support plants on a roof, Anastasia said. She and others laid layers of root-barrier, drainage mats and felt before adding special soil that has lightweight stones and compost. (Learn more about the farm's soil.)


The mats that have cups in them fill up with water when it rains. During dry conditions, the plants can take water from those mats, Anastasia says.

The farm grows tomatoes, salad greens, herbs, eggplants, cantaloupes, okras, squashes, beets, radishes, and other produce.

Pointing out a raised grate, Anastasia said, "Ben [Flanner] saw that and said, 'Canteloupe.'"
We peeked around the concrete structure. Underneath the leaves were cantaloupe.


Touring the Brooklyn Grange Farm
Rhonda Lynn, assistant dean of student affairs, (second from left) and students listen to Anastasia (far left) talk about the farm.

Brooklyn Grange Farm sells their produce in the lobby of the building on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m. You can also find out all the locations where their produce is sold.

Student club outing to: Bklyn Grange Rooftop Farm

The rooftop farm welcomes volunteers on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. For more information, e-mail

Jenny Lee-Adrian is a student in the Classic Culinary Arts program at The French Culinary Institute. She loves going to farmers' markets and enjoys cooking with seasonal ingredients. She has a food blog called Hummingbird Appetite.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chocolate Tales

So, if you follow this blog, you already know about the wedding cake project the Classic Pastry Arts students are required to complete at the end of their training. But there are also many other smaller projects along the way. One of which, is a chocolate project. This project, like the wedding cake, is theme based. It's assigned at the end of the final chocolate section as the perfect opportunity to test out and show off your newly won skills. Sometimes the instructor assigns a theme and sometimes the students vote on one. Here is what one of our evening classes did with their theme: fairy tales. Can you guess what stories they used?

Get a student's view. Read Tara Glick's Food2 post about making her favorite fairy tale in chocolate.

And check out our Flickr page to view more chocolate projects from other classes.

Answers: 1.