Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It All Starts with an Apple Tart

FCI California's Jaques Torres Inaugrual Classic Pastry Arts Class make their first tart!

A simple apple compote, a pâte brisée crust, a layer of thinly sliced apples, and a light coat of apricot nappage, and you have completed your first two days in The FCI's pastry course. As delicious as the other tarts are (chocolate ganache, banana cream, fresh fruit, caramel nut...), something about making your first tart makes it taste the very best.

visiting chef-instructor Jürgen David, pastry instructional coordinator, NYC

Class pose with their handiwork flanked by Chef Jurgen (left) and California chef-instructor Sam Ward (right)

Friday, April 15, 2011

The FCI Chef Demo Series is Up and Running!

by Rhonda Lynn and Nicole Harnett (student services, FCI California)

Chef Craig Koketsu

The FCI California welcomed Craig Koketsu, Bay Area native and executive chef of Quality Meats, located in midtown Manhattan, on Tuesday, April 12. Chef Craig brought it back to basics with Five and Under: Delicious and Simply Prepared Dishes with Five or Fewer Ingredients.

Craig Koketsu fostered his passion for precision, knowledge, and flavor by working with acclaimed chefs from diverse backgrounds at some of America's top restaurants. Koketsu started at Stars in Palo Alto, California, working with renowned chefs Jeremiah Tower and Joyce Goldstein.

As Craig learned about the luminaries of the culinary world, he realized that a move to New York City was crucial to work with the chefs he admired. Once in New York, Craig worked with Gray Kunz at the famed Lespinasse, and another remarkable talent, Christian Delouvrier, who replaced Kunz after his departure. Craig stayed on Delouvrier's new team and became poissonnier, which was the post he held when Lespinasse earned a four-star review from the New York Times.

From there, Craig was asked to create the concept and menu for Quality Meats, which opened in April of 2006. In 2007, he was at the helm of Park Avenue Summer, NYC’s first—literally—seasonal restaurant.

For this demo, Chef Craig shared his particular food approach. "In light of all the recent hype with modernist cuisine techniques and ingredients, I wanted to bring it back to basics. I want to focus on flavors and how simple combinations can add up to much more than the sum of the individual ingredients. The title of this demo will be Five and Under..., but there will be a few 'free' ingredients, such as butter, oil, garlic, salt, et cetera."

Attendees had the opportunity to learn about (and sample!) the following six dishes:
  • Baby Beet Salad with Pickled Ginger, Japanese Sesame Seeds, and Labne
  • Baked Black Sea Bass with Jalapeño-Lime Salsa Verde
  • Spiced Shrimp with Cardamon, Urfa Biber, and Thai Basil Spiced Coconut Sauce
  • Steak Au Poivre with Yuzu-Kosho Cream Sauce and "Hash Browns"
  • Marinated Melon with Lemon-Ginger Infused Elderflower Syrup
  • S’mores with Coffee Crème Fraîche

baby beet salad

Chef Craig ended the demo with a very interesting statement, referencing Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success. In his book, Gladwell repeatedly mentions the "10,000-Hour Rule," claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. Craig's kitchen translation: It can take10 years to really hit your stride as a chef!

Chef Craig fillets black sea bass. His tip: Never remove the skin; it helps to impart flavor.

Chef Craig demonstrates proper knife blade placement for filleting fish.

"I really loved how Chef Craig demonstrated how sophisticated and tasty dishes can be relatively simple. His lesson learned early on with one of his mentoring chefs shined through—the importance of balancing sweetness, acidity, saltiness, and bitterness. Chef Craig does this very well.

"I found his tip of using a bamboo skewer to test fish very helpful—an easy way to test the fish for doneness. You insert the skewer into the top of the fish—it should go through easily, encounter resistance at the center as that part is not fully cooked, and then continue through the fish easily, as the bottom is fully cooked. The carryover heat will continue to cook the center to perfection.

"I also liked his tip of not forgetting about the cilantro stems. Another good chef lesson: Don’t waste. The stems can be used just as well as the leaves. He used them in his jalapeño-lime salsa verde, which he served with black sea bass. One of my favorite ingredients that he used today was Urfa biber (dried pepper from the Urfa region in Turkey known for it’s smoky raisin-like taste). Today’s demo was tasty and inspiring!" —Rhonda Lynn

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Win a Cake. Do Some Good!

The pastry chef-instructors who teach our new Cake Techniques & Design program at The FCI New York have decided to donate their cake making talents to a good cause.

The New York Women’s Culinary Alliance is hosting a silent auction to raise money to help support healthy eating and nutrition for New Yorkers. All of the proceeds from the auction will be donated to organizations equipped to provide a lasting impact on women's and/or children's health and nutrition. Our pastry chefs are offering a custom made cake to the highest bidder. Bidding closes May 4th!

NYWCA is an organization that works to provide networking opportunities, education, and cooperation among women in the food and beverage industry in New York City.

FCI California goes to Taste of the Nation SF

Brooke Schwartz, president of FCI California; Chef Jeremy MacVeigh, director of culinary arts; Nicole Harnett, career placement coordinator; and Rhonda Lynn, director of student affairs, went to the Share Our Strength benefit in San Francisco to spread the news about FCI’s West Coast branch (and taste some great food from local restaurants along the way). Chefs were excited to hear about the school's arrival and some even agreed to come down to Campbell to give a demo….

Bar Bambino


Fifth Floor was a group favorite.

Tell Tale Preserve Company

Mina Group Corporate Pastry Chef Lincoln Carson

Friday, April 08, 2011

To the Stars...

Satisfaction for us is to see our students go out and excel in what they have been taught. And nothing is quite as exciting for for someone in the food industry as a James Beard Awards (Oscars for the food folks if you will). We have seen many grads win nominations over the years, and this year we offer our congratulations to the following alumni, whose hard work and talent have landed them a place on this coveted list (some more than once).

Outstanding Restaurant
Dan Barber
(Classic Culinary Arts ‘04)
Blue Hill, New York City

Best Chef: New York City
Wylie Dufresne
(Classic Culinary Arts ‘93)
Wd~50, New York City

Outstanding Restaurant
Marc Vetri
(Art of International Bread Baking ’98)
Vetri, Philadelphia

Best Chef: Northeast
Tim Cushman
(Fundamentals of Wine ‘06)
O Ya, Boston

Rising Star Chef of the Year
Christina Tosi
(Classic Pastry Arts ’04)
Momofuku Restaurant Group,

Best Chef: Midwest
Tory Miller
(Classic Culinary Arts ‘00)
L’Etoile, Madison, WI

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Macarons. Is that one o or two?

Pastry chef-instructor Kir Rodriguez is known throughout our NYC location for his brilliant chocolate work, but he is also a master macaron maker and has even been suppling tea-inspired macs to our SoHo neighbors Harney & Sons at their tea shop. Chef Kir shares his insights into the difference between a French macaron and a coconut macaroon and other tips and tidbits with Fox News.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Graduation Day

Getting my toque
photographs courtesy of Jenny Lee-Adrian

It's been less than a week since I graduated from The French Culinary Institute, and I still look at my photos over and over again. Graduation was bittersweet. My classmates and I became pretty close, getting together to study in Level 1 and hanging out after class ended late at night. We emailed class notes and text-messaged each other about cooking techniques. We gave one another pointers about how to make sure those lamb chops were medium-rare for service at L'Ecole, and we talked about how to make agnolotti into perfect pasta pillows filled with herbed goat cheese.

Roast lamb with agnolotti and swiss chard
Roast lamb chops with agnolotti and swiss chard are served at L'Ecole.

Nine months ago in June, I remember sitting nervously at a table, introducing myself over and over again as a new classmate walked in the door for orientation. We didn't know each other then, but we leaned on one another throughout all six levels.

Justine and Alex
Justine Vella rests on Alex MacPhail after service ends at L'Ecole.

Reminding me of a totem pole, Chef Scott Larson watched over us in Levels 5 and 6, during our time pulling out dishes for the school's restaurant.

Chef Scott's typical stance in the kitchen
Chef Scott's typical stance in the kitchen

More satisfaction comes from carving my own portions of meat. I can break down a whole duck and fillet a fish.

Cutting lamb
Ryan Abril portions lamb chop servings.

The heat pressed on my face in the kitchen. But I could look across the room and my friends would crack me up.
Ryan on duck and Brandon on lamb
Ryan Abril (left) and Brandon Touchstone (right) take a mental break from cooking to look up.

Our chef-instructors were adamant that we work clean and fast. They constantly pushed us to be better.

Chef Janet taking a picture of us
From left: Chef Xavier "X" Mayonove, Chef Greg Wozniak, Chef Janet Crandall, and Chef Scott Larson take note of us getting ready to graduate.

The toque

I may look like a chef with a toque on top of my head, but graduation is just the starting point. I have so much more to learn, and I want to cook as much as I can.

Jenny Lee-Adrian graduated from the Classic Culinary Arts program on March 31, 2011. She is currently an intern in the Saveur test kitchen. She has a blog called Hummingbird Appetite.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Growing, Growing...Good

The school has been doing a lot of growing during 2010 and 2011. We have a new campus in California, which is very exciting, and we also have been growing our New York City location as well.

We've decked out our classrooms on our second floor with all the equipment needed for our new Estate Management Studies classes, and on our recently completed fifth floor, we have brand new kitchens, a sleek storeroom, a beautiful buffet area for family meal, and an impressive event space (see above).

We held our first party on the fifth floor this past Thursday, March 31st—a Chinese buffet with dumplings, lo mein, spring rolls, chicken and broccoli, and much more to celebrate the completion of this large project. Along with the food, there were speeches and even a good luck dragon dance to commemorate the event.

Monday, April 04, 2011

New Climes, New Food Adventures

A couple of our NYC staffers have made the move to the more temperate climes of California, joining the staff at our new location in Campbell, just outside of San Jose. Both Rhonda Lynn (student services) and Katie Myers (admissions) took the opportunity to explore the food culture in the area by joining fellow FCI California employees for excursions to check out SJ Eats (San Jose's first food truck festival) over the weekend.

Rhonda enjoyed the activity, "Having lived so long in New York City where I loved the street food, I was anxious to see what was happening with this growing trend on the West Coast." Her pick was the tacos from El Tonayense. And she even took a picture or two of the happy throngs who came out to try the assorted fare on offer.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Students visit 92nd street Y to listen to Ferran Adrià

Student Activities is one of the fun parts of being a student at The FCI. In these school planned excursions, students get a taste of the industry outside the school walls. On Thursday, March 24th, it was a trip to the 92nd Street Y on the Upper East Side to listen to Ferran Adrià. Christina Briscoe reports.

“Technology” and “Humor” are the two words that stuck with me as I applauded Ferran Adrià. The discussion lasted for about an hour and a half and drifted from Japan to New York, Spain and back to New York. The questions were very open, which allowed the conversation to be molded in whichever way Ferran’s thought process lead. His responses were simple and to the point, which I found interesting because I thought that he would speak about molecules and gadgets that I knew nothing about, but he didn’t. Ferran explained to us that he is not scientific, he just uses technology. That fact is something that tied the entire existence of elBulli, in my memory, together. He and his creative team are not scientists, they just use technology as a tool to produce their product. Ferran’s own example is a cell phone (he has an iPhone 4 by the way): We all use them, but that doesn’t make us scientists.

After the discussion, Ferran showed us exclusive videos of elBulli, which chronicle the history and future of the restaurant and show the blueprints of the very innovative and futuristic elBulli Foundation, which will be completed in 2014. I am utterly impressed and can’t wait for the transformation of elBulli. There are mixed feelings about this transformation, but I am excited and can’t wait for the creativity that will soon spew from Catalan, Spain. Ferran will return to New York City in a few months to release his new book Family Meal.

Christina Briscoe is a pastry student in Level 1 who enjoys reading culinary memoirs. She frequents and has a passion for the hospitality industry in which she hopes to succeed in as an executive pastry chef. She is a native Californian and lists Michael Laiskonis as her favorite pastry chef.