Thursday, October 25, 2012

Taste of France

By John Balogh

I arrived at Pier 54 at 9:00am on Sunday morning. The warmth of the sun began to wash over everyone as they scrambled around readying up for the first annual Taste of France. The first event of its kind, it was a celebration of all things French, an exhibition dedicated to highlighting the French way of life and cuisine in New York City. A sense of grandeur was abundant, as many chefs from all over France and the United States enveloped the scene. With chefs from areas such as Alsace, Normandy, Provence, Cote D’Azure, Aquitane, Gascony, and everywhere in between, the entire event represented all of France as a unified nation of excellent food, music, and overall allure.

I worked under The International Culinary Center’s very own Chef Marc Bauer as he led me underneath one of the tents setting up to have food available for the public as they arrived. As we prepped, the wonderful scent of soups, fine wines, and pastries lifted everyone’s spirits up and lingered for the most part of the afternoon. A stage was set up with large speakers long before we arrived and soft, gentle French music filled the ears of guests as flavors engulfed their palates. Everyone was having a good time, with many events like péntaque, a popular form of boules, a French Bull dog show, and special ambassadors such as Jacques Pépin and Marc Murphy who took the stage to speak about their passions and what makes them tick. The entire event was set up to look like an old French flea market, or marché aux puces, with stands giving off exuberant smiles and free tastings of all they had to offer.

I served guests that brought me tickets called Mariannes, the official currency for the event. We also served cannels, a dumpling like piece of dough with yellow back pike-fish and a delicious lobster cream sauce as thick and tasty as any bisque served in a restaurant. To the left of our tent, two other chefs were preparing crêpes with a variety of toppings. Nutella, apricot and raspberry preserves, and the always enjoyable crêpes Suzettes made with Grand Marnier, a caramelized sugar sauce, and orange zest. Another favorite of guests was the curried pumpkin soup, not too sweet, but also nicely spiced. The event was great for a large assortment of foods and for anyone looking to get a taste of France all the while living in New York City.

While it was the first event for this year, please make sure to come out next year and experience all we had to offer!

John Balogh is a current International Culinary Center student in the Classic Pastry Arts program.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chef Jacques Pépin Bones a Chicken aka Why I Studied Pastry

By: Mercedes Wilby

Remember in the movie Julie and Julia when Julie is freaking out that she's going to have to bone a duck? I've always sympathized with that. I like to know where my food comes from and I'm not terribly squeamish about the fact that meat was once part of a living, breathing animal. That said, I really don't want to pull a chicken's flesh off its rib cage like "chicken pajamas," as Jacques Pépin described it at a demo I attended for students.

Chef Jacques boning a chicken.

I will admit I was very impressed with Jacques Pépin's skill at boning the chicken. He was so quick—less than two minutes while explaining what he was doing—and made it look so easy; though judging by the incredulous laughter of the culinary students in the audience when he said that it isn't very hard at all, I'm guessing it's not nearly as simple as Chef Jacques made it look. In fact, since the demo I have worked in a restaurant as a pastry chef where the line cooks and sous chef actually had a competition going about who could break down a chicken (which may not be exactly the same thing… honestly I didn't look too closely) fastest; this leads me to believe that I was right in my assumption that it is a difficult task and that Chef Jacques' speed was as impressive as I thought.

There was, of course, more to the demo than how to bone a chicken. Chef Jacques was discussing the basics—everything from how to hold a knife to what types of pans you should have in your kitchen, from how to pick asparagus to how to make a flower out of a block of butter (okay, I suppose that last one isn't a basic, but it was amazing!).

He talked a lot about produce, including how to break down an artichoke to get to the hearts. He suggested peeling the broccoli stems to get to the more tender inside and then eat it raw. Interesting fact about asparagus, you should look for the fat stalks with tight buds (the leaf like things at the top of the stalk). I always thought the thin ones were the way to go, a very common mistake, apparently, but the thick ones are apparently more flavorful. If they are too fibrous, you can peel the bottoms a little.

He gave some additional tips. Use a non-stick pan to make omelets. You should always clean copper pots with salt and vinegar. Speaking of copper, a copper bowl is the best thing to whip meringues in. And while we are on the topic of meringues, you should always separate eggs using your hands. It's much more reliable than trying to use the two halves of the shell.

A perfectly sliced apple.

For me the most awe-inspiring thing that Chef Jacques showed us was how to slice an apple. I know that after discussing the awestruck culinary students cheering for Jacques Pépin after he boned a chicken this must seem somewhat dull. The thing is, slicing an apple is one of the first things I learned to do in the Classic Pastry Arts program. I had to slice apples for my apple tart, which was the first thing I made. It wasn't easy. Don't get me wrong, it's not like boning a chicken, but when you are new to professional cooking and baking, quickly slicing an apple into thin, even slices while avoiding doing the same to your fingers is a challenge. Honestly, after all the apples I've sliced I've gotten better than I was during that class, but I'm not half as fast as Jacques Pépin. I swear he had the entire apple sliced in under 30 seconds. I can't even imagine the amount of apples he must have sliced to get that good. (I will point out that Jacques Torres joked during one of his demos that you should never lend a pastry chef a knife because they will kill it. Apparently, we pastry chefs are notorious for our bad knife skills. So I guess I shouldn't feel too bad that I can't slice apples as well as this master chef.)

Overall, the demo was the most informative one I've seen. Honestly, it could have been dull as a box of rocks and I still would have enjoyed myself—just being in the same room as Chef Jacques Pépin was enough to thrill me!

Mercedes Wilby is a recent graduate of the Classic Pastry Arts program. On her blog, Pastry Place, she chronicles her culinary exploits at The International Culinary Center, throughout New York City (and occasionally beyond), and in her own kitchen.