Thursday, May 30, 2013

What I Learned at Saveur Magazine

Something struck me a few weeks ago when I was asked to try a new line of healthy frozen foods. I was standing among fellow magazine writers, but there was a major divide between these writers and me. They were gushing over the frozen chicken and reheated eggs whereas I found myself searching for the seasoning, the texture, and the presentation. In my head phrases like, "Where's the pop? The excitement? The SALT?" were frantically streaming through my head, and then it hit me: I've been Saveured. 
Me sandwiched by my co-interns

If this were a year ago, I probably would've joined the masses and cooed over this healthy alternative to Lean Pockets, but for the past three months, I've been through the trenches of Saveur magazine's test kitchen. And if I had any doubt that this experience left an impression on my life, all I had to do was take a step back and realize that almost everything I do in the kitchen (and grocery store) is now different.

For a large chunk of my time in the test kitchen, I was the only intern (when they usually have three), so I got a crash course in everything from grocery shopping, recipe testing and developing, ingredient sourcing, and food styling. In a way, I was lucky. I didn't have to share many responsibilities, and the large stack of recipes I tackled every day were just added to my arsenal of amazing recipes to impress friends and family with. I worked my way through the pizza and grilling issue. I know how to mold a thin and beautiful crust--one that won't stick to a pizza peel or stone.
My pizza
I know that a pinch of sugar in the dough will make it a beautiful, blistered color when kissed by the broiler. And after weeks of standing in front of a grill pan, I got over my fear of using my fingers instead of tongues.

As I surge forward in my food editorial career, I'm bettered prepared for whatever the food industry has in store for me because of this internship. I've combed through hundreds of ingredients and know what fenugreek seeds taste like or where to buy Chiles de Arbol. Before this internship, I would've had no idea what ingredients like dried Persian limes were or how amazing they can be in broth or an aromatic for rice. I was able to get a world-class food education without ever having to leave New York City all thanks to the kitchen directors, Kellie Evans and Judy Haubert. These ladies could turn a sub-par recipe into something mouthwatering. It was always a little nerve-racking to present these editors (and a host of others) with a dish you prepared, and wait for their thoughts. It was hard not to take credit for the dish even though it isn't your recipe--no matter how good or bad. But it was amazing to watch the recipes transform from being "boring" or "it needs a better texture" to becoming irresistible. And the most amazing part was that the kitchen director, Kellie, knew how to fix it without ever picking up a spoon. She'd fiddle with the recipe on her computer, print out a clean copy, we'd remake it, and boom, a classic was born. It was like watching a kitchen wizard. And being in the presence of these two magical creatures, the journalist inside me couldn't help but try to lure out some of their tips. I now know that whenever you need that can't-quite-tell-what-that-flavor-is-but-I-love-it touch, add a tiny pinch of cumin. Or if you want to make the most amazing burgers in the world, roll them in Montreal Steak Seasoning. And if you find yourself making a mess when cutting kernels off the cob, wedge the ear in the middle of a Bundt pan.

When the next round of interns rolled in, they asked me how many hours I needed to work in order to finish my education. None. I sometimes pulled 13-hour days because this was a dream job for me and I did it as a learning experience, not a school requirement. And for all my fellow crazy International Culinary Center grads--those who pull more work hours than shut-eye with no pay, and those who hobble when they first get out of bed, here are some of my favorite, fool-proof recipes that I fell in love with while working at Saveur.

1. Gruyere-Rosemary-and-Honey Monkey Bread: Think homemade, pillow-y biscuits soaked in cheese and honey. Good luck not eating the entire loaf.
2. Salad Nicoise Quiche: I developed this recipe and it was a favorite among the editors. It came out creamy as if a custard and has a traditional vinaigrette blended into the egg mixture, making for a perfectly seasoned quiche. Plus, it'll look beautiful on your breakfast table.

3. Roasted chicken: Okay, you think you know how to roast a chicken, but this method guarantees a bronze bird packed with flavor. The secret? Soy sauce.
4. Creme Fraiche Salad Dressing: This salad is amazing. The citrus and pistachios keep it fresh and interesting.
5. Cherry Clafoutis: This cherry dessert has a wow factor. When you pull it out of the oven, it'll have big, bronze air pockets studded with cherries. It's basically a glorified crepe.
6. Greek Feta Tart: This is such an easy and delicious appetizer. It's buttery and oozing with cheese. What more could you want?

The June/July issue is about grilling and there are a lot of standout recipes. I can't link to them because they're not uploaded yet, but look out for Thai Chicken, Korean Kalbi, and Jamaican Snapper.

This post was written by Classic Culinary Arts alum, Sara Cann. You can read about her culinary adventures on forkadventures.com

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Few Words on Culinary Technology




We caught up with Chef Herve Malivert, newly appointed director of culinary technology, to talk food, science, and tricks.

Q: Why should cooks learn about culinary technology?
Cooks need to learn the basics of culinary technology to have an idea of what is happening in restaurants now with the evolution in equipment and technique. I don’t think it’s a pillar of education, but I strongly believe that every cooking school needs to keep updating their curriculum and following the evolution in the real world. Here at the Culinary Center, we’ve been teaching sous-vide cooking for the past 6 years.

Q: Do you think there’s a stigma around culinary technology—like some chefs think it’s just a trend or not worth the time? Or is this a permanent movement that young chefs should latch onto? 
Anything that can improve quality, consistency, and cost in a kitchen, isn’t just a trend, but an improvement.  I remember as a young cook when the convection oven was introduced in the kitchen. A lot of chefs believed that it was just a trend. But some techniques like caviar and foam, which you see in so many plates, will slow down and chefs will move onto the new idea of plating. So yes, trend is part of our job, but some stay and some go.

Q: Are there any new developments within culinary technology? Can you give us any insight into what the future of culinary technology might look like?
I love sous vide, low-temperature cooking, and some hydrocolloids, but in the end, the flavor and the respect of the produce or protein are the priority. For me, the future chef should master technique before moving to experimental techniques. What I love to do is taking classic recipes and twisting them by introducing new techniques to shape and arrange all the ingredients on a plate to make an impact on your customer and have them enjoy and distinguish the classic flavor in another way. That is the future for me.

I see some new equipment like the sonicprep (ultrasonic homogenizer), which offers a wide range of techniques such as extraction, infusion, emulsification, and rapid barrel-aging. Imagine taking a port wine and being able to do 20 years of aging in two minutes by adding oak to your port and extracting the oak flavor.

Q: What are your future plans for the culinary tech program at the Culinary Center now that you’re the director?
My goal is to keep studying and researching all the new equipment and techniques, and figure out which ones will make an impact in the kitchen. Our goal is to continue to grow our technology program with the future chef in mind.



Q: What’s a feasible recipe that incorporates culinary technology for the home cook or culinary student?
Turn your favorite soup or puree into a foam with an ISI canister and a hydrocolloid called “foam magic” available at modernistpantry.com. Foam magic is a combination of two hydrocolloids: xanthan-gum and methylcellulose. Xanthan is a thickener, and methylcellulose is an emulsifier. Combine the foam magic (1%) with your pureed liquid and transfer to an ISI canister, screw in the cream charger, and shake well. Keep in mind the extraction nozzle of the canister is narrow so your soup or puree needs to be smooth and free of lumps.

Friday, May 17, 2013

An Intern's Life at Jean-Georges’ Nougatine


The many faces of Elizabeth Richards

Elizabeth Richards has the type of personality you question. Can you really be that happy all the time? She’s constantly smiling, always agreeable (at least for the week I’ve gotten to spend with her), and happy to help. And it gets even better. She throws around phrases like, “Splendid!” and “Brilliant!” because she’s British. British! She’s basically a saint of a person, and when I heard she spent the past three months as an intern at Nougatine, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant in the Upper West Side, I was shocked she still maintains a bubbly personality. Not to say anything bad about Jean-Georges, but who can still be so sugary sweet after working 60-hour weeks, juggling school and an internship? Well, she can. And that’s why she’s the perfect person to interview for this blog. You can learn a lot from her experience and her attitude. Sometimes all you need in life is a positive spin on every situation. (Remember that the next time you’re having a crummy day, and think that you could be in your fourth hour chiffonading kale. How’s your day looking now?) And at the end of her internship she walked away with upgraded knife skills and a test kitchen internship at Saveur magazine

What was your first day at Nougatine like?

Terrifying! I arrived and I had never been in a professional kitchen
before. I felt completely out of place but I was directed to the sous
chef who told me to help out garde manger. My hands were literally
shaking while I was slicing Thai chillies and I think the cook thought
I was incredibly inept. I remember at one point he asked me what level
I was at the International Culinary Center and when I told him level
four he looked shocked. However, I was soon put with the other interns
where I met a recent Culinary Center graduate who helped me find things,
gave me advice and most importantly, cracked jokes. Although I had never met
him before, he felt like a friendly face and made me much more comfortable.
I did prep work—cleaning Brussel sprouts, chiffonading kale, peeling
garlic—for the rest of the trail, which started at 4 p.m. and ended at midnight.

How did you score a stage at JG?

I met with Gina Novak, one of the members of career services at the
Culinary Center, who put me in contact with one of the sous chefs at
Nougatine. I emailed the chef with my resume asking for a trail and
within a few days I had heard back that I could come by.
Two days later I did my trail and they offered me the internship.

Were you the only woman in the kitchen? What was the
environment like?

There were actually quite a few women, although the kitchen was mostly
male. Two of the chefs were women and several of the cooks were. I
would say there was a 65-35 split between men and women but maybe I am
overestimating the imbalance. I never had a problem with it, everyone
was very respectful, but there were a lot of phallic jokes.
However, while I wouldn't say you have to be tough to make it in the
kitchen, it definitely helps.

What were your responsibilities? Which was your least favorite?

My routine responsibilities were prep based and involved a lot of
chopping, peeling and placing out recipes, but I also got to do some
cooking and I made things like risotto, soup, granola, sauces,
different oils, bolognese etc. When I first started, my
responsibilities were almost exclusively peeling/chopping but as I
advanced and they came to trust me, I did more things that involved
cooking.

What was the hardest thing you had to do?

I wouldn't say anything I did at Nougatine was particularly hard, or
harder than anything else I did. The hours were long and I was pretty
tired but that was manageable after I got used to it. To be honest the
hardest thing was remaining focused on school while I was also
working. I was totally exhausted all the time and my body was pretty
sore and there were days when I felt I didn't want to wake up or
study for a test. Sometimes it was hard to remember why I was working
so hard but one day Chef Veronica spoke to my class and told us to
remind ourselves that the reason we were at school was because we
loved cooking and were passionate about our work. It was such a simple
thing to say but it really put things in perspective for me. I do love
cooking and I want to work hard and make sacrifices to achieve my
dreams.

What did working in a restaurant teach you? Any great tips?

There was way less space to work than at school and so I learned how
to work more cleanly and to be better organized. Most importantly
though I learned how to work fast (though I doubt my chef would agree
with that). Nougatine is great because it's a learning kitchen, every
time I had to do something new the chef would first show me how to do
it even if it was something as basic as slicing radishes on a
mandoline. I was once told that I wasn't expected to know anything
just because I had graduated from culinary school. This was a relief
and took a lot of the pressure off because I was worried that people
were going to expect me to know what to do all the time. The reality
is that you will learn every day while you are cooking and even though
you may have learned cooking techniques and taillage at school, every
chef is different and wants things done a certain way. My advice to
cooks going to Nougatine or any other kitchen would be to be work
clean and organized, be polite and respectful, ask questions if you're
not sure of something, and most importantly keep your knife sharp!
Also eat before you go to work because you may not get an opportunity
until you leave.

What’s one dish you learned that you love?
The mushroom bolognese. It's totally meatless but tastes like a beef
Bolognese. It's honestly incredible. Also the granola. And the basil oil. And everything that I made there. The food is amazing.

Is there anything else you want to add?
It is incredibly hard work and
you will sacrifice time, sleep and your body but it's worth it. I have
never had so much fun (not that it was fun all the time) as I have had
at Nougatine. Everyone is talented and special and the food is great.
I learned a lot and by the end of my internship I felt like I was part
of a family. I highly recommend this kitchen to anyone who really
wants to improve their skills and have a future working in fine
dining. Talk to Chef Tom and Chef Camilla, they are the best.



Friday, May 10, 2013

Four Rules of Food Entrepreneurship


An all-star panel assembled at the International Culinary Center on a sunny Saturday afternoon to impart advice from their entrepreneurial experiences.  The lineup included social media star Allison Robicelli and her husband Matt Robicelli (Pastry '04) of the fast-growing Robicelli's.  They spoke alongside Liz Gutman (Pastry '08) and Jen King (Pastry '08) of Liddabit Sweets and Rob Liano (Culinary '12) of the hilariously named Baby Got Back Ribs.

Erik Murnighan moderated the animated panel, which covered a lot of ground.  Here are my takeaways -- the "rules" offered by these pros: 

1.  Respect the Food, pursue your passions
Allison and Matt said they began their business because they wanted to respect food, and make affordable items with the same care and respect the chefs at expensive restaurants gave to their rich customers.  Why do you have to be rich to eat well, they wondered?  So, starting with a Honda Civic and $30 from their son's piggy bank they began making cupcakes in a working class neighborhood.   As they began, they made an early commitment that they would only use French cream and would avoid food coloring.  This commitment to quality has remained at the core of their business.  Additionally, Jen build on this theme of having a purpose by encouraging food entrepreneurs to be your own story.  "Build your narrative and your own brand."  Allison discussed that if you are not yourself, you will burn out.  "It's just too exhausting to pretend!"

2.  Entrepreneurs don't seek out risk, they use planning to minimize it
Jen King noted that while there isn't a sure bet path to success, planning can help you improve your odds.  "There is no A + B gives you C.  What business plans, marketing strategies, and all of this does is gives you a better chance."  Rob agreed saying "there is no right or wrong way, but there is also no easy way."  By thinking through some of the key assumptions, you get comfortable thinking through what will actually make you money.  This type of exercise helped Rob walk away from a potential investment.  Sound crazy that he said no to a potential investor?  When he did the math he realized he would put in the work but not take home the returns.  By taking a pass he's now free to explore other opportunities that may be more lucrative.  


3.  Get comfortable with "No"
Each of the entrepreneurs talked about the failures they experienced along the way to success.  The winning entrepreneurs are the resilient ones, they just keep at it!  Early on Rob paced himself, avoiding investing too much in a physical space or other capital as he built up his brand.  Eventually, more and more people have reached out.  "Then, opportunities come to you.  You don't ask, they just come to you."  As you experience success, you have to be as disciplined about saying "no" as you once had to be about pushing through "no!"  Jen King said this was one of the hardest things for her.  "You think, because you are so young, that you must say 'yes' to everything."  But really, you have to learn to prioritize.

4.  Start selling now, and keep a bias to action!
Liz Gutman and Jen King met at International Culinary Center.  While still in school, they both assumed they would need more experience to launch their business.  "We initially thought we needed to go train under people... and learn more," Liz said.  But actually getting out there and selling gave them the best feedback.  While Jen said that oftentimes she feels like she doesn't know what she is doing, the two have been remarkably successful already.  The experience behind that success?  Getting out there and trying things.  Early on, they passed out candy as guerrilla marketing.  Liz: "Start selling now."  



If you are interested in learning more about entrepreneurship at International CulinaryCenter, leave a comment below or email Chris Tolbert at CTolbert@culinarycenter.com.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

The Top Five Most Delicious Moments at The New York Culinary Experience


New York Magazine and The International Culinary Center band together every year to recruit some of the most talented chefs to give New Yorkers a weekend-long culinary education. We’re lucky enough to host and shadow chefs like Masaharu Morimoto, Marc Murphy,  and Dan Kluger—to name a few. And we’ve rounded up some of the most memorable moments that are still lingering on our tongues. 

1. Digging into Christina Tosi’s crack pie. This salty-sweet pie equipped with an oat cookie crust is one of many stellar creations Chef Tosi, chef, owner, and founder of Momofuku Milk Bar, serves at her dessert bar in NYC.



2. Marc Murphy’s perfectly rendered duck breast only to be rivaled by his light, goat-cheese stuffed profiteroles. Is there a better way to spend a weekend?



3. Watching Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto filet a 30-plus pound tuna.



4. Realizing that mint is a surprisingly delicious addition to the classic pea soup with smoked ham hock. Thanks Chef April Bloomfield.



5. Building a croquembouche , or a tower of profiteroles, with Chef Dominique Ansel, chef and owner of Dominique Ansel Bakery in NYC.


Hungry yet? Check out what New York Magazine had to say about the weekend. 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Chef Thomas Keller Gives Grads a Few Words of Advice


This post is written by recent Classic Culinary Arts grad, Sara Cann, who is currently a test kitchen intern at Saveur magazine. 


Graduation Day

Before we walked across the stage at Carnegie Hall to formally graduate from The International Culinary Center, my classmates and I were reunited backstage. We all had the jitters. We were excited to be recognized for our hard work especially since in our line of work it’s rare someone stops to tell you a compliment.
It had been a few months since we had seen each other and I could see the physical evidence of the industry’s effect on a few. Some had lost weight, others looked tired. We asked each other how work is going, and we all had the same types of answers:
“It sucks.”
“I convince myself not to quit most days.”
“I’m getting my ass kicked.”
And then I think back to the six months we were in school. We complained about our “aching” feet. But those seven hours we spent in school every day don’t compare to the 10 to 13 hour days I work in the kitchen now…unpaid. The six months I spent on my feet in school were just an hor d’oeuvre to what reality really has to offer.
Group picture with Founder Dorothy Hamilton
But we wake up every day and we show up–partly because we’re crazy and partly because we love food. And a lot of us showed up to graduation today because Chef Thomas Keller, owner of Per Se, French Laundry, and Bouchon, was our keynote speaker. The founder of the school, Dorothy Cann Hamilton, introduced Chef Keller and went off-script a little to tell an anecdote.
“After work, I used to stop in to Thomas Keller’s restaurant around 11 p.m., and I’d see him on his knees scrubbing the ovens because he said there were some jobs too important to leave to the cooks.”
It was humbling to see this culinary legend speak to us, and even more humbling to see how real he was. There wasn’t any ego laced into his speech. He really wanted to encourage us to stay in this field. And he told us three things to remember as we start our careers:
“Be patient.” Take time to learn your skills, don’t rush.
“Be Prepared.” Be ready to learn what you need to know for tomorrow’s opportunity.
“Be Persistent.” Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do something.
I felt empowered after listening to him. He’s a man who’s built a world-famous, Michelin-starred empire, and he took time to give us words of wisdom.
“When people talk about success, they usually talk about the past. I tend to focus on what we’re doing today and tomorrow,” Chef Keller said. “Success isn’t about fortune or fame, it’s about giving family, friends, and guests a wonderful memory.”
Casey Evans and Sara Cann
In less than a month, my internship will be over and my next adventure—whatever that’ll be (hopefully not unemployment)—will begin. Perhaps I’ll jump on the line at a restaurant, start another blog, or find a full-time position at a magazine, but this experience has showed me what I’m made of. This is a boys club, no doubt, but there’s definitely room for lipstick-wearing women. I’m truly blessed to have been able to attend culinary school, met the most amazing people, and walk away with a Grand Diplome (and valedictorian of my class). I look forward to writing about all my talented classmates as they build their impressive careers.
Cheers class of 2013. I’m proud of you.