Wednesday, February 08, 2006

First Impressions...

I got into work early. Today was my first day and I wanted to get a good idea of the lay of the land. Where the fridges were, where the walk-ins were... stuff like that. I got in and for first days, locker space could be a problem. For first days, gauging expectations is sketchy at best. For first days, I hope I'm wrong.

It was slow. There was talk about how busy their January was and how this was the first slow day in a while. I remember doing a lot of slow days at CdP. Slow days where we'd do more mise en place and clean our spaces. We did do a lot of mise en place. At a place like this where there's a dining room, lounge that serves food and a hotel, food moves fast.

I started this post as a way of venting some possible 'misgivings' I might be having right now. I'm going to be prudent. I'll give it a while longer and see what happens. Can't say it going to be bad or good on one day. I just hope I'm wrong.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Aix sounds like Aches...

So after much fanfare and a lot of seeing what was out there, I finally landed a job. Tomorrow I start as a 'Tournant' at a restaurant called AIX CUISINE DU TERROIR ( in a hotel called Hotel Place d'Armes. It was a roundabout sort of thing but I'm glad something stuck. There have been lots of comparisons with LCB but a lot more covers per night so should be fun.

For those who aren't current with French brigade nomeclature, a Tournant is the guy who trains in everything (meat, veg, apps, desserts... etc) and becomes the guy who fills in for those on their days off or if they have some sort of disabling injury. So it's going to be a lot of learning but I'm looking forward to the challenge. It's the sort of position that can show lots of competance in a short amount of time. So today, I'm spending the day sharpening my knives, cleaning out the toolkit, and washing the smocks.

Super Bowl Blues:
Let me preface this with the fact that I was cheering for the Steelers to win. With that said, I don't think the best team won last night and I wish that the Seahawks could have capitalized on something. Anything. After a while, it was like watching a high school game. The game and the halftime show was just not quite there. Meh. I guess we'll have to wait until September until football's back in season again. Until then, there's the Olympics, NHL playoffs, then the MLB regular season that only ever seems entertaining while drinking beers or listening to it on the radio while doing something else. Sigh.

The month of loafing is over. Work is upon us and if there's someone out there in MTL that has an apartment full of Francos with space for an Anglo, you know where to reach me.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Holding Patterns...

Good news: I passed. In fact, I did pretty well. At the graduation, I got my cuisine diploma and a medal (silver I think). It was the first time the school was handing out medals and it was kind of fun being up at a podium, bending your head down to have someone hang a medal around your neck. Something like the olympics but nothing as noteworthy - or is it exactly like the olympics just without the television?

Not a lot of people were there because it was the afternoon of the 23rd and most of those graduating had already left to be with family over the holidays. I would have as well if my ride was hung up in Toronto until the 24th. So I went. Why not - free canapes and champagne at the reception.

At the end of any schooling, it's always anti-climatic. What does one do? At the reception, I was talking to some people in the administration and they were talking about places in the States. Something I thought was out of reach but their ideas were intriguing and something I'd like to pursue to see if they come to fruition. I won't go into specifics for obvious reasons but it'd be nice if it worked out.

After the holidays with family, I was back in MTL with my one carload of stuff. Back with friends and a new year to celebrate. In the process, I ran into people I hadn't seen in years and got to catch up. I got to discover the virtues of Stoli and thrift-store blazers as a way of both dressing-up and satirizing dressing-up.

So the safety nets are in place. Old co-workers in new jobs are opening doors in MTL. Tuesday starts the shooting for the moon. I hope everyone had a great New Year's Eve and I wish everyone a happy, prosperous, and safe 2006.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

It is done...

So that's it. I'm done. I imagine there is a little gap of information that needs filling so here goes.

A couple of weeks ago I was given a list of ingredients. Really three lists of ingredients. The first was a list of four ingredients and their quantities that we had to use. They were as follows:

Duck Legs x 2 pc
Chicken Liver x 100 g
Salmon Filet x 200 g
Squid x 150 g

The second list was longer. It was a list of vegetables and other meats that were available (to a certain quantity) but not manditory. They were as follows:

Butternut Squash x 1/4 pc
Celery Root x 1/4 pc
Potato x 1 pc
Asparagus x 8 pc
Clams x 20 pc
Thyme x 5 pc
Duck Breast x 2 pc (~ 200g/ea)
Apples x 4 pc
Shiitake Mushrooms x 100 g
Yellow Zucchini x 1 pc
Baby Spinach x 100 g
Puff Pastry x 1000 g
Yellow Beets x 6 pc
Red Pepper x 1 pc

There might have been a couple more on that list but I can't remember. The third list was a list of ingredients available in any amount and it was as follows:

Course Salt
Ground Nutmeg
Black Pepper
Bay Leaf
White Wine
Red Wine
White Wine Vinegar
Red Wine Vinegar
Balsamic Vinegar
Parsley, flat
Vegetable Oil
Olive Oil

And with these ingredients, I had to demonstrate two of the following three techniques: Deboning, Emulsion Sauces, and Farce (roughly translated, a stuffing, or something like a pate). With this list, I had to create an appetizer and a main course for two people (two identical plates). The appetizer had to be served in 2h30m and the main 45m after the apps. 3 hours and 15 minutes of non-stop action.

I had decided to split the first list into duck and chicken liver as the main course proteins and the salmon and squid as the appetizers. The difficulty I found was that having four proteins, two and two, work well together is hard. Usually, you have one protein on a plate and vegetables chosen to suit that protein. Poultry had to go with poultry and seafood with seafood - that much was certain. But finding ways and forms that would complement each other was weird. Another unwritten but widely spoken topic was variety of techniques. Beyond the manditory two of three techniques, the emphasis was on what you can do. To show your stuff.

The problem with writing this kind of menu is that you need to make it challenging enough to show that you're competant but not so challenging that you can't finish in the time alotted. So I sat down. Thought about it. And came up with the following menu...

Salmon Chartreuse with Asparagus served with a seafood salad and three mayonnaises

Nutmeg-smoked Duck Leg stuffed with apples and shiitake mushrooms baked in a salt crust, served with seasonal vegetables and a butternut puree

The salmon chartreuse is something I saw back in basic while doing that event at the National Arts Center and later got to do in intermediate but with chicken instead of salmon, but the principles are the same. Place meat/fish in a food processor until cut to a pulp, add egg white, add cream and season to taste. Pass through a sieve. Blanche asparagus, cut to proper length and line vessel with asparagus. Pipe in salmon "paste". Cook in bain marie while covered. Pop out and serve. It ends up being like stiff protein jello. The French like it and getting it right is difficult. It is easy to over whip the cream or egg whites while in the food processort. Add too much egg white and the paste will cook too dense. Not line the insides of the vessel with enough butter and it won't come out, or break on the way out. For my exam it came out alright, in both senses of the word. I took them out while it was still hot and there was enough steam around to let them release.

The seafood salad was the squid, salmon and clams cut into brunoise (small cubes - approx 5mm^3). I opened the clams by steaming them with white wine. Squid was cut into brunoise and slightly pan seared (pan at temp, add squid off heat, leave off heat - let heat of pan do cooking). The salmon I trimmed and cut raw then served raw. I had a base mayo that I had made (to show emulsion sauces) and dressed them slightly in it. With the remaining mayo, I tried making three derivatives. The plan was to use the parsley to make a parsley oil, to make a parsley mayo - that worked out ok. Use an industrial juicer (food processor + fine sieve - what you would use for carrot juice) to juice a red pepper, reduce the juice on the stove, use red pigment and concentrated bell pepper flavor in mayo. Use the squid ink to make a squid ink mayo.

The problems encountered with the latter two were there was no ink sacks in the squid we received. So there goes that idea. What ended up happening was that I used some of the clam-white wine juice to flavor the mayo. The problem with the pepper was that in the practice final we had access to the industrial juicer and scratched our heads trying to figure out how to use it. When we saw that "juice extractor" was on the list of available equipment, I thought 'hey, I can juice the red pepper with that for pigment'. And that would have been the case if it was there. As a side note, there was no citrus fruit (limes, lemons, oranges...) listed on our ingredients lists. Instead what we got was a lemon juicer. Legally, it has the same name as a carrot juicer. In essence it was useless. When I saw the chef look at me with a little "I just f*cked you over" grin on his face, I didn't even have the time nor energy to give voice to my furious anger. I stood for a second and thought, I'll just use the hand blender with a little water, strain it out and reduce that. It ended up working but it was a very mean gesture. To wait until the final exam to teach a lesson on flexibility.

30 minutes before serving the apps, I was getting caught behind. I had still to smoke and sear my duck. Make my salt crust, finish my mayos, brunoise my seafood, and get my salmon into the over. I served on time somehow. No room for panic, it had to get done.

The mains went off without a hitch. I did forget the wilted spinach but that wasn't a problem, minor detail. The chicken liver was made into a simple farce. Pan seared and pushed through a sieve to make it smooth, then spread between layers of puff pastry wafers (puff pastry baked with a weight on top). The sauce came out alright and the butternut squash puree was a winner.

At times it was precarious but at those times, I just pushed a little harder and tried to think a little less about how much more there was to do and how it all had to be done now. Afterwards, I talked to one of the waiters who took the finished plates from the kitchen to the tasting room and he said that mine was one of the best. So just as long as the judges aren't inclined to fail everyone, I'm pretty confident that I passed.

Graduation is Friday night and seeing as I'm waiting for my ride to get me to christmas with the family doesn't come in until late Friday, I chose to go to my graduation. Shouldn't be too bad. There are some people I'd like to say bye to and it is a nice way to cap things off.

After that, holidays. Then back to Montreal, setting up interviews and looking for a job. Should be fun.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

16 Days Left...

KM just emailed me about this blog. I had forgotten to tell her that I had posted last month. I guess I've been pre-occupied with other issues.

Shortly after that post, my computer got fried. My head-in-his-butt roommate, who happens to live in the attic above my room, was defrosting his old bar fridge which included his freezer. He was defrosting it without having a container underneath it to catch and collect the water. Instead it dripped through the floor, through my ceiling and onto my desk and onto my laptop.

So he takes it to a shop on the other side of town to get it fixed and the two supposedly uber-competant Russian Comp Eng PhD's who couldn't get work so they opened their own laptop repair shop had an iBook of roughly the same vintage. So I've been without a computer for a while. I was supposed to get it last Friday but butthead missed the bus out there and sheepishly came back almost asking me if I could pardon yet another one of his slights and get it on Monday. In general, I'm not holding my breath. If I had the money, I would have taken charge of the issue and just billed him. Alas, yet another reason why I should be working on making my net worth positive. So if on Monday the computer returns and it is in working order, I can start the task of reinstalling all my software and preferences which is always a fun thing to do. Butthead.

For the past little while, I've been slowly working on what happens to me come January. I had been planning on sitting down with the Executive Chef of LCB to pick his brain, see if he could get onboard the reference list, had a plum job from an old Chef friend that needed filling... etc. I was and am resolved to take any job where the Chef is good and there in the restaurant. I've heard of too many stories of people getting into restaurants with great reputations only to suffer from the absentee landlord effect. I want to learn, improve, hone under a great chef at a great restaurant and when all your belongings easily fit into a large duffel bag, moving isn't too much of an issue. After many misfires, I finally got the sit-down last Monday. We talked about Ottawa, which isn't really an option for me. It just isn't a food town. I was offered a unpaid stage leading to possibly nothing at the restaurant at school (they got a 5-diamond rating from CAA, one of 11 in the country). I passed. Some Toronto restaurants were mentioned but I wasn't too keen on that either. Then Montreal came up and a restaurant in particular that will remain nameless came up.

me: "...really? You know (Great Chef in MTL)?"
chef: "Yes. Would you like me to call him?"
me: "I would love that." (thinking he's going to get to it when he gets to it)
chef: "Yes. This is (chef). Could I speak to (GCinMTL)?"
chef: "Hey, it's (chef). (... small talk about how things are...). I'm calling because I have a great student here who's going to be graduating in late December looking for a position for January. Do you have a spot open for January?"

chef: "Yeah? Really? So he should call you sometime this week? Great. Thanks. Give my best to (someone). You too. Bye"
me: <... still petrified. Pale. About to pass out.>
chef: "So give (GCinMTL) a call sometime this week. 2 in the afternoon is ideal."
me: "(I don't really remember what I said here)"
chef: "Sometimes it actually happens that fast."
me: "Thanks a lot chef."

Fast Forward to Friday after trying desperately to call GCinMTL all week.

me: "Hello, I would like to speak to (GCinMTL)."
GC: "Yes. This is (GCinMTL)."
me: "Yes. My name is (name) and I was told to call you by (chef) sometime this week about a possible position in January."
GC: "Are you the student?"
me: "Yes."
GC: "Are you in Ottawa?"
me: "Yes."
GC: "Could you come to the restaurant sometime next week to talk?"
me: "How about Saturday?"
GC: "Weekends are very busy for me? How about sometime during the week?"
me: "I could come down for Wednesday afternoon? Is two o'clock good?"
GC: "Yes, that's fine. I will be expecting you then."
me: "Ok. Wednesday. 2pm. Thank you for your time (GCinMTL). Good bye."
GC: "Bye."

So I'm excited and nervous. In my stupor I forgot that I have a class on Wednesday afternoon which I'm going to have to skip. That'll be cutting it close. I'm at four absences and five is the max. At number six, the school won't let you take the exam and failing the exam means you fail the course. So I'm banking that nothing freakish is going to happen from now and the end of the term. I'm a little unsettled about it but it's only two weeks. Stay tuned to the drama.

Friday, November 18, 2005

89 days later...

My last post was 89 days ago. Dave was right. Reading yourself think gets a little tiresome after a little while. Well, let us update all with news from the Joesphere:

I had the month of September off from school. Intermediate finished in late August and Superior wasn't starting up again until early October. So I had a month to burn and needed to get a cooking experience away from the take-2 hours-to-cook-one-dish one at school. I had applied to Toque! in Montreal about a Stage (aka. work for free to gain experience). I got to talk to Normand Laprise and cinched a non-paying job for September. In that month I pulled 60 hour weeks, fast-pace, high-end stuff and ended up shelling more fresh scallops than I care to recall. The staff there was great, all very competent and motivated but the reputation of working at a place like Toque! can lead to an air of self-importance. I guess it's needed because the staff doesn't get paid very well and they work their butts off. I'm glad I did it. I hope they feel the same way. I learned a boat-load. It was nice to be in Montreal with KM as well after a summer of being geographically separated.

Grant and Ariana (very good friends of mine) got married. It still blows my mind that it was only the summer of 2004 when they met and Grant was using the excuse of returning videos at 1 am to go get on his bike and see her. A wonderful wedding and all the prouder I was there to be a part of it.

Gemma and Sean (Gemma's a childhood friend) got married on the same weekend as G & A just in another city. Wasn't able to see that one but by all reliable sources and by some unreliable ones as well, it was a hot party.

Joanna (my younger sister) moved into the Peggy House and we're now living in the same house again after 8 years. Sort of weird but not uncomfortable. There's always someone to do stuff with.

It's starting to suck. Days shorter. Temperature falling. Clothes are getting bulkier and worn layered. Biking is getting to be out of the question.

I got back from Montreal around Thanksgiving. Most of the socialable people from my class either flunked or moved on to better things. I was merged into an older class and it's not the same. The overall vibe of my class was one of maturity but this one is more 'high-school' and I was tired of it very early into this term. I'm about 40 days away from finishing. Like Ash Wednesday to Easter. That's do-able just as long as I don't have to focus on fasting candy. I have been expanding on things that I've seen but some of the classes are tedious and repetative. There is an expectation that you can be creative without being taught properly. It's happening in the class and if I didn't have experiences outside of the school, I'd be with them as well. The task of being "creative" without being taught more current techniques is an obvious but not addressed problem with this term. I'm not a fan of the "I'm doing this just to get it done" motivation but the more noble reasons for staying motivated are becoming very scarce.

J & T moved to Portland, ME to start applying their skills in restaurants. F flunked out but is working full-time at a restaurant in town. R flunked as well and is back in the States, probably at her parents' place. B couldn't take the final because of too many absences. He's repeating intermediate right now. C was in Superior until he got caught stealing aprons from the school and was expelled. N went back to her chef job in DC. I found out that I had the highest mark in the class last term. It may not sound like this class sounds like a bunch of mature professionals, they were more pleasant to work around than the current bunch.

At least I have a ride down to Montreal and back every weekend. So I've been having some quality K & J time.

The job with Chef John didn't pan out. He was putting his team together when I was in Montreal. I couldn't give him decent hours because the school had booked me for too many night classes and split classes. The word around town though is that a lot of cooks joined his team hoping to learn from him and that didn't pan out. He's still working his old job and at his new venture. This puts some perspective on what I'm looking for when I get into a real job. First on the list is that I want to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can. And that requires the attention of a seasoned and skilled chef over your shoulder. Of course, I need to make an income but acquiring experience now allows for better work later. Short term - long term.

I've been asked by many to try to post more often. There have been some technical reasons (which I won't go into right now) about why it is harder to do so. I'll spare you the pledge to post, if it happens, it'll happen. You reading this shows that you have hope. Here's to that sentiment. Stay warm.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Um, disregard the efforts of the previous post...

After running into Patricia and getting an email from Nadine asking me to post again, I really couldn't say no. I guess there are at least two people still looking for content. I shall oblige.

The date of the previous post was over two months ago and in that time a lot has happened and a lot has changed. Big to small:

My brother got married. Not the biggest surprise in the world but being there with KM had everyone asking if we were next. Don't get me wrong, I love KM to pieces but I just rather not have everyone up in my business about it. Living vacariously though others means something wrong with your own, maybe? Highlights were that as the best man, I was almost run ragged with minute tasks that had incredible importance for those one or two people affected. That and I cried during my speech which afterwards people asked if I had faked - sort of shows some insight into how my family sees me. Do I look like the type to fake cry for sympathy? I hope not.

KM is back in Connecticut for the summer at her parents' place. The cat is there with her and adjusting alright. I miss them both miserably.

Basic is over and I'm in the thick of intermediate. The chefs I liked learning from are either in other courses or on vacation and we're stuck with a chef who has openly confessed that he's waiting out for his contract to end. Such dedication. Today we were doing sausages (how to make) and his burst in the pan. So instead of a How To we were stuck with a How Not To.

Intermediate is harder. There's a lot more to do in a shorter amount of time. There is an assumption of proficiency in terms of technique. I'm doing alright but I can see a good portion of the class not passing the final. But that's not up to me and we'll see what happens.

There's a lot of talk from people about not coming back for the final session. They are feeling marginalized and taken advantage of. I share these concerns but leaving early would be like waving the white flag.

I got then left a job at Starbucks. It took all of six weeks to figure out it REALLY wasn't for me. The money was alright but I was giving away shift like a broker, so in the end there really wasn't a lot of money involved. Just a lot of high school-esque drama at work and having to deal with underworked overpaid blackberried corporate workers in their hives. The funny thing is that you could tell who was a triple tall vanilla soy extra hot no foam Latte and who was a drip coffee person. I am what I drink. Enough to justify that $8/drink. Buy Starbucks stock people, they have corporate workers by the nutsack. I'm just happy I didn't have to wash out a washroom.

Been hanging out with Joanna. We saw "Wedding Crashers" yesterday. It resonated a little more now that I'm in the wedding season of my life (I'm looking at you Grant & Ariana). But you can't stop the modern rat-pack comedies. And this one is not really all that different from the others. Still worth the $10+ to see it for a laugh at the theaters.

I also saw "Pallindromes" with Joanna. That was a little heavier. I never saw "Welcome to the Dollhouse" or "Happiness" but I gather writer/director Todd Solondz has a gift for the sexually awkward to get all talking about it. Go see it when you are ready for something that needs a little mental resiliancy.

There. I posted. That was for you Patty.