By: Ryan Hodros, Culinary Arts Student
I mentioned in a previous article that I had catered an event at the school for Christmas. That article had been about how the school had rekindled my Holiday spirit, so I didn’t talk much about the actual task of making that much food on my own. I thought I’d go into more detail of that experience in order to give an idea of what exactly you’ll be capable of upon graduating from Auguste Escoffier.
The first step was the planning stage. I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of product I’d be getting from the school, because while they had promised me product, it was going to most be what was left over from the classes so it didn’t have to be thrown out over the holiday break. Nobody at the school is comfortable with wasting food, and this was going to be an economical way of avoiding that.
The dessert part of the event was easy. Being a pastry school grad, I have a number of quick, easy, and delicious desserts that you can throw together in a pinch, and I picked a trifle. It’s tasty, it’s sweet, it looks impressive, and it’s only got three components. I also wanted to bake bread, mostly because I enjoy it and I’m pretty good at it now. But for the two main courses and the veg, I had no idea.
I decided I would do two stews, mostly because if you’re making stew for five people or 500 people, the production isn’t that much different if you have the equipment. The veg component would have to be a roast vegetable salad of some kind, since root vegetables would be in season, but they don’t taste as good raw as a lot of salad components.
The day before I had kitchen time for production, Chef Graham emailed to let me know that I would in fact be getting root vegetables—turnips, carrots, celeriac—as well as a few bags of green and red peppers. I’d have access to the dairy/condiment fridge as well as the freezer, and so would have butter, cream, sour cream, and so on, as well as whatever frozen stock I could find. I’d also be getting a bag of onions, a bag of lemons, a pile of garlic, ten pounds of beef chuck, and ten pounds of chicken quarters. This was great news, as two of my favorite dishes to make are beef stroganoff and chicken paprikash.
One thing I did not expect (and probably should have) was just how much time it takes to cut up 20 pounds of protein. I’m ashamed to say my knife callous wasn’t strong enough and I got a blister on my right index finger. But, once the beef was cut into a manageable cubes, the chicken was cut into small enough chunks, the veg was cut into small, uniform pieces, and my other ingredients were arranged, I got started.
[A piece of advice if you’re doing beef stroganoff: Cut the protein against the grain of the beef. If you cut with the grain, you wind up with these loooong strands of protein that will be chewy and unpleasant no matter how perfectly you cook them.]
I lucked out with the freezer, as the school didn’t just have beef broth, but beef demi-glace, which is a difficult-to-make but delicious umami rich sauce. I used that to make the stroganoff, adding it once I had browned the beef in butter with onions. I managed to procure some chicken stock from Chef JC’s class, and after I browned the chicken with onions, I had my paprikash going with some paprika, onion powder, and a ton of garlic.
[More advice, this time for roasting vegetables: It will be tempting to roast all your veg together to save time, but resist this urge. Roast everything individually, and you’ll guarantee that every vegetable will be cooked perfectly.]
Believe it or not, this took me the better part of eight hours. The last piece of my evening was spent cleaning up, cooling my stews and veggies down, and labeling and storing everything for the weekend. Over the weekend, I made lemon curd and baked two nine-inch round yellow butter cakes for the trifle with my wife Tressa, which was a lot of fun.
Monday morning, I showed up at the school at around nine, with plates up at noon. I didn’t have a whole lot to do to be honest—I baked my bread, warmed up my stews, and made dressing for my salad. Some of the volunteers helped pick the chicken for my paprikash while I assembled the trifle (Making some Chantilly cream and adding color with a few quarters of blueberries I bought at the store.) I also boiled up some egg noodles and thickened both stews with a mixture of sour cream and flour, re-emulsifying the fat in the broth with the rest of the flavors I had added.
The students who had helped me got first dibs (I saw to that), and the reviews were pretty solid. Chef Kirk Bachman told me the stroganoff had the perfect texture, which meant that I had hit that bullseye between overcooking the beef (making it tough) and undercooking the beef (making it tough and bloody). The administrative staff happened to wander over and have some, also giving some high praise.
Before I left for the day, I counted somewhere around fifty people (with plenty left for incoming students) that I had fed with just over twelve hours of work. As much as I’d like to take solo credit, it was the training that I got at Auguste Escoffier (and the quality product they had given me) that made it possible. It was a lot of fun, and it was great to see my friends at the school!