By: Ryan Hodros, Culinary Arts Student
This was another transition month where we moved from Chef Kyle and regional cuisines to Chef Jean-Claude Cavalera and Classical Cuisines. We moved into Asian cuisines, which I was particularly looking forward to as a former student of Chinese. Then we moved out of the main campus entirely, jumping into Kitchen Six and French cuisine. Usually these transitions are somewhat difficult for me, but Chef Jean-Claude and I have spoken on a number of occasions in the past, and not only is he a fascinating guy with an interesting background, but he’s incredibly friendly and personable. Anyway, without further ado…
Unfortunately I missed Monday of this week due to an illness, so I didn’t get to experience the cuisines of the Phillipines and Indonesia (a class I’m hoping to make up if there’s time), but this marked our entrance into Asian and Oceanic cuisines. Korea was an excellent day for our class, with the Kim Chi, Bulgogi, and other delicacies tasting just like I’m used to when Tressa and I go out. It was a similar experience when we moved on to China, with the steamed buns (a favorite of mine) stealing the show when it came time to sit down for sensory analysis. The week ended with a farm to table day, but it really was the perfect week, with our abilities starting to gel as we apply old skills to new dishes in order to create some dishes many of us have never even tried.
With a final practical looming on the horizon, we moved into Southeast asia, starting with pho and other Vietnamese delicacies under the direction of Chef Doug Lewan. He is a new chef to Auguste Escoffier but an old hat at culinary education, having spent many years as an instructor at the Art Institute. From there we moved to Thailand, with Pad Thai, curry, and other spicy and flavorful dishes filling our plates. Just before the test we learned about sushi, katsu, and other Japanese specialties. This included a focus on clean, simple, elegant plating that we were not yet accustomed to, but produced some beautiful plates. The practical went well for me despite taking something of a risk with my Asian-inspired po-boy, which was difficult to elevate to high cuisine. With the sambol aioli, lime and pepper marinated shrimp, hand pickled vegetables and cabbage slaw on a fresh-baked baguette, I felt that I did a decent job of it though!
This week started about as pleasantly as is possible as it began with three days of wine academy. Many students will no doubt struggle with this part of the curriculum, as it is a lot of classroom lecture time interspersed with sipping wine and discussing its various characteristics, but as a critic, I found the lectures and the analysis absolutely fascinating. Add to that the “war stories” Chef JC tells about his decades of experience in the kitchen, and the time flew by pretty quickly. It was nice getting back into the kitchen, however, as we moved around the various regions of France practicing the classical techniques that go back to Auguste Escoffier himself. This began on the Northwestern Coast, learning the French preparations of Dover sole, crepes preparations, and a variety of other dishes. Then we moved to Southwest France, learning the cuisines of Bordeaux and the surrounding areas. We also started on the foie gras torchon…
…Which tasted amazing. There’s a great deal of controversy about foie gras (and deservedly so) that I will discuss in a later article, but for now let me just say that the flavor lives up to the hype. We spent Monday still in Bordeaux, then moved on to a farm-to-table day where I made a classic dessert called “floating islands,” which consists of soft meringue floating in a pool of crème anglais with caramel sauce. Not to toot my own horn (Chef JC’s advice was as much to thank for the dessert as my work) but it was amazing. From there we traveled down the western border of France to the Mediterranean Coast where I made Bouillabaisse, and then to the Northwest coast and on down to the Loire Valley and Burgundy. I tried frog legs for the first time, and let me tell you: don’t be intimidated. It has the texture of chicken wings but the flavor of a mild fish. It was familiar and yet unique at the same time—I highly recommend giving them a try if you have the chance.
The transition to kitchen six has been somewhat awkward for me, since as a Pastry School grad, I already know where everything is in kitchens 1-4, but now I’m back to hunting for hotel pans and graters. That’s quickly fading away as we become more and more familiar with the new kitchen. We work more or less as a cohesive unit now, with communication running much more smoothly than during our first weeks with Chef Robert. The cumulative effect of our months of education is starting to take effect, and we’re starting to act less like students and more like a team of cooks in a real restaurant. It will be interesting to see what the next weeks do to challenge our newfound confidence.