July 29, 2014

Four Months Into Culinary School

By: Ryan Hodros, Culinary Arts Student

I’ve written in the past of the dangers of trying to pursue a “global” education.  However, I’m sneakily suspicious that the vast majority of people in America didn’t read that article, and so I feel comfortable making some similar points in this article.  The past month has been spent enjoying a nice little vacation followed by several weeks of learning the regional cuisines of the Americas, with a toe dipped into Europe.  This educational odyssey has been a lot of fun, and I’m surprised at just how much information Chef Kyle is able to cram into a six week block.

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Week Thirteen

This was our journey through the United States, starting with in the Pacific Northwest and continuined through the Midwest, down the East Coast, and on down to Florida.  Having driven through most of the United States on a cross-country zig-zag before I joined the Navy, I was excited to learn how to make much of the food I had experienced on that journey, and it didn’t disappoint.  We covered a great deal, from cedar-plank salmon to clam chowder, from shrimp and grits to jerk chicken.

Four Months Into Culinary School

We also got to meet Chef Kyle for the first time.  I’m going to interview him after our sixth week down the line, so I won’t spoil that entry with too much information, but what I will say is that he’s an excellent teacher.  He has a knack for giving us just the right amount of freedom to explore our abilities and find out what we’re capable of, but not letting us run hog-wild and ruin a pile of product.  He also goes out of his way to prevent me from playing it safe making desserts in class (I’ve already graduated the Boulder pastry arts program), which is going to help me out in the long run.

Week Fourteen

This week ended our time in the United States and started moving down into Central America.  I’ve never been to Mexico, but I lived in Southern California for over a year, and so have a real affinity for SoCal Mexican.  What I learned during this week is that genuine Mexican food is a great deal more diverse than I originally thought, and was delighted by my first taste of jicama, my first well-made ceviche, and my first chimichurri.  I also managed to conquer my fear of the deep fryer, making guava-stuffed empanadas with comfort and ease.

However, it was also apparent that we wouldn’t be going into the level of detail students might expect from a “global education.”  Two days spent on Mexican/Central American cuisine could hardly do a place with cuisine protected by UNESCO as a world heritage item (something I learned through Chef Kyle.)  But as I stated in the article I linked above, I don’t think it’s possible to cover every facet of a country’s cuisine, so I’ll be brushing off the Mexican cookbooks in my collection and doing a bit of private research now that I understand the techniques.

Week Fifteen

This week started in South America and ended with a practical.  It’s funny, I’ve written a number of test survival guides for this blog, but I still get wracked by anxiety whenever these exams pop up.  Curse of the over-achiever, I suppose.  The test was in many ways similar to the TV show Chopped, in that we had a mystery basket of farm-to-table items that we would  then use to make a two course meal.  The only caveat was that part of our meal had to be sea bass, as we had to prove that we knew how to properly process the fish into filets.

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I wound up making a cream of sweet potato soup with flatbread croutons and celery greens, followed by what I’m calling a “deconstructed fish pizza,” which consisted of baked red snapper on grilled flatbread with a citrus beurre blanc.  Through some extensive planning, I managed to get the whole nine yards together (including mixing, baking, and grilling the flatbread from scratch) in one hour and 59 minutes, which I didn’t think was going to happen.  Got an A, so must’ve done well!

Week Sixteen

I’m writing this on a Monday of Week Sixteen, so we haven’t really gotten that far into it, but it’s looking to be a pretty interesting week.  We started with German/Swiss/Scandinavian food, for which I baked Swiss Zopf bread, made mustard, par-boiled and grilled bratwurst, and made caramelized onions.  My classmates made German Potato Salad, Braised Mustard greens, Kartoffelpfannkuchen (potato pancakes), spaetzel, Jaeger Schnitzel, and Linzer Torte cookies.  A great deal of this wasn’t in the curriculum—Chef Kyle wanted us to challenge ourselves, and though our timing for the day was off, the food all turned out well.

Tomorrow is Russia and Eastern Europe.  Having some Eastern European heritage, I’m excited to dive into Chicken Paprikash, Pierogies, and the other items on the menu.  This leads us into Africa and India by the end of the week, both of which are going to be exciting, particularly India.  When my wife Tressa was going through the culinary arts program, the day I came in to visit their class was India day, and I’m eager to see if our class matches up to hers!

 All in all, this month has been an anxious one, but also incredibly rewarding.  I’m looking forward to exploring the rest of the world through this block, and can’t wait to see what else the curriculum has in store!