Week three just kind of breezed in and is over already! Today many of us took the Foodsafe certification training and exam. I have to say, spending 6 days a week at the school doesn’t bother me in the least. It was pretty funny to see everyone in their street clothes. I was so excited to get to choose what to wear and picked an outrageously bright pink dress, cardigan, scarf and sneaker combo, with fishnet tights, huge jewelry, and my hair spiked up like a troll doll. This is how I dress all the time! Maybe some other people were not thrilled to be in class on a Saturday, but NWCAV has become a very comfortable and happy place for me; even if I’ve mucked something up. You just have to breathe, stay calm, fix what you can and learn for next time! Focus on doing things well and figure out how to make the next dish better.
My station partner this week has been the guy who is friends with my brother. He’s organized, super helpful, and it’s been great catching up with him. Yesterday we made deep-fried panko-crusted polenta cakes, which I was madly in love with. Chef Tony said that people from Northern Italy who eat a lot of polenta get teased and called Polentones. I make a lot of that stuff! Is it possible to make yourself an honorary Italian? Today at Foodsafe, Chef Ian asked who actually brought lunch. My hand shot up into the air, because I decided to stand over a burner and stir some boiling cornmeal at home, har har, and was glad to share it with everyone, to go along with the yummy leftovers we found from our previous classes. Waste not, y’all!
We dealt with chicken and beef for 2 days each animal, and each student butchered a bird (yes, it was already dead, and no, I didn’t take any photos). It would have been pretty funny if they un-caged a live one and we were expected to chase it down and take care of business, not for the animal, but in a total mayhem kind of way. I’ve seen the animal-slaughtering process on TV many times (thanks a lot to Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall for publicizing it. We are so disconnected from food origin these days…). I sometimes wonder if I could go vegetarian because watching birds and cows in abbatoirs is difficult for me. It’s like a car wreck: You have to look. If not because you’re interested in the process, then because you owe it to the animal whose life was pretty shitty, and then taken away, to at least know where it came from and respect that.
Northwest uses free-range chickens and eggs, which I’m pretty happy about, but for some reason this week our supplier didn’t bring our full order and a few “standard” birds from the IGA Marketplace had to be brought in. I had a free-range bird, my partner had the other type, and we sat them next to each other on the cutting board. Mine was a lot smaller, they were different colours (because of their feed), and I forgot to look for hock burns on the standard bird. They weren’t something we were supposed to look for, but I do know about them and should have taken a peek. I’m going to get curious next time I visit the market…
We ate the meat from my chicken first, and agreed that its juiciness and flavour was definitely noticeable. I was pretty astonished at how quickly and easily I was able to cut the bird into pieces, having been one of the last students to pick one up. Like the teachers said, some people will uncover skills they didn’t even know they had! Good thing we aren’t in wizard school. I don’t even want to know what kind of spells I would be good at producing.
Our teachers say that the highest level of learning is teaching and I definitely believe in that. My brother Faris turned 21 years old on Monday, so our other brother, Tarek, and I got together to make a perfect mac and cheese (birthday boy’s favorite), and for the past 2 weeks, Tarek has invited our mutual friends over for dinner. Our arrangement is that everyone else buys ingredients and I make something delicious, which is nice, because I can practice without going broke, spend quality time with friends, and also give tips to anyone willing to listen. T-Dog is now a little more aware about roux, stewing, papillotes, and folding ingredients gently. This week I made pork cutlets en papillote, on a bed of julienned red peppers and white onion, with a garlic and rosemary velouté sauce. Dessert was a lemon mousse, topped with a meringue that I toasted with a butane stove lighter. Everyone was clamoring to taste the extra meringue left in the bowl. It’s like toasted marshmallow, very addictive! The mousse was super rich, so it’s a good thing that I was whisking constantly for 3 separate components of the meal to get a workout! I can’t wait to think of something crazy for next week.
As part of our studies, we watch online tutorial videos from Rouxbe, an online cooking school that has partnered up with NWCAV. Yesterday their team came in for a visit, to take some photos and video clips of the class in action, and actually interview a few of us and how we feel about using their productions (which are very well-made, and in HD!). I’m just going to flat-out say that their videos kick ass. Their comparisons and scientific examples are easy to understand. There are some great shots, which are helpful for visual learners like myself, and it’s nice to learn at your own pace, or re-play. Being able to watch specific clips while curled up in a warm cozy bed, show your friend a cooking technique on your iPhone, or settle a debate about steak-cooking methods is incredible: Like having a Wikipedia of food videos at your fingertips. And all you need is the internet!
The entire Rouxbe staff were so friendly, nice to talk to, and very good at jumping in, grabbing some footage, and hopping away without being obstructive. They know what they’re doing! I spoke with one of the co-founders, Dawn, and she said, “you’re the one with the cute blog!” I was kind of stunned and raised my eyebrows for a second, unsure of how she even knew it existed. Likely because I filled out a student-user profile on their site and included a link, and well, this blog has a ridiculous and memorable name. I spend a lot of time clickity-clacking away on this laptop and it’s always pleasantly shocking when people recognize me from a photo, a friend’s site, this blog, String Magazine (and the paper we were in), or something else. Someone is reading something somewhere! Cute is definitely what I was going for, and it was fun to learn that I received a visit from people who I visit almost daily. Now I’m paranoid about putting some info up here that isn’t the best method or ratio, just like they are, aaaah!
Working at Changes has been great for a nerd like me, because it keeps my math skills in practice. The recipe costing and conversion that we’re doing in class is a total breeze, and is absolutely essential in what we do. Auguste Escoffier finally made the concept of food as a business viable, because it’s so easy to lose money in this industry, and a lot of people don’t seem to get that. Now if only I didn’t forget my calculator in my tool kit…Good thing that computers usually have a function for it.