Culinary Bootcamp, Week 6: The Fish, The Crustaceans, The Torch, and The Bread Bullet

Fish and seafood week started with a bang — literally. Early in the morning we all turned to see that a bag of coffee grounds exploded all over a classmate who was trying to open it. Good thing he woke us up, we were about to tangle with some pinchy sea creatures and if you aren’t alert, you can easily lose a finger. I saw that lobster episode of Glutton for Punishment!

Our lobster was full of fight and tried to make us drop him by repeatedly flapping his tail. At least, we thought he was a guy, so I decided to post-mortemly name him Rocky. When we found out that she was actually a girl, I named her Rockette.

We were shown how to stab the lobster through the head and then lower our knives through, to put them out of their misery quickly. I apologized to Rockette first, and then started cursing because she kept moving and I had to bonk her on the head multiple times.

I will spare you the rest of the grisly photos. Some places just throw lobsters or crabs into boiling water and if they have to process a lot of them at once, the temperature lowers and the crustaceans suffer longer. I had a discussion with Chef Tony about being glad to just get it over with, because if I had a choice between boiling to death or getting stabbed in the head once and keeling over, I’d definitely pick the second one, although my preference is neither. Bing bang boom, done.

He looks really mad. I named him Quentin, after Tarantino. We were talking about Inglourious Basterds because I had a rolling pin for crushing shells and felt like The Bear Jew. Also, our crab was rather snippy and had an attitude. Our crabs were each lowered into a pot of boiling water, so they didn't meet their end the fast and dirty way, but it was over relatively quickly. One of our classmates had a smart crab who decided to spread-eagle and not fit into the pot, so I jumped in with a pair of tongs to poke it until it relented and fell in.

Cooked lobster bits. We had to put wooden skewers through the tails to keep them straight. Even though mine was detached from Rockette, I picked it up and it jumped out of my fingers! At least I didn't have it as bad as another student: After he stabbed his lobster in the head, the claw grabbed him! Errrgh!

Even after being taken out of the water, Quentin still looked pretty pissy and intimidating.

Lobster bisque with tarragon. The teachers said that if anyone in the class didn't like lobster bisque, it was because they had eaten one that was prepared badly. I could tell that this was well-prepared, high-quality, and had a nice balance of flavour, but I still didn't like it and gave it away.

Angel hair pasta with crab, lobster, and lobster bisque. I actually loved this and ate the whole thing, because lemon juice and tomato (and the olive oil that I drizzled on) drowned out most of the sea-smelly flavour. It was really delicious and I think it would have been even better with grated parmesan and maybe some capers on top for a little hit of saltiness.

Panko-crusted crab cake with pineapple salsa and sweet chili sauce. I also enjoyed this one.

Fresh sole. I played with its lusciously plump lips for a few second and laughed, thinking that a dress or makeup in that colour would look awesome.

Our snapper was out of alignment! Like the sole, it was whole with the guts intact and so they had to be removed. I slit along its belly, ripped the jaw off, pulling all of the guts along with it. This fish had a huge tongue!

There is some seafood that I do like, especially the halibut at Go Fish on Granville Island. The first time I saw a whole halibut, though, was on Iron Chef America, and thought it was as disgusting-looking as it was giant! Aside from the cute little ones at pet stores, I think that most fish (especially flat fish) are hideous, and kept laughing while reading the seafood chapter in our textbook. The paragraph for monkfish began with “this extraordinarily ugly fish…” and only showed a picture of its tail. It is supposedly so unattractive that it gets sold without the rest of the body. Was George Lucas at a market when looking for inspiration for Jabba the Hutt?

Snapper ceviche. It was good but I usually avoid raw fish like the black plague. I would prefer to do this with super-fine slices of tuna or salmon, like at Guu, or with beef.

Bouillabaisse with clams, scallops, snapper and sole. The grilled bread on the side was spread with rouille, a red pepper and potato paste. Mmmm! I was talking about the bread.

I really don't like fish stock. To me, it smells like dirty soccer cleat water after a rainy day game, with a faint metallic undertone. I once had a boyfriend who is a sous chef, and was meeting him at the restaurant he worked for. Things were taking a while, so I ordered a dessert and was enjoying it at the bar, when suddenly a bowl of cioppino (another name for bouillabaisse) arrived in front of me. It was a gift from the kitchen because I helped out for 2 days to prepare for an event. The bowl was full of mussels, clams, and scallops, my arch nemeses, and sending it back would have been a slap in the face! "How do I eat these?" I whispered to the bartender, who started laughing. It was like a bad romantic comedy where the lead character had to smile and choke down an entire bowl of something that made her gag. To anybody who is new to mollusks, here's a tip: Don't open up that tiny piece of meat to look at what's inside. All of those little frilly willies might gross you out!

Filet of sole with carrot mousse and pea veloute sauce.

Poached filet of sole with carrot mousse and pea veloute sauce. I didn't eat this one, and neither did my station partner: She has an allergy to poultry (the veloute was made with chicken stock), and I took one sniff of the plate and shook my head.

Every time we cook something in class, if I’m not absolutely in love with it, I think of what I would have done differently with the ingredients if given the choice. For fish/seafood week, I basically spent a week of learning about it and then thinking about what I would change for the dishes if I actually liked seafood, or had to re-design it for a menu.

The next day was referred to as Restaurant Day. Former culinary students who are now taking pastry gave us tips and warned us about how intimidating it could be. I wasn’t really worried too much about it, and was more on the excited side of things. Some people in our class have restaurant experience, which definitely gave them an edge, but I felt that really, at this point we had been making things for six and a half weeks and should be capable of sending stuff out if the chefs yell for it. You can train a monkey to work in a kitchen. It doesn’t mean that the food comes out well, though, but there are a lot of places that send out shit dishes, and have humans with zero training working on the line. We all speak a language, so there’s an advantage for our species.

Chef Tony congratulating us on a job well done. 25 students with 4 plates each means 100 plates of food! Whoa mama!

Seared scallop with candied orange zest, a deliciously cinnamon-y glaze, and cold vinaigrette salad. I love searing things, and liked the flavour of this one, but probably should have drizzled more sauce on top, and shouldn't have put the whole scallop in my mouth because it turned to mush and then I had to spit it out.

Lobster salad with avocado, hard-simmered egg, oven-dried tomatoes, and avocado on watercress and red leaf lettuce. We were allowed to make our own vinaigrette so I made something fruity and sweet, but a little bit tart.

Tuna carpaccio with wasabi-lime vinaigrette and a mixed green salad. I seared the tuna and was watching it like a hawk to make sure that it didn't cook too much, so it would be picture-perfect like I've seen in restaurants/on TV. It tasted nice, but I would have served the same amount of protein and sliced it thinner and longer if given the opportunity to make this again. It felt...clunky.

Snapper grenobloise on green beans. I was not a fan of the sauce. The lemon supreme slices were too overwhelming, and the fish stock was smelly. This was odd for me, because usually I'm thinking, "more lemon! MORE!!!" and this time was the exact opposite. It was like getting warm dimes from your jeans pocket, putting them in your mouth, and swishing some water around in there with a lemon HALLS.

Our challah bread is the one on the top...It is supposed to be puffy, but over-proofed in the oven and collapsed!

At least it tasted good! This stuff is amazing. Can I borrow someody's Jewish grandma, please? I already borrow a Ukrainian grandma for perogies, and pay her in hugs!

At about 2:30 on Thursday, the Olympic flame was being passed outside of our school, so instructors gave us the opportunity to go outside to see it, or sit inside if we didn't give a flip. I was mildly interested, and within minutes, hundreds of people flooded the streets and blocked off traffic to see as well. I felt bad for that poor girl in the uniform, who was dropped off a good 10 minutes before the lit torch arrived, and was manhandled by excited locals with cameras. Eeep!

People in Vancouver don't really get excited about anything. Until now. It's an embarrassing fact. I was not "for" the Olympics coming here, because many other services in Vancouver are in dire need of funding, but you know what really pissed me off? Protesters forcing the torch to get re-routed, so war veterans at Victory Square didn't get to have a shiny, Canadian pride-filled moment. They fought for our country and saw their friends blown to pieces! The protesters were angry about wanting more support for supportive housing and homeless shelters. Well, you know what's ironic? Their little hissy fit made a bunch of poor old men and women wait out in the bloody effing cold for nothing! Grrr. Guess who will be a curmudgeon in 40 years? Me!

The pastry class also ran outside to take a gander. I was ran in to microwave my lunch and ogle some cakes, then head back out into the chaos.

Poached salmon (fish stock strikes again!) with beurre rouge and roasted baby beets. I didn't chop the shallots finely (thought we were straining them out, but was wrong) and our sauce split when we popped outside, and was un-salvageable. It's all right, I liked the beets best anyway! Definitely want to cook with those more often.

Bowes was our stove partner for the week, and became the new Lone Wolf, due to Rodriguez's sudden absence. He has experience in catering and handled the work of 2 people with finesse and skills to boot. Here he is with our improvised smoker: A foil-lined wok full of brown sugar, lemongrass, rice, tea leaves, and spices. I'm glad that we put this into practice at school before I started playing with the idea at home (not on paper) and made my dress collection stink like a forest fire.

Little trout pieces on parchment paper, and marinade-soaked salmon bellies.

Candy-smoked salmon. I enjoyed this in small amounts. It's all about the glaaaaze.

Smoked trout with fried ginger threads, on top of a warm spinach and carrot salad, floating in fish consomme. This could have used a nice oriental-style sauce or sesame glaze, and no consomme, because it's like concentrated fish stock. Eugh!!

"It looks like a bread bullet." Salmon coulibiac: Challah/brioche dough wrapped around a fillet of salmon that has been stuffed with salmon mousse, rice, egg slices, and sauteed mushrooms and onions.

Salmon coulibiac with dill sauce and a little salad boat that I made. I called it the Star Trek salad, because celery and endive were cut on a bias and were shaped like the logo.

There was a little challah/brioche dough left over, so I decided to make a little "leaf crown"...

...because we're supposed to have a visitor in town and I wanted to get into the spirit.

Salmon menu development project! L to R: Salmon en papillote with julienned red peppers and fried capers, on top of barley with parsley and lemon zest. Battered and fried salmon with hollandaise sauce, on wild rice and carrot brunoise. Tea poached salmon with fried ginger threads on honeyed thyme brown rice. Pan-seared salmon with fried shallots, on top of a curry veloute sauce and caramelized onions with lentils. Bowes joked that tea is for hippies, but really liked the fruity concoction that I threw together. If there wasn't fish juice in there, I would have grabbed a mug!

Menu development was really fun. I like having the opportunity to get creative and have some fun, and it turned out well for a group of 3 having to do the work of 4. Next time my goal is to help come up with ways for whatever team I’m on to have a lot of fun with texture and colour, yet find ways to simplify things, so we can save time and have some whizbang plating. I’m already stockpiling ideas for garnishes and sauces in my head. I’m happy that the fish batter turned out pillowy and soft, yet crispy, because there was no recipe to refer to and I pretty much winged the recipe, basing it on a few scientific theories. Being a nerd has several advantages.

This week was a real struggle. We were working with foods that I personally avoid, so there was a steep learning curve for me, and I probably frustrated the shit out of my stove partner. She is super sweet, friendly, well-traveled, amazing and an organizational master (something that I am still fighting to instill within myself), but unfortunately, if I wasn’t breathing down her neck and checking in (which can be super annoying, so I don’t want to!), the things that I was paranoid about going wrong, actually did go wrong! There is always so much going on that it’s hard to remember things or keep on top of timing and directions. We’re all here to learn, though (especially from mistakes), and she has saved my butt multiple times, so I did thank her hugely for that, and am definitely looking forward to seeing everyone in the class grow into kick-ass culinarians, myself included. We’re all making so much progress!

I was glad to see the end of this week, because at least there would be no more fish stock for a little while, and also because Friday morning started out roughly: I locked my house (and locker) keys in my house and Chef Tony had to try and bust into my locker, to no avail. I said it would be all right as long as I could cobble together a uniform for the day (thankfully had my knifes in my bag, and Ashley kindly lent most of the pieces of a uniform) and call my landlord to grab spare keys later.

“You’re 0 for 2?” he asked, genuinely concerned.

“Yes chef, I wanted to look stupid today!” I answered. Felt pretty bad for bothering him, because mornings are always busy!

He knows that I enjoy learning about hardcore female role models, and gave me a jersey to wear, with the name Anne Milne embroidered on it. The buttons were black, so I thought that she was a former instructor or guest teacher at the school. He later told me that she was Canada’s first female executive chef at a hotel. Sweet!! As soon as I was able to get home, I looked up her accomplishments and work.

Next week, I’m going to The Irish Heather and The Waterfront to see what their work environments are like. Hopefully I’ll do well and not have any clumsy incidents!

Eat well!


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