Culinary Bootcamp, Week 10: Ladies, Asian Foods, and the Half-Asian Lady

“You didn’t write this week!”


Sorry, y’all! My sleep schedule has been crazy for the past week, especially after Daylight savings time. It’s either been 2 hours of sleep a night or 12, and my energy has been totally sapped! If anything, it’s really nice that people are waiting to find something fun to read here, so I’ll do my best to entertain you.

First of all, before I cover the week’s lessons, March 8th was International Women’s Day, which we had a special weekend for at our store. It’s kind of a big deal, especially to someone who is about to work in what’s considered to be a very male-centric industry.

Every year, at least one of my guy friends unwittingly says something silly like “What? Why? When is International Men’s Day?”

The polite version of my reply is usually something along the lines of “Every day for the past 500 bajillion years has been International Men’s Day. You haven’t had enough yet?”

I would like to clear up an understandably common misconception and state plainly that you don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist, and we are not required to be man-haters. Man-haters who happen to be feminists do a disservice to the cause, just like other types of people that are condescending and look down upon everyone else who is different or disagrees. Pissing people off is exactly what to do if you want to drive people away from agreeing.

A lot of people don't know that Madonna does in fact have a last name. She just doesn't use it. I don't agree with everything she does, but I do like this quote, which would qualify me for bitch status, and I'm more than okay with that.

This is always drifting in the back of my head. No matter what you do or where you go, man or woman, any race, colour or creed, you and your work are constantly being judged and evaluated, so you have to work really hard to be taken seriously. Let your work speak for itself, and hope that it brings you respect.

Women and men have to be able to work together in order for us all to have success! A good feminist simply believes in and celebrates the power and strength of women, and leads by example without cramming it down people’s throats. Imbalance, injustice, exploitation, and violence against women still exists, and maybe when all that stops, there won’t be a need for people to push so hard, but until that day comes, it must  be recognized that women still have to prove that they belong everywhere that men already are. So thank you, to all of the female chefs (and femmes in other ass-kicking jobs) out there, for blazing trails for young ladies like myself.

We were given Monday off from school, and I had previously signed up for volunteering with the Serious Foodies evening class, so I enjoyed a cute rock-star haircut from one of my clients, Kim at Colourbox (who I consider to be a rock-star as well), worked on an upcoming article with my friend/editor Maria at String Magazine, and strolled into the kitchen with a giant fauxhawk and my leopard-print knife bag. Something that I love about Foodies is that it’s a relaxed cooking environment, so we don’t have to wear hats because everyone else has their hair down.

In a funny coincidence, Kim's employer was cutting hair right next to her and we recognized each other because she takes the Foodies class and I helped her and her friends bake a lemon tart a few weeks ago!

There were extra ingredient portions that were untouched and instead of tossing them, I put them to use, getting to practice techniques, play with ingredients, and feed all of the other volunteers. We used some rad high-powered convection ovens to get everything nice and bubbly very quickly. The cheese on one of these portobello and red pepper pizzas got a little out of control, but melty, stringy fromage is a good thing! Unless you're lactose intolerant.

There was an extra hunk of pasta dough, so I got reacquainted with my favorite toy, the pasta roller, and set out to make prawn tortelloni and stracci with another volunteer. Stracci, which translates into "rags" in English, are laminated pasta scraps. Simmer them quickly, finish them in a sauce, lovely!

Chef Tony's demo steak with a zingy arugula salad and gorgeous blue cheese-tomato-fresh herb sauce. I always like to get a close look at how things are supposed to turn out with the examples made by our teachers.

At the end of the night, there were extra steaks and I was asked to fire them. The gas had been shut off at all of the other stoves and so only the one at the front of the room had juice left. Of course I said yes in a very cool and composed manner, but was thinking, “They want me to cook at the demo station for chefs? Where I’m looking all the time, expecting to learn? While everyone is eating and looking at me?

The idea seemed a little daunting, but I got right into it and was having fun. I find that the best way to do a job is focus, shut all the thoughts out of your head, remember the key steps to succeed at the task, and go. Bing, bam, boom! A few people even came up and started asking questions, which I was thankfully able to answer, while hustling between salad-making, turning steaks repeatedly (yes, that’s my favorite method), and hunting for substitutable sauce ingredients because we gave all of that fabulous blue cheese to the Foodies. I was proud (and relieved) that they all turned out very nicely (ranging from medium-rare to medium) because to be honest, I don’t cook steaks at home. Maybe I should start!

In Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, there’s a panel where Bruce Wayne is talking on the phone that made me laugh.

Allen: What are you doing?
Bruce: Grilling.
Allen: Who?
Bruce: A steak.
Allen: You cook?
Bruce: No, I grill. It helps me relax.
Allen: Grilling a steak to relax? But a prime piece of meat has to be just right, not under–or God forbid–overdone. It is. And there’s no sauce known to mankind–or the French–that could hide the fact that the chef’s to blame. That makes a steak the most stressful thing to cook, you know?
Bruce: I know.

I was more surprised by Batman standing at his stove than the fact that it relaxes him (or that Allen considers the French not to be a part of mankind). When you’re busting skulls every night, of course a slab of dead meat is nothing. Puts things in perspective.

This week in school we focused on Asia and I was really looking forward to it, as we were told that Chef Ian Lai would be spearheading the classes. All of our instructors are great to work with, and Chef Ian is super high-energy, hilarious, and very well-versed in agricultural systems, which is why I can’t wait to volunteer with him in Project TerraNova when school is out. Where our food comes from is becoming more and more important today. I’m excited to learn so much more about farming, and that will definitely help my gardening skills.

We started off with Japan and I think it was very different than what everyone was expecting. Just like many types of cultural/regional cuisine, like Chinese, Italian and Mexican, as I mentioned in last week’s post, what we’re used to seeing in North American restaurants is very distorted from what the actual food traditionally is, unless you’re going somewhere that prides itself on authenticity. Restaurants have to cater to our whims to stay in business, and on this continent, that means more sugar, more fat, more salt, cooking faster, and bigger portions. There is a lot of going out to eat, but less concern about what is being eaten. Yuck!

We started off by making dashi, a Japanese stock made with konbu seaweed. Konbu seaweed is where MSG came from, and was discovered when a guy in Japan (Kikunae Ikeda) noticed that his food tasted better when his wife put seaweed in the broths that she made, giving them a fuller, better-rounded flavour, or umami sensation. I actually learned that on TV. Now that umami mouthfeel is reputed to be in savory foods, like meats, cheeses, and mushrooms. And Kikkoman soy sauce. I learned that from a commercial.

Okonomiyaki, a cabbage and yama imo (goopy root vegetable) pancake that can have seafood popped into it (like you would with blueberries), and serve with okonomi sauce (sweet and smoky, similar to hoi sin), Japanese mayo, and bonito flakes, (tuna shavings that dance on hot food). These are everywhere in night market stands and I love having them in the summer!

Goma ae salad (spinach/sesame) and spicy burdock root with carrots.

Savoury egg custard with orange peel, shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoot, and a gingko nut. It was very light, with subtle nuances of flavour. When I enjoy working with dynamic and powerful flavours, it's a serious practice in restraint to try and work mostly with ingredients that are unfamiliar and are only allowed to give off hints and wisps of their full potential.

Marinated tofu with soy sauce, ginger, and green onions. My sister introduced me to tofu at the age of 16 and it did not go over well! Now I love its versatility, especially with desserts.

Cucumber salad with wakame seaweed and tiny silver fishes.

Dashi was hard for me to work with. I tried really hard to taste and try everything that we were given, but when we passed around bowls of rehydrated seaweed varieties, sniffing them actually made me gag. My body found the bitter smells to be offensive and rejected them! It was a physical reaction that I couldn’t help. I was also a little creeped out by the fishes because it felt like they were looking at us. I appreciated that the dishes we learned were very traditional and have been almost forgotten about (other than the now-trendy okonomiyaki), but would also have liked to see some popular contemporary dishes that we would likely encounter if working in a Japanese kitchen, especially of a fine-dining place. At least there are some great izakaya restaurants in Vancouver to visit and see what that’s all about. I love Guu!!!

The next day we learned about Thailand and were visited by Chef Angus An of Maenam, and two of his staff, Haan and Mike. We didn’t get to do any cooking, and instead prepped ingredients or worked with things that they already had portioned out for us, which is understandable. If we receive a recipe, our class turns out 13 different versions of it. This guy owns a restaurant and was giving us delicious stuff from his menu, so things ought to turn out his way because he knows what the finished food should taste like.

Grace, Aleksey and Ashley K working on curry paste.

Everybody checking out the curry.

Hey, I don't blame them!

Thai food is one of my favorite cultural cuisines. Insane amounts of bold, crazy flavour that somehow manage to blend and find balance together. Mmm!!!

Bowes loves Thai food too. That, or he just really likes pushcarts.

Mini charcoal grill. These can be found making street food in Thailand. Food that is SO street that these get mounted on motorcycles.

Chef Angus works on our salad...

...while Mike grills prawns. Check out the mirror.

Unbelievable. Grilled prawn salad with chili jam and Burmese pork curry on rice.

Hot and sour pork soup.

I definitely want to hit Maenam restaurant before leaving Vancouver! Our guests were so well-organized and the dishes were everything I had hoped to find and more on Thai day. The word reverence came to mind a few times last week. Chef Angus and Chef Ian are both so well-versed in the history of Asia and took great care in getting our class to understand and respect foods, concepts, ideologies and philosophies that were foreign to many of us.

For the next two days we learned about China. There was a lot to cover!

Unusual suspects. Chef Ian had a lineup of about 20 or 30 bottles for us to sample from and get better acquainted with Asian condiments. Vinegars, soy sauces, cooking wines, pastes, oils, and more.

Steamed fish. To some, those words are like Pavlov's bell. Others...not so much. It was nice, but this I would grill or dredge and shallow-fry if given the chance to do it again. I might also cut the head off because I don't like eating things with eyeballs in it. Fish is often served whole everywhere other than North America. We're kind of squeamish. Double-cooked long beans in the background, with Chinese sausage and dried shrimp.

Lotus root with Chinese ham and green onions. I am now in love with lotus root and had chips of it the next day at Guu.

Clams with black beans. Preserved black beans are ridiculously salty and ought to be used with caution. I now salt with confidence and ease, but these are very strong.

Deliciously sweet, salty and meaty-smelling red braised pork hocks that would eventually take 2 days to cook! Stay tuned for next week's photos.

Grace is an adorably sweet and pocket-sized classmate of ours, who presented us with information about soy. She even made her own tofu and soy milk! That was so impressive, and she said it was actually very easy. Something new to try in the future!

Little iceberg lettuce rounds with spinach tofu salad.

Edamame beans, and soymilk flavoured with preserved lemon (savoury), sugar (sweet), and plain, with Chinese long donut to dip in and sample them with. Yum!

China: Day 2 forged ahead with more of a dim-sum/popular Chinese food approach. It was fun to learn about making some of my favorites.

BBQ pork steamed buns. I was so excited when Chef Ian opened up a takeout box and it was full of char siu. It makes me think of having dim sum with Mom and Grandma. They're kind crazy together but the food is always good!

Steamy, pillowy yumminess. This is some serious Chinese comfort food. I would defintely eat these while hanging out in my pajamas. Grandma would probably freak out if she knew I was thinking of making these with whole wheat flour and filling them with vegetables.

Mandarin pancakes. You get some dough, roll it out, put sesame oil on it, fold it, roll it more, cut out rounds, and go! Pan-frying them makes them puff up with steam, and you can peel them apart to have a pancake that is crunchy on one side and steamy and soft on the other! Sigh!

Green onion pancakes. These ones were pretty dense and didn't roll out very much, but tasted good. I adore the type of green onion pancakes that are thin, flaky, and crispy when you pan-fry them, and Chef Ian kindly gave me some advice on how to adapt our recipe for that result. Shredded and wrapped around char siu BBQ pork? Hello!!

Yay, dumplings! Siu mai (front, pork, shrimp, fungus, and water chestnut) and har gow (prawns!). Two of my favorites when going for dim sum. I have always had an appreciation for bamboo steam basket carts, but after having to fold these little things, it's even greater. Making these requires such speed and accuracy, wow!

Those little silver fish again, this time dredged, deep-fried, and tossed with a mixture of salt, pepper, five-spice powder, garlic, and chili.

"Don't eat meeeeeeeee!"

Steamed buns cozying up to our turnip cakes, also known as lo bak goh. My Grandma makes them very well (with Chinese sausage, green onions and dried shrimp) and they're better than the ones at T&T Supermarket.

A giant, glutinous mess that I made. There was transparent dough left over from making har gow, so I rolled it out, sliced it into noodles, simmered them, and stir-fried them with an oyster-soy-chili-sesame sauce. Unfortunately, they all stuck together! I tried a chunk, and at least the seasoning was good!

We had feasts every day and shared with the pastry class. They brought passion fruit and walnut chocolates!

They also brought hazelnut brittle!

My partner this week had already been to culinary school in Mexico, but decided to further her training at Northwest. I’ve seen her knead bread speedily and crank out some awesome desserts before, so it was nice to finally get to work with her! We were at Station 13, at the tucked-away stove that is both coveted and maybe even dreaded because there are only two people working at it. Many of the recipes for our first couple of days were prepared per stove, not per team of 2, so we struggled a bit there, and our classmates were super great and would pop in to check on us and see if we needed any help. Thanks, everybody!

Asia week started off a little late, and continued on into the next week. Being familiar with ingredients and customs came in handy for sure. More on that in the next school post!

Time for bed. Again!

Eat well!


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5 Responses to Culinary Bootcamp, Week 10: Ladies, Asian Foods, and the Half-Asian Lady

  1. Mia says:

    I LOVE okonomiyaki!!!!! I used to go to this Japanese restaurant near my old work, they had it with pieces of chicken, beef or pork in it. So goooooood!!!!

  2. I checked last Saturday to see what you had written, and was surprised to see that it was nothing! And then again on Sunday…and nothing! Lol. That’s why I asked! Usually it’s every weekend!


  3. karitickle says:

    Chicken, beef or pork? Awesome! We had scallops and prawns in ours, and you know how I am about seafood. The fact that they couldn’t sear properly because everything exploded when we tried to flip them over didn’t help any! Hah!

    And Ash, yeah! I usually try to be pretty consistent with posting. The past little bit has been a little crazy and it’s all uphill from here with the Black Box and exams, but I’m looking forward to them all and have to work harder at being diligent. With everything, including posting!

    • glutenfreegal says:

      Ahh, black box!! Not gonna lie, I’m a little worried about it! I am happy that it is only worth 5%!

      • kchellouf says:

        Yeah, hooray only 5%! I’m a little more excited about it than worried because I tried to think of dishes that would be great with any/all of the secret ingredients. Yum!

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