“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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!