Culinary Bootcamp, Week 11: Which Country Did I Leave My Brain In?

Hello, my foodies!

This past week has been, what I would call, “kind of all over the place!” It literally was.

  • Monday: We completed Asia week with a menu development project.
  • Tuesday: Ginormous Indian buffet with a guest chef. It’s still Asian. South side!
  • Wednesday: Latino day with a special guest and a treat!
  • Thursday: Visiting Spain and Portugal.
  • Friday: Sous vide day. More on that later!

I have no photos for the first two days because my camera ran out of batteries and I forgot to recharge them. I was rather annoyed with myself for forgetting small things or making little mistakes here and there, which is very unlike me. Usually my brain is ridiculously, stringently detailed and losing this ability temporarily is pretty bad, this late in the game. Fortunately, I’m catching up on sleep and 2 of my shutterbug classmates are going to e-mail some pics to me and I’ll post them up soon. When I remember to ask for them. Aaaah!

Rest deprivation is a funny thing. I did a little math and figured that with 11 weeks completed at school, with full-time classes 5 days per week and work the other 2, my brain, used to being “switched on” for 5 days per, is missing 22 days of expected relaxation, which is why it’s turning into a sieve and keeps asking for extra sleep and extra oxygen, especially because I was out late last weekend. D’oh. No more of that!

Asian menu development was hard. My partner and I (the same fab person as last week) were coming up with a lot of ideas but having trouble finding ways to incorporate them with all of the funky mandatory ingredients (konbu seaweed, bamboo shoot, fuki stem, egg tofu, red braised pork, and salmon; one item had to have a dough or dumpling of some type), especially because this time we were expected to meet up on the weekend and both of us were exhausted. Things turned out really well, though!

Did I explain how this works before? I don’t remember. Here you are!

Menu development is when you think of ways to experiment with food. The goal is to try your best to turn out an awesome dish and make it cohesive, as well as perfectly cooked and seasoned, and have the plating techniques/arrangement make sense visually. It then gets critiqued. No matter what you do, there’s going to be some criticism, because we’re all here to learn, but at least it’s constructive. Take it all in stride, remember what is said, and remember that advice because it will help you out in the future.

Next was India day and we had a guest chef come in, Gurpreet Virdee. He’s now a financial planner (he was a chef for 14 years), and joked that “this job will kill you!” I know he’s right, so that’s why my goal isn’t to become a chef because I know my body can’t take it. Whew! He was so entertaining and taught us a lot about different cuisines in India. That day our class worked a little differently than usual, where instead each stove group prepped ingredients for about 3 or 4 dishes, and then Chef Gurpreet would call everyone over to one station and show how to make one of the items. Our group was in charge of samosas (mmm!!), cucumber salad, and dough for chappatis.

There was a ridiculous array of food. Indian buffets are a genius idea because you want to try everything! You have to decide though, whether to fill up on all of the types of bread and have a bit of all the curries, or do the opposite, which could lead to potentially disastrous results. Just a heads-up for anyone new to Indian cuisine. The entire day was a lot of fun. I love working with spices and curries, and got to work with 2 woks full of oil to deep fry all the samosas. Fun!! Now that is something that I find it strangely relaxing. Kneading bread has the same effect on me.

Latino day was fantastic. Tamales are one of my favorite foods and I was looking forward to our vegan version all week! The first time I had one was also the same day that I ate 10. That about says it. Sorry, Maria!

Filling a tamale and then folding it in its corn husk.

Tamale with mole sauce and pineapple salsa. The salsa wasn't necessary, but I wanted to add some colour and bright, summer flavour.

Ohhhh yeah!

Pheasant empanadas, double-fried plantain chips, and pineapple salsa. We hadn't worked with any of these main ingredients in class yet so it was nice to finally get acquainted. I love plantains, and grilling pineapple makes everything smell good! A few of our empanadas exploded, but they still tasted nice.

Carla helping former classmate Rodriguez (our guest) make tostadas. He brought all the ingredients from his restaurant (Doña Cata) and talked to us about authentic Latino food.

Deep-fried corn tortilla, refried beans, shredded pork, lettuce, sour cream, and feta cheese. Mmmm! I didn't know that feta is popular in Mexico. That gives me some ideas...

Grilled steak with chimichurri sauce, trout and vegetables in a vinegar sauce, and a head-explodingly-good quinoa, strawberry, lettuce, corn, roasted squash, and pepper salad. I cooked the steak again this time. The "is it done enough yet?" poking and flipping game is one of my favorites.

As if we weren't already full enough, the pastry class brought us a load of desserts!

One of the pastry students came up and offered this to me. How cool! When we make something that I don't plan on finishing I always bring it to her first because she's super nice to me. Being friendly has its perks!

The teachers brought us Dos Equis and Negra Modelo beer to taste with the food. It may have been because it was St. Patrick’s Day, but I would like to think that it was because they like us. Next we visited the Mediterranean for Spain and Portugal day, starting off with a smoky, chilly, beautiful gazpacho soup.

Everybody in!

Our sexy new blenders with light-up buttons!

Our sexy new blenders with light-up buttons!

Chef Tony professes his love for the blender's auto-turnoff, wave function, and unbreakable plastic square container.

Gazpacho with tarragon, olive oil, and a bunch of cucumber and radish cubes and slivers that sank in and disappeared.

Octopus! From this... this! Hooray. I especially enjoyed cleaning the octopus.

Rehydrated bacalau (salt cod) cakes with arugula salad.

Chicken and prawn stock for paella.


This had rabbit, squid, prawns, and chicken stock. I haven't had this many types of protein all in one dish before.

Friday began with a debate first thing in the morning. Two students were defending classic cuisine, while another classmate and I were on the side of molecular gastronomy/contemporary cooking. Our teams met up ahead of time and discussed our major points and the things that we were going to bring samples and pictures of, but the actual showdown was full of surprises!

Molecular gastronomy is commonly known as all of that wacky stuff you see on Iron Chef America, with blowtorches, liquid nitrogen, making caviar out of juice (spherification), and elaborately abstract plating. What it actually is, though, is “the science of deliciousness”: The study of what food is made of, why its properties work the way they do, and what flavours match together well, so that you can hammer out the best classic recipe, or go challenge Bobby Flay in Kitchen Stadium. Some places/companies are popular for taking this to an extreme (El Bulli, WD-50…definitely check out the food pics!!) or using information from databases about volatile flavour compounds to bring us some of our favorite snacks (companies involved in massive food production).

Our “opponents” made a killer batch of chocolate chip cookies (and brought milk for dunking) so I started looking for ways to jazzify this treat while Brad (my partner) typed out notes and talking points, and we made tuiles! Tuiles are thin, crispy cookies made from batter (not dough) that are pliable and can be shaped when taken out of the oven.

The cookies fell over as soon as I moved the plate but they still tasted great! Let's call it visual interest and drama.

I adapted a favorite recipe and added extra vanilla (both seeds and extract!), because the smell of cookies is so powerful, then chopped up some dark chocolate, toasted a few pinches of chili flakes, and added some coffee grounds to the mix. We sprinkled all of these on the tuiles because

1) they taste good, and
2) The Internet said it tastes good because of flavour compound matching so it would help our debate a little.

Bake, lift, roll, burn fingers, cool, repeat! We thought that serving the cookies standing up or filling them or dunking them in something non-liquidy would be a fun and unusual way to eat them. Strawberries and cilantro are also chemically matched well in terms of flavour compounds and so we brought some of those, too. Strawberries, cookies, and chocolate? I’m going to call that the breakfast of champions. We were pretty choked that the one store in town that had the ingredients to turn juices into caviar was closed for the week, and had to bring it! I even dragged along 2 of my books, I’m Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking by Alton Brown and In Search of Perfection by Heston Blumenthal. Inside were fantastic examples of classic cuisine that has been perfected by scientific processes and thinking. Thanks, AB!

Team Classic was pretty set on making science in the kitchen look bad for you and I almost bursted out laughing when they brought out two 8.5″ x 11″ close-up printouts of celebrities: Paul Newman as an example of a classic actor, and a hideous photo of Michael Jackson (ultra-pale version) as an example of something that shouldn’t have been tampered with. My rebuttal began with something along the lines of  “First of all, I would like to start off by saying that molecular gastronomy was not a crotch-grabbing, child-molesting dancer with white skin!” I should have thrown in a little “bless his fedora!”

This debate actually got a little gritty and so afterward I made a real-life (non-debate) point of bringing up that classic cooking needs a scientific approach to perfect a recipe, and molecular gastronomy needs classic cooking as a starting point, because there’s no use in playing with tools in the kitchen if you don’t know what you’re doing, and that working in a kitchen that values your input, and can appreciate classic techniques but allow you to have fun and innovate, with a happy  medium, is what we should hopefully find as young cooks beginning our careers. The only thing that matters is high-quality, good food that respects the ingredients and makes your customer or guest happy. In the end, we all hugged (because a classmate suggested it during the question period).

Next, we learned about an alternative cooking method that got a few people a little hot under the collar…

Chef Tony teaches us about sous vide and vacuum-packing while cooking stuffed lamb loins. Sous vide entails vacuum-sealing food in a bag and cooking it in water at a low temperature to maintain moisture and flavour. That thing in the pot is a circulator that controls the water's heat by filtering it through coils that heat up. A lot of restaurants cook their meats sous vide for consistency, flavour, texture, and quicker service, but it's illegal in some places because in the past people have not been diligent about food safety.

Once the food has cooked for as long as you want it to, it immediately should be chilled in an ice bath or taken out of the bag and seared/broiled on the outside/finished however you want. Just don't kill anybody!

Phyllo-wrapped lamb with lentil salad, chard sauce, and mixed veggie salad. One of the few downsides about sous vide-d meat is that you can see the plastic bag square marks on the piece of meat unless you further cook the outside.

Prosciutto-wrapped and stuffed rabbit (sous vide-d), a tiny rabbit rack of ribs, Asian spiced duck breast, and sous vide-d chard stem with baby carrots. I thought it was funny, pairing carrots and rabbit, but would a duck would eat chard stems?

Strawberries with rosemary and black pepper. Other flavours that match well! Vacuum-packing these infused the rosemary and pepper into the strawberry. It was nice!

A gift from Pastry: Mixed berries in syrup, topped with sabayon foam. Unbelievable!

A former student came in and talked to us about leading sustainable kitchen careers and how to make the industry less wasteful as well. I really liked hearing about things like saving energy and green retrofits because the amount of waste that occurs in the industry horrifies me. Thankfully, with the school, this is not an issue because our teachers are savvy business owners and individuals who also happen to give a recycled rat’s ass about the environment.

Some people didn’t like the texture or flavour of the meat that was cooked sous-vide. Others didn’t like that it took work away from them at the stove. A few seemed interested. I, in particular, think it’s clever but wouldn’t like to eat sous vide-d meat unless a good sear is put on it after. I’ll still argue my apron off for it if I have to, though.

Ahhh, we should have worn lab coats and goggles.

Eat well!


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2 Responses to Culinary Bootcamp, Week 11: Which Country Did I Leave My Brain In?

  1. Mia says:

    OOOOOOH TAMALES!!! You have to show me how to make that with pineapple salsa! Yum yum!
    The way you talked about the ‘beautiful gazpacho’ reminds me of when dad says ‘that tastes ugly’. I had a little giggle. Good blog post! xoxo

  2. kchellouf says:

    Hah! I remember not wanting to go to restaurants because of him saying things like that, ergh!!

    We should have a tamale and pineapple salsa day! All of the food we make in class is beautiful and it’s amazingly fun. I heart school!

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