Archive for July, 2009
In continuation of my last entry, and careful consideration after touring each culinary facility, I have decided to apply to the French Culinary Institute. It’s a 9 month evening program consisting of M/W/F classes starting in mid-November. It’s official in a sense that I’ve already received the nod of approval from my manager at the office. I’ll have to leave the office early those three days at 5pm. Everyone seems to be really supportive, which makes me appreciate the team I work with on a daily basis.
FCI seems to be extremely organized in the adminission process and has an amazing support system. Once you become a student, you have access to their resources for life. The career services center has been really helpful and available to me whenever I need them. The tour lasted approximately 2 hours strolling along between their portait filled walls of celebrity chef alumni such as Momofuku’s David Chang, WD-50’s Wylie Dufresne and Sam Mason, Food Network’s Bobby Flay, and culinary/pastry program directors Jacques Pepin and Jacques Torres (just to name a few). I had a chance to sample some of the best morsals of chocolate/carmel/nut goodness I’ve ever had in my life. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better than the loads of baguettes I’ve smuggled home from LA (long story), we peaked into the bakery where some of the students who came in at 2am would start creating one of the best baguettes I’ve ever bit into. It was moist and airy inside with a nice crackly crust. That said, I was thorougly impressed. The resources that FCI has to offer are astonishing. The fact that they offer an online account for students to contact the above mentioned chefs (and then some) directly via personal email, is priceless.
And although I was sold at FCI, I still did not want to sell myself short of other possibilities. FCI’s immediate competitor would have to be The Institute of Culinary Education, who recently won an IACP award for best culinary program in 2008. Both schools have had plenty of recognition and awards so I’m not worried about FCI’s credentials in the least. To sum up the brief tour (all of 15 minutes) for all four floors, I was not impressed. Yes, their tuition is approximately $12,000 less, but I’ve decided to not go the less expensive approach in life this time. I’ve learned in the past – “you get what you pay for”. The tour guide was quick and unapproachable, which meant, he just wanted to get it over with and not have to answer any redundant questions. There was no free baguette nor chocolate sample in hand, but a folder packed with tuition/loan information. He was not thorough in explaining the programs and opportunities the school had to offer. I was also not comfortable with a couple of questions in their application. It asked, “How long have you been thinking about a culinary career?”, and “How serious are you about attending culinary school?”. Is the latter question used for gauging how serious they should take their potential students or how much of an effort they should put into a tour?
What is it that I want to achieve after culinary school you ask? Well, I would love to get my hands on food styling for various forms of media (movies, TV, periodicals, etc.) or work in a test kitchen for Cook’s Illustrated. I would prefer not to work in a restaurant, but it may become a possibility if the experience is needed in order build my portfolio for a private chef career. I also wouldn’t mind being a chef instructor. Oh the possibilities are endless! Perhaps in a couple of years, I’d also like to take a few courses at the International Center of Photography to perfect my passion for food photography. Here’s another success story of an FCI alumni I just happen to run into online while browsing the Yelp website: YumYumChefs. For now though, I’m going to see where my interests lie as the classes progress.
When it comes to establishing a reputation in the culinary world, there seems to be a sense of comraderie amongst food lovers/chefs that I just absolutely love. Yes, it is a competitive field, but what isn’t competitive in New York? Just the lifestyle in New York is competitive. I think I just might have this one in the bag, folks. All of this is starting to sound all too familiar. 🙂
My recipe for this week calls for a quick-fix after a long day at work and wanting to put a few ingredients together from the fridge/pantry in about half an hour.
1 pkg of whole wheat penne pasta (boiled/drained)
1 broccoli spear (blanched 1/2 inch chunks of flowers/stems)
1/2 feta cheese
1/2 sliced yellow onion
1 tbs garlic powder
1 tsp crushed red pepper
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs vegetable oil
Cook onion until translucent. Add cooked pasta and broccoli. Then pour in all seasonings while stiring on high heat. Let pasta brown a bit until a bit crispy. Remove from heat and stir in feta cheese crumbles.
It’s been about a month since I last wrote a recipe entry. I’ve been thinking a lot about the purpose and use of this blog for quite some time now, which can easily be translated as “writer’s block”. Little to my knowledge and with a dash of naivety, it’s been difficult to come up with a story behind each recipe. When I first started this blog, my intentions were to write a story that inspired my recipes and to submit one each week. Hence, the title. As the weeks breezed by ever so rapidly over the month of June, there were a few reasons for the writer’s block.
1. allowing myself to think there is nothing interesting or important enough to share with readers
2. lacking interest in writing; although still active in the cooking and photography part of the process
3. starting to realize where my main interests lie (cooking/photography); not necessarily writing [if I no longer have any interest in writing, should I remove this blog altogether?]
I’ve also had culinary school on my mind and have registered to tour the FCI (The French Culinary Institute) and ICE (Institute of Culinary Education) in a couple of weeks. The FCI would be ideal because Jacques Pepin has been my on-screen mentor for many years. He and Jacques Torres developed the culinary program at FCI. So it must be good! However, the program does not offer the kind of flexible scheduling I need in order to maintain a 50 hour work week. Plus tuition is $40,000! I will most likely be taking the $30,000/9 month culinary plunge at ICE this fall instead. Thank goodness they offer flexible course schedules that take place 9am-5pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Not only does the thought of being $30,000 in debt frighten me, but the fact that my free time will ultimately be limited. I just have to keep reminding myself that it will only be for 9 months. I am going to recruit my best friend, Brian for strength and support. If he can somehow manage 4 years of working and maintaining a 4.0 GPA in college, then I can too, damn it! The realization of becoming a chef hit me last night (in a positive way) and the thought of having a career in the culinary world felt really satisfying. This may sound a bit surprising, but I’m embarrassed at times when I tell people (especially family members) what I do for a living. Coming from a family with a medical background, particularly in nursing. I haven’t felt like I’ve succeeded in life and I’m already 31 years old. I’m now more ready than ever to take the bull by the horns and go for the ride no matter how bumpy it may be. Another fear I have is not being able to live comfortably as I have been for the past 6 years. This is the main reason why I’ve committed myself to an administrative field. I know how it feels to be poor/unemployed. I know how it feels to live off of ramen, iceberg lettuce, and one egg a day. I know how it feels to not make rent for months at a time and to ask mom for help in desparate situations like these. And I know all too well how it feels to be delinquent on $15,000 in credit card debt. My goal since those first two extremely rough years of living in New York is to never be in debt again. I was able to wipe my slate clean after a couple of years by maintaining a job at a corporate insurance firm. Since then, I haven’t had much luck attaining a permanent position with any firm, yet I’ve somehow managed to remain debt-free. Long story short: to be $30,000 in debt can be quite overwhelming especially if it’s only for 9 months of school.
I’ve signed up for a couple more culinary recreational courses at the Whole Foods Culinary Center on Bowery coming August. My experience with the knife skills class last month really inpired me to take the leap into culinary school. Everything about it seemed so natural. Now I don’t mind, in fact, I love cutting and prepping vegetables whenever I can. It allows me to perfect and hone (no pun intended) the foundation to cooking.
This week’s beet soup recipe is perfect for practicing your knife skills because of the mirepoix that becomes the basis for the soup. This recipe also comes from a cooking class “gone awry” taken several months back. It was taken through a meet up group a co-worker had introduced me to. The whole experience turned out to be a disaster. The kitchen location changed at the last minute (day before event) to a comedy club kitchen. We walked in and their was an electric stove, no mixing bowls, and porn magazines out in the open. I couldn’t believe my eyes! My friend, Lisa, on the other hand,whom I met at the aforementioned insurance firm, thought otherwise. She has such a kind heart, that she went along with punches and never complained one bit about the whole experience. The bathrooms smelled like piss and there was no soap to wash our hands with. From that moment on, I knew it was going to be a very interesting day. We managed to mix our salad dressing in an old plastic spice container and we somehow managed to cook the soup (had no luck bringing it to a boil by the way) on the electric stove. The wild rice the “chef” made earlier that day was horrific. There’s nothing worse than eating cold half-cooked wild rice. I can’t believe she calls herself a natural health chef. Everything was vegan, gluten-free, and pretty much tasteless. I could see how this would become every carnivores nightmare. I used to be a vegetarian for 7 years and would cook food that was a lot more creative and appetizing than this. Cooking classes like this gave vegans a bad rep. However, I could see where she was trying to go with the soup, which is why I wanted to experiment with it and make it my own. Later that day, after we chewed and swallowed, the “chef” started to talk about the reason (other than her father’s heart disease related death) why she wanted to become a natural food chef. She made a couple book references that inspired her to eat and cook healthy as part of her lifestyle. The fact that I love reading how food affects people and their environment, peaked my interest. After researching tirelessly on Amazon.com that very night, I then realized she gave us the wrong name of the author for the book she recommended to us! I cursed under my breath and thought about how my Saturday and $65 all went down the drain unforgivingly. Lesson learned: only take cooking classes via Whole Foods going forward.
2 cans chicken stock
1 can water
1 red beet (halved/cut into wedges)
1 yellow beet (halved/cut into wedges)
1 peeled red potato (halved/cut into wedges)
1 medium rhudabaga (halved/cut into wedges)
1/2 cup chopped dill
2 bay leaves
Kosher salt/Freshly ground black pepper
Follow mirepoix cooking instructions and pour in liquids. Add root vegetables and bay leaves. Cook for about 30 minutes until vegetables are tender. Season w/ salt and pepper if needed. Add dill at the last minute before serving.