week 1- first day of school

I announced back on December 22 that I would be beginning a fifteen week culinary program in the New Year. Well....I am here to report that we have all survived week 1 (a short week, as we started Wednesday, January 2). During our first 3 days at Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver 2 passionately committed instructors (Chef Christophe and Chef Tony) assisted 23 bright-eyed-bushy-tailed students in getting acquainted with the facility, our assigned uniforms, loads of new terminology and each other. We will be joined by a third instructor (Chef Ian) towards the end of January, as he is currently enjoying a much deserved vacation in Japan....more about him later. As for our uniforms....let's just say that our new black polyester pants (with oodles of stiff fabric gathered into a thick elastic waistband) transform all the females in the class into fat bottomed girls.

So, let’s get cooking. Not so fast. To start, it’s all about the knife skills. There are a lot of different cuts to learn, practice and master before we move forward. It was actually surprising how many cuts were taught and how quickly they (appeared to be) closely emulated by the class…. paysanne, batonnet, brunoise, julienne….chiffonade. During Thursday and Friday onions, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, celery, garlic, parsley, rutabaga, spinach, and lemons all fell victim to the practice of our chef’s knives and Japanese vegetable knives. It is also expected that we be constantly sharpening these knives with our honing steels, until it becomes our second nature.

Stock (French fond = foundation) – a clear, unthickened liquid flavoured by soluble substances extracted from meat, poultry, or fish and their bones as well as from a mirepoix, other vegetables and seasonings

There is a good deal science that occurs during the making of a soup stock. (click here and then here to learn all you ever wanted to know about stock) And it would seem that most chefs get really intense and opinionated on the subject: salt or no salt during the making of a stock?! carrots or no carrots in a white stock?! Food writer Michael Ruhlman claims that “canned broth makes me crazy” and advocates that “we should all be making stock as part of our weekly routine”. And he is not directing this opinion towards the restaurant industry but, rather, to (home) cooks.

On Friday we made brown stock by roasting veal bones in the oven and then adding them to a stock pot of cold water which was slowly brought to a simmer. As the 'scum' (impurities) rose to the surface, it was skimmed off, using a small ladle. Meanwhile, in a separate pan oiled with fat emitted from the roasted bones, we caramelized a mirepoix with salt, then garlic, then (Italian sundried) tomato paste. Next came deglazing the caramelized pan with water from the stock pot and, finally, we added the mirepoix mixture to the simmering bones. But the process was not yet complete. The mixture simmered for about 2 hours, but was then cooled to refrigerate until next Monday (as school was finished for the weekend), when it will be brought back up to a simmer, a bouquet garni will be added, and it will continue to simmer for a few more hours until the stock can be ‘SCLAR’ (Strain, Cool, Label And Refrigerated). It should be noted that this acronym was created by Chef Ian.

We also made a white (chicken) stock that same afternoon by placing a raw chicken carcass in a stock pot of cold water and, again, slowly bringing it to a simmer. This time we added the mirepoix raw, at the same time as the bouquet garni (and some salt). The stock was left to simmer for about 2 hours (and skimmed as with the brown stock) and then ‘SCLAR’.

I am looking forward to getting to know my fellow students better. They are an eclectic group, ranging in more than just age, ethnicity, work experience and education. I suspect that I will learn as much from them as I will from my instructors. Stay tuned....

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