Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Exam Day ... Early start, Great finish ... Delicious!

05h55 is early. Darn early.

Blake walked into the kitchen this morning at 05h55 to start his preparation for his final in-class culinary arts exam. Blake also was given the responsibility of designing the settings in the room for this lunchtime meal. He said, on Monday when he was given this job, "I'm not too sure about our placements. What can I do differently, Chef? I want something exciting." My response was to take a recent issue of 'Panorama' magazine and start tearing out the pages (lovely, full-colour calendered pages). "Here, use these whole pages as placemats". He did, after playing with the idea for a while. And it looked like this:

The student chefs had submitted their dishes for the exam.

Then, it was time to prepare and cook. The results were just delicious in almost every case. We had a full room of staff come and enjoy the hard work, and at the end everyone got to eat. We left the dishes piled up to heaven for tomorrow (coming in and cleaning up is part of the exam too!), and we will be very, very busy for several hours in the dish pit.

Special thanks for a very successful semester needs to go out to three people, each with very different roles. In alphabetical order then ...

Jenn Martone, who is a member of our school staff. Jenn works intensively with students who require specialised support, and while doing so with great competance she takes hundreds and hundreds of photos in the kitchen each semester. Many thanks, Jenn, for all the delightful support again this semester for ALL our students through your photos and good humour, and of our students needing a bit of extra assistance and guidance. You're a pro.

Noah Bardwell is my former student. When Noah has time in his schedule he comes back into the kitchen and volunteers to assist however he can. Lots of days he is doing un-glamorous grunt-work, or in the dish pit, or helping organize or sort the fridge and freezers. He does this out of the goodness of his heart, and he is greatly appreciated.

Ruby Trostin has been a volunteer in this program for 10 years now. It may be longer ... we have both forgotten. Ruby has helped design the entire program with her observations and insights, and Ruby is my other brain when I run out of ideas or need feedback. Ruby, the students love you to bits, and respect you highly. Me too. Thanks for all the years of your hard work and dedication to our students' growth.

Now ... time for some photos. Congratulations to everyone who came and worked hard and produced to the best of your abilities.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Exam -- Ready! (or not ... )

Well, the end is drawing nigh for this young brigade: The final examinations take place over the next two weeks...and then the course is done. Off to new adventures for the students ... welcome another group to form a new brigade for hold me!

The final examination in this course consists of three parts; a final tools test (recognizing tools by their correct name), a homework assignment called "Chef-At-Home", during which the students have to cook substantial meals for their families for three consecutive days for the main evening meal (and learn to plan and manage all the costs), and an in-class high-pressure demonstration of their skills, creating a sumptuous menu for our student-run restaurant, "The Acorn".

The in-class portion is by far the most difficult, as each student must create a minimum of two dishes from scratch. A bit of work may be done the day before (such as making stock, or making a biga for bread, or making creme fraiche), but the rest of the work must be done on the day of the event. The kitchen is open to welcome students at 06h00 (that is not a typo), and we shoot the meal at 11h45 to members of the Monarch Park staff who choose to join us.

And because this is exam review time, all the dishes and mess is left, piled up to heaven, for the next day's clean-up effort. Leftovers are put away of course, but the rest of the shambles can wait a day.

Skills are hard-pressed and execution must be very very good. Each of these skills has been practised throughout the semester, so there is nothing new here ... it is the culmination of all these skills, bringing them together in symphony.

First, every recipe must be written out in the professional manner on one of our recipe blanks.

Then, an individual time planner must be created for each recipe so the duration of the work is known.
This is an example of how it needs to be done.

Then all the student's recipes' timings must be entered onto a comprehensive time sheet, so there is no need to become an octopus and have a need to do three things at once. (This is a difficult skill to develop for anyone.)

Finally, a comprehensive food requisition sheet must be written up so a single gigantic shopping may be done for the exam.

During the exam time all recipes and time managers may be posted up on a wall or cupboard door for easy quick reference ... I am not looking for a feat of memory, just reliable, on-time and close to flawless execution.

Students are judged on everything possible; their appearance (is hair tucked into their high-hat properly, no fake fingernails or long fingernails or fingernail polish, proper footwear, no watches or rings), their attire (proper and complete chef uniform), their time management, their tool use, knife skills, space use, co-ordination with a team-mate where a recipe is shared, individual work on a solo dish, management of heat and/or cold, economy of motion, foot stance and body attitude towards the work-spaces, their sharing of equipment, final plating for maximum visual impact (I look for rhythm and altitude on the plate, especially for desserts), and the final taste of the food. The next day (clean-up day) they're able to earn marks for cooperation on the clean-up and a cheery attitude of help and support towards everyone else in the kitchen.

Is it a lot? Yes. It is what is expected in industry every single day, and successful students in the course (who earn a final mark of 80% or more) can always get a strong recommendation from me for professional work. For those who apply for jobs, we have a 100% successful hiring rate. One semester the entire brigade got summer jobs in the trade!

I am greatly looking forward to what these fine young chefs do to 'strut their stuff'!

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Catering Our Brains Out!

As the brigade has developed skills and interests, we have taken on a few high-visibility public catering gigs ... one for a very fine condo in Forest Hill, and within a week for a social service agency, H.O.T.T.. There may be quite a gulf between the two groups of clients, but the needs and expectations are exactly the same ... very good food, delivered on time, served with pride and care, always mindful of the client's budget.

For our condo client, each year we come up with a 'world premiere' dish. It is served to them first, and only afterwards will it be offered to others. This year it was Caremelized Celeriac
and Brandy Shooters, with dill Creme Fraiche.
In addition to this taste-teasing starter, we also offered Chilled Salmon Paste
on home-made Pumpernickel rounds with a bed of Mint Crème Fraiche, Mini-Squash Spoons with house Maple Tomato Salsa, then Pecan and Olive Tapenade in seared Mushroom caps with Parmegiano dust, Roasted Lamb skewerettes
trousered in Ghee-dressed Chappatis with house yoghurt and lemon drizzle, Canadian artisanal cheese selection with house crackers and Challah chips and hummus, and we wound up with Micro-mini Cheesecakes
inverted on 3 house coulis smears. Every dish was hand-made by the students of the brigade except the cheeses themselves. It took 3 days to put this all together and design the stations and passes.

Of course, it is the preparation that takes the time. The salmon has to be carefully wrapped
then cooked in the dishwasher (to preserve the softness of the meat). The final result is SO soft ... then we mix it with cream cheese,
high-fat cream, fresh herbs in chiffonade and ... it is absolutely delicious!

About 150 mini-chappatis have to be made
and kept in perfect condition.

All the yoghurts and creme fraiche have to be made and the consistency checked.

The lamb itself has to be given final butchery,
then herbed after being larded with garlic shards. Then roasted, and finally sliced paper-thin.

Final lemon garnishes have to be prepared.

And there is so much more.

In the end, though, the results speak for themselves.

Another very successful event! Well done, everyone. Here you are, ready to rock.

For anyone who wants to try some of this, here are a few of our recipes. For more, please contact Chef Aller-Stead.

Live a Blues life!

I encourage all my students to live a blues life ... be willing to take the tough with the rough with the smooth with the easy ... and learn to roll with everyone they have the good fortune to meet along the road.

To get them started, I introduce a short, short list of great blues musicians. These are in no particular order ... just go and explore!

Here is the Blues Starting List:

Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Django Reinhadt
Charlie Musselwhite
Ellen McIlwaine
Oscar Peterson
Old Crow Medicine Show
Taj Mahal
Ivan Rebroff
Maria Muldaur
Queen Latifah
Ray Charles
Keely Smith

And there are a few others thrown in just for fun ...

Mark Kroos
Wettestreit Zu Viert (combat classical quartet)

Then there is the best Blues show on the radio ...l the CBC's fabulous Saturday Night Blues Show (from Edmonton).

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Christmas Fruitcakes -- Yum!


This year chef's mother-in-law, Ann Aller, has given my students two entire days of her time in the kitchen. She came up from Ottawa to teach them how to bake her absolutely delicious Christmas Fruitcakes ... famous in the family since the early 1950s.

Mounds of eggs
Heaps of candied fruit peel
Tubs of flour
Nuts galore!

Well ... here we go.

To start, we combined all the peel and cherries and almonds and soaked them for 24 hours in pineapple juice, and a good dollop of brandy. Stir well and cover tightly!

The next day we made a simple quick dough ... but in large amounts.
Here are Kenzi and Allison just with the creamed sugars, butter and eggs for 20 pounds of fruitcake!

Then make a huge amount of dough ... hand-combined! Matthew and Rick do the sticky, gooey honours.

Fill the many pans after lining with parchment paper, prepared on both sides with butter, and cover.

Bake for between 2 and 3.5 hours in a 275 oven, carefully testing every 15 minutes for the last 45 minutes.

And ... the results speak for themselves!

All this leads to happy students, a delighted chef and a VERY pleased guest. Many, many thanks Chef Ann ... we couldn't do it without you!