Sunday, 31 May 2015

Giving Back ... Sharing Skills ... Building Community

In Toronto the Assaulted Women's HelpLine has an annual fund-raiser to keep the service going for the thousands of women who, sad to say, still need the help and connections offered. This year Monarch Park Culinary Arts young chefs did the cooking!

Our indomitable Honourary Lifetime member of the Monarch Park Collegiate Culinary Arts Brigade, Ruby Trostin,
retired a few years ago from the HelpLine. She still assists the HelpLine in many ways, and when the suggestion for this year's Gala was that they'd like to consider something new, Ruby spoke up and volunteered her culinary students!

Chef was contacted by Jenn and Huong from the HelpLine, and after a few meetings and a load of email, the ideas were set and the die was cast. This was going to be a stand-up banquet to remember!
The location was to be The Burroughe's Building Event Floor.

It took four days of preparation to bring the whole event together.
This photo shows the military-style planning of who does what when: There is no room for error, no time for excuses. Non parlaro ... lavoro! one of my Italian chefs used to say ... don't talk ... work!

Chef Susan Plummer, a great supporter of our MPC program (and mother of MPC graduates!) came in and organized students and kept Chef's head from exploding at times. She is a dietician and fabulous chef, and the students just love working with her. Thanks, Chef!

And THIS photo shows "The Lamb Line"
... preparation of 200 lambsickles.

We made roux,
we peeled asparagus, we reduced balsamic vinegar, we made coq-au-vin for 200,
we ran our tempers short and finally we ran out of pots and pans and had to clean up! We prepared for 120 people, and on Wednesday of the service week learnt that the expected number had risen to 150. What to do?! Cook more!
Stuff more salmon into the dishwasher! Prepare another 100 lambsickles! Make more tapenade! Fold another 100 spanikopita pillows!

Then ... Friday morning ... the time came (to use the vernacular) to put up or shut up. Time to load everything into Chef's Subaru, (Chef Geraldine supervising!)
fold all the whites for public service work and head down to the Burroughes' Building Event Floor (a gorgeous venue!) and spend 4 hours setting up and getting everything ready. One of our culinary graduates, Chef Kareem Mahfoudh,
joined us to supervise the hot line and be a valuable 'extra pair of hands'. Thank you Chef Kareem!

Before the guests arrived we had to prepare and set out all dishes, cook or finish off all the morrocan lamb to be served on the cheese loonies,
prepare all the lambsickles with dredge and saute then roast every one of them, and Real had to learn how to run and time a blast oven. Chef Real spent the entire event standing guard on the blast oven, cranking out hundreds of excellent servings of spanikopita, lamb, crab torta,
Gorgonzola Mac-And-Cheese and anything else that needed a shot of heat. He coordinated well with Chef Kareem.

Chef Ruann carefully prepared her station.

We forgot to put out the delicious tzatziki for the spanikopita. Darn! It is like finding the cranberries in the frig on December 27th ... still delicious but 2 days late. Rats! Sorry, Jenn & Huong.

Salads were prepared, and the most popular one was a
fig-and-ricotta salad with a dressing made with balsamic reduction.

As this was to be a stand-up banquet, we served things in small portions ... little porcelain spoons of fruit, small bamboo spoons of coq-au-vin, desserts on skewers ... small pillows of spanikopita ... and individual lambsickles and finger-sized slices of a delicious crab and leek torta that is a specialty and favourite of Ruby.

Every young Chef was trained how to serve in a press of people, how to balance a tray on one hand and dish out napkins with the other
everyone practiced a bit and the results went off perfectly! Nothing was dropped and there was no one who got too frightened to try. Good work!

Finally it was showtime ... to work! To work! And there was no time for photos from this old Chef ... the guests started to roll in and we served straight from 5:15 until 9:15, then a discrete pack-up and gently down the stairs. Jenn, from the HelpLine, had made sure that every one of our young chefs received a gift-card to thank them for their efforts, and the host for the evening event thanked them all by name as well.

And the results? The clients speak:

Dear Martin and Ruby,

Thank you so so much for the great experience last night. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing two salt-and-pepper hair people among the group of 15 year-olds, teaching, encouraging and inspiring these young people to take pride in their work and to do their best. You are simply the best people and I am truly blessed to know you.

Martin, you are an inspiration. Your love of culinary shines through. I am in awe with your love of teaching, your commitment to instil hard work, creativity and team spirit in our youth. These young people are very lucky to have you as their teacher and mentor.

Ruby, you are my "Ruby" for almost two decades now. You have been my sounding board, a mentor, an aunt, a dear dear friend and I am so lucky to have you in my life. You and Martin have my deepest gratitude.


And Jenn writes:

Dear Martin and Ruby,

I can only echo Huong's sentiments here as I am truly grateful for your incredible efforts last night.

We have heard resounding comments about the food being wonderful and we are so proud to have had the opportunity to work with you both on this fundraiser event.

This was a very different year making a departure from the traditional, but with both of you at the helm, we knew we were in good hands.

Thank you both for a spectacular event and for a truly unique experience for our guests. What a wonderful way to bring two small (but mighty) groups together to inspire and create change.

With gratitude,


And from Ruby, at nearly midnight:

Hi Martin:

You must be incredibly tired and extremely proud. {I am!}

The programme, you and the students earned the respect of everyone at the
Helpline fundraiser last evening. The kudos just kept coming as people spoke
of the food being offered and the students. Everything was as good as it could
be. Some items went faster than others, some more preferred. But that is
personal taste. Over all it was an amazing success. I hope you get to rest
this weekend. You have more than earned some "time off".

See you Wednesday.



It is the 'see you Wednesday' that left this old chef gobsmacked. Ruby, you're an absolute peach and a winner in every way. Many thanks for making this both possible AND the huge success it became. Huong, as I said in my few words, it is a pleasure to serve and be useful. It was our complete pleasure to serve you and the guests at your AWHL Gala.

To all my Chef students, and particularly Chef Kareem, many, many thanks for a job well done. I take my toque off to you, and hope you have enjoyed a good week-end.

Tomorrow ... dishes! They are piled up to heaven.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Chef Herbst visits and the results are delicious!

Oh good grief, what is not to love about profiterolles filled with chantilly cream spiked with a little limoncello or Irish whisky? Nothing?

Yes ... but first you have to learn how to make them ... and other fine pastry desserts. Here is Chef Tyler preparing chantilly cream for the class.

Last week Chef Walter Herbst (now retired) returned to MPC and joined our culinary arts students in the kitchen for four days. He chose to teach students how to make choux paste, and then a lot of shapes and extras which can be made with the paste.

The third and fourth days were spent learning how to make delicious, artistic traditional Black Forest Cake.
Several years ago he taught the same thing to a group of students, then we used the knowledge to make a grand (and VERY public) birthday cake for the Rt. Hon. Jean Chretien, our former Prime Minister, at his gala celebration with 750 of his closest friends and associates.

So ... this does not need a lot of blogchatter ... here are some photos of Chef Herbst working his magic of technique and high expectations. After the basic techniques were shared, it was heigh-ho for creativity of presentation! I particularly appreciated chefs Tiffany and Tina's work producing a mirror.

Every student was eventually successful.

Thanks again, Chef Herbst!

Kindnesses ...

Once in a while we get a request at the last minute in the kitchen. "Chef, could your students make XXXX for YYYY? Today (or tomorrow)? Please?"

Tonight the last Parent Council meeting of this academic year is being held ... we were asked ... and Chefs Grace and Anna rose to the occassion.

Triple Ghirardelli Chocolate brownies and Blueberry Lemon squares.

Thank you for all you do, dedicated parents!

Good work Chefs.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Lamb Lamb Lamb Lamb ... (with apologies to Monty Python)

Well, here it is mid-May already, and in the country lambing has begun. And kidding, and calving too. The countryside is bringing forth new life! It is time to celebrate.

Here's the Monty Python bit.

Ok, Monty Python IS a little over the top, but I like their mad enthusiasm.

To make Lambsickles one requires ... Lamb. Lamb Racks, to be precise ...

Instructions are oh-so-simple. Here we go!

ONE Pre-heat an oven to 375 and settle
TWO Cut racks into paired bones of chops
THREE Using the blade and back of a chef knife or boning knife, remove all of the fat cap and sinew from the bones along with any excess fat bits and silverskin. Then cut into individual chops
FOUR Prepare a dredge to taste. We use a mixture of bread crumbs, fresh herbs in chiffonade, powdered romano or parmegiano cheese and sea salt and cracked pepper
FIVE Prepare small bowls with about 250 ml of flour in one and 2 or 3 eggs in the other, muddled and stringy whites removed
SIX Follow regular procedure to coat the medallions of the chops (dip in flour for full coating, and flick once to ensure coating is thin, then dip in egg on both sides and drain, then coat heavilly with the prepared dredge) and reserve for cooking
SEVEN Heat olive oil in a saute pan large enough to hold as many chops as you wish to cook at one go. The oil should be about 2 - 3 mm deep
EIGHT When oil is hot and oven settled, get all the chops into the oil quickly and cook one side until just past golden brown
NINE Turn the chops over quickly in the pan and cook the other side to the same even done-ness
TEN Put the entire pan with the chops into the oven for about 8 - 10 minutes
ELEVEN While roasting the Lambsickles, prepared about 150 ml of Balsamic vinegar as a semi-thick reduction and pour into a wide ramekin
TWELVE Offer the Lambsickles to people you really like a lot and invite them to dip them into the reduction before eating

Thanks, as always, to Ruby for coming to support our students and enjoy their personal and professional growth. Ruby is our official "Lamb Taster". Here she is in her official "Lamb Tasting Suit".

Friday, 8 May 2015

Hack-A-Thon ... Big Hack Attack!

Steve Yee, one of the two sterling vice-principals of Monarch Park Collegiate (the other being Laura Houghton) offered our school to host an app-building event today ... he called it a "Hack-A-Thon".

From our family of schools in the TDSB and others nearby he invited almost 150 students and teachers and administrators who are interested in making our Board and schools operate more effeciently. He thought that, if he brought all that brainpower together, good things might just erupt!

Well, they did.

Creativity requires support, of course, and the Monarch Park Culinary Arts program was asked to feed and water all these brilliant minds.

We had a date, we had a budget, we had customers. Time to GO !!


We have prepared for this event for three days now. Every plate, platter and bowl has been used and used again, and we have some REALLY happy customers!

Three days ago the shopping started.

Two days ago we made 300 tacos and reserved them.

One day ago we made two kinds of chili, pico de gallo, hummus (4 kinds), 500 cookies and prepared dressings for Caesar and Napa salads. We cut up huge amounts of vegetables for dipping, and cleaned the silver. We made (with the kind support of Chef Plummer)
a large amount of creme anglaise to be used as a dip for cookies at lunch. Our refrigerators and freezers were stuffed beyond capacity!

Today the work started at just before 7 AM, with fresh baking of scones and making coffee and other drinks for our clients 8 AM start.

As soon as breakfast went out, we prepared mid-morning snacks and started on the lunch service (see photo of almost-military organization for the day).
There is just no space for any slack time at all!

We were supposed to shoot lunch at noon and were ready for that. At about 11h15 Mr Yee asked if we could have lunch out and ready for his troops at 11h30! Chef negotiated 11h45, and it was double-down immediately on everything. The volume rose in the kitchen, the bustle increased and orders were rapped out to ensure that everything was in place.

At exactly 11h45 the clients walked in to a room fully ready for them and a delicious lunch banquet laid out for them to enjoy!

We offered home made chilis (carnivore and vegetarian), home-baked tacos, Caesar and napa salads, pico de gallo salsa, vegetables galore, hummuses in four styles, cookies straight from our ovens and creme anglaise dip, along with continually rotating coffee, tea and tisane or cold drinks (iced tea and a strange pinkish liquid known in our kitchen as 'red stuff'). All this was very professionally served by the entire brigade in full uniform.

The clean up took less than 2 hours and the kitchen is spotless. I cannot thank my hard-working brigade enough!

And somewhere in all this all the cooks participated in a springtime ritual with Chef: The first time anyone sees the ice-cream truck at school, the students immediately text Chef, and he comes out and buys everyone (including himself) a treat, just because. Because it is spring, because we have worked VERY hard, because it is a joyful thing to do. The students who see the truck text to everyone else in the class, and just about everyone showed up for the treat and time to just relax in the lovely sunshine for 15 minutes. Then it was back to work, refreshed.

The kitchen is spotless, the work is done and I am very proud of my students (again). Well done, all!

Have a lovely week-end ... you deserve it.


Short post-script that Chef found out about: Many of his students are very enterprising! Chef asked three cooks to go to the library (where the event was taking place) and bring back the leftovers of the scones and tea and coffee service. This was at about 1:45 in the afternoon.

Well, away the kids went and it seemed to take quite a while to get back to the kitchen with one trolley and some leftovers. Chef wondered what on earth had happened?

Capitalist Enterprise! The students had made sure they were in full uniform and took the trolley around the school SELLING the leftovers to unsuspecting occassional teachers (substitute teachers) (we had quite a few in today), telling them that this is part of how Monarch Park Collegiate operates, and the scones are 50 cents and the drinks are the same. "Thank you for supporting Monarch Park Culinary Arts". "No, we don't give change."

They came back with a hard-earned $12.00, and reported some impresseed and delighted substitute teachers who want to come back to Monarch Park far more than they'd ever thought.

The students got to keep the money. You earn it ... you make it ... it is yours. Good on ya!