Sunday, 18 December 2016

Serve with Humility and Tranquility

I am SO proud of my students!

Last Wednesday night's catering for a condo association in Forest Hill ...

We were ready to go with ginger and pear shooters with sherry and creme fraiche, horiatiki and Sicilian bruschetta on house croustades, home-made ciabatta or olive cheeks with Kozlik's mustards and 24-hour slow-roasted HiLow Farms brisket
with caramelized sugar onions, simple salad
with house croutons, gravelax
with piped cream cheese on house crackers, a selection of Canadian cheeses and mini
cheesecakes with 5 offered coulis styles (orange, raspberry, blackberry, pear and blueberry).

Conclusion = happy happy people!


The very next afternoon (after spending all morning cleaning equipment from the night before), the whole brigade went down to The Good Shepherd Mission on Queen Street East. There we served lunch to about 350 street people and others in perilous, precarious circumstances. I took no photos of this event, but will share the following:

For the young student chefs it is an absolute eye - opener ... we have done this now for three months, and they recognize some of the people they're serving. It can be jarring. Being part of this service, even for a while, can be a hard personal challenge.

Before offering ourselves to their community yesterday we gathered together, and I told them "I don't care what or who or how you have any faith, if at all. I have great faith in your ability as decent human beings to choose to be kind. I have that on the door of my chefs office and you see it every morning upon arrival ... "Be kind, Do kind, Spread kind".

"In the end it is our choices which will define us, not our money, for kindness is a wealth that no one can purchase but can have in great abundance just for the decency of choosing.

"So offer your service today in exactly the same spirit as last night ... we are all one group of people in this city, each of us needy in some ways. Sometimes great wealth hides desperate need, and poverty just lays it bare and more easily seen. So today we are kind, we do something kind, we spread our kindness. And that is good."

My students served with care, interest, willingness, a friendly smile and compassion ... they are growing into being fine young adult Canadians with decent values and willing hearts.

I am impressed.

Thanks, everyone ... from the bottom of this old chef's heart.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Hot Date with Turkey(s) on Saturday Night!!

Well, Saturday Night has come and gone ... and created wonderful memories along the way.

Again this year we catered the Christmas party for H.O.T.T. (a community service agency here in Toronto). This is our fourth year doing this event for HOTT ... and we're always delighted to be welcomed back!

This year the real trick was the cooking in our kitchens at Monarch Park starting before 08h00 ... Chef and Mrs Chef turned up and got the ovens going. My students had prepared the turkeys on Friday and everything was ready to go ... Jenn and Cecelia got involved int he carving as soon as possible so things would go smoothly.

One of our wonderful teaching aides, Jenn Martone, and her grade 8 daughter Meghan both came and donated an entire day of hard work ... preparing,
carving, storing for transport ... there is so much to do.

Cecelia Spread, another teaching aide who works with Jenn, came and volunteered a whole day of work.

Somehow in all this Meghan found time to make, from scratch,
a simply delicious chili which was served to our little team and Ahmad Motlagh, the head custodian on duty on Saturday at Monarch.

Ladies, you all just rock!

Jenn, Meghan and Cecelia took all the food over to the Ralph Thornton Community Centre in our big hot-box that fits into the back of her van, and other students met us there for the final preparation and service.

We got everything ready for the feast, then enjoyed our own 'staff dinner' mas a stand-up in the kitchen ... a delicious lasagne that we'd made the previous week and frozen for just this purpose.

Final instructions were delivered.

Then ... SHOWTIME! A service for about 85 people ...
all happy to be welcomed, everyone delighted to be served and made welcome by my student chefs. It all went off without a hitch.

After the main course, pumpkin pie was served and a high-speed clean-up crew went to work in the kitchen, led by Cecelia. You rock for all those dishes with your team, Cecelia!!

My former student, Erin, helped out a lot and came over to thank her old teacher. she is now a special education teacher and is heading to work in East Africa in the new year.
Bon Voyage, Erin!

Then, we stuffed everything into the van at the end of the night, and gathered on the chilly sidewalk for our own good-byes. Christmas has come to us all in its own way ... and we are each the richer for being able to contribute.

Thanks to all the volunteers this year ...

Mrs Chef (Gail)

You are truly wonderful people and it is my good fortune to be able to work with you.

We have one turkey left over ...

Thursday, 1 December 2016

November -- What A Hard-Working Month!

Well, here we are ... the end of November ... and so much has gone on!

First, and always, we try to enjoy ourselves. Work hard AND play hard. And taste everything ... sometimes not in moderation.

We have cooked for a variety of organizations ... H.O.T.T., WoodGreen, private clients ... and traditional 'seasonal' food has begun to dominate. Special equipment has been used ... like this amazing 14-legged potato-peeler!
There's nothing else like this ... anywhere.

The first Meyer Lemons of the season have come out ... they will get sweeter as the season progresses, but as our schedule pushes us around a bit, we have to take opportunity when it comes. One of my favourite desserts of all time is Meyer Lemon Semifreddo ... and we made a bunch of them. Toast the nuts, make the mousse, fill the forms, then ... Quinn made a load of coulis today, and we all got to taste. Well done!

We have a couple of VERY fancy events coming up and we're making gravelax. Here are the simple steps ... take a nice big whole fillet of salmon
and treat it with sugar and a little salt and lemon juice and fresh dill.
Lay one piece on top of the other and gently wrap, not tightly. Stick it in the fridge for about 2 weeks, turning every 48 hours.
Slice paper-thin and enjoy as you wish!

Hard work and sometimes-frayed nerves have all been part of this November ... but the results have been worth it. Every week I crank up the pressure in the kitchen ... I demand more and more, better and better ... and every student is rising to her or his very best.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Remembrance Day 2016

Each year all over Canada, at 11 AM on the 11th of November (the eleventh month) we pause in our quotedian activities to say a heartfelt thanks to our Veterans of wars and UN conflict Peace-keeping efforts and our Armed Services members, past and present. Canada is truly blessed to have been able to help others for so many years whilst we have had tranquility at home.

The day began with peach hues
in the sky ... now (just after noon) it is bright, cool (about 6 degrees) and sunny.

To help my class give thanks again this year we made our traditional 'trench dinner' pot pies, augmented with a simple salad. Staff were invited to come and share, for a modest fee. Our table is VERY simple ... our wealth is in our selves and each other as community.

We sat together, students and staff, as family and shared stories of our family fortune.
I brought in the three mementos you can see on the table ... my grandfather's commissioning sword from WW I (B.C. 102 Rgmt.), a knife he made from old German shells he picked up at Vimy, and a "Queen Mary's Box".

Canada -- what a wonderful, fortunate country.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Comfort Food for Autumn

OK everyone, I say, listen up and listen good. Today is the US election and we are all going to need something to fortify ourselves. It is time for stick-to-your-ribs dee-licious to step up into the spotlight.

So ... Green Onion Cakes (recipe and technique posted previously) and completely home-made beef pot pie are our features today ... just what the doctor ordered.

Here with their production of Green Onion Cakes (Edmonton's National Dish thanks to Chef Siu To) are our four chefs (Aubrey, Leah, Humza and Keely).

And here is the experiment for today ... their very first time trying this out ... beef pot pie.

Congratulations everyone!

Tomorrow ... on to our George Brown Chef School visit and meeting with Chef John Higgins.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

International Chefs Day -- 20 October -- A Guest, and Giving

20 October is celebrated (not quite enough, I think) all over the world as International Chefs Day. Today is a time to celebrate who chefs are, what we do and the delight we share in the trust we are given.

Trust is a big deal in the food world ... no one ever goes into a restaurant and asks about the chef's safety record ... we just don't. We may want to see their Michelin Stars, but everything else is taken on absolute trust ... which is why it is absolutely verbotten to ever fool around with food offered to someone. Chefs are utterly trusted, and that trust must never, ever be broken.

Today we celebrated International Chefs Day in two ways ... one serious, one just with a sense of fun.

Chef Todd Lamswood (a CCFCC Oakville member)
volunteered to join our class this morning and teach about basic cake decoration, and get the student chefs involved. What a smash hit this was! Chef Todd opined on how to correctly make soft- and hard-peak whipped cream,
and how to use a piping bag correctly ... then got everyone involved in playing, trying out and producing.
We now have some of the most finely-decorated cans of corn and boxes of rice in this entire city, for sure!

In the afternoon we all hustled down to The Good Shepherd Mission (on Queen East at Sackville) and spent the afternoon preparing and serving a meal for about 400 guests after a welcoming tour of the Mission from Rebecca, the volunteer co-ordinator.
It is, truly, more blessed to give than to receive, and I am terribly proud of my students for their generosity, their beautiful manners, their incredible kindness and their outright stamina.

Well done, everyone!

Friday, 30 September 2016

First Service to Staff ... 30 Sept 2016

After a time of introduction and practice, there is nothing quite as exhilarating, bracing and terrifying as actually showing one's craft to others who may be critical. That's what life in the restaurant business is like ... every single day, every dish, every plate, is a test. Chefs have to keep earning 100% on every test ... those are the rules of engagement ... and then the public willingly pays.

Today was the students' first test. Our school staff was offered either a delicious risotto al zefferano or home-made pasta con olio e aglio. Choose ... and a goodly plate of it is yours for $7.00.

Two teams were established ... the pastas and the risottos. One student, Quinn, was set aside to be the go-fer, dish-pit kid and the cook for the student lunch.

All the others (two teams of 7) had to start from absolute scratch and produce. This was the first day they would actually feel me breathing down their necks ... PRESSURE!! ... and they rose to the challenge beautifully.
Pasta was hand-made from scratch.
Bitter butter was prepared for the risotto and sweet onion sauteed in butter to which the rice would be added for toasting.
Every group had a tailgate meeting with Chef to ensure they knew what to do.

Then ... do all the mis-en-place, then get cooking!

Plates were heated in the dishwasher and Quinn laid them out and polished each one so service could be as professional as possible.


One student, Colin, was designated Sous-Chef for the day. He did not cook BUT had to make sure that everything actually happened and that rigid timelines were adhered to. He had to check every plate on the pass before it was sent on,
and his work was precise, exacting, careful, fast and ... well, I hope someone hires him. He did a superb job. Congratulations, Colin, on a job well done.

Well done, chefs!