Sunday, 17 January 2016

A Lovely Endorsement of Our Work, Focus and Pressure!

Chef Christine Bib, owner of Christine Bib Catering & Events frequently is able to offer our Culinary Arts graduates a co-op position. I asked her how well she finds our students prepared for the pressures of work. Here is her response:

Thank you Chef Bib!

Chef Bib's website is here.

Final Exam = Staff Banquet

The time has come to show our stuff, so to speak.

Can the brigade actually produce when their reputation is on the line, to people who are their teachers, under a lot of pressure, with severe time limits and no chances of a second try?

YES !! Real triumph !! The brigade did an outstanding job on Friday.

Here was the concept:

And ... here is the execution!

We prepared for three days ... one student for the week had the job of Exec. Sous-Chef, and worked with me to plan the event, work on menu details, decide on brigade teams, come up with shopping lists, change what needed to be changed from day to day, and then, on the final day, run the 'pass', the point at which every plate has to be shown for a final check for every element, everything positioned correctly. This week was Willem's turn, and he did a great job. Thanks Willem!

Here ... just let a few pictures tell the story:
The salmon was run through the dishwasher (20 cycles for each large filet) by Tamara and Austin, the cheesecakes were made by Kenisha and Kat and Evan and Bryan in the new mini-muffin baking pans generously donated by Chef Susan Plummer, sheet after sheet of nori was used for practice by Adam and Xaviar to practice making maki, coulis was made, the smoked maple gastrique nearly defeated Jackson but he persevered and got it down pat with practice (and it was just delicious!). Tiramisu was made into sundaes and the scallops seemed to require an awful lot of student taste-testing (could it be the scallops, or the bacon?).

Finally ... Showtime!! Chef Ruby Trostin came in and brought a lovely donation of fresh flowers and worked with Salem to set beautiful
tables for the 24 or so staff who would be joining us. The final result of all their work ... each setting was lovely and ready to be a welcoming point for our guests.

Then, behind the scenes was a bit of frantic last-minute work ... catching up with the most recent bout of all those darn dishes!
Why didn't we think of cooking on Royal Chinet?

Ruby helped with plating and presentation design of the mini-cheesecake desserts ... here she is working with Austin designing the presentation.

At about 11h00 Chef opened "Chef Aller-Stead's Kinder, Gentler School of Hospitality and Table-Waiting".
The entire course was complete in 20 minutes. Pass on the left. Clear on the right. Keep your fingers low on glassware. Greet everyone with a smile. Never show your back to the room. Practice carrying more than one thing at a time out of the kitchen from the pass.
Everyone has a chance to try, and learn some basics of good-quality table service.

The bell rang ... our guests trickled down and Julia was our
Maitre d'hotel at the door, handing out menus with a smile and words of welcome, quietly directing people where to sit.

And away we went!

And, at the end, there was nothing left to do but clean up and put away.
What our guests din't eat the brigade did. There were absolutely NO leftovers. None. At. All.

Congratulations to all ... you pulled off a simply wonderful event for everyone, and proved, again, that the Monarch Park Culinary Arts & hospitality Program is worth its weight in gold. See the next blog-entry for a lovely letter from the community to support this!

And to wind up, here is our Exec. Sous-Chef for the week, Willem, just done in.
Willem, you did a great job.

Congratulations to all, and thanks, as ever and always, to our wonderful community supporters, Chef Ruby Trostin and Chef Susan Plummer. You two ladies just SO rock!

A special note of thanks this semester must go to Ms Jenn Martone, who has been working with us in the kitchen, and who has taken over 1000 photographs of the brigade and the techniques demonstrated and (hopefully) learnt. Jenn, thank you for all you've done!

Another special note of thanks needs to go out to my wonderful co-op student sous-chef, Tamara, who kept the shopping lists, supplied me with what I needed and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to keep the place running smoothly.
Tamara, you have been an absolute gem ... thank you, thank you, thank you!

Let Kat's (Kristine's) wonderful smile close this semester's blog. Thanks for everything Kat ... you've been quiet and capable and skilled and simply wonderful.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Sushi & Maki

Xaviar has been pestering Chef for two or three months now, about having time to learn how to make sushi and maki. It has become a bit of a personal obsession. He just won't quit !

So, now that the Christmas rush has died down, we've taken our first week back to fulfill Chef's promise that we would make time to teach and learn these two techniques.

Making the rice is easy. In Theory...

Measure 1 unit of rice and 1.5 units of water into a saucepan. Add a couple of pinches of salt. Heat quickly to a boil, then stir ONCE and turn the heat down. Slam on the tight lid and wait 17 minutes (no more, no less), and then remove from the heat and stir with a wooden spoon. Add in a little 'Sushi Su'
(rice vinegar with a teensy amount of sugar dissolved in) and stir to combine. Allow to cool. Shazam ... sticky rice at your service.

Making the rice In Practice is not so easy.

The biggest temptation is to open the lid and peek, or (worse) peek and stir! Chef has lost a good deal more hair trying to get everyone to stop peeking!!! Let the heat do its thing for you, he says, and don't bother the product!!!!!

Le Chef A Toujours Raison.
The Chef is always right.

Leave the rice alone.

Then ...

Making sushi is dead-simple. Take enough rice to make a little pillow into your hands after you've got them wet with cold water and given a big hollow clap to get micro-droplets everywhere on your hands.
Form a nice bite-sized pillow and put it down and flatten slightly. Use the sharpest knife you own with a long blade to cut the chosen fish appropriately into a morsel which will cover the pillow-top and be about 1/2 a centimetre thick. Before placing the fish on the rice, smear on a little wasabi. The only real option at this point is to wrap, or not, with a little nori (dried seaweed, sold in sheets).

Making maki involves preparing vegetables and fish beforehand into long thin strips. Chef has a special julienne peeler
that everyone had a chance to try out. We used imitation crab (because of cost concerns).

Chef always encourages students to try every thing in the kitchen, and raw fish was no different. He finally hit the wall though ... about half of the students just said NO. They did relent later, but the starting point was not auspicious.

Chef demonstrated how to roll maki using a roller wrapped in plastic wrap (so nothing sticks). Turn, curl, squeeze and tug back towards yourself.
Do this several times as you roll the nori with the rice on it which has thin strips of veg or seafood laid onto it. The idea is to have a nice tight roll that has a pleasant end-profile.

Students took over and ... here are the results ... Xaviar first.

Congratulations, everyone!

Thanks to Jenn Martone for these wonderful shots!

HOTT Opportunities in Toronto

Every year a wonderful community organization called HOTT (Housing Opportunities in Toronto Today) invites my students to prepare and serve dinner to their 80 or so clients. We are always delighted to be part of the HOTT Christmas festivities.

This year our event was held at the Ralph Thornton Centre on Queen at Degrassi. All the food was prepared at Monarch Park during the day or before, and the service was on Saturday night. Several of our MPC Chef brigade were able to come and assist with the serving effort, for which HOTT has thanked them immensely.

We prepared a traditional Christmas dinner, with salads, cider-roasted and glazed turkey (four HUGE birds!), a couple of halal chickens for those who need it, cranberry sauce made with oranges and sherry, about 80 pounds of mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, gravy and desserts.

We prepared the chickens and turkeys very simply,
with a veil cast over them soaked in cider and butter. The veil ensures an evenly-cooked skin and helps maintain the birds' moisture throughout the time in the oven. We put a loose tent over the birds
and roast them in pans on low racks inside the pans so the turkeys are not literally being stewed in their own juices.

The veg were cut up a day or two ahead and stored ready to go ... we roasted in shallow hotel pans and took them, and all the rest of the food, down to the Centre in hot boxes loaned to us by Chef Ronald Brabander, the grandfather of one of our students. Thank you Chef Brabander!

Here ... see these lovely birds?
Juicy, tender as all get out and ready to be served.

Turkeys this size come with gizzards and offal in the chest cavity, so Willem took time to prepare the organ meats and do some very bony butchery in order to sear the meat to make delicious gravy.
Who can argue with a young chef with such a sense of humour? Kinesha took part in the
butchery and Austin looked after the veg prep.

Then it was time to stuff everything (joke!) into two vehicles ... Ms Jenn Martone had come along to help (and take all these wonderful pictures ... thanks Jenn!) and she drove the flat things down to the centre in her van. Chef took the items which were not flat. We unloaded and got ready to serve. We got into our 'civies'
and jumped into the TTC for a ride.

After the tables were set up, Julia was our official ambassador
welcoming everyone into the hall and event. Bryan and Chef's wife Gail (a simply wonderful cook in her own right)
did most of the serving and hand-carving, and we managed, again, to 'make Christmas' for many good people, not the least ourselves.

Thank to HOTT and their wonderful leaders, Lisa Pope and Bernadette LaPorte ... it is always a delight working for and with you!

Merry Christmas everyone!

Our MPC Staff Christmas Get-Together and Nosh

Our staff at Monarch Park Collegiate work awfully hard, and we rarely have time to just all stop at the same time, breathe and enjoy each others' company. Chef will tell you he has not taken a lunch break for years, really ... there is always so much to do. Too much.

BUT ...

Just before the Christmas break in 2015 our Principal, Ms Cynthia Abernethy, suggested that the staff have a day where we try to just stop all our busy-ness for 30 minutes and enjoy some food and chat-time. Our Culinary Arts students catered the event.

Photos for this hush-hush occasion are VERY hard to come by, but we have a few.
Sous-Chef Tamara made all the arrangements and front-of-house decisions. Thank you Tamara! (this secret shot shows Chef Tamara hiding under a rather startling Santa hat, straight from Canadian Tire.)

Our menu for the staff consisted of Chicken Tikka on mini-Chappatis with home-made Tamarind sauce, some small portions of artisinal Ontario Lamb and pork sausage on mini-cheddar cheese crackers
(a recipe straight from Chef John Higgins at George Brown Chef School, and one he used to make as a teen-ager as personal Chef to HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother!), with a basil and mint salsa tying the two elements together. We offered "Edmonton's National Dish", a.k.a. Green Onion Cakes,
with a sprightly little dip that made everyone's toes curl, and dipping vegetables
with three kinds of hummus (smoked sugar onion, charred hot peppers and a plain one).

The response was just wonderful ... the staff were thrilled ... and although we were sure we'd cooked a vast amount, there were NO leftovers.

Remember, at Christmas, do what the nice man's hat says.

Thanks, Ms Abernethy, for the chance to cook for our other teachers and school staff!