butter mountain (or my life as a culinary student)

Sung to the tune of Sugar Mountain by Neil Young

oh to live on, butter mountain
eating clarified fat by the spoon

you can gain twenty, on butter mountain
if you don't control your tasting size real soon

your tasting size real soon

now you're underneath the heat(lamp)
your pants feel tight on the seat

and the bakers that you've met
say you ain't seen nothing yet

oh to live on, butter mountain
eating clarified fat by the spoon

you can gain twenty, on butter mountain
but it tastes so good, you're sad to leave so soon

you're sad to leave so soon



day two - stocks

Yesterday we made a fish stock and a chicken stock. I can't believe how savory and delicious the fish stock was. It smelled like lobster bisque, something I had never tried until about seven years ago, but thanks to a family friend with an amazing recipe, I'm now a bisque lover. Too bad we won't be making bisque at school.

Making the fish stock basically involved chopping up a ton of fish bones (haddock) that we got from Captain Marden's, and combining it with mirepoix of onion, leek and celery that had been sweated, as well as water and a sachet of herbs and peppercorns and simmering it for about 45 minutes. We then strained it and chilled it in an ice bath. For our tasting, we reheated a small amount, first without salt, then with a little salt added. It's amazing how much more flavorful it was with the salt. I learned that you should never salt a stock until you're ready to use it because it can reduce in volume after being heated, leaving it a lot saltier than you might want. That said you should always add at least a teaspoon of salt to a stock or broth before you refrigerate it. This helps act as a natural preservative, allowing you to use the stock for up to seven days versus five if salt had not been added.

I learned a lot about the importance of properly chilling stocks to prevent the growth of bacteria. At home we leave our chicken soup sitting out for hours (sometimes overnight!). I'll try to be better about this in the future because it's pretty freaky when you realize how easy it is for something to start to grow and get funky. Everything in the refrigerators at school is very clearly marked with a date.

Here are a few photos from yesterday.

Preparing sachets for the stock
Mirepoix for the fish stock (left) and chicken stock (right) plus a few fun cuts of carrot and lemon
 Chicken stock simmerin' away

 Straining the fish stock

Oops, I forgot to take a photo of the final product, but it was a lovely, clear, light color. Sometimes things are strained multiple times or through cheese cloth to clarify the stock of impurities.

Today we are making beef stock and veal stock, then four separate soups from the stocks. I believe the soups will be a consomme, a cream of broccoli soup, a miso soup and a cold cucumber soup. I'm really nervous beacuse I've been assigned the job of sous chef for my group of five (the class has 11 students total - one group of six and one of five). I'm sure it will be fine, it will just involve a lot of delegation and division of jobs etc. You chop 8oz of carrots, you fill this pot etc. And then keeping track of how long everything has to be cooked. I'll give a full report as soon as possible!


back to school

Yesterday was my first day of culinary school. After ten years of talking (or at least thinking) about doing this, I really can't believe the time has come and I'm now enrolled as a student.  The first day was really an orientation where we walked through the syllabus for the term and toured the kitchen. I got a little teary-eyed with excitement reading through some of the outings we'll be taking to places such as a winery, an oyster farm and a commercial butchery. Also, I got to see the names of some of the chefs who will be guest teachers. We will be spending three days with the one and only Jacques Pepin, one of the program's founders!

I'll give more specifics once the practical part of the program starts, but I thought I'd share a photo of the main text we'll be using. I just love the cover! It is monstrous but this is one school book I think I'll actually enjoy reading.

One quick story, we had our first cooking snafu yesterday.  Our meat vendor, Kinnealey Meat (the gold standard in the Boston area) was supposed to bring us fresh chopped veal and beef bones for us to roast to make our stocks today. Unfortunately, when we we received the delivery we discovered huge, uncut frozen meat parts. Our lead chef/teacher was not happy and called Kinnealey Meats in front of the class to ream them out! It was rather awkward to witness ("You promised me fresh meat!! Fix this or this will be the last time we do business with you!"), but I guess it was a good lesson in the kind of oh shit moment one might face working in a restaurant kitchen.