you’re international, so international

After a quick little jaunt over to Asheville to visit my cuzzzzins and reunite with Mad Dog, I came back and BAM! I was a sophomore [for normal students they do 2 terms of labs and 1 term of academics their first year, then 1 set of labs and 2 academics their second year. cuz i can already read and write rull good, they don’t make me take no real classes or nothin’].

So! Being a sophomore means you get new uniforms which is AMAZING because you no longer have to do laundry halfway through the week and you rock the light blue collar on your coat which allows you to look at the little freshman with nothing but the utmost distain. But it also means they force me to take another pair of the most god awful work shoes ever. Those bad boys are going right to goodwill. danskos4life.

First class: International Cuisine

This was a huge change of pace right off the bat–it’s a service-centered class, which means we produce the food for the freshman dining room (remember when I was graded on opening a bottle of wine? that class). We got our first taste of dealing with ticket times, working a line, plating, all that good stuff. It wasn’t 100% authentic–the food was all prepared in advance, kept hot in a steam table, then just plated to order. But it was the perfect way to ease into things.

Each day of class we were “in” a different region of the world: Japan, Thailand, Spain, Greece and Turkey, Americas, Africa. We started off with lecture, covering a loooong list of terms and discussing the culinary history of the region and how imperialism, wars, and other major world events impacted the food people ate around the world (hint: spain made their mark allllll over the place).

The food was great–and diverse for sure. A new term means new classmates, so there were a few hiccups along the way (the paella–my love!–was a disaster) but by and large everything was tasty.

japan: miso soup (duh)

phillipines: lumpia and mandu (think wontons and spring rolls)

phillipines again: pansit (stir-fried noodles with shrimp and sausage)

in filipino culture, noodles are usually served on birthdays to symbolize long life. therefore, it’s super extra bad luck to cut or in any way shorten the noodles. that’s news you can use.

Americas: Bass with Mole Pepin (pumpkin seed mole)

awwww yea the crowning glory: ethiopian sample platter

you got your beef tibs, chicken doro wat, greens and veggies…heaven. we made our own injera (that brown spongey pancake thing on the bottom) and ohhh man it was awesome.  injera is usually made with teff flour (a grain, and gluten free!) and is fermented like sourdough, but we took a wee shortcut and used club soda and lemon juice to mimic the flavor and texture. i’m an injera fanatic and i thought this stuff was down right tasty.

pretty sweet jams, huh?

from here, we went to Advanced Dining Room [cue law and order DUN DUN]. It was all fancy-like, with french brigade style service. I won’t bore you with the details because it was absolutely terrible (and I already had experience with this style of service). It did make me infinitely more appreciative of just how fantastic all my instructors had been…this far. I’m a 27-year-old woman with a college degree and nearly 10 years of restaurant experience and I was treated like a 4 year old.  And she LIKED me. The hardest part was watching other students get berated for things there was no way in heaven they would ever know the answer to.  In a strange twist of fate, this brought out my compassionate side for these struggling individuals and it became a greater learning opportunity for me to quietly teach them things hiding in the dish room that our professor would rather screech and insult them over.

[end rant]

and then we walked through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and landed in advanced patisserie!

mushy meat

Aaaaand here we are. Another month has passed.  But it’s the holiday season, so I have an excuse, right? RIGHT? Let’s jump right in, I know internet bandwidth is at a premium today.

When we last spoke, I had just started “Essentials of Dining Room.” I got to wear makeup and awesome pants that came up to about my 4th rib. We learned how to carry trays, greet tables, serve from the right, and stand against the wall talking about your customers without them realizing (kidding! that was extra credit). 20% of my final grade was based on my ability to open a bottle of wine.

It’s ok. i’ll wait while you go clean up that beverage you just spit all over the screen from laughing so hard.

Everyone back? So, yes. On the last day we had “server olympics” and it was determined that i could open a bottle faster than anyone else. Shocking.  Someone asked me, “so exactly how long have you been working in restaurants?”  (the impact that has on the speed with which I can access vino, I think is negligible.) I had to think about it–the answer is almost TEN YEARS. holy HELL. long story short: i got an A.

Putting those chef whites back on after 2 weeks was a great feeling (nothing makes a 5am wake-up easier than elastic-band pants).  After nearly a DECADE in the front of the restaurant, that first face-melting blast from an open oven was a welcome reminder of how much i love being in the kitchen.

Traditional European Cuisine had me a little worried we’d only be eating saurkraut and mushy vegetables.  There was a fair amount of pickled and boiled items, but  there was also osso bucco, samosas, short ribs, and rabbit. Our chef took the really interesting approach of making every day a study in how old world and new world foods and techniques have co-mingled over the last several centuries. Can you imagine Italian food without tomatoes? Well good thing someone discovered Mexico.  Irish Stew without potatoes? God bless America.

First few days: Thomas Jefferson’s Chicken Catticatore  (wa-hoo-wa!), yankee pot roast with colcannon and carrot/parsnip puree (or, how to save over-boiled vegetables), guinness beef stew, lamb shanks, and…..cookies?

So the traditional europeans love their low-and-slow techniques. that leaves eager culinary students with lots of idle time.  Chef encouraged us to use whatever we could find and make whatever we desired. If it worked, great, if it didn’t well, let’s figure out why.  One of the most fun things we did (and best ways to use up idle time) was make pasta!

Here are a few of my favorite things my group made: pork pozole , osso bucco with risotto (spacing look funny on that writing? i’ll give you 2 guesses who fixed the spelling error. and your second guess doesn’t count), and spinach with golden raisins and pine nuts.

Osso bucco is traditionally topped with a gremolata (lemon zest, parsley, garlic)–that top center picture is a tasting we did of the veal with and without the gremolata.  The way the citrus and herby notes changed the flavor of the meat in your mouth was amazing. I love sh*t like that.

After a week straight of stewed beef, braised chicken, and creamy carbs, we had to step it up.  A group member who shall remain nameless muttered over our reducing sauce, “if i never see mushy meat again it will be too soon.”

Enter (counter-clockwise from top-left): autumnally-themed individual stews, butternut squash pasta for dayyyyys, grilled pizza and stuffed mushrooms, and my idle-hands creations–guacamole with fresh tortilla chips (why avocados were in the european cuisine fridge I still don’t know), roasted poblano fettucini, and apple crisp with gingersnap crust (we asked for 6 apples, they sent 6 pounds).

For my practical, I had to make a braciole (pronounced bra-shole…naturally), a butterflied flank steak stuffed with spinach, garlic, and parmesean, rolled up, and braised. I served it with citrus-sauteed squash and a sauce from the reduced braising liquid. There is no picture because nothing could adequately capture perfection (or I forgot)–that’s right, i got a 100! Maybe the fact that it was my birthday helped me grab those last few points. I like to think it was the excellently-seared meat.

And just like that, we were done! First quarter: complete.  Looking back, it felt like it absolutely flew by, but thinking about everything I’ve learned makes my head spin.

We had a great looong break for Thanksgiving–quick and dirty recap coming–and we’ll be back in the kitchen bright and early tomorrow. Here’s whats on the docket for the next few months:

  • Nutrition and Sensory Analysis (SO necessary right after the land of meat and potatoes)
  • Principles of Beverage Service (where I believe I will be judged on my ability to drink a martini. just give me the A right now.)
  • Skills of Meatcutting
  • Purchasing and Product Identification
  • Fundamentals of Food Service Production
  • Introduction to Menu Planning and Cost Controls

Ready

Set

GO!

ch-ch-ch-changes

I’ve been thinking about this post for quite some time now (hilarious, right, because I post so frequently as it is) because this makes it REAL.

After a number of major life changes in the past six months, I’m taking on one more: in less than a month, I’m moving to North Carolina to attend Johnson and Wales University and pursue a degree in Culinary Arts. Yep–I’m going to culinary school! 

Did I just wake up yesterday, decide to move 300 miles from everyone and everything I know to throw down tons of money to learn to chop carrots faster? Not quite.  This is the result of years of dreaming, lots of research and financial planning, and countless conversations with people who have been through it.

It’s exciting and terrifying and a completely different feeling than when I went away to college. Instead of running hair-on-fire from high school, I’m leaving a city that I love and amazing friends that have become family. I’m worrying about health insurance and utility bills instead of dorm rooms and dining halls.  Turns out, I’m a grown-up.

And then I think about standing on my feet in a hot kitchen for 7+ hours a day learning about food–butchering meat, simmering stocks, designing menus–and I get SO excited.

So what do I want to do when I’m done?  How long will I be there? What’s it going to be like? Can you come visit? Will I keep blogging? Hold your horses–we’ll get to all of it.

What do I want to do? 

I want to make food better.  I want to do recipe development-create new and delicious healthy dishes for cookbooks, magazines, or tv shows. I want to make school food better–show kids (and parents) that cheeseburgers 4 times a week when they’re 7 is setting them up for a lifetime of food struggles. Oh, and that vegetables are delicious when they’re not boiled into mush.

How long?

One year–I’m doing an accelerated program called Garnish Your Degree (haha) designed for students who already have a bachelors. You can read more here.

What’s it going to be like?

Classes are 4 days a week, 7-8 hours a day. Two labs (like Foundations or French Cookery) and one more traditional class (like Food Costs or Nutrition) per quarter.  Three quarters of classes + 1 quarter of full-time internship and I’m done!

Do I accept visitors?

Yes! I have a spare bedroom aching to be used.

Will I keep blogging?

YES! I’m hoping to use DTMS as a space to document all my schooling adventures. I don’t know a soul in NC, so I fully anticipate I’ll become a blog/social media addict.

Wait–what about Manfriend?

There’s no way I’d be here without his encouragement and support. He was the one that made it possible to have my dream become reality.

He’s also not so secretly looking forward to the amped up dinners he’ll be feasting on after this is all over.

So that’s the scoop! Manfriend, Mad Dog, and I are making the big move together, so I highly recommend following me on twitter  (@kleighmc) if you’d like to bear witness all the cross-country antics.