Culinary School Week 4: We cooked a dish, and I’m sure glad it wasn’t graded

On Friday we were let loose in the kitchen to “cook something”. We drew random lots to see what group we were in, and amazingly, I got paired up with 2 of the 3 other guys in the class. Since both of them actually have cooked something (one of them works at one of the top restaurants near San Michele winery) I thought we’d ace this.

We had various left over proteins from the culinary school’s restaurant, Chef City Grill.  The assortment was some slider patties of beef, some marinated Salmon, some chicken, and I’m not sure what else. The three of us gravitated toward the sliders, as that is a pretty decent blank canvas. The restaurant serves sliders with various toppings, and we thought we’d essentially add a topping.

Mise En Place for our slider plate

We threw some ideas out and quickly came up with our dish: 2 sliders, garlic aioli, hand cut “country” French Fries, and a wedge salad with vinaigrette of some sort and a few other things. This would nicely utilize the skills we’d been studying the past week or two: making emulsions (aioli and vinaigrette), sautéing and knife cuts (fries), and using new equipment we hadn’t had to use.

We all got our assignments and away we went. I worked on the vinaigrette (we had done emulsions earlier in the week, but I had made Hollandaise not salad dressing) while Raven cut the fries and got a sauté pan ready, and Patrick got out the Robot Coupe (a commercial food processor, pronounced “robo-coop”) to make the garlic aioli.

WP_20141024_002[1]Someone next to me on another team asked if we needed half an onion, which would have been composted if I said no. Hmm, caramelized onions on the sliders. SOLD!

I quickly sliced the onion and got it sautéing. I could hear Patrick struggling with the aioli, apparently things weren’t going well. It wasn’t coming together.

I started the vinaigrette, using red wine vinegar and some EVOO that we have by the gallon. I spent quite a bit of time on this, as I knew if there was any little droplets of oil Chef Eric would notice. Little did I know this was the least of my worries.

I knew the ratio of oil to vinegar was 3:1 and I wanted to add some mustard as it’s a stabilizer for the emulsion, but wasn’t sure about the amount, so I just threw in a teaspoon or so.  When it was done and I tasted it, hoo boy could you taste the mustard. I knew I’d have to call this “Dijon Vinaigrette”.

We were given an hour to get all this done, so I didn’t fire up the commercial grill we have until about 20 minutes before we had to be done. At about 15 minutes I threw the patties on, while Patrick struggled with the aioli, and Raven worked on the fries.

I went about getting the salad together.  I was cooking 4 burgers, so I got out two plates, took the 1/4 head of lettuce I found and split it, and started plating 2 plates.

I looked at the grill and the burger was curled up pretty good.  I flipped them over and they were pretty much burned. CRAP! I could maybe have done some new ones, but the leftovers were either back in the walk in or in the compost heap. I’d have to go with these.

I was also having issues toasting the buns. The grill was so hot they would toast in a matter of seconds. I threw several away. Fortunately, there was almost a full sheet pan full of them, and they were probably going to be dumped anyway.

At one point I dropped one on the floor, and invoking the time honored “5 second rule”, picked it up and put it back on the grill.  Chef Stockman, the head of the department, came up to me and asked “how much would you pay in a restaurant for a bun they’d dropped on the floor”….BUSTED. I threw it away and got another one. In thinking about it later, I realized there is a mental difference in the way you treat food you pay for out of your own pocket vs when someone else is paying the bill. And of course, all the joking comebacks came to mind much later. Probably best I didn’t say any of them, as I don’t know her that well and am not sure how much of a sense of humor she has.

We plated everything.  The caramelized onions came out well, although I realized later I didn’t season them.  I had planned on spreading the aioli in the buns, but it never came together (it “broke”, as we say) so Patrick just put some in a ramekin. I dressed the salad, and quartered a couple of cherry tomatoes on each one, along with some Bleu Cheese crumbles I found in the walk in.

WP_20141024_003[1]As you can see from the accompanying picture, it LOOKS great. But nothing was hidden from Chef Eric. It was actually pretty bad.

To summarize the misadventures:

  1. The burgers were WAY overcooked. Sort of edible (I did eat one of the burgers) but very dry.
  2. The aioli tasted good, but was pretty oily.
  3. The salad looked great, and the dressing wasn’t bad, but I didn’t put enough on.
  4. The fries were very mushy and undercooked.  Raven had only just pan fried them in a bit of oil, and hadn’t crisped them. (Good fries are actually cooked twice, once at 300 or so to cook the inside, and then after a rest at 375 to crisp the exterior).

In the end, the only thing we did well was the onions.

The fries I can put down to Raven’s inexperience cooking, and the main issues with the aioli and the burned burgers and buns were our lack of experience with the commercial equipment we have in the kitchen. In retrospect I could have just turned down the flames in the grill, but didn’t.  I always have my grill at home on full blast (and it’s a decent heavy duty Costco model) but it is probably half as hot as the commercial one I used.

Chef Eric gave some summary comments today in class. He liked our communication, and that everyone was involved, no one was just sitting around not doing anything. He didn’t expect us to be Iron Chefs at this point.

Speaking of Iron Chef, I do have a lot of respect for what they do on that show in an hour.  We had about an hour and 10 minutes to do what we did, and man the time went fast. How they do 5 fancy dishes and plate them in that time is beyond me.

We are doing vegetables this week, and I have my written and practical midterms next week. I need to get busy practicing my even and uniform knife cuts! It is the one thing I’m sweating!

Until next time…


Culinary School Week 4: We cooked a dish, and I’m sure glad it wasn’t graded — 2 Comments

  1. That big bag of potatoes on the kitchen counter will be whittled down into perfectly cut specimens in no time flat. If I put my third eye to good use, I predict we’ll have many meals involving tubers in our future 😉

    • Actually, most of those potatoes will go into the compost bin at school. My blood sugar can’t take much of those high glycemic monsters. Now, the 1/4″ batonnets I make (ie, French Fries) will probably be put to good use at some point. We just, ahem, covered making French Fries correctly in class today, as a matter of fact. 🙂

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