Monday, March 10, 2008

No rest for the wicked

This week is Spring Break for CSCA! Phew! Can't believe that we're already halfway through the course. Had our second Food Basics quiz last Tuesday. Again, due to my working schedule, I didn't get much time to study except for a few hours on Monday before the quiz. I think I did pretty well. Well, the Baking quiz will be held the first day we get back from spring break. Yeah, welcome back!

So, let's see what happened last week. It was brioche for Baking and lamb for FB. Brioche is kind of interesting, considering that it is a cake-like dough that needs an overnight rise. I was never a big fan of lamb but the dishes we cooked were not bad at all.

On another note, the Malaysian elections were held last week and surprise, surprise, BN got bloodied pretty badly. Penang fell to the DAP, considering that the Chinese majority there were pretty unsatisfied with the current leadership. Seriously, I think the non-UMNO coalition parties in BN pretty much kowtow to the Malay leadership instead of sticking up for their own party's principles and be an effective representative for their constituents. Gerakan lost badly in Penang, their once-impenetrable stronghold and the MCA and MIC have pretty much become redundant. With DAP fielding some new faces, the hope is that a new generation of leaders can emerge from this success and be a new voice and replace the ineffective old guard.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Time sure flies.....

Well, it's been another 2 weeks again since my last post. Since then, we've had "Dry Heat Cooking" and "Pork" for Food Basics and lean and rich breads for Baking. Above are the photos of the dishes. From the top: braised pork loin served on Spatzle, pane alla salvia (lean bread), rasberry streusel with rasberry and sweet cream cheese filling (rich bread), spinach salad with deep fried blue cheese and finally, a pineapple upside down cake.

Also, got an email from the NRA, no not the National Rifle Association but the restaurant association, informing me that I passed the ServSafe exam with 91% score. Oh and I also scored 90% on my Baking quiz and 86.5% on my Food Basics quiz.

Speaking of which, there is another Food Basics quiz next week on Chicken, Moist and Dry Heat Cooking and Pork. Gotta get started on studying for it. Hopefully today before I leave for work. Speaking of work, it's been good. Things are moving ahead on the Fish Bones extension and construction starts next week. Hopefully, I can land a bigger role in the restaurant in the next month or 2. Also, I had to reject the Fenway Park job offer because of the low wages. It doesn't make sense for me to drive or take the T down to Fenway for a $9.75 an hour job. The cost would be prohibitive.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

New updates

Above, you can see pictures for the swath of danish and croissants that were baked in Baking class this week. Also, in Food Basics, it was moist heat cooking and we did a green bean salad and braised beef shanks.

It has been a pretty intense week. First, we had a Baking quiz on Monday, followed by the sanitation (ServSafe) certification exam on Weds. In between I had to work (11 hours on Sunday and six on Tuesday) and there was a horrible snow storm on Tuesday night, which had my car swishing from side to side going down Mass Ave after class at midnight. I also sent my resume to Fenway and Caesars Palace. Fenway (yes, the BoSox Fenway) is looking for a bunch of cooks for the upcoming baseball season to work in the various restaurants within the ballpark. I was surprised, when I received a call from a guy named Nookie (sp?) just under an hour after I sent my resume to them. To cut a long story short, we arranged to meet at Fenway (Yawkey Way Gate D) on Tuesday at 2pm. I'll probably park my car at the Porter Square T station and take the T into Fenway. Then attend class at 4:30pm. Oh, and the Baking class has been moved to Thursday for this week.

Also, the Caesars Palace one is quite interesting. It is a Culinary Management Apprenticeship with Caesars Palace. It's kind of a management trainee program that runs for 10-12 months in Vegas. Sent my resume plus a cover letter to the contact person there. Hoping to hear back as it is a huge opportunity for anyone chosen for it.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

It's been 2 weeks.......

From top: Corn timbales (made in the poultry class), savory palmiers (with capers and olives), strawberry shortcake (yummy!), shrimp bisque and finally, a pear tart.

Well, it's been almost 2 weeks since my last post. So many things have happened since then.

First of all, I landed a job at a seafood restaurant in Chelmsford called Fish Bones. Todd, the chef there had an ad in the local publication that I answered. Although I had no experience working in a restaurant, I guess he sees the potential in me and wanted me to start right away. He actually had me brunoise an onion for him to see how my knife skills are. Anyway, my first day was on Sunday (2/3), Superbowl day. Went in at 9am and worked till 3pm, saute-ing some onions and peppers and had me watch him prepare some dishes during lunch service. Came home and went over to the Griffins for their Superbowl party. It's just heartbreaking to see the Patriots lose but you know, life goes on. Went to work again yesterday, Tuesday (2/5) and I did a lot of prep work, cutting up cabbages for coleslaw and cutting up squash, peppers, onions and tomatoes and marinating them in garlic butter for use in grilled vegetable. Also wrapped up a bunch of scallops with bacon. Had fish and chips for lunch...good stuff. Then I left for class, preparing to face my first Food Basics quiz.

Speaking of culinary class, last week was long because we had to replace a Baking class that was postponed due to the snow day we had a few weeks ago. So it was a 4-day class week for me last week. In Baking, we did puff pastry and pate brisee. Food Basics class last week was "Stocks and Soups" and I made a shrimp bisque.

Oh yeah, I also went for an interview with the Holiday Inn hotel in Boxborough. Met the chef there but didn't really like the concept of preparing dishes for buffets. Also, at Fish Bones, my work hours could be flexible, coordinating my hours with Su-Ann's. And I would probably learn more there too. Todd is really pushing to teach me fast because he need someone at the line, helping him cook.

Also, next week, I have a quiz for Baking and the certification test for ServSafe.
I'll try to get some photos up soon. I'm just too tired today.

Later....oh and Happy Chinese New Year! This is the year of the rat. Gotta call home later tonight to wish everyone.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I Souffle, You Souffle, We All Souffle

Another week, another set of culinary classes go by. This week's baking class on Monday was a very good one. Learned about pate a choux or pastry dough. Much as I liked the class, my wife probably liked it more. :) For the class, I probably picked the hardest recipe to do that night. It was a 3-step recipe for Paris-Brest:

1. Create the pate a choux and make it into a large donut-shaped ring. Bake it and see the dough rise.
2. Make some praline by using caramel (boiled down from sugar, water and a drop of lime juice) and baked almonds.
3. Make some pastry paste (yummy!).
4. Combine (2) and (3) to make a sort of peanut-y tasting paste that tasted heavenly (at least my wife thought so)
5. Put the filling in between the pate a choux (cut in half horizontally)

In fact, everybody's recipes were all good. Took samples home for the family to taste.

Tuesday was souffle day with Chef Stephan. To tell you the truth, souffle's not my kind of thing--those dang thing deflates way too fast! Learned about bechamel sauce as the base for the souffle. Eddie and I worked on a savory souffle that featured sweet potatoes. Except for some burning on the top of our souffle (the oven's fault), it turned out pretty well--very tasty. Also, we were so efficient that we were the first to finish. Bad thing was, I spent half of the night washing dishes. I was also in charge of kitchen management (together with Alex) and learned about what needs to be done from Chef.

Wednesday's seminar was sanitation (groan!) and it will go on for the next 3 weeks. After listening to Lisa Berger (the instructor), I may not eat out again! Lots of memorization to do in this class. There'll be a certification exam during the last week of this series.

On the job front, I managed to talk to Jeff Pond, a former CSCA grad and now Chef de Cuisine for a new restaurant, Persephone, opening in 3 weeks time. Had a pretty constructive conversation with him--very nice guy. Suggested that I should start with lunch service instead of the more intense dinner service. He's right and lunch service for Persephone would only start sometime in March. So, we're going to keep in touch and he mentioned that I should call him back in late February and see how things are going. Also, I dropped my resume off to a local Maynard restaurant called Blue Coyote Grill. Just called them again to follow up today and Dave, the contact guy said that he should be taking a look at my resume this afternoon. Also sent my resume to a Boston restaurant, Red Sky Lounge.

So that's it for this week. Oh, today's Olivia's birthday (my daughter). We're going to have a joint celebration thingy for both Owen and Olivia tonight (Owen's birthday is on Jan 30th). Owen's getting a Star Wars Lego set of General Grevious and Olivia's getting 3 Webkinz soft toys.

Anyway, until next time.....Allez Cuisine!

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Week That Was.......

Well, it's been a week since my last post. Let's see, last Friday, we had our first Baking class and met Chef Lisa for the first time. She's pretty good and very friendly to boot. This first class was all about fruits and I was assigned to cook the blueberry cobbler. It was a pretty easy recipe to follow, with no cutting involved, just have to find the right ingredients, make the batter and cook it in a pan. I was also the first to finish. I wished I had chosen a more complicated recipe....oh well, next time I guess.

Anyway, the next week, on Monday, snow fell like crazy (a nor'easter), dropping 10 inches in Groton and unfortunately, the Baking class scheduled that day was postponed. Snow day! Yippee! The class would be replaced some time this month. The next day is the regular Food Basics class and the topic for this week was Eggs. Worked on the recipe for poached eggs and grilled asparagus on a mayonnaise sauce. Again, nothing too fancy. I really need to choose a better and more complicated recipe next time. The class ended at around 12:35am and only got to bed at about 2am. I was dead tired from all the standing and cooking. The Weds. seminar for this week was "Tasting and Garnishing," a light topic but still interesting nonetheless. Totally agree with Chef Stephan's take on how to present a dish. the seminar ended early--very early, in fact--at around 7:45pm. Got home before 9pm. Niiiiiceeee!

Also wrote emails to several restaurants/caterers looking for help. Got them from the CSCA website. No replies yet but I'm working closely with Jennifer, who is in charge of student placement at CSCA, to land a position soon. Did get one reply from a caterer in Melrose but unfortunately the position has been filled. Anyway, she has my info on file for when any new positions open up.

Anyway, the pictures of the blueberry cobbler and the poached eggs can be seen above.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The first 2 days

Hello......back again.

Well, I just completed my first 2 days in culinary school. On Weds (1/9/08), attended the "Knife Skills" seminar, an intro into using the chef's most versatile tool, the French chef's knife. We were asked to choose one that would be suitable for each of us. I picked the 10" regular knife (as opposed to 10" wide knife) and were shown the various cuts used on vegetables. Julienne, batonnet, brunoise, etc. all the French names....sigh! Pretty good class, learned a lot and got to know my chef's knife, which I am christening, Norman (after Norman Bates from Hitchcock's Psycho). I know.....weird but it seems appropriate and Janet Leigh would be proud.

First class is a Food Basics class with Chef Stephan. This is a class of "Vegetables and Herbs." Learned about blanching vegetables (never done this before in all my years cooking) and had a hands-on on all the usual herbs like oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc. Tasted, smelled and learned what each herb is normally used for. Then we are divided into groups to cook one dish from the various recipes for the class. My group was tasked to cook a Pasta Primavera. Learned Mise en Place, a term used to mean "everything in place" meaning getting all the ingredients ready before starting to prep and cook. Class started late because Chef Stephan was late due to a graduating class having their practicum final exam. Anyway, class only finished at around 12:20am and we all shared the food that everyone cooked. It was a pretty late dinner.

Attached is the pic of the pasta primavera...........time to sleep....zzzZZZzzz

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Bittersweet Symphony

Well, it was a bittersweet day for me yesterday (Tuesday 1/8/08).

First off, I would like to say a prayer for my grandmother who passed away in the early morning of Wed. (1/9/08) Malaysian time. She had suffered a debilitating stroke many months back and had been bedridden ever since. She was really suffering and I'm happy that she finally passed away and is in a better place right now. I had not been back home to Malaysia since her stroke and I did not have the chance to see her and say goodbye. But just knowing that she is not suffering anymore leaves my heart at peace.

Goodbye, Ah Mah........

Yesterday was also orientation day at the culinary school. Got the news of my grandmother's death just as I was getting ready to leave for CSCA. Perhaps it's her way of saying, don't worry about me and just concentrate on what you are trying to accomplish with this new endeavor. Anyway, the drive down to Cambridge was horrendous. Traffic was bad and finding a parking space on Mass Ave was even worse. Got to the orientation a few minutes late and it had already started. They were in the midst of introducing themselves. There were roughly 30-40 students there, from 4 different programs: Culinary (certificate and pro) and Pastry (cert and pro). Got all the relevant stuff squared away, got my binder full of class material (notes and recipes), got my picture ID taken, paid the first half of my tuition, etc. Got a chance to speak to Chef Jim, who would be teaching the Knife Skills class that I would be having later this evening. Got to go get myself a pair of sturdy, comfortable, black shoes this morning for the upcoming classes.

Anyway, that's my story for today. Will do an update again tomorrow.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Opening Post

Hey All!

My name's Hock Guan and welcome to my blog!

I've just created this blog to document my upcoming journey into the culinary world. For on January 9th, 2008, I start my first ever class at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts (CSCA), a local culinary school here in Massachusetts. It's been a strange and arduous journey for me to get to this point in my life.

You see, for the past 13 years, I've been working as an ASIC design/verification engineer. I've worked for Intel Corp., Fujitsu and Avid Technology Inc. Since getting laid off on July 24th, 2007, I've been out of work and kind of floating around wondering what to do with my life. Went for a bunch of interviews but nothing came out of them. Even went as far as Colorado for an interview! Anyway, I dug deep into myself and wondered if I could do something that I really love. Cooking came to mind because I've always had a knack for it. My Mom is a great cook and some of her talent might have rubbed off on me. So I started toying with the idea of going to culinary school. After some searching, I decided on CSCA and here we are.

On Thursday, January 3rd, 2008, I went to CSCA to get fitted for the chef's uniform. I also picked up a bunch of stuff, like a set of culinary tools (knives and other cooking implements), books and other stuff. Yesterday (Friday), I went back to Nashoba Valley Medical Center to get the result of my TB skin test (required for admission into CSCA). To my horror, the test was positive! I panicked as I've never showed any symptoms or has ever had TB before. The only explanation was either I was once exposed to someone with TB or it could have come from the BCG vaccination I had when I was a kid. The test checks for antibodies that my body produced to fight off the TB virus. So either situations could have an effect. So, to clear me, they had to take a chest x-ray and see if I was really infected or not. Thankfully, that came out negative and the doctor signed the consent form clearing me for culinary school. Phew! That was too close for comfort! So right now, I'm back on track to attend the orientation at CSCA on Tuesday (1/8/08) and the 3 classes that are to be held this week on Wed, Thu and Fri.