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.