Archive for ‘Culinary School’

August 9, 2012

Julia Child’s 100th Birthday Celebration

When I was little, my family and I would watch a lot of PBS.  Of course this meant many sessions of watching Julia Child cook in her Cambridge, MA kitchen.  We enjoyed watching her cook with other master chefs, and in particular I liked her series with Jacques Pépin. Fun fact: I thought Jacques was Julia’s husband until I learned about Paul Child many years later.

When I went to Smith, I learned that Julia was a Smithie too.  She was rumored to have been on campus my first fall in Northampton, but I didn’t get a chance to meet her.  Which is sad, because on August 13, 2004 (two days before her 92nd birthday) Julia passed away in California.  I was at a family reunion at the time.  That evening, my sisters and I prepared dinner for our extended family, and held a toast to our fellow jovial Smithie.

Three years later, I would be accepted into the Gastronomy Master’s degree that she and Jacques Pépin helped found, and in Fall 2007 I enrolled in the culinary program at Boston University that Julia developed. In November of that year, I spent three magical days cooking food with Jacques Pépin and his best friend, Jean-Claude Szurdak. It felt like a dream, a wonderful, delicious dream. We deboned whole chickens, prepared sweetbreads, oysters Rockefeller, omelets, candied citrus, caramels, and so much more. We put the huge, 8-station lab kitchen to the test, and all 12 of us students were pushed to the edge of our culinary abilities. We cooked with so much butter Julia would have been proud.

Next Wednesday, August 15, would be Julia’s 100th birthday. I’m thankful that almost fifty years after her first TV show launched, her accomplishments and her enthusiasm for food are still being celebrated. I’ve been drafting a multi-course meal for the occasion. Because that’s what Julia did on her 80th birthday (she had multiple such celebrations across the country). And what better way to celebrate birthdays than with food, family, and friends?  We’ll be celebrating a bit late, so check back here at the end of the month for a round-up of my culinary attempts.

In the meantime, if you feel inclined, pick up one of her cookbooks and prepare one of her dishes next week. Counter to popular belief, not all her recipes are complicated. In fact, many of them are quite simple. I highly suggest her easy-to-use cookbook Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom. If you have an iPad or Nook, and want to be a bit more adventurous, download the Mastering the Art of French Cooking app. Or, simply give a toast in her honor when you eat your regular dinner. After all, Julia’s mission was to help us all celebrate good food and good friends.

January 17, 2008

The Graham Cracker, an American Classic


When I began studying at Smith, my friends and I discovered an excellent breakfast place called Sylvester’s. We learned from their menu that the restaurant is named after Sylvester Graham, Presbyterian minister and inventor of the Graham cracker. Aside from encouraging people to sleep with the windows open, take cold showers, and control their lust, he influenced the food world in a major way.

November 29, 2007

The Busy Life of a Culinary School Student

I really should be working on catching up in my reflective journal for school, but I feel more of a pull to my blog at the moment. If any of the BU gastronomy professors are reading this sentence, please don’t read that last sentence. I know I haven’t been the most prolific writer this fall, and for that I apologize to you my readers. While I am worried that people will forget about my blog, you dedicated readers are the ones who suffer. You know who you are: the ones who check every couple of days to answer the eternal question: “Has she updated yet?” The more I worry about losing readers, the more I hear “Why haven’t you updated?” “When’s your next post?” and even “Is there someplace on the internet we can report a missing blogger?” Thank you so much for your questions, your nagging, and overall your support. I cannot make excuses about why I’m not posting as much, other than to say that I miss the days of being paid full-time for a job I only worked at for about ten or fifteen hours a week.

This semester looks very different from the last year I spent luxuriously studying up on and writing about gastronomic issues. Whereas I used to sit down every morning with a pot of Teekampagne tea (now also available in the US!) and read and write about food, today is the first time since I’ve moved to Boston that I’ve had the time to finish a pot of tea in one sitting. Of course, perhaps that’s partially due to the fact that I just got my teapot last weekend.

My daily routine starts out luxuriously late compared to most people. As I’ve mentioned, class usually starts at 10:30am. I don’t understand why a good third of my class still comes late – it’s ten thirty! The few days I worked last year I often had to be at school by seven thirty in the morning. Now, even with an hour-long commute, I can get up at eight with plenty of time to spare.

Classes have evolved since I first posted on it. They still involve a morning lecture or demonstration, but now they are by an invited chef, who explains to us his or her philosophy, ingredients, and dishes. These are very interesting, and it’s fun to sit and watch as delicious food unfolds before our eyes. However, the afternoon demonstrations offer the most practical learning for me. This is where we apply the things we’ve learned; it’s when chefs come in and teach us their set of recipes. All come in with an agenda (whether it be to teach us about their cuisine, to get through the day’s recipes, or even to find employees) and some execute their plan with more precision and organization than others. Many ask us what our plans are for the future, and it’s been fun to hear the subtle changes in everyone’s description of themselves. Depending on the day, and the chef, I will change my description to emphasize writing, learning, or cooking.

We often don’t get out until five or six in the evening after finishing the dishes (it’s amazing how many dishes twelve culinary students can make!). There’s often some errand to do after school, and lately I’ve been lucky if I’m home before eight in the evening. I have just enough time to eat a very small dinner (we usually eat what we’ve cooked around four-thirty), catch up with David, check my email, and then it’s time to think about going to sleep to start over again the next day. Weekends aren’t less busy. The only difference is I often get up much earlier for work.

Thanksgiving was a very welcome change. David and I luckily got a ride down to Philadelphia with some friends of his, and we spent three wonderful days with my sister and her husband. The first day, Thanksgiving itself, we made the menu I posted about. Everything was delicious*. Specifically the custard, the stuffing (if you use this recipe, make sure though to chop the mushrooms small and add a bit of extra bread), the endives, and the sweet potatoes. I must say, I have never really liked sweet potatoes. I’ve been able to tolerate them with lots of sugar or maple syrup, but never plain. This year, though, Sarah made them from the Julia Child recipe, and added a bit of grated ginger and butter. It was amazing. None of us could believe how something so simple was so delicious.

If anything this fall, I’ve learned to value that simplicity even more than I have in the past. The time I get to spend with David, the moments in class when I make a dish I’m really proud of, and even the time I spend at work, fixing the cookies in the display or making sandwiches on the line and joking with my coworkers. I’ve told many people that this semester I haven’t dreaded going to school once. Although some days I come home happier than others, I’ve always learned something and look forward to doing it again the next day. In the meantime, I need to take advantage of this moment, and get caught up on that journal…

*With the exception of the turkey, which was a bit of a flop due to the fact that I misread my thermometer. It was good for leftovers though!

Julia Child’s Sweet Potato Purée
adapted from “The Way to Cook”

4 large sweet potatoes
1 medium Yukon gold potato
4-6 Tbsp butter
½ tsp ginger (or just to taste)
salt and pepper to taste

Peel and boil all the potatoes until tender. If you have time and space in your oven, you may bake them as well (this will take at least an hour, and doesn’t require peeling beforehand). Over low heat beat in the butter, ginger, and seasoning, mashing the potatoes with a masher or mixer. You can make this ahead of time, but make sure you don’t cool off the potatoes. Put only half the butter in and keep warm in a water bath on the stove. When you are ready to serve them, beat in the rest of the butter and season. They must be served hot!

November 20, 2007

How I Wrote a Thanksgiving Menu

This Wednesday David and I will be traveling down the Eastern seaboard with the Greyhound to Pennsylvania to visit my sister and her husband.Bus travel is by no means as first-class as planes, as classic as cars, or as classy as private car service; nevertheless I hope it will get us there for the best holiday of the year anyway.

In the last couple of weeks David, Sarah, Nathan, and I have been brainstorming about what we want to eat this Thursday. It’s not easy putting together a menu, and I’ve found it really interesting and helpful to listen to everybody’s ideas. In class on the day we talked about writing menus I felt mine was the least inspired, most traditional menu of the group. This disappointed me until David pointed out that my passion lies precisely in traditional foods, not foams and chemicals*. So, a Thanksgiving dinner shouldn’t be too difficult for me, right? Here are some of my suggestions:

My first thought was to take the squash from the middle of the dinner and bring it to the forefront in an appetizer. I’ve always wanted to have appetizers at Thanksgiving, I think it makes it fancier. Next is the turkey, what to stuff it with, and how to prepare it. Roasted, brined, basted, injected with sauce under the skin, in the oven, on the grill, on a spit? The options are endless, but eventually the line must be drawn. I like in the oven, stuffed, and basted every thirty minutes to one hour: this gives me plenty of time to handle all the other details that need to be dealt with.

Sides with the turkey are often more important than the turkey itself: traditional bean casseroles, corn casseroles, mashed potatoes, extra stuffing (careful not to dry it out!), and plenty of fresh vegetables (even salad if you like). Some suggestions are creamed corn (or leeks), braised endives, peas with pearl onions – again, many options. It’s important to have a balance: too many starches, or even too many vegetables, can make the meal lean too heavily on one side. Not only do you want a balance in types of vegetables, but you also want a balance in flavor – if you have cream in one dish already, try having another dish flavored with onions or peppers. Choose dishes with ingredients that compliment each other – not only within the dish but across the dishes as well (yes, that’s hard, and I will always be learning what goes well together).

Dessert has always been one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving. Focus on what you like, and don’t get too carried away with making too many pies (especially if you feel more obligated than excited about them). This year I’ve omitted a crust entirely, and I’m only having a custard. Of course I know it’s hard to give up the classics, and Thanksgiving is by no means a time to hold back. If you like key lime pie, make it and love it. Try it with some coconut shavings, or in bar form layered with your own graham cracker crust.

Making twists on old themes can be fun and produce excellent results. Keep an eye out for what other people are talking about for their dinners, and don’t be afraid to ask for recipe recommendations. You never know what kind of ideas you can get in the wildest of places!

Pictured above are the cookbooks I’ll be sourcing this year for Thanksgiving. In addition my sister and I have tapped Yahoo and Epicurious for recipes, and I’ve thrown in a soup and a dessert I’ve learned at school. Together, they will hopefully prove to be a delicious meal.

Vegetarian Butternut Squash


Roast Turkey
Hazelnut, Sage, and Mushroom Stuffing
Cranberry Preserves
Green Beans with Crimini Mushroom Sauce
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potato Purée
Endive and Walnut Salad with Gorgonzola Cheese


Pumpkin Custard with Pecan Praline
Vanilla Ice Cream

I haven’t made most of these dishes before – I’ll be tweaking my traditional Julia Child garlic mashed potatoes to make a low-fat version (thanks to Moosewood), and the green beans Sarah found here at Yahoo.The stuffing we got off Epicurious, which also has some interesting menu ideas of their own.The Endive and Walnut Salad comes from the Joy of Cooking, and the sweet potatoes are Julia’s (in “The Way to Cook”).As I said, the soup I got from instructor John Vyhnanek and the dessert is a take on Cindy Salvato’s pumpkin pie, which we’ll be making in ramekins.

If you’re still finalizing your menu and are looking for a soup, the butternut squash is incredible.Vegetarians will love you for it, but if you don’t have to contend with any then you can add chicken stock to create a soup that is even richer.It was one of the first things we made in class this fall, and it was surprisingly simple for the flavor that we got out of it.Try serving it with some toasted or candied pumpkin seeds, homemade croutons, or just a sprinkling of chives.

*Having played around with molecular gastronomy recipes today, I can honestly say I will stick to my mangoes in their natural state or in puree form, but not in a spherical orb suspended with alginate and calcium chloride to make it look like an egg yolk.

Vegetarian Butternut Squash Soup
adapted from Chef John Vyhnanek

2 Tbsp white wine
1 tsp garlic, finely minced
½ cup celery, finely diced
½ cup onion, finely diced
½ cup leeks, finely diced (use mostly the white part but add some of the lighter green parts too)
2 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½” cubes
4 cups water
½ stick cinnamon (or 1 tsp cinnamon powder)
2 oz maple syrup (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Sweat the garlic and wine with some canola or vegetable oil over low heat until they are clear.Add the celery, onions, and leeks and cook slowly until they are clear.Put the squash, cinnamon, and water into the pot and bring to a boil.Then reduce the heat and let simmer about 30 minutes, or until tender.

Remove the cinnamon stick, if using.Purée the soup with an immersion blender (or let cool and use a regular blender or food processor).If you want a really smooth soup, strain through a cheese cloth-lined strainer or a chinoise.Add the nutmeg, maple syrup, and seasoning and bring the soup back to a low boil.Serve warm garnished with whipped cream, pumpkin seeds, chives, and/or croutons.

Note: To make your own croutons, cut the crust off soft bread using a round fluted cookie cutter to make half-moon shapes, or cut triangles with a knife (you can get as creative as you like!).Sauté on medium heat in a pan with butter until crispy and lightly browned.For added flavor, you can put garlic and/or herbs in the butter, but be careful not to burn them.

October 3, 2007

Culinary Update: Highlights in Pictures

Perhaps I’m not as prolific as I promised, but I can assure you that this post will be full of pictures and insights to what I’ve been up to these days. To start off with, we’ve done a bunch of stuff in class these past couple weeks. We’ve simmered, poached, grilled, sautéed, broiled, steamed, smoked (yes! with fire!), chopped, measured, baked, and countless more. Here’s a glimpse (in somewhat chronological order) in pictures of some of the things I, or my classmates, have conjured up in our journeys:

Rolls of typical Buffalo, New York style called “wrecks;” my roll promptly disappeared never to be seen again after this picture. Probably was camera shy or something…

This is probably the best beef I have ever had in my life. It was incredibly simple filet mignon. The secret ingredients: truffles and marsala wine. No one flavor upstaged the other and everything literally melted in your mouth.
Picture courtesy of Ashish Desai

Me with the foods I grilled on grilling day. Hamburger, broiled tomato, broiled flounder, grilled salmon, grilled steak, and grilled chicken breast. Mmm!!!

The “fruits” of garnishing day! Here’s what I produced (clockwise from top left): leek pom-poms, decorated summer squash, red onion flower, tomato rose, pepper flower (not bloomed yet, they need to soak overnight. See blow for final product)

Mostly Jean-Jacques Paimblanc’s work, though some student work scattered here and there. The yellow summer squash tulip is mine! The peppers are on the bottom left.

Decorated mushroom caps. Master on left, student on right. I’ve got a ways to go!

Picture courtesy of Ashish Desai

Butchering day! Here’s Charles Grandon showing us how to make the primal cuts (then later the fabricated ones) of a lamb. The blue on the back is the USDA grading, apparently grape juice, but butchers do have a morbid sense of humor…

Picture courtesy of Ashish Desai

Racks of dry-aged beef on a tour at Kinnealy’s, one of Boston’s major meat suppliers. I was surprisingly not queasy until we went into this room. The meat isn’t rotting, but it doesn’t smell very pleasant in there…

Picture courtesy of Ashish Desai

Grapevines at Turtle Creek Vineyards in Lincoln, MA where we toured and learned all about growing grapes and making wine in New England.

Picture courtesy of Ashish Desai

The first course of the dinner we cooked with Johanne Killeen and George Germon of Al Forno restaurant. This is a split pea puree with olive oil and garnished with red onions and mint.

Picture courtesy of Ashish Desai

Johanne and George demonstrating the dishes we made that night for the audience. We also made a summer chicken cacciatore and poached pears on mascarpone and whipped cream. All the recipes were from their latest book “On Top of Spaghetti…” They were wonderful chefs, people, and teachers and I wish we could have them more often in our kitchen this semester!

And finally, the poached pear we did with Jean-Jacques a day after our Al Forno pears. Here’s mine – for which I got into trouble because, despite knowing he didn’t like it, I added cinnamon to my pear. The wine and spice poaching liquid smelled just like Glühwein which was a weird sensation to be smelling in September! It took me right back to the Weihnachtsmarkt.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! You survived my whirlwind tour of highlights in the kitchen at the BU Culinary Arts program. More will be on its way, no doubt. In the meantime may your hearts be happy and your tables full!