she's fried

hard cooking, eating and living a life well-done

Posts tagged ICE Culinary

Jan 16

Graduation Day: a look back, and ahead

I’m not a typically sentimental person, but there are times when a moment demands a bit of mush and heartstring tugging. Not to mention a strong self-pat on the back.

Yesterday I graduated from the Institute of Culinary Education and I feel proud.

As noted many times and in many different ways in this blog, I have had conflicted feelings about attending culinary school. On the one hand, I never planned to become a restaurant chef which is what culinary school best prepares one to do. If anything, I have never felt clearer that my deepest pleasure comes from cooking at home, for my loved ones. Besides that, as food educations goes, I would have in many ways preferred to have embarked on some grand culinary experience overseas or even an intensive program somewhere closer to home. These are adventures I may yet take when my children are older.

I’m still not sure a culinary diploma will have a tremendous effect on my professional life either, though it certainly does make for a nice mark on a food editor’s CV. Wondering about my externship? While there were things I would have enjoying doing (and may yet), like working for an school food-focused organization like Wellness in the Schools or trying my hand at recipe development and testing, I just couldn’t find an opportunity I could manage along with the (increasingly heavy) demands of my job. Luckily, the time I already clock as a food editor managing digital content strategy on the Kraft Foods account for media big Meredith Corporation is able to count towards this 210-hour time commitment. 

But as I look back at what the past 9 months and tens of thousands of dollars have borne, I am reminded of something my father said to me when I was about 11, something that—in its negative association at the time—may have been the most positively affecting words I have ever taken to heart. 

My father, who was in his late 30s at the time, told me that he was too old to change. I don’t recall what made him say that but I do very clearly remember feeling that this was the most deeply sad and untrue thing for a person to ever think about their life. If you couldn’t change, then you couldn’t grow and be a better, happier, more fulfilled and, as such, more fulfilling, person. 

With each year a deeper sense of pride, gratitude and settled, self-satisfaction wins the day over those natural and expected and undoubtedly to-be-repeated bummer days (or weeks/months). Life challenges produce rewards that are sometimes, maybe often, unexpected. 

A few key takeaways: 

  1. It is good for a mom to do something big for herself. There is no question that my relationship with my children was better this year than any other of my 14-1/2 years of motherhood. It’s quite simple: kids want to be proud of their parents, just like parents want to be proud of their children. Plus, when everything else in life is swirling crazily around you, there’s something lovely about coming home to children for a little grounding and a reminder that, while it’s essential for a parent to have independent interests and engagements, at the end of the day there are two (not so) little people who need you. 
  2. I don’t mind being single, thank you very much. Don’t get me wrong, it would be really nice to have companionship from time to time, maybe all in a row. Maybe for a little while, maybe for a lifetime. But this deeply committed (and monogamous!) relationship I’ve had with myself for the past 9 months reassures me that whatever comes to bear regarding my love life, it will not color the fact that if I have to live with someone, it could be a lot worse than coming home to me every night for the rest of my life. I am fairly awesome, after all.   
  3. It is not good to not exercise regularly for 9 months. Listen, I’m not kicking myself. Like dating, some things had to give. But you can be sure that one of my primary post-graduation goals is to get back into decent shape. I miss my regular runs around Prospect Park. Me and my favorite place on earth have some catching up to do.
  4. My most creative culinary school accomplishment has been this blog. I feel a bit guilty that I haven’t had the energy to push through on regular posts for the past month or so, but still it has served to document most of the compelling moments of this experience. I have a few posts left to write yet (I know, I know, you want an update about what happened to some of the bigger class characters), which you’ll see as quickly as I can get to them. After that, though, She’s Fried will likely become a finished chapter of an ongoing tale.

My friend Teresa, a marathon runner, wondered if there would be a let-down period for me post-graduation like what she experiences post-race. Will I still have something impressive to talk about at dinner parties or around the proverbial water cooler? Will I actually “do something” with or as a result of the diploma? Too early to answer these questions.

For now, though, I feel good.

Jul 2

I went into the dressing room to change, passing my classmates lined up on the bench outside, there early no-doubt to be ready for our new chef instructor who—we all assume—will be tougher than our previous one.

The Boss follows in behind me.

"Did you hear?"

"No, what?"

"Chef S is our chef again for Mod 2."

I feel a bit deflated by this news. I was looking forward to shaking things up a bit, seeing what another instructor might bring to the proverbial table, but ok.

Chef began the class with a stern reminder that he expects us to step up in terms of organization and keeping our station clean, that in Mod 2 there will be much more in the way of actual cooking and presenting.

Then he switched up our groups. All I hoped was that I would not be in a group either with The Nutritionist or Bubba Gump. My wish was granted. I did, however, get stuck with Big Bird. Once again, he and The Russian were together—odd couple that they are. Rounding out the team is one of the more seemingly sharp kids in class, a 25-year-old woman from New Jersey I will call Gluten Free Girl given her recent celiac disease diagnosis.

Cooking tasks focused around sauteeing and pan sauces. I learned both techniques with some degree of finesse in a 12-week French cooking basics course I took at ICE when it was its previous Peter Kump incarnation, around 12 years ago. And as there is but one pan required for sauteeing and making a pan sauce, cleanup was a breeze, though somehow we still managed to end class nearly a half-hour late.

BDB, I’ve concluded, is not such a bad teammate because he can—and seems to like—to be bossed around. He seems to crave mothering, by way of stern directives like, “Clean your crap off the prep table, please.”

The Russian could prove to be the bigger challenge, in that her language shortcomings mean that she’s constantly misunderstanding direction and asking for translation. 

We made sauteed chicken breasts with a beurre blanc and flank steak with beurre rouge. I have no photos to share since my son filled up my iPhone camera’s cache with saved Spin Art app drawings and I was unable to clear them until I rebooted the phone. Suffice it to say: they looked *gawgeous*

After class, I went out with Gluten Free Girl and a couple of other girls for a drink across the street at Limerick’s, a fairly awesome Irish bar. The topic of age came up and they went around giving theirs: two are 25 and one is 23.

When I told mine, the 23-year-old said: “My mom’s your age.” 

Of course she is.

Jun 13

Lesson 13 - Deconstructing pork, rabbit and lamb and life

I’m not the first person to say this, but having a blog is a lot of work. And so, it’s an added stressor on the wobbly Jenga structure that is currently my life. Since I’ve not only chosen, but paid a lot of money, to build this life, I’m not going to go complaining about it. It’s just a lot.

I’m a single parent, so I’ve had my share of average challenges: being a stay-at-home mom, while freelancing, for my first 10 years of parenthood (BMB: Before Mom Blogging), my return to the full-time workforce intersecting with the end of my 15-year marriage, juggling this, multitasking that, etc etc blah, blah, blah.  But nothing could have prepared me for managing my current set of obligations with my dogged—and not risk-averse—need for at least a wee bit of fun time.

I digress. Class. We started by doing some quick prep for a brown stock—this process would be covered on our exam in the afternoon

We started with pork loin, making chops, deboning and cutting the out the tenderloin, tying it, then untying and making cubes. We moved on to rabbit. Turn away now if images of a once-cute-bunny on a cutting board repulse you. 

Warned you.

So we cut Bugs up in various ways, much like every other meat and poultry that preceded it. At this point, it’s about 1:30pm and time for our test. Note: I’ve mentioned nothing about lunch because there was none. Nor a break. We’re all getting a bit hot, hungry and weary, just in time to have to think.

We were pretty fried following the test, but plowed ahead. Bubba Gump fell asleep during Chef’s lamb loin demo. I have the proof in pictures.

Meanwhile, Chef had prepared a goulash for our lunch, but given everything we had to get through he knew that we wouldn’t get out on time if we didn’t keep moving. The Boss and I were alone in our wish to stop for a bite, so we pushed on.

I don’t have a clear idea what ICE does with all the meat we fabricated, but there was lot of it. We not only cut up a lamb loin, we also each got an entire leg of lamb to take apart, an expensive proposition. Here’s my first frenched rack of lamb:

Imagine I had not trimmed the top fat so much. It would look much more profesh.

At 5:30, a half-hour after class was supposed to end, we were finally ready to eat. The prior week, class ended at 6—the day of my lobster reckoning—but they had taken a break for lunch.

The schedule for my class is a new, accelerated, one for ICE. Clearly, they need to reassess its feasibility. Surely some of the repetition is avoidable. I think we can assume that most of us understand how to cube meat after the first couple of times. And Chef probably didn’t need to demo roast-tying every single time we had to do it (yes, I finally got it—yippee!). And maybe if Chef didn’t say “ok” a minimum of 3 times per each sentence spoken (see here, below Pommes Puree) we could’ve trimmed 10 minutes off class time. But, still, this is not a tenable sked. Hopefully ICE will rectify the situation before someone loses it, chef knife in hand.

Blessing of the day: The Russian, who I learned is my age but not a housewife because she has no husband, gave me a ride home. She used to be an interior designer and made a bundle before the crash. Now she’s looking for what’s next. She’s got a 21-year-old son, too (“He’s got troubles”).

I got home, walked over to my friend Julie’s house, borrowed her SUV (I have no car) and went right to the food coop. Can’t stand having nothing in my fridge. I bought $300 worth of groceries, possibly a record for one shop. Lots of meat in the basket. Feeling carnivorously confident, I guess. 

My daughter invited 4 friends to sleep over. I didn’t really want to have to deal with the crowd or all the beds that needed to be made, but I always consent when she wants to invite girls over to my place. I’d rather have her feel comfortable being at home then to run to other people’s home.

They had a party to go to in the neighborhood from which I picked them up at 11. Made them smoothies and and got to bed at 1am.

Woke up 9-1/2 hours later (my son, the early riser, was blessedly away with his dad at a soccer tournament this weekend). Feeling refreshed. Went to the kitchen, downed an iced coffee and proceeded to fabricate 3 whole chickens.  Why pay more for parts when I can cut it up myself, right? 

Making fried chicken for my big girl’s 14th birthday on Tuesday. It’s just the 3 of us but, hey, the leftovers will be appreciated. I’ll need a snack for class next Saturday.

May 20

Cooking school, day one: already fried

My first day of cooking school was not terribly auspicious, truth be told. We sat for 3-3/4 hours of 4, listening to a lot of crap they needed to tell us—about attendance, grading, expectations, and a lot of other blah blah blah we could’ve read in an instruction manual.

To be honest, I was a bit underwhelmed by the whole thing: the class (ok, it was an introduction), my fellow students, the chef-teacher. Unsettling. Could I be making a mistake of a very expensive order?

Let me start with the students. They are all, with the exception of one Russian housewifey type, very, very young. 10 are women, 6 men. Almost none of them have any real cooking experience (I was expecting at least a few) and I don’t know about the sensibility of some, except to say I wept a bit inside when one guy—just in from Miami—cited some “Seafood Garbage” dish at Bubba Gump’s as his most memorable meal. BUBBA GUMP?? 

A couple of notable bios: a guy who was maybe in his late 20s who had worked as a doorman, no food experience, and a spunky, circa 19 yo butch girl who works making sandwiches at a bodega and who didn’t have any memorable meals to recall. I kind of liked her. I made a note of the name of one straight-spined woman who works in finance (“get class notes from her if necessary”). Not a tattooed, bearded hipster (“foodster?”), future-artisanal-locavore-pickle-maker in sight. Surprising.

And then there’s Chef S, an amiable guy who bears an uncanny resemblance to the Muppet Show’s Swedish Chef, with a patois more Sheepshead Bay then Stockholm. He’s a bit tentative it seems, as this is his first time teaching at ICE. Nervous-making.

On the train ride home, I did my reading homework, from the War & Peace-sized Professional Chef book he wants us to carry around to every class. Good thing I’m already skedded for physical therapy on Fridays for a pinched nerve-neck-shoulder thing. 

Came home and whipped up the quasi-dinner I fantasized about on the train: combined my tomatillo salsa with a little sour cream and added avocado cubes to the mix. Devoured it with tortilla chips while watching Top Chef Masters on DVR.

To bed now. I’m wiped…or, I should say, fried.

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