Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Long Time, No See

Hello everyone! I know it's been years since I have opened my laptop and entertained you with the inner-knowledge of Chef Instructors, but I have recently received an email asking where I was, and realized, it is time for me to come back...

I am still teaching. I am actually going into my fourth year of culinary instruction, and honestly, am the happiest I have been in my position since I've started. In my absence, I have received certification and have started graduate school. I have also been extremely busy.

That said, let's recall what I have taught so far:

Work ethic and knife skills.

Instead of delving into saute or braise, let's take a moment to recall the importance of being a teacher and what it is to be a student. It will be in two parts...so, part I:

Why I Teach.

Initially, I started teaching because it seemed like a better gig than being a line cook. I was ridiculously inexperienced as a teacher. I was thrust into a nutritional cooking class with no guidance, just a few power points and a sense of humor. It was brutal. As a student, you may not realize that your instructor is probably thinking that you are judging their every move, their every statement, joke, point at the screen. You may very well be. I have never been so conscious of bullshit until I started teaching.

After my first semester of trial-by-fire, I was, probably, mistakenly, offered a full-time job. I took it, because like I said, it was a better gig than being a line cook. The last three years of full-time teaching have taught me the most about myself: how humble I am not, and need to be, how much I don't like when people are mad at me, how much I actually care about every student I have. I have learned how not to trust anyone. I have learned that I hate food. I have learned that I love food more than anything. I have learned that I will always be a student, always. I have learned that I hate my students, but they are all my family, my fucked-up brothers and sisters. I have learned that I am their confidant. I am their inspiration, or their worst enemy. I have learned how not to take things personally.

Until recently, I was just going through the motions. I wasn't teaching from my heart. I wasn't teaching to my full potential. I was bitter at how little money I make compared to my peers. I was angry.

And then I realized that I was being an asshole, and that my students were the one suffering, and ultimately, so was my career.

Julia Child helped me realize this. Cliche, yes, very. But it's true. And so did Alton Brown. And ultimately, so did my chefs.

I saw the big picture. That I was sharing what I had once loved, and still do. I just needed to find it again. I was giving the gift of gastronomy. And I had people, an audience, that wanted to know everything I did. I got over my own insecurities, and I realized that I can share and teach and learn more than just the downfalls of working for no money. I could learn what it was like to be Julia Child. To have a cooking show without the hassle of the cameras and producers and networks. I am a celebrity in my own right, and I need to uphold my untainted history; I do not want to be the Brittney Spears of culinary arts.

And that's where I am now. I'm working on getting ready for the upcoming school year. I'm working on my menus that will impress, educate, and inspire.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Lesson 2: Knife Skills

The first lesson that is taught in your introductory culinary class, is the basic set of knife skills.  As easy as dicing an onion may sound, doing it correctly, efficiently and uniformly takes practice and patience.  Two things that young, inexperienced culinary students do not believe in and do not possess.  This makes teaching the knife skills an interesting experience; this is when you learn who your ass kissing students really are.

I can’t tell you ways to cheat your entire life or culinary career out of doing knife skills, they are just something you’ll have to actually learn.  I can, however, tell you how to make your head Chef Instructor think you’re better than you actually are and how to adequately dig your nose up the crack of your Instructor’s ass to get better grades on the mid-term practical exam.

1. Don’t whine or complain or pretend to be modest or horrible.  Chef Instructors see right through this.  By doing any of these things, it just shows that you’re not serious, that you’re not taking your juliennes to heart, that you’re not paying adequate attention during our well practiced demonstrations.  Just shut up, put your head down, hold your knife correctly and chop away.  Chef Instructors like the ones that don’t need constant attention.

2. If you do need help, that you actually can’t figure out how the square off a carrot to get your julienne and the eventual brunoise, take these steps:

   a. quietly call, “Chef, I can’t seem to do the julienne, will you show me?”  By asking the Chef to show you, you’ll actually have the Chef pick up your knife and make the cuts himself.  Thus creating perfectly julienned pieces of carrots.  

   b. SAVE THESE PIECES!  Use them in your own product, showing off your ability with a knife, or more correctly, your savvy ways of manipulating the system.  Just be aware, you won’t be able to do this on your practical exam day.

3. If you have ass-kissing tendencies, use with extreme caution.  Your Chefs have seen it all, and know (and have probably used) all the tricks themselves.  Over abundant ass-kissing will just catapult you on top the “Most Annoying and thus, Must Ignore or Knock Back Down to Size” list, which is a place you really don’t want to be.  However! modest ass-kissing will actually work to your advantage.  

   a. Chef’s have a tendency to be very egotistical, so flattery about their culinary ability is always nice, but do it on the sly.  If your Chef is actually cooking, dip your tasting spoon and casually comment on the layers of flavor.  If your Chef is butchering your chicken, exclaim “Wow, you are so good at this!” grab your knife and start imitating your Chef’s way of butchering.  

   b. If flattery isn’t your bag, be the one that stays late cleaning up, comes in early to help set up and just generally wants to be involved.  This shows commitment, and is by far the best way to get on your Chef’s good-side, and this is a side you most definitely want to be on.   

   c. Don’t, however, walk through the kitchen when you’re not supposed to be there and search for reasons to talk to your Chef.  They’re busy and really don’t care if you have hot flashes wearing your polyester chef coat or if the homework assignment didn’t make sense the first time around, but came together when you spent ALL weekend rereading it.

The only sure fire way of learning how the dice an onion or doing perfect tournes is to practice them.  However, with a little suaveness, you can give yourself a leg-up against the other newbies and actually get the Chef to remember your name before you have it embroidered over your left breast pocket and without making her want to jab your boning knife into her carotid artery because you think telling her that she’ll be prettier if she smiled more often.  That is never a good idea.  

Friday, May 8, 2009

Lesson 1, Work Ethic

Before any student even enrolls into the culinary program, they go through a lengthy orientation process detailing everything that is involved with going through the program. One thing us instructors greatly express is having a strong work ethic. Well, if anyone has worked with the average cook in any kitchen, you know work ethic can sometimes be lacking.

Now, as an instructor in a culinary arts school, how do you effectively go about teaching your students to have a strong work ethic. I mean, any employer is going to want a employee that shows up on time and actually works instead of taking multiple smoke breaks and walking around the kitchen with an expression that rivals any brain-dead deer getting caught in the headlights. So when 80% of your students are the said deer, how do you turn them into lean, mean, cooking machines?

It's hard, and in some cases impossible.

Work ethic cannot be taught later in life. It's one of those things that your parents need to teach early on or you're screwed. It seems that everyone between the ages of 15 and 35 were never taught how to work. Every cook, dishwasher, student I have ever worked with has always been a lazy ass who realized exactly how to look busy just enough to not actually do anything. This little trick is what I want to teach you today:

1. If you want to work in a kitchen, start smoking now. Being a smoker is your one way ticket into having numerous work breaks throughout the day/evening. If you're a smoker it is part of the job description that you get three times as many breaks as everyone else; it's common place that everyone in the kitchen smokes, so no one will even question it.

2. Take multiple trips to the walk-in. If you are constantly walking throughout the kitchen with product in your hands, cambros full of random stuff, your chef is going to assume that you're doing something. I mean, you wouldn't be going to the walk-in if you weren't actually doing something, right? (Just be careful if you work in a kitchen that has cameras in the walk-in. This can ruin your ploy)

3. Tell everyone else what to do. By barking orders to all the other cooks and dishwashers, you appear to be in command which dictates that you don't actually have to work.

4. Make food for yourself. This will make it appear that you're cooking something. And who doesn't like a little pick-me-up throughout your tedious work day.

5. Work really slow. If you're doing prep work, take your dear sweet time cutting the parsley. This will make it possible to do the least possible work throughout the day while making it appear that you're working hard.

6. Disappear when it's time to clean or do anything really strenuous. Reasons for not being there can include: having the go to the bathroom with bad diarrhea, having to go to the hospital because of bloody diarrhea, getting thrown in jail, being sent to rehab, being hungover, having to get mise en place ready in the walk-in, needing to help the servers bus the tables.

Now what if you have a really strong work ethic and it's not in your ability to change that? Well, to put it bluntly, you're screwed. The food service industry will not cut you any slack for being a hard worker. You may get a promotion a wee bit faster than the cook with chronic diarrhea, but you'll eventually hit the wall because unless you know how to manipulate your way to the top, every restaurant will want their hardest workers doing the grunt work because they won't bitch and will get things done much faster than the idiot who knows how to take their time cutting parsley.

If this is the case, why do we try to teach a professional work ethic to the kids that go through the program? It's simple: we really like to yell at the ones who already know the tricks (this makes it so we don't have to do any work see!), and it's always fun to watch people clean the kitchen (or run to the bathroom holding their ass).

So start these tricks now so you can be a pro by the time you hit the kitchen. Also, go buy a pack of Marlboro Lights and strike your match.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

0, Introductions

For the past month, I've been doing a food blog documenting all the food I've been eating, in hopes to become a more compassionate eater and cook.  Well, this inspired one of my students, John, to do his own blog taking a trip through 100 classic Italian dishes.  We were talking today and decided that my old blog, although interesting, is pretty personal and not necessarily accessible to a larger audience.  After joking around about different blog ideas, a stroke of inspiration struck: taking his 100 different things idea and combining it with what I do.  The result: 100 Things you Should Know Before Being a Chef.

Now, I'm not planning on making this a virtual culinary school.  No blog could ever make up for being a student actually enrolled in a culinary school.  You need the hands-on experience that a school provides.  Instead, what I hope to do is illustrate 100 very important elements of culinary school that isn't necessarily taught efficiently in formal culinary academies.  Some the topics covered will be: how to get away with being a uniform rebel; how to effectively piss off your chef instructor; how to make a mother sauce with Tobasco Sauce; how to sleep with all of your classmates and not be a slut; what HACCP really stands for; how to get a gold medal on your final practical exam without really trying.

So you may be thinking, what makes me qualified to write this blog?  Well, I'm currently a Chef Instructor and have been for the past year.  I'm also a cook that has worked in the industry.  I was also a culinary student.

TV may have painted a glamourous picture of Le Cordon Bleu Academies and the Culinary Institutes of America, but I'm here to shed a little light on the hidden corners of the walk-in's.  I'm here to give you the real education you need to survive in the food service industry.  Sure, I may throw in the proper way to julienne a carrot, but it will be followed up with, "why use your knife, when a mandolin is so much faster?"