Culinary School vs. Kitchen Experience: Who Gets the Job

The restaurant industry has been getting bigger and bigger due to the fact that many people switch careers or have found an interesting career in cooking. Maybe this obnoxious fad can be blamed on Food Television, like the Food Network, where almost everyone wants to become a celebrity chef like Rachel Ray or Bobby Flay. Culinary Schools have been popping up everywhere in the country like a contagious disease, offering education for aspiring chefs in hopes of getting a job after getting their associate degree in Culinary Arts.  The sad fact is that education is not a factor, nor your golden ticket to chefdom, when compared to several years of working experience.

Knowledge is very important when you are working in the kitchen. For example, when the head chef tells you to cut something into brunoise cuts, a culinary student would not have any trouble doing just that. Culinary school familiarizes students with techniques, culinary history, and technical terms. Most students know what an Escoffier is, as well as the major players in the world of culinary arts. On the other hand, an average “Joe” from the street, even if they have been working in a kitchen for years, would not always know a brunoise cut from a batonnet cut. They also would have very rough techniques, relying primarily on instinct, and if you asked them who Ferran Adria is, they would probably just give you a blank stare. Under the realm of knowledge, the culinary student has an obvious advantage.

Skills are not overrated in the kitchen as some may say. It is indeed a very essential part to be a great chef. It is a major factor in whether an employer will hire you, and whether you can get a job in a 5 star restaurant, or a one star restaurant. A culinary student will have the technical skills to do just about anything, but they will be rough and unpolished. They may have troubles doing things correctly every time. They are used to being allowed to make mistakes from school, because that is how they learn, but in a real kitchen, in the real world, there is not that time to correct those mistakes. You have to be on point every time you do something. On the reverse side of it, someone who has been in the kitchen dealing with the stress and pressure would be far less inclined to make those same mistakes. They learned their skills from experience and from the chefs they work with that have been around for a longer amount of time. It becomes second nature just to do it. They don’t question or stop to think about it, they just do it. For example, they may not know what a brunoise cut is, but they will be able to follow an example, and more than likely will be able to cut it faster than the student. In this area, the experienced worker ekes it out over the culinary student.

Experience is probably the largest factor considered when an employer is looking for a candidate to fill a vacant position. They scan a person’s resume for experience first, because they want to find someone that knows what they are doing and can handle the strain and pressure of an everyday kitchen. A culinary student does not understand this. They have been working in a kitchen that is like a fantasy world. It is all pixies and fairies for them. They don’t realize until they get into a real kitchen that they will be staring into the maw of a 30-foot fire breathing dragon. If they are not careful, and they make too many mistakes, they will be burnt to cinders. They don’t understand the pressure that a lunch or dinner rush will put them under. They don’t know about the heat on the line when there are several other bodies pressing in on you. It is like the most humid of Nebraska summer days. A person who has been in the kitchen for years on the other hand, well, they have no qualms with any of this. They have slain the dragon and they have eradicated the pixies and fairies. They know exactly what to do when a rush comes in, and they always have their ducks in a row. The experienced cook is like an army war veteran who has seen his fair share of battles. He doesn’t get nervous, he just checks to make sure that he has all he has, tries to prepare for any eventuality, expects the worst, and is good at improvising when something goes awry.  In the case of experience, the culinary student is at a distinct disadvantage.

Working experience is more advantageous when looking for a job. It will tell all potential employers that you can do it, and you can do it right. However, it is a great boon for anyone to go to culinary school. When you get to go to school, it gives you a higher status in the culinary world, and it also gives you a sense of accomplishment that others may never feel. If you have a combination of both, working experience and culinary school, then you have a very good standing in the eyes of potential employers. You will have the knowledge, the skills, and the experience. That is the total package when it comes to what employers are looking for.

Garden update

I’ve been wanting to post my garden project since May but I kept delaying. My vegetables are way bigger and healthier now, it actually looks like a mini jungle. But anyway, here are the pictures I took a month ago.

green peas

cauliflower

lettuce

basil

mint leaves

parsley

strawberry
fennel

It’s all about the purees

No, this is not about purees. But we will go to that later. Yesterday was my first day of internship at The Grey Plume. I’ve staged there once during lunch time but dinner time is different than I thought. Chef Clayton said that I’m the first intern to work in dinner service, which makes me feel a little special. I didn’t even notice that I’m the only female cook in the kitchen, the rest are guys with laid back attitudes. I wasn’t even intimidated although their dishes were way over the top. It’s like the dishes that you see in cooking competition shows like Iron Chef America. Very detailed, unique and out of this world. Well, what should I expect in a fine dining restaurant? Chips and dip?

So my first day started. I wore my chef coat uniform and headed to the kitchen. It was weird wearing chef coat at work because I don’t normally wear chef coat at my current job. The heat of the kitchen welcomed me, literally. The dinner crews were there doing prep work. I helped one of the guys, his name is Peter. As I was helping him, I realized I didn’t have an apron. I think I should wear an apron first, I said. I felt very stupid, but I found out they don’t hand aprons to intern students or to anyone, which I thought was weird. They said that they gave aprons in the first day and they can keep it, and wash it. It’s like a personal belonging, like your knives. It makes sense though. They can save money by doing that.

They assigned me to the line station. I put purees into the deli container, sliced apples, smeared the the dough mix into a strainer where they fell into boiling water and formed a spaetzle. Spaetzle is a type of egg noodle or, as Pete said, a dumpling. It tastes like pasta. My job there was to slice 6 pieces of bread for charcuterie and bread for bread baskets. It’s pretty much a very simple job but at some point I messed it up. I burned the bread and had to grill it again. I felt bad but not because they made me feel that way. They moved on, I moved on and learned and I won’t do it again.

It was Thursday night, so I didn’t feel the rush in the kitchen. I noticed that one order goes through a long process before it is served and how plating can change everything. Just like one of the main plates they have that’s called Majinola Farm’s Wagyu Beef that consists of short ribs, oyster mushroom, potato, asparagus, radish, heart and tongue. Pete’s job is to cook the vegetables and Justin is the meat guy. And when they’re done they hand it to Chef Clayton, and he will plate it. The plating is very artistic and painstaking. Chef Clayton may be laid back but he knows his shit.

I didn’t quite get what the purees are all about when I put it in the container. But the purees are part of the dish, giving color, flavor and dimension of the dish. “It’s all about the purees”, I said. And Justin replied, “Now, you’re getting it”.

Molecular Gastronomy: Sous Vide

I never heard of sous vide before until I got the chance to attend the Molecular Gastronomy seminar at Metro. Sous vide is a method of cooking wherein the food is sealed in airtight plastic bags in water bath for a long period of time. The purpose for this is to maintain the integrity of the ingredients. The picture above is an immersion circulator, a product of polyscience sous vide professional. The water bath is kept in a consistent temperature and it cooks the food evenly. The type of food you can put in sous vide are limitless like red meat, poultry, fish, non-green vegetables, and sea food.The picture above is a chamber vacuum sealer. Before you soak the food in the water bath, you have to seal it first. The purpose for this is to preserve the flavor, aromas, moisture and color of the ingredients.This is the watermelon we tried. It was sealed and I can tell that the taste is different from a watermelon that wasn’t sealed. It is juicier and the color is more reddish.This is the flash freeze, anti griddle device. It was inspired by Chef Grant Archatz, owner of Alinea restaurant in Chicago. This device quickly freezes sauces, purees, creams and foams on the outer surface while maintaining creaminess in the center. We got the chance to make our own creme anglaise lollipop. It was very cool but I prefer creme anglaise as an ice cream. The possibilities for this device are endless. You can make your own dessert or frozen appetizers like frozen salmon mousse, rhubard jasmine meringue or caramel-rosemary vanilla lollipop.

Everything taste really good and different. But the thing that I don’t personally like is the meat that was sous vide and seared. The meat is tender but its too soft and a bit mushy. You can tell in the picture that the meat is perfectly cooked in medium rare but if you taste it, it’s very different from the steak you normally grill or pan seared.

Sous vide cooking is very new to me. There are still a lot of things to know about this method of cooking. The thing that I like about sous vide is that you can preserve the flavor of the ingredients and you can store cooked food, and refrigerate for a long period of time.

I’m still cooking

For the past few weeks, I’ve been cooking food that I want to eat. The problem about eating what I want is that it’s always bad for my health. Think about cartilages, bone marrows, chicken skins, sugary stuff and fatty pork belly. Not something you want to eat if you are prone to heart disease.

But I’m a bit open minded this time. I want to eat blanched asparagus with hollandaise sauce. I tried to eat hollandaise for few times now and I can say that it’s not bad at all. I just don’t like eggy and buttery flavor but if you make hollandaise sauce properly, it provides a distinctive good flavor. The first time I made hollandaise sauce was really bad. It turned out very liquidy. It didn’t curdle though which I thought was fine but the taste was disgusting. But when I make hollandaise in our soup and sauce class, it tasted better because I cooked it in the right way. It has right consistency. I used the clarified butter which is better to use than regular butter. I whisked the egg yolk with water and whisk it till its thick enough, and that frothy mixture is known as sabayon. Then you add the clarified butter slowly, whisking constantly to form an emulsion. Finally, you can add salt and lemon juice. Making hollandaise isn’t easy at all. It takes a lot of patience and practice. When I made it this time, it was thick because I whisked it too long (picture above).

When I was at the grocery store, I saw this gigantic size sweet potato and I thought of camote cue (caramelized sweet potato on a stick). I remembered eating camote cue growing up. When I think about comfort food, I think about this and grilled milk fish (bangus). It’s something I would never get tired eating. My husband, on the other hand, hates sweet potato even though its caramelized. He said he hates it more. He is annoying sometimes.

I have no idea what to do with our ground beef. My father-in-law gave us all kinds of steaks, from T-bone to sirloin and lots of ground beef when he bought us the deep freezer. It was last year and we still have some left. So I decided to make meatloaf. It’s funny because I didn’t know that you can make meatloaf using ground meat. I never have american meatloaf before, all I had was the canned one. At work, we make meatloaf from scratch. I guess you can’t have good meatloaf if you don’t make it from scratch. I copied the recipe at work because it has the best flavor out of the meatloaf I’ve tasted plus it has bacon on top, so there you go.

I never cook pork hock before but I’ve eaten it many times when I was still in the Philippines. My father, who is the best cook I’ve known,  kicks ass when it comes to lauya or nilagang baboy (boiled pork). But I didn’t cook my pork hock that way. I cooked it in adobo style because I don’t have the ingredients to make the soup. I boiled the pork hock until the cartilage, fat and meat are off the bone. Then I started cooking like the way I cook adobo. It was okay. I’d prefer the soup better than adobo though.

Today, I cooked asian wings. But seriously, I don’t know how to call it. I created the sauce to coat the wings after I panfried it. The sauce is just basically the stuff I found in my fridge. I won’t consider sharing it here because it is my special secret recipe. My husband loves it and it has a different flavor than the wings you’ve tried at hooters or buffalo wild wings.

I’m still cooking and kicking…and eating.

Something to think about

There is something I need to confess. I really have a hard time writing. It’s been awhile since I write a very personal blog. I always avoid those type of writing because I always over exaggerate the situation and most of the time I write negative things and I cuss, A LOT. So to keep myself from trouble I write things that I like, like food. I can write recipes, experience in school, what I learn and all that goody goody stuff. But that’s not the reason why I made a food blog. It’s just that I found something that is really worth writing, my passion about food.

But the thing is, I feel like writing when I’m in the heights of emotional distress or happiness so it’s basically a personal thing that I like to share. I read my old blogs way back 2007 and I can’t keep myself from laughing. Terrible grammar, really personal and very detailed, and just plain funny. I can’t believe I wrote those things. I feel like I’m reunited with my old self again. I was young and free to say anything because I simply don’t care what other people think but now, I’m paranoid. I don’t know. Maybe I learned that I shouldn’t over share for my own good. Especially when you talk about your employer, your teacher, your work, religion and politics. Those type of topics are very sensitive and I am not wasting my time for a debate. Whether you like it or not, there is no such thing as “freedom of speech”. It’s like when you post something in facebook like “I hate my job”, when your boss read such thing, you bet your ass the next day you come to work you’re fired. That’s a sad fact. We live in a world where computers and internet are a necessity. We depend on them. If we want to know or search something, we google them. Future employers google potential employees. You don’t want your future boss see your pictures hammered and wasted. I would say that if you like to be bold and loud, maybe set your facebook to private and don’t blog because it will destroy you. Just like Anthony Bourdain said “Try being entertaining. Try being didactic. Stop being angry. If you’re an angry person with too many cats and a grudge against the New York Times, maybe you shouldn’t be blogging.” It’s common sense after all. There are boundaries towards writing.

Food blog is a personal blog because it’s a personal interest. But I see it more as a professional blog or formal blogging. Formal, because I don’t use bold languages and bold topic. The pictures of my food might be sexy and yummy but it’s not something to disgust or disagree about. But I think I need to put a personal touch to it because that’s what missing. When I write neutrally it’s like a picture without color or a food without taste. I guess writing personal things doesn’t hurt as long as it’s not too personal. It’s always good to save something for yourself.

Dessert sauces

Yesterday’s class in Soup and Sauce was dessert sauces. Each of us made creme anglaise which is the base for vanilla bean ice cream (my first time to make a really good ice cream), strawberry coulis which is simply a pureed fruit, ganache (pronounce as ganash), a chocoalte sauce, sabayon which almost made me drunk and caramel sauce. I never make any dessert sauce before, I guess I always depend on hershey’s syrup which I realized is too rich and disgusting compared to these sauces you made from scratch.

Dessert sauces is about contrast. If you have a very sweet desserts like cake or any pastries containing chocolate or elaborate creams, it is best served with acidic sauce like unsweetened fruit coulis. The dessert sauces we made are just a base and we can make variations out of it. Example is creme anglaise. You can add spirits (whiskey, brandies, liqueurs), fruits, chocolate, coffee and so on whatever you like. But personally, I like it the way it is. I just love the vanilla flavor which is the main flavor of creme anglaise. I was surprised of making ganache. It is very simple and one of the best chocolate sauce I’ve ever tasted. If you want to make chocolate sauce from scratch, try ganache instead of using hershey syrup. Just simmer cream and milk, add chocolate and add the butter in the end. That’s it. Of course you have to cool it down before you add it to your cake or whatever.

The pictures above are the sauces I made. My caramel tasted bitter at the end maybe because I didn’t pay attention when I was making it (I was busy whisking my creme anglaise). I still find it weird when you add liqueur in your dessert sauce just like the sabayon. Sabayon itself is the only sauce that originally have wine in it. I personally don’t like it that much. The rest are really good. Then again, I was feeling light headed after class. I ate too much ice cream.