|Photo by Rashid Gabdulhakov|
Well, I wish I’d remembered to take any pictures during school, but this quarter was all about Quantity Cooking, so there wasn’t much time to photography. When I was asked about taking pictures, I wanted to say, “dude, I’m working! Who has time to bust out a camera?!” One manager at Stopsky’s Delicatessen told me that if I have time to lean, then I have time to clean. While less poetic, it would probably apply to photo-taking in a kitchen, too. I did snag some pictures from my classmates’ Facebook pages, so you’ll get some pictures 🙂 Anyway, onto my review of 2Q cooking, sans applicable pictures.
We were responsible for feeding the 150 plus students in the program, and we did this by being divided into groups and taking responsibility for specific items, such as entrees, sides (vegetables and starches), Asian dishes (stir fries, rice bowls, noodle bowls), breakfast dishes, and our own student-chosen entrees. We usually made between 12 and 20 portions of whatever food it was. We also prepared items for The Buzz and for Square One, the coffee shop and bistro restaurant, respectively. Making enough food for 12 is probably not too weird for those who regularly host dinners or find their homes filled with guests around the holidays. Twenty portions can definitely seem like a large amount of food; twenty plates are certainly a large number of breakable dishes to carry around.
I enjoyed the practicum part of the program – the hurry and cook for your classmates portion. There was always a crunch for time, but as long as your mise en place was …en place … your lunch would be successful. The concept wasn’t difficult: cook lunch. The practice could be made complicated if the dish for which you were responsible was more difficult or more involved than you expected or if your preparation was. So, the lesson that many students learned in the kitchen: “read your ___ recipe before you start!” Duh. I can’t tell you how many recipes I messed up or dragged out as a kid because I didn’t think through my process all the way. Oh, my poor parents. Imagine doing that with a somewhat harsh, definitely critical (in a good way), intense chef breathing down your neck. Yah, I didn’t wing it often in Chef KG’s kitchen.
My kitchen partner, Derek, winged it much more often. Whereas I wrote plans of actions for my plans, Derek would saunter into the kitchen bearing his Ipad and his knives. He’d zoom around at his Derek pace and bust out a great tasting meal that usually sold out before noon. Uh huh. Figures. He is a great cook and has a strong intuition for foods that taste great. We were great foils for each other, because I tried to track our assignments, and Derek helped ground me and prevent me from getting too wrapped around the axle over transient things, like “Oh no, the 6 ounce ladle is being used! What should I do!” (Say this in a high wailing voice while looking panicked) Derek would smartly say that we could probably eyeball the portions after we measure the first dish.
In addition to cooking, we took the theory of cooking. It was the “why” part to most of what we did in the kitchen. In first quarter, one of the cool things I learned was the differences in starch content of potatoes and their subsequent effects on different dishes.
In second quarter, I learned that butter is the best insulator for sandwiches, not mayonnaise. I learned that compound butter is raw butter mixed with practically anything. Provencal indicates that garlic has been added to a dish, and Polonaise is a breadcrumb topping browned in butter and mixed with chopped egg and parsley. I learned that a composed salad better not get mixed together, thus making it a mixed (and sloppy) salad. I found out that a William Potato is shaped and breaded to look like a pear. And I learned that some students really like to have one-on-one conversations with the Chef while the rest of us listen to the back-and-forth like Wimbledon viewers. I also learned the names of different types of sushi, different donburi bowls, and that Chef KG is a blackbelt and extremely dangerous.
The lectures were similar to Chef Gregg’s lectures, but we used the textbook much less. The exams were based mostly on the lectures and offhand asides that the Chef would make. I tried to write down everything that he said, basically. His exams weren’t difficult per se, but sometimes the questions asked and the answers provided were a little bit out of sync. I usually ended up writing long sentences or near-paragraphs to answer his questions to see if I could get the keyword that he considered the most correct.
In addition to lecture and kitchen time, we also had Purchasing, Costing, and Management courses. These classes were all taught by Mr. Tom Dillard, the front of house management instructor. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute, and he and his wife have both had turns at restaurant owning and teaching at SCA. A former student compared Mr. Dillard to a well-known late night television comedian, and I’m inclined to agree. He is really funny. He does this look-over-the-glasses face whenever he catches us doing something boneheaded. He is really animated and has a witty sense of humour. His class wasn’t difficult, though apparently my calculator and I had some input differences. It was mostly a class in which if you were somewhat attentive, you were going to do just fine. I mean, it’s restaurant management, so several of us had some type of experience, such as closing a register or costing food. Besides, if you crash and burn in the theory of management or restaurant book-keeping, do you think restaurant management would be a good career choice?
The continued benefit of doing an end-of-quarter field trip is usually something I enjoy. One classmate suggested that we eat at Re:public, a newish restaurant in the newish South Lake Union district. While the dishes were creative, I was generally disappointed in the portions and felt that the flavours fell just shy of delicious. I think if we had been served more than four courses, it may have felt more substantial. The Restaurant Week lunch portions were larger – and cheaper – than the items we were given. In addition, some of the combinations seemed too opposing to complement each other well, such as the green onion puree on the short ribs. I wasn’t sure how well the chef had been briefed about our field trip’s intentions, because we didn’t get to tour the restaurant, and the chef didn’t seem to know much about our program. The chef did come and speak with us for a few minutes, and he was very personable. In addition, the kitchen hadn’t been informed that we had two vegetarians, so they had to work last-minute to create some items for them.
Since my experience was somewhat lukewarm – and I’m not sure that it was due to the restaurant or due to the lack of preparation on my classmate’s behalf – I’d be hesitant to return for a happy hour or dinner. The location is definitely ideal – located on Westlake and a mere two blocks to the Amazon campus. I’d love to hear from others who have dined at Re:public to see if it actually is worth a return trip.
Second quarter was physically grueling in the sense of cooking about twenty portions of food in two hours. As long as time management, planning, and attentive cooking are strengths, then success was fairly easy. The individuals who struggled were ones who didn’t sleep enough, didn’t come prepared, or who didn’t ask for help from the correct individuals. That is really the key. I believe all of the students passed, and we shall see how it all comes together when we cook for Square One!
I’m with a new bunch of classmates, with some who have stayed back for one reason or another. This group is young, and they’re full of energy and dreams. We’re all doing such different things in kitchens, and it’s interesting to compare notes and such. I’ve met some new classmates who are great cooks, and I hope we get to stick it out through the next quarters.
I enjoyed second quarter quite a bit, but I’m ready for third quarter!