Archive for December, 2009

So, this was supposed to be about the 12 days of Christmas,well after doing a little research, I decided to toss that idea right out the window! Besides, Christmas will be here in 9 days, maybe next year. So onward I forge with yet another tale of my budding young culinary career.

Needless to say I wasn’t going to be content baking for the neighborhood boys forever, and whipping up treats for my friends (read stoner) after school to appease the ever-present cases of the munchies was only partially satisfying. Kitchen playtime was fine by me, but I hungered for more. New ingredients to work with, professional equipment and of course what drives everyone, deep down, the desire to get acknowledged & paid for my culinary talent.

It was also during this time period that I was elevating my reading repertoire. Betty Crocker was forsaken for Escoffier, James Beard, Elizabeth David, MFK Fischer, and the crown jewel of my collection, The Larousse Gastronomique all 1,400 pages of it. I also managed to finagle my way into a weekend job at a local country club. The chef was european and an incredibly stern task master. Yet the lessons he taught me have served me well. They were some of the most valuable I have ever learned. Cleanliness, organization, taste, creativity, be true to yourself and learn from your mistakes. Be positive. Cook what you love. Do it with passion.

I started at the bottom of course, in the “pantry” also known as the cold station. Chef always called me the “garde manger”. Made me feel important and gave me a sense of pride. I was soon put in charge of making a few simple desserts on the weekends. One particularly lovely saturday chef wanted me to make cream puffs. Now pate au choux dough is not a terribly complicated process, although it was going to be the first time I would be alone in the kitchen. The line cooks were going on their afternoon break as I was coming in. Wow! The entire kitchen to myself, with the exception of the dish washer- prep, I was it.

The chef had given me the recipe, and since I was to make about 300 of these delicious little treats, the sous chef had weighed out my ingredients for me, due to the volume that was needed. I just had to make the dough. Piece of cake, I thought.

I brought my liquid & butter to a boil, added my flour & sugar & salt and cooked until dry. Into the huge crank mixer, add eggs, check to make sure the dough was the proper consistency and pipe onto parchment lined sheet pans. Bake. Cool. The day before I had made 2 mousses, one was dark chocolate and one was strawberry. I was to plate 3 per order, filled with the mousses & the last one with vanilla ice cream, some sliced strawberries, drizzle of chocolate sauce, dusting of powdered sugar and my dessert would be complete.

All went well, my cream puffs were gorgeous! Golden, crisp, puffed to perfection. Bursting with pride, the chef came in and I showed them to him. He picked one off the sheet pan, bit into it and promptly spit it out. With a very definite, Merde! The sous-chef was laughing hysterically. Chef gave me a long hard look and asked me if I had tasted my dough, no chef I replied, how about a finished one? No again. By now I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, and kind of knew what was next. Try one, he said. I did. Yuk!  Crisp~ yes, soft inside~ yes, puffed~yes. Sweet, no.  A mouthful of salt was all I could taste.

While my pate au choux were undeniably gorgeous, they were alas inedible. The sous-chef later confessed to switching the superfine sugar with salt. He did not like me ( I wouldn’t go out with him) and thought it would “teach” me a lesson. It did, just not as he intended. Was I humbled? No. Did I think he was a jerk, absolutely. Never, ever let someone else assemble your mise place for you, and always taste your sugars & salts. That is until you’re the boss and then they won’t dare mess with you for fear of losing their job.

I was saved from kitchen shame that day because a trick was played on me. Not a very nice one, but thats life. There are people who do not like to see others succeed. My advice? Move on & accept that attitude and ability count for far more in the long run.

Now about that dessert, luckily I had genoise in the freezer, plus the mousses, fruit & the sauce I had already made. A little sprinkle of grand marnier simple syrup on the cake and behold individual trifles! Because at the end of the day you & you alone are accountable for what you do. Taste, taste, taste! Just make sure to have fun too. Hey, it is only food.

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It’s the passion that beats within the heart of every female chef, the unsung hero’s of the kitchen, the leaders of a quiet brigade. Strong and silent they rule, yet never miss a beat. While your grandmother or mother may still reign supreme on the home front, behind those swinging doors lies a completely different story. The professional kitchen has always been a male dominated domain, but thanks to a small percentage of stalwart souls that is slowly changing.

Women make up just 17% of chefs and cooks today with fewer than 25% owning their own restaurants. Why is this so? Women are cleaner, faster, quieter, more nurturing and understanding than men, yet they often get overlooked for positions of power. It’s like that saying “There’s no crying in baseball” ~ ditto for the kitchen. Makes people perceive you as weak. Same goes for having children. Oh, she won’t be able to come in if little Johnny gets a cold. Bullshit! We are just as capable, if not more, of rising to any challenge or situation.

Yet the big cheese in the white jacket and top toque is almost always a man. Thank god there are some amazing women working to change that. So here, in no particular order are some of my favourite women chefs, where they can be found & what culinary volumes they have produced. If you can’t enjoy their food first hand, at least you can try to re-create it at home. Just remember it won’t be as good as the real thing.

1) Gabriele Hamilton ~ Chef/Owner ~ Food style: Eclectic french home country, not afraid to speak her mind and not influenced by the next ‘big’ thing. Inspiration: Her mother.

Prune:  54 Est 1st  NY, NY  212-677-6221   http://www.prune.com

Upcoming: Blood, Bones & Butter  release date early 2010

2) Rebecca Charles ~ Chef/Owner ~ Food style: The best lobster roll. No stranger to controversy. Inspiration: Swans Oyster Depot San Francisco.

Pearl Oyster Bar  18 Cornelia St. NY, NY  212-691-8211   ww.pearloysterbar.com

Cookbook: Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie

3) Debra Ponzek ~ Chef/Owner ~ Food style: American country french flavours, rose to prominence as Chef of Montrachet in New York City.

Aux Delices   1075 E. Putnam Ave  Riverside, CT.  203-698-1066 http://www.auxdelicesfoods.com   (there are currently 3 locations in CT)

Cookbook: French Food / American Accent

4) Alison Barshak ~ Chef/Owner ~ Food style: Inspired by travels to many different counties, rose to prominence as Chef at Striped Bass in Philadelphia.

Alison two  424 S. Bethlehem Pike  Fort Washington, PA  215- 591-0200 http://www.alisontwo.com

Cookbook: Can be found in Great Women Chefs and Women of Taste

5) Jody Adams ~ Chef/Owner ~ Food style: Italian cuisine with native new england ingredients.

Rialto  One Bennett St. Harvard Sq  Cambridge, Mass  617- 661-5050 http://www.rialto.com

Cookbook:  In the Hands of a Chef

6) Elizabeth Falkner ~ Pastry Chef/Owner ~ Food style: Avant garde works of  edible pastry art.

Citizen Cake   399 Grove St. San Francisco, CA  415-861-2228 http://www.citizencake.com

Cookbook: Demolition Desserts

7) Suzanne Goin ~ Chef/Owner ~ Food style: Seasonally inspired classic dishes.

Lucques  8474 Melrose Ave  los Angeles, CA  323-655-6277 http://www.lucques.com

Cookbook: Sunday Suppers at Lucques

8) Nancy Silverton ~ Artisan Bread Baker/ Owner ~ Food style: Brought artisanal bread to the forefront at La Brea Bakery. Currently partnered with Mario Batali.

Osteria Mozza  6602 Melrose Ave  Los Angeles, CA  323-297-0100            www.mozza-la.com

Cookbook: Twist of the Wrist

9) Judy Rodgers ~ Chef/Owner ~ Food style: Simple, clean brick oven cuisine.

Zuni  1658 Market St  San Francisco, CA  415-552-2522   http://www.zunicafe.com

Cookbook: The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

10) Gale Gand ~ Pastry Chef/Owner ~ Food style: Classic desserts reinvented for today.

Tru  676 N. St. Clair St. Chicago, Ill  312-202-0001  www.trurestaurant.com

Cookbook: Butter, Sugar, Flour, Eggs  &  Short- n- Sweet

11) Kathy Cary ~ Chef/Owner ~ Food style: Southern traditions inspired with local KY ingredients.

Lilly’s  A Kentucky Bistro  1147 Bardstown Rd  Louisville, KY  502-451-0447 http://www.lillyslapeche.com

Cookbook: Can be found in Great Women Chefs

12) Karen Barnaby ~ Chef ~ Food style: Fresh local seafood, got started in Ottawa, moved to Toronto before landing in Vancouver.

The Fish House in Stanley Park   8901 Stanley Park Drive  Vancouver, BC                   1-877-681-7275   http://www.fishhousestanleypark.com

Cookbook: Halibut The Cookbook

So here’s to Girl Power! May these intrepid ladies keep fanning the fire paving the way for a new generation of female chefs and pastry chefs.

This is not a complete listing, but just enough to whet the appetite. Rock on Ladies!

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In case anyone was wondering, I have not forsaken my so-called blog. Just been caught up in all the fun and joy that are the holidays. Though thats no reason to let my duties as a budding writer lapse and fall by the proverbial way side. I mention this because unlike most food blogs, mine is full of personal stories, ancedotes and what not. It does not contain (yet) flashy photos, video tutorials or food advertisements hawking yet another product. I realize that if I were to add these things, the traffic to this site would most likely increase, maybe even cause someone to sit up and take notice of my brilliant writing skills, and superior photography, but that is not why I do this.

No, I do this for one reason, pure and simple, I am in love with food. Everything about it. Sights, smells, textures, tastes, shapes. Have been ever  since I was 6 years old and my mum let me create my first “composed” salad. She had everything chopped and at the ready for me, right down to her prized wooden salad bowl from her father. Mum just told me to make it beautiful, and I did. From then on there was no stopping me. There was no “easy bake” oven in my future, no sir, not for this girl. When I was 8, I wanted and got a wonderful electric griddle. My parents figured that was safer than having me stand on a stool by the stove. It plugged in, so I could whip up my creations on top of the kitchen table. Usually pancakes were on the menu, but I dabbled in mini hamburgers too. Sliders, as they are now being hailed. Please. Been there, done that.

I also loved to cut up hot dogs ( bangers too) and fry them on my griddle and put them on potato chips with a squirt of ketchup or mustard, depending on who the customer was. Pickle chip was strictly optional. So its safe to say I was into making hors d’oeuvre at a young age. Truth be told, I just liked small food! Thought it was cute.

I particularly enjoyed making silver dollar pancakes with bacon which I would sprinkle with sugar because I liked how it got all crunchy and sweet. Candied bacon anyone? On to grilled cheese with tomato or bacon or both! Eggs followed, fried or scrambled. And the first real meal I made was egg foo young, with chopped ham, canned bean sprouts & water chestnuts. My mum had a can of those fried chinese noodles and extra soy sauce, dinner was served. By now my parents knew that my obsession with food was more than a passing fancy.

I believe they indulged me hoping it would encourage me to eat, anything. Picky eater was an understatement. Now of course if I made it, I would generally taste it, at least a bite that is. My first cookbook was the red checked Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book which I still have to this day. That was followed by The Joy of Cooking, a simply exceptional volume of recipes and reference. Everyone, and I mean everyone should have a copy of this on their kitchen shelf.

By the time I was 9 or 10, my trusty griddle was packed away and I progressed to the stove, which I adored, because it had 4 burners, thus enabling me to make more than one dish at a time. Ditto with the oven and learning to use my grandmothers Sunbeam kitchen stand mixer. I thought it was the most incredible machine ever. So my career as a young baker got its start.

Even as a young girl I discovered food to be a wonderful way to any ones heart. That holds true today. Who doesn’t love a care package full of homemade treats lovingly crafted by hand just for them! On that note, I must bid you all adieu and go start on packing up all the goodie boxes I have lined up for family and friends this Christmas.

So indulge your children’s or a friend’s or even your own flights of fancy in the kitchen, you may not become the next Martha Stewart or Thomas Keller or a Food Network Star, but you sure can have a tasty time doing so!

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