Sunday, May 25, 2008


People are surprised to find out I make pastry items at home. I'm not sure why this is, really. Home is my lab, library, playground and comfort zone. At home I can make mistakes and call them innovations, failures can be called learning experiences. No one is waiting for my work but me, and I enjoy my own breathless enthusiasm. I can create silly, exotic, fun without worrying about it fitting with the style of someone else. At home there is not a single god damn pecan tassie, prescooped cookie and sweetened condensed milk is kept at an absolute minimum. That stuff really creeps me out.

And, if I do show someone something from home and am asked, "Why would you make dessert caviar?", "Why not?" is a perfectly reasonable answer.

Black cherry caviar, honeyed yogurt, vanilla pancake and fennel.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

My sister, on why I should just apply for that thing...

"it turns out disappointment isn't so bad that it is worth missing out on enthusiasm."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

You're Laborers; you should be laboring.

I'm smart, and I'm not going to apologize for it.

I spent years working though all the psychological baggage that led me to believe this was a bad thing and I know that, in fact, it's a damn good thing. It's not that I am a prodigy of any sort. I'm not a wizard or some superhuman thingamabob. Just good and smart. And yes, I have an education.

You would think this would make my life easier.

Instead I chose to work in an industry that has a highly skeptical if not cynical view of the value of classwork. And why shouldn't they? They have earned their education in a very real and practical sense - apprentices were around long before the idea of a professor - and have all seen some of the lesser examples of education without practical knowledge. And it is not simply my job that has this viewpoint. Some of the best chefs out there scoff at the skills of the culinary school graduate.

I am very conscious of not waving my brains about at work. In particular, my immediate supervisor is not educated and is very sensitive about it. I have actually had to ask him to stop dismissing the skills of the instructors at my school because of things he felt I should know. I have never corrected his science when it is flat out wrong, because he is not the kind to respond to that well. I am tolerant that when asked what six times nine is, someone is going to check my math on a calculator. But dammit, I AM going to say something about that butter cookie they want to send as a lactose intolerant dessert. And it is really hard to not react strongly when the response is "So? Only milk has lactose."

I had great teachers in culinary school. Intelligent individuals who were perfectly comfortable with letting me know how much I wouldn't know when I got that piece of paper, even while they fed my brain. They encouraged me to get out there while going to classes to see what is really like, and I did. They understood, and helped me to understand, that what I was getting from them was a vocabulary. They gave me the freedom to fail. That freedom gave me confidence to try again, and try different, and question how and why and what. To learn. To be educated.

Is it any wonder that of all the options available to me for the long term, I want to be like those that valued my brain, challenged me even while letting me know that I was working in an idealized, sheltered environment? Could you blame me for wanting nothing more for the immediate future than a chef that is, if not as smart as I am, cognizant of what to do with someone who is smart?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What is a cook's resposibility to the world?

I should not be allowed to read post apocalyptic novels.

Particularly the well written ones, the ones with characters that understand that dried beans are better than canned, the appreciate early on the importance of salt, sugar and the coming of winter. I read them and suddenly I want to start hoarding, make slow simmering soups, and in general preparing my swiss army knife for the imagined difficulties that lie just ahead.

So what happens when the news starts reading like a post apocalyptic novel? When you start to see, if not catastrophic changes, then at least significant ones that affect your own kitchen?

There is waste in a professional kitchen. A good chef will minimize it, to be sure, but it is there nonetheless. In a catering kitchen it can be flat out appalling; you know what bad form it is to run out of food at your own party, and when every order is a party...

Add to that the question of local/sustainable/seasonal/organic. Can you offer a client an organic option when you have no idea if three months from now that option will even be available? What happens if you do and then the guest count goes up beyond the capability of the farmer?

We have unbelievable opulence where our food is concerned and I see it getting taken for granted daily. What should my responsibility be? To give the clients what they want? To educate from within? To leave it behind in protest?

I asked a horticultural friend why he stays in an area that is still fairly backward where food consciousness is concerned- he has multiple jobs to keep afloat. He says he would rather stay to try and help the change happen, because if he doesn't, it will just make the area slip further behind. That is seriously noble.

As someone who isn't at the top of the kitchen food chain, who can influence very little, I wish I could go somewhere where I didn't have to trailblaze, where I could work with people who have some of the concerns I do. It is frustrating to have such a small voice.

I think it is important to keep speaking up, though. Or else the rice flour, the pandan, the sugar and the chocolate that made this bite won't be available. Even without an apocalypse.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

And Yet...

... I noticed today at work that our frozen peach slices (No sugar added! Individually quick frozen!) have "natural" peach flavor added to them.

Isn't natural peach flavor what they already should have?

Porch moments

We were never cake people. If I wanted cake, I wanted one that was very atypical. I remember at age six, when schools still insisted on a class cake for birthdays with no thought to allergies or nutrition, I wanted a spice cake. Lemon cake was another decent option, but otherwise, meh. Could care less. I still hate cakes.

That crisco icing on a dry sponge? Bleh. I think that was partially why I went for a French pastry education; the chefs understood that the world of dessert was so much better without a slab of yellow cake with chocolate frosting.

We love pies, though. What is not to love? A crust, baked dark to bring out the sweetness. Inside, those berries we picked off Mt. Otsego from that secret blueberry/currant/raspberry stash. Apples heaped high and topped with impossible amounts of brown sugar crumb. Or perhaps some lemon. Serious lemon. My first from scratch lemon meringue is legendary among my friends who tasted it. I cut down the lemon next time I made it, but that first one was sublime to me.

This past week I found this. It was a pie, online for the world. Whole lemons, skin and all, sliced thin. I saw the recipe and had to make it, feverish with desire, planning my time off around the ability to make this pie. I made it knowing there would be no one here to share it with; it would be, at best, distasteful to my nearest and dearest. Bitter with zest, tangy, just a bit of sugar.

The crust is my own, an all-butter deviation. I smiled as I crimped the edges remembering how magical crusts once were, how did she get that edge?, as a younger me watched pies made. Of course, the pies were never made by men. I never figured out why. Poor deprived souls. The filling is as I expected - this is a pie for my tastes alone, a race against spoilage. Can I finish it before it is lost to the world?

So I eat a bit more in the afternoon sun. For today, this is my favorite dessert.