Friday, November 11, 2011

Week 1 at Station 1: My Culinary Externship

Well I am happy to announce that I have survived my first week as a culinary extern at an amazing little restaurant called Station 1, in Woodside, CA. If you don't know about Station 1, and you are in any way interested in food, you should get to know them. I hadn't heard about them until a former classmate told me that I should look at them for my externship, because he thought their food sounded like a good fit for me. They are all about operating sustainably, using only local organic ingredients, with a dynamic menu and a warm and inviting atmosphere. 

Upon my first call to the restaurant, I was able to speak with head chef, Ryan Harris. He welcomed my call, and that is when I learned that he too is a graduate of CCA. Meant to be??? Maybe!!  He invited me to the restaurant for a brief introduction, and after a quick tour of the kitchen and a nice chat with chef, I was immediately impressed with the kitchen and just simply had a good feeling about it. Chef Ryan invited me back to do a stage on the following Saturday night, which just happened to be their one year anniversary event. 

I was definitely nervous about the idea of working in such a kitchen, but I was confident that once I got there, that all would be right with the world. And it was. Everyone there at Station I, from the owners, the chefs, and all the staff, are kind and welcoming, and almost always with a smile on their faces. People are happy to be there, and so was I. 

It was a fun night, filled with all sorts of beautiful foods whizzing about, watching the wait staff flutter in and out of the kitchen and back out to the dining room, and watching the five amazing chefs produce some truly beautiful plates. Chef Ryan took the time to chat with me and help me to understand some of their ingredients, and some of their cooking processes. He offered that I taste many of the foods, which I was pretty excited about....even the sweetbreads. Which were absolutely delicious, btw! I was excitedly impressed with the use of modern techniques that chef Ryan is so excellent at. And it really shows in his food. Creative but not overdone. 

After surviving my stage, I was welcomed back to the restaurant to extern for the next 6 weeks. Yay! I didn't totally make a fool of myself! Whew! I was relieved, excited, and then the nervous started to creep in....

But, again, it didn't last long. As soon as I got back into the kitchen, I felt, mostly, at ease. It is comforting to me that chef Ryan actually cares that I learn a lot during my time there. He takes the time to point things out to me, show me around, help me out. I don't feel like a burden hanging around the kitchen. And I was pleasantly surprised that chef had me plating at the garde manger station on my first night! And so it has been, each night this week, I get to assist with the prepping of foods, setting up for service, and plating at the garde manger station. And just tonight, I received a very nice compliment from one of the owners, in that my pear plate was "really nice".  Awesome! 

So in case you couldn't tell, I am very excited and feel very lucky to have been welcomed in to the kitchen there at Station 1. And I am looking forward to the next five weeks!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Last Dance at CCA

Gingered Carrot Latkes with Apple Jalapeno Salsa
So it is here, our very last night of class at the California Culinary Academy. Tonight was bittersweet, with many mixed emotions. I am excited and definitely feeling that it is time to move on. But I will certainly miss the school, walking the hallways, the chef instructors and students. There is a positive energy to the place, and I will miss all of it....maybe except for the dish pit in our last class...I really hated that dish pit!

These last few nights were focused on our final competencies, written final, and preparing for our final dishes. We had a competency on tournes, rice pilaf, and a sauce competency on the makings of a hollandaise sauce, beurre blanc, and a demi-based sauce. I had to go back through my notes to remember how each was made, since I haven't made them in some time now. 

We had 30 minutes to complete the three sauces. When chef called time, we all quickly got to work. I started my demi based sauce first, Sauce Robert. And that came together beautifully. I then got to work on my beurre blanc, using a technique taught to us by our former chef Dan, it is much easier than the traditional whisking method. However, I let my sauce get too hot, and it broke. Bummer! By this time, I realized I only had 8 minutes left! So I quickly started my hollandaise sauce, and I whipped that together with no problem....which was kind of a miracle because hollandaise is NOT an easy sauce to make. Once that was done, I quickly started a new beurre blanc, using this time an even newer technique in which I didn't use cubes of butter, but rather used a half pound of butter and simply stirred that around in the pan. The sauce was really coming together wonderfully, but I ran out of time, and had to pull it before it was really thick enough. I did get two points off, one point for my hollandaise not having enough lemon (I disagreed), and one point for my beurre blanc not being thick enough (agreed). So overall I was happy with my sauces, and with my grade. And then it was time to get back to work on preparing for our finals dishes...
Grilled Tofu with Thai Peanut Ginger Sauce and Cucumber Pineapple Salad
African Ginger Cake with Ginger Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce
Our finals dishes was to consist of a three course meal, all using one main ingredient, and each dish was to be centered around a particular cultural region. We were able to chose our main ingredient, and what cultures to focus on. I chose ginger as my main ingredient. I just love ginger, and how it adds a lovely hot and sweet kick to most any dish. After some research and talking with other chefs, I finally decided on my menu. My first course appetizer was to be a Jewish dish of gingered carrot latkes, with an apple jalapeno salsa, and a sour cream dill sauce. My second course entree was a Thai dish of marinated and grilled tofu, with a Thai peanut ginger sauce, and fresh cucumber pineapple salad. And my third course dessert was an African dish of African ginger cake, with ginger ice cream and homemade caramel sauce. 

We had two and a half hours to complete our three course menu, so we had more than enough time to cook off each plate and present them to chef. My menu was simple enough so there were no surprises. The only thing I could have done better was to add some additional flavor to the fresh cucumber and pineapple salad on my entree plate, and to have baked a better version of the African ginger cake, as it came out a little tough. I think I over mixed the dough. And I did get one point off for one of my carrot latkes not being quite hot enough. But overall, chef liked my menu, the creativity in each dish, the flavors and textures. So I was happy. It was a good and fun way to end our time in culinary school. We each shared a shot of sake and said our farewells. 

Next week we are due to start a 6 week externship program, in which we are to complete about 30 hours per week, for a total of 180 hours. I feel incredibly lucky and am very excited to have been selected for my externship at a great little restaurant in Woodside called Station 1. And I am looking forward to many new experiences there!