It’s been a while, which is usually what happens when I spend way more time cooking than having time to think about or write about it. Cooking, and attempting to get my future culinary career on course has been my primary concern the past couple of weeks, and for good reason. It’s hard to believe, but in just over two months ICE will be turning us loose on the culinary industry, and we’ll be fending for ourselves. Despite any fears of being a” little fish in a big pond” (sort of unavoidable in New York City, regardless of the industry) or extended “funemployment” while searching for a new job, I’m insanely excited for this next big step in my life. And although graduation is hell-bent on getting here before I have time to say “mise en place,” taking a step back and trying to enjoy the awesome experiences I’ve been having has been a priority. Here’s a quick recap of some of the awesome “Cheffy” things I’ve been doing over the past few weeks.
Wild Eggs Brunch at the James Beard House (photos from Joan Garvin Photography)
A few Sundays back, I signed up to volunteer at the James Beard House for a brunch event they were hosting for about eighty guests. I was pretty excited to get to explore and experience this historic culinary landmark and institution for myself – when you’re a culinary arts student in NYC, it’s pretty much “James Beard this” and “James Beard that” from the onset. Let’s just say a lot of famous (and infamous) chefs have walked through those doors.
I was lucky enough to have a really positive, awesome learning and cooking experience at JBF! The culinary team from Wild Eggs, a restaurant based out of Louisville, Kentucky, was in town and treating the guests of the Beard House to a multi-course, decadent brunch where the feature ingredient was – you guessed it! – EGGS! Every dish had eggs incorporated in one way or another, but it was so interesting to see first hand the creative ways eggs were used beyond the traditional scrambled, or sunny side up. There were paper-thin omelets that were rolled into sushi, eggs that were poached fifty at a time, only to be topped with paper-thin shaved white truffle, and eggs whisked into crepes that were topped with an other-worldly bourbon-apple compote.
Another show stealer from this event? Everything Muffins. The idea behind this confection is genius – basically, it’s everything that would go on top of an everything bagel (my personal favorite), stirred into buttery muffin batter. It’s loaded with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, onion, and garlic, and with just a hint of sweetness, the contrast is dead on. I’ve definitely considered traveling down to Louisville just to snag a couple more of these muffins.
All in all, working at JBF was such a great experience. I felt like I was finally getting a real sense of the pace at which a restaurant kitchen operates, and got a sneak peek at how things that seemed impossible, like poaching fifty eggs at once, or plating hundreds of hor d’oeurves in a two-by-four space, actually gets done. The icing on the cake was how fun, welcoming, and professional the Wild Eggs team was to work with – I’m sure not all chefs are this down to earth and yet inspiring at once, but these guys definitely made the day a great one!
StarChefs International Chef Congress
The following sunday I was hitting the pavement bright and early once again, this time for the StarChefs International Chefs Congress, a culinary industry expo held once a year in NYC. I’d say StarChefs is a little bit more targeted to culinary professionals than the general public, like how the NY Food and Wine Festival might be, but I still think that any culinarian would enjoy this event. As an ICE student, I was impressed to see how many other students, as well as instructors, were at StarChefs, working hard along seasoned chefs to make the event a success.
I quickly realized that at a huge event like StarChefs, volunteering would become whatever it was I chose to make it; at an event so big, it was easy to get lost in a shuffle, and one could easily spend several hours just chopping lettuce in a back room. I was lucky enough to get introduced to some chefs from US Foods, a premium supplier to restaurants across the country, and got started helping them. Before long I was actually working the saute station at their booth, cooking up crispy soba noodle cakes and sautéed hoisen beef short ribs to hungry patrons. I felt as though I had been dropped into an episode of Top Chef, and the mix of cooking on the fly while talking to guests and the chefs all at the same time was one hell of a rush! I truly hope I get the chance to do that again in the future!
As awesome as that was though, what was the biggest highlight? Getting to work directly with TopChef pastry Chef Zac Young of Flex Mussels (one of my favorite Upper East Side restaurants), who was creating US Foods’ dessert that day! Chef Young and I actually worked together (I’m still in shock) prepping Finger Limes, a rare and expensive type of lime indigenous to New Zealand, by scraping out the flesh inside of the lime which looked like caviar. This “lime caviar” was then used to top Chef Young’s lemon curd dessert, which was absolutely delicious. It’s worth mentioning, too, that Chef Young is an ICE graduate, and clearly a favorite among the staff, who kept coming up to him while we were working to say hello. He’s such a friendly and nice person, and among the myriad of ego-driven NYC chefs that us culinary students hear horror stories about, it was really great to work with one who was so kind and down to earth.
Last but certainly not least, all this volunteering has been leading up to the grand finale, the last piece of the culinary school puzzle – my externship. This has been floating around in the back of my mind since I started school, as I tried to piece together how I would manage to pay rent and bills, do my externship, and keep myself with one foot in the job market. But all the pondering quickly became reality once StarChefs ended, and the time to start setting up interviews and trails had arrived!
Unlike many of my classmates, who want to do their externships in restaurant kitchens with the hopes of being a chef or owning their own restaurant someday, my interests align most strongly with food media. As anyone who reads this blog can probably tell, creating recipes, cooking them in my own kitchen, tweaking them and then sharing them with others is something I love to do and am so passionate about. And in fantasy land, my ideal job would be doing just that – but at a food magazine or media outlet where the recipes I work on can reach far greater numbers than they ever could on this little blog. So with this fantasy-notion in mind, I set out.
It was extremely lucky that I was able to get an interview at my top choice food magazine right off the bat. I won’t mention the name, though I can narrow it down significantly by saying that it has a top-notch reputation, glamorous NYC location, and puts out incredible, elegant food each month. To prep for my Q & A session with the head of the Test Kitchen, I spent the whole weekend in my own little test kitchen, cooking up dishes like red-wine braised beef short ribs, domino potatoes, and creamy chanterelle, oyster, and shiitake mushrooms. And for an amazing breakfast recipe that came out of my weekend of aggressive cooking, just keep reading ;-)
Needless to say, the preliminary interview was short and sweet, but went very well. I’m back in that test kitchen in a few weeks for an official “trail,” or “stage” (pronounced stah-jeh), which is essentially a day long “try-out” for a full-time externship. Fingers crossed, all will go well!
Til then, I’ll be cooking as much as I can to keep my skills (and knives) sharp, and hopefully documenting it as much as possible. Stay tuned….
In the meantime, please give these Roasted-Apple Wheat-Oat Pancakes a whirl! With apple season coming to a close, many of us have a fridge full of apples just begging to be cooked into these fluffy, hearty pancakes. This breakfast encompasses some of my favorite flavors of fall – sweet, crisp apples, hearty wheat, and spicy cinnamon and nutmeg. Plus, the whole wheat flour and oats add lots of filling fiber! These will keep you full and happy all morning long :)
Whole Wheat Oatmeal Pancakes (makes 9 4-inch pancakes)
Adapted from Gourmet
- 2 small apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into 1/2″ cubes
- 3/4 cup quick-cooking oats
- 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons vanilla soy milk (or buttermilk)
- 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
Preheat oven to 350 F. On a greased baking sheet, spread out apple cubes and roast for about 15 minutes, or until tender. Soak oats in 3/4 cup buttermilk 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large bowl. Stir egg, butter, brown sugar, remaining 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons buttermilk, and oat mixture into dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in roasted apples.
Heat a griddle over medium heat until hot and lightly brush with oil. Working in batches, pour 1/4 cup batter per pancake onto griddle and cook until bubbles appear on surface and undersides are golden-brown, about 1 minute. Flip with a spatula and cook other side, about 1 minute more. (Lightly oil griddle between batches.)