Real Cooking    

August 3 1998
Two Professionals
And the beet goes on (me)

The task of the day:

Mediterranean Cooking

This week is going to be a bit different. We are cooking menus from each of five restaurants owned by the CIA (four here in NY, one at their facility in Napa Valley). Each day, we'll be working with a different chef. Today's chef was from Spain, and the cooking was Mediterranean, from Graystone in Napa.

Today is also an "off" day for regular students here, because it's the day after graduation. It was very quiet on campus as a result. And, extra sucky was the fact that there was no breakfast. At least we got some coffee. New blocks start tomorrow, so we can expect some shabby cooking skills to show up for breakfast, breads, and pastry.

* * *

Today's menu:

  • Beets with Orange Segments
  • Fresh Smelts with Romesco Sauce
  • Cabernet Braised Oxtail with Farfalle

* * *

Today was pretty easy for several reasons. First off, Mediterranean Cooking is mostly about leaving things alone. Secondly, you don't generally plate this type of cooking, it tends to be more "family style." Third, our group drew an easy menu. Fourth, I was working with two full time professional chefs.

I drew the Beet Salad detail. It was a pretty simple salad of cooked and cooled beets, dressed with onions, orange slices, and a basic vinegarette. You cook the beets with their skins on, in a bit of water plus some acid to help them keep their color. It takes about an hour to cook them, then you cool them down, and they peel quite easy. I wore latex gloves to keep the stains off my hands, but got about a dozen small spots on my jacket. Lucky for me, bleach works wonders on beet stains.

The smelts came out very good. They are fairly small fish, and after gutting and deboning them, you fry them whole. An interesting thing that went with them was crispy fried lemon slices. They were good to eat all by themselves. The sauce was also neat, basically a very thick paste-like salsa.

We didn't have a prayer of cooking the oxtail meat long enough. That takes almost three hours. So, we cut it into small dice and hoped for the best. It was tasty, but the meat was still too chewy.

All in all, our team did very well today. I sort of hope I get to stay with these guys all week, but each chef will probably have different ways of dividing us up. There are five teams working the kitchen, so it's a bit crowded. Still, it should be more exciting in many ways than the basic skills class was.

* * *

Tomorrow will be French, from the Escoffier Room here at the Hyde Park CIA. Looking over the menus, it will likely be more tricky than today.

It is pretty tough cooking and eating this type of food before noon. I'm beet (ha ha), and it's only about two o'clock. A week of this will be a challenge.

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Copyright 1998 Tom Dowdy