High Food    

August 7 1998
Increase the Heat
a bit more pressure never hurts

The task of the day:

New American Cuisine

The American Bounty at the CIA is what has been called a "New American" restaurant. It emulates (and, given the number of graduates from here, somewhat drives) major current big city restaurant styles. If you have been out for any serious dining within the last ten years, you've no doubt had "New American."

New American is about ingredients. They should be in season, native to the area, and of the highest quality. Preparations should show off this quality, in terms of cooking style, and in terms of presentation. Cuts are very precise, with constant dice and jullienne thicknesses.

Presentation tends to be contemporary. Items are not clumped together, but instead piled, or plated in sections. Height of the plate is often important. Garnishing can be with ingredients that are not part of the base dish. "Stunning" visual presentation can be more important in this type of cuisine.

Today was the best day of the week in many ways. This is the type of cooking, plating, and pacing that I enjoy. The Chef was serious, and treated us as if we were in a production kitchen (although we clearly were not). I appreciated this as well.

* * *

Today's menu:

  • Clams and Mussels in Lager and Chorizo
  • Chipolte Rubbed Pork Loin with Black Beans and Jicama Salad
  • Apple Crumb Top Pie

* * *

Make no mistakes. This is quite a bit of food to prep and cook in two hours. Each item has several steps, and there may be multiple sub-steps to each one. For example, the Jicama Salad consisted of : Matchsticks of Jicama, fine dice of Cucumber, thin slices of radish and red onion, Orange Slices. By matchstick, I mean 1/8th of an inch, by 1/8th of an inch, by one inch. Exactly. Fine dice means 1/8 of an inch cubes. Exactly. Thin slice means that it is paper thin and you can see though it, and the circle of the radish/onion is intact. Any mistakes (ie, knife slipping and not giving you a perfect circle) are tossed.

Note that this is just one part of the plate, and already you are talking about a good 15 to 20 minutes of knifework. The cuts need to be very consistent and precise, because that's one of the trademarks of this type of cuisine. I did the salad. It's a cheat though, I've made this type of salad about a dozen times before.

I also did the Apple Crumb Top Pie (with a bit of help). Lots of the major components to this one were prepped for us (like the crust, and the sauces). This made this mostly a background exercise. But I got a "well-done" from the chef for knowing to blind bake the shell first without being told.

Our team moved through these recipes pretty well today. We were paced well, and got done with good time. We didn't have nearly the leftover time we'd had in days before, but that was expected. I did make some nice garnishes for our platter of southwestern Pork Loin. I cut some corn tortillas into the shape of cacti, deep fried them, and then coated them with a spicy chilli pepper mixture. A bit cute, but they worked nice. For the plate, I just did tortilla strips, rather than a corn cactus.

I also got a "well-done" for the plating of the pie, which consisted of a cookie shell (which would have been filled with ice cream, but it never arrived), a slice of the pie, and two crossing drizzles of chocolate and caramel sauce. The fact that this was considered good was in sharp contrast to other days. My zig zags of sauce were partially up on the edge of the plate -- a real "no-no" for some other chefs.

* * *

Our work was very different than other teams. Some of them were totally overwhelmed by the amounts of prep work that needed to be done for this level of cooking. They failed to prep things early enough, or failed to do things in a reasonable order, or just plain worked too slow. We chipped in to prep, blanch, and shock down some fava beans and yellow wax beans for one team, and donated some of the "secret weapon" glace to another team.

Today was the day of reckoning for some folks. Teams that were flustered before, totally exploded today. One team had a person who had been insisting on being the leader, but one of the "subs" (who had more experience to begin with) stepped in and took over when the "leader" couldn't handle the pressure.

At the end of the day, about half of the teams had workstations that were disaster areas. You couldn't even find an inch of stainless steel. We'd already put away our cutting boards and started cleanup (we did leave 4 pots on the stove until after lunch). The Chef noticed the messes and commented (unfavorably) on that type of work habit. I'd tend to agree.

In fact, I probably would have been a bit harsher on them. After 5 days in the kitchen (more for those of us in the multi-week programs) one should certainly be able to handle this amount of cooking. It required some planning, but was certainly do-able in the time given. It was also much less than one would be requested to do in a restaurant environment.

* * *

I received my course materials for next week, which is "Appetizers and Hors d'oeuvres." It is also, unfortunately, an AM class. I'm getting very tired of these AM classes, let me tell you. This weekend, I'll write up what a typical day has turned into. I'm sure you'll just all love this.

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Copyright 1998 Tom Dowdy
Comments? dowdy@poubelle.com