Monday, August 31, 2009

Tea Time!

Thursday brought an expert tea sommelier to our school for a tea tasting. Tea Sommelier?! Yes, I never knew that there was such a thing! Technically, there is no official certification, so I'm not quite sure how one can call herself a Tea Sommelier, but whatever.

We were seated and received two glasses for tasting and one plate of cured salmon, pork, and various cheeses to share with the person sitting next to us.

Cynthia Gold is a Tea Sommelier and was our speaker for the day. She currently is working at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers. I found her to be extremely knowledgeable and so willing to share her passion for tea. She was a bit unorganized and I could see that it was going to be hard to keep our attention with a subject as engaging as tea. Most of the attendees were culinary students in the restaurant portion of their classes.

Ms. Gold's main purpose was to show us how to use tea in culinary applications. This brought to mind many things I hadn't thought of before. She described how you can grind tea leaves and use it for rubs (like on the pork we received). You can also add it in powdered form to baked goods. It can be infused into any sort of liquid as well. I can see myself using it in heavy cream for tea-flavored whipped creams and in truffles. Could be good!

We got to sample a few teas that she steeped for us. One was Chinese Dragonwell Green Tea also called Lung Ching I think. She wanted us to taste it and have it with the gruyere cheese. Previous to this lecture, I would never have dreamed of pairing tea with cheese! The tea was very clean and grassy tasting and went very well with the cheese, amazing!

We also tried a Darjeeling tea, grown in the mountainous regions of Northern India. We tried it with triple creme cheese (very rich) but I did not like the flavor of the tea. The third tea we tried was Lapsang Souchong. The best way I can describe it is that it tasted like I was drinking a BBQ! It was smoky and we tasted it with bleu cheese. Very interesting.

Ms. Gold introduced us to Tea Cocktails as well. I had never heard of these before and found the concept very unique. As mentioned before, tea can be steeped in any medium. Ms. Gold showed us how to steep tea and various ingredients in separate bags to control the amount of flavor for each ingredient. She made us two blends of tea cocktails:

-White port, black tea, lychee and ginger.
-White port, black tea, lavender, and rose petals.

It was interesting but I'm not sure I'd be able to drink a whole serving. Maybe it was the port, maybe it was the flavors. But I would like to try other combinations to see what is possible!

She gave a few pointers for organizing pairing:
-Why are you pairing?
-How can you better the taste? Bring out something interesting and subtle.
-Add contrast between two different textures. Use astringency to cut richness and cleanse the palate while eating.
-Pair by regionality.

I thought the whole presentation was great. She was rushed for time and a lot of students left halfway through. My friend Ian and I stayed all the way through to the end, and then stuck around afterwards to ask her some questions. Out of the 100+ students that were there, only he and I and another girl showed enough interest to request more information. Ms. Gold told us that having a good tea background can add something to our skill set when applying for a job. It will be another thing that can make us more valuable to our employers. Good point!

Ms. Gold shared with us an "aged" tea - I never knew there was such a thing! Here is a picture - aged 12 years! I can't remember what kind of tea it was, but it tasted very earthy.

She gave us a packet about tea that was twenty-five pages long! It was chock-full of valuable information. I got her contact information and she said she'd be interested in "talking tea" anytime through e-mail! I also got a few recommendations about good books. Sometimes I forget that in the past, I worked for a tea company. I wish that at the time, I would have taken more initiative in tasting the teas and asking questions. Good thing I am still in regular contact with my boss :) and we are great friends!

When I was younger, my mom and I used to have tea sometimes. I know my mom really liked tea and wanted to spend time with me. I could only stand the tea with lots of sugar and I very much enjoyed the snacks! Tea snacks are the best :) Since then, my tea tastes have changed a lot. I am a lot more adventurous in what I will try. If the tea is fruity enough (passion tea!) I can have it straight with no sugar. When I lived in New Orleans, I even started to get into iced tea. I especially appreciate a good tea time with sandwiches these days.

Tea is something that is very versatile and I am so glad I attended this presentation. It really opened my eyes to the possibility of cooking with tea. I'm looking forward to experimenting with it in the future!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Yet Another Lecture

Last Thursday, we were made to attend yet another lecture. But hey, I wouldn't complain since we were skipping my least-favorite class (Menu Development - honestly, is there much to say about menus that shouldn't already be common sense?).

Our school was graced by the presence of Michael Ruhlman, famous author. He's written books like " The Making of a Chef", "The Soul of a Chef", "The Reach of a Chef", and most recently, "Ratio". I read his first two books well before I started culinary school.

He'd always wanted to be a writer and was suddenly struck by the dedication and passion behind chefs. So, he enrolled at our school in the culinary program back in the '90s and wrote a book about it (The Making of a Chef). Maybe this book had some small part in me wanting to come to this school, but honestly I can't remember, it was so long ago! It'd be interesting to read it again now and see how it compares to my present life. I'm sure it'd be something close to reading one of my own journals.

He was animated, interesting, and inspiring until he started adding in some swear words. I just thought that was unnecessary and very unprofessional. Sure, maybe he was trying to relate to those of us in the industry who are crude, rude and obtuse. But we're not all like that, and to behave like that in a school atmosphere was lame, in my opinion.

He did give some good advice though:
- Apply what you learn as a chef to your daily life: be regimented, don't say "no", take on any challenges, make them happen. I could identify with this. On externship, we were never able to say that we ran out of something. Our chef wouldn't allow it. You absolutely had to make things work. I had days where I just thought there was no way that I would have everything done before the service started. But I made it happen somehow. Chefs don't run away from challenges, they work with them and make them happen. There's none of this pansy "I-can't-do-it" attitude.

- Keep your surface clean: remove all obstacles that get in the way of success. There's a brick wall? Figure out how to get over, around or through it. Clear off the scraps, sanitize your surface, and get to work. Keep it neat and organized. Messes = confusion.

- Give and share information: I agree with this. A long time ago, everything was a secret. Good things died with people who refused to share. The whole world is at a loss then. Chefs should share information and knowledge with each other to help our industry improve.

- Be aware, pay attention to what's around you: I do my best at this. When I first moved away from home, it was weird to not have a newspaper on the table every day to look at. I felt totally removed from the world, in a bubble, with only what was in front of me. Now, I try to keep up on events everywhere. I look in my local papers from home (Hawai'i and California), read CNN and NPR, and even pay attention to food blogs to see what's going on. I think this is a good way to get ideas too.

- Don't let anyone else set your standards.

- Write everything down that you can: Mr. Ruhlman talked about how he typed everything up at the end of each day here at school. I had to laugh at myself then because that's pretty much what I do now. In my first and second semesters of school, I was learning so much. I sent emails out to family and a few friends daily about what I was learning. I know it helped them to learn too, and now I have a written log of everything. I'm hoping this will turn out to be beneficial in the future. I also have TONS of notes! I try to write e v e r y t h i n g down!

-Actively seek out information, be curious, ask questions: I also feel like I've been doing well in this area. I've made it more of a point to go to lectures when I can, speak up and ask questions, talk to professors and chefs after class about things that interest me, and most importantly, read about what I don't know.

All in all, it was worth my time to be there, but I wasn't starstruck by Mr. Ruhlman. I sort of wished I'd had my books there for him to sign (ok maybe that would've been cool), but I knew they were in a box somewhere in California, waiting for me there.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Port and Sherry

Last week, one of my friends flew into NYC from Hawai'i to visit her son. I took the train down in the middle of the week to spend some time with her and see the sights. The train takes about 110 minutes both ways, so I stopped by the library before I left to grab a book to read for fun.

I picked up "Port & Sherry: The Story of Two Fine Wines" by Patrick Sandeman. It was written in 1955, which makes it somewhat outdated, but I figured it would be a good introduction to Port and Sherry since I had no idea what either was about. I also thought that the production processes hadn't changed much since then, mostly because these methods are usually passed down through the generations, and they work.

Sandeman has been in business for about 200 years. Impressive, but easy for a company dealing in alcohol, in my opinion. My dad went on a trip to Spain and Portugal some time ago, specifically to pick up these beverages, and it kind of piqued my interest in the subjects.

The story of Port and Sherry reminds me of Champagne - only the sparkling wines that come from that region of France can label them as "Champagne". They have a monopoly on the name. The same goes for Port and Sherry.

Port comes from the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. It gets its characteristics mainly from the geographical region, the soil, and the weather. The soil is particularly rich in a soft foliated stone called schist.

The grapes are trodden in stone tanks and left to ferment for various periods of time. Fermentation turns the sugar in the wine to alcohol, so the longer it is allowed to ferment, the drier and less sweet it becomes. The fermentation process is stopped with the addition of neutral wine, also known as brandy.

One thing I found interesting is the color change factor in Port. When it is very young and new, it will have a rich purple color and is known as "Red Port". From this point on, it loses it color and becomes Ruby, Light Ruby, Medium Tawny and Tawny. The purple color disappears within a few years.

The book goes on to distinguish between Port from the Wood and Vintage Ports, how to serve, etc. I was just looking for some basic info so I pretty much skipped over that!

Then it came to Sherry. Sherry is from the Andalusian town of Jerez-de-la-Frontera. The name has been changed a lot over the years (called Shera by the Greeks and Sheris by the Arabs) and today is known as Jerez (pronounced "Herreth" - gotta love their accent).

Sherry is grown in three types of soils: albariza (chalk, magnesium and clay), barro (clay), and arenas (sandy soil). The quality of the grapes is best when grown in the albariza soil but does not yield as much as the barro and arenas soils. The vines grow and fall down the ground, so structures are needed to hold them up. Apparently, the grapes are so delicious that they must be protected. Lookout structures are called Bien-te-veo which roughly translates to "I can see you well", and guards preside over the vineyards here. Cool! The grapes grown here are Palomino, Mantúo Castellano and Pedro Ximénez. Sherry gets its distinct flavors from the distinctive and exclusive characteristics of the soil.

The special Pedro Ximénez is called "P.X." these days, and is incredible, or so I've heard! These grapes are sunned until they are almost like raisins, so the sugar concentration is extremely high! When they are pressed, a thick sweet syrup is produced which is then combined with brandy so that the sweetness is retained.

At the end of the Sherry section of the book, the author suggests using it in several cooking applications. My favorite was this:
"You will, we think, find also that a glass of rich "Brown Bang" Sherry with a slice of really fruity cake taken at mid-morning will tend to brighten the rest of the day."

Really, Mr. Sandeman?! Sherry in the mid-morning? Haha!

The books ends with this quote from Thackeray:

"Grudge myself good wine?
As soon grudge my horse corn . . ."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Hunger Problem for the Foodies

Last week I attended a few lectures on campus, mostly because I had to. One of our professors decided we should attend them during class time, and then have more class time afterwards. Blah!

The first of these was titled "The Hunger Problem for the Foodies" and based on the title, I expected it to be a really good lecture. I wanted the speaker to somewhat "bash" the snooty foodie people.

I was sorely disappointed and ended up leaving the presentation fuming, steaming, and all-out mad at what this guy had said.

Joel Berg is his name, he wrote a book (big deal) and is the executive director of NYC's Coalition Against Hunger. First of all, the man was so overly excited that he was shouting at us throughout the whole hour. That wasn't fun. He started by launching into a long-winded explanation about how things are better now because of government programs (no one gets yellow fever in the US anymore because of government reforms and people's houses don't burn down because we have firefighters). I'll admit that he had a point here.

He detailed food stamps and national school lunch programs, all wonderful. But then he went on to say that the public's canned food drives do not work. Soup kitchens do not work. Food banks do not work!

Yes, people in America are still hungry. But a lot of people are getting the food they need from these non-profit organizations. The only solution sweaty Mr. Berg offered was that the government should fix it all. Yes, they have more power and more money (or do they?). But my point is that I would rather hand someone food directly or to a place where I know they will distribute that actual food than to have the government tax me and take my money and use it for who-knows-what before it actually gets into someone's hungry tummy. In my opinion, government officials get paid too much already, and making a new food program would definitely cost billions of dollars. I wanted to ask Mr. Berg what exactly he was personally doing to help feed hungry people, especially after we heard about how much traveling around the country he was doing and his favorite expensive places to eat in NYC. Ridiculous!

He also mentioned about how he believed that those in poverty are at no-fault. After the presentation, my friends and I talked this point over. Some knew people who were on welfare who decided that they would rather sit back, not work, and collect money because it was easier. They also sold their food stamps for money so that they could buy alcohol, cigarettes, etc.

A lot of people in this country work hard for what they have. Once I get out of school and into the real world, that is what I am planning on doing. Putting my nose to the grindstone, pounding the pavement, working until I can't work anymore (mixed in with some fun of course). I know there's not much money in my industry, but I'm going to be a contributing member of society. Yes, there are people out there who really need the help, but they shouldn't come to depend on it forever.

I was glad to hear that the national school lunch program is so effective, because kids really have no control over what they eat. They need something healthy and they definitely need three meals a day because they're growing, so thanks for signing that in Truman!

I was disappointed and angry at the end of the presentation because I felt that Mr. Berg left us with no solution other than government. It was a "why are you telling us this?" moment. I later spent a lot of time walking around in the evening, thinking about the poverty problem and wondering how my job in the future will help anyone at all.

I know that God has put this passion in my heart to serve people, and I can do it in ways other than through my desserts. I think that I will be in this industry to affect and influence others based on what I have seen and experienced so far. The hunger problem is not up to me but in some small way I will help. I certainly won't wait for the government to do it!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Production Facilities

In my management class this morning, we were talking about motivation and what drives people to do what they do. The professor went around and asked each person to rate on a scale of 1-10 how important money was to them and then say what motivates them.

Everyone in our class agreed that if money is your #1 motivating factor, you don't belong in this industry. There's just not a lot of money to be made, especially without lots and lots of hard work. Most of us were driven by passion, and one guy said he wanted to be famous (and that he wanted a walk-on role on "Deadliest Catch" the TV show).

My motivating factor was feedback. I love to share what I do with the people around me. I enjoy the verbal and visual feedback from their voices and faces! It makes me happy. I also am motivated to put out a consistent product, like a machine, but smarter and better. Ours is a trade that will hopefully never be taken over by machines. Yes, there is mass-production of processed food, but would you really go out to eat if you knew there was a machine in the kitchen, grilling your steak (to perfection) and making your creme brulee? It would absolutely boggle my mind to see that happen.

We also watched a movie in class about McDonald's starting a new location in Moscow. This took 14 years and was opened in 1990 and was a huge success. I was blown away by the size of the facility - it could seat 700 people! They served tens of thousands of people on the first day. Since it was in Russia and it's McDonald's, they also had to build their own processing facility. The film showed some of the production going on of hamburger patties and buns and it got me to remember just how much I LOVE watching production happen!

My parents took us to an almond factory once, and even though I hated almonds and we behaved badly and had to leave early (sorry Mom), I remember totally enjoying peeking through the windows at what was happening down in the factory.

Then I remembered my FAVORITE episode from Mister Roger's Neighborhood. He took us (yes, it felt like we went to the factory) to see how Crayola Crayons were made! I remember he said something about how the crayons all look like they go on different rides throughout the process. I looked up the video on the PBS website and he even stuck a big word in there - "collate". Wow!

Here's the same Crayola video:

After watching it and reliving my childhood awe, I had a lot of questions come up. Did the people really smile all day while working, knowing that kids were going to have so much fun using their crayons? Did you get to pick which color you worked with? Did you ever get to switch? Did the colors affect your moods?

Mom: Kids, be nice to Dad today. He had to work the Black Line again.


Son: Wow, must've been a Yellow Line day, huh Dad? You look so happy!
And how did they handle the crayons without breaking them? Did their kids get free crayons for life? Did their hands smell funny at the end of the day? Did the whole factory smell like wax? Was that bad? Did the workers ever think they were going to make crayons for a living?!

This just gave me an idea! I should go! I really just did this - went to the Crayola website and found that their factory is in Easton, Pennsylvania, only 2 1/2 hours away from me. Roadtrip? Maybe after graduation . . .

Monday, August 24, 2009

Real Music

I love YouTube. It has to be one of the greatest things about the Internet. Today I was bored and had some free time, so I did a little music video watching. As a kid, VH1 and MTV were just coming out, and once they both got rolling, my parents wouldn't let us watch it. I "missed" a lot of music videos that my friends all saw on TRL. Obviously I am fine, I am alive, and I didn't die from not seeing them. But they are SUPER interesting now!

Today my music videos of choice were from 1976. Random and before I was born, yes! But after watching a few, I started to get nostalgic and miss "real" music.

Modern times brought about the "music artist". Most of these I wouldn't even call that. What happened to writing and playing your own original music?! Having a real band? Tambourines, pianos, a horn section, and imagine someone playing a guitar and harmonica at once! That is true talent.

I think people today are lazy. They want to get by just on their voice, and sometimes that isn't even good. They get someone else to write the "hit", if you can even call it that! Sometimes I can't stand pop music, and other times it just fills an annoying gap in my head.

With that said, I hope younger generations pick up instruments and get some real talent. Give us the real music!

Here's some fun videos to help you get through your Monday. Love the hair!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Happy Birthday Ian!

Happy Birthday Ian!
Today, my brother turns 23!
I can't believe that we are all getting to be in our twenties already.
I am incredibly proud of my brother for serving our country and for being the great and funny man that he is.
I hope his birthday celebrated on base with his comrades is fun.
I love you, bro!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Taste, Tour and Tube

I attend a year-round school. In some ways, that is absolutely great. I finish earlier than others (a 22-month program instead of 24 months). However, my summer is but 4 weeks long, and I get 2 weeks off at Christmas. It's almost like a real job! Thankfully, our school gives us random days off once a month. Well, I'm almost thankful.

The thing about weekends here is that they can be terribly boring. Living in a small town means that there is not much to do. Which leads a lot of people here to partying and generally getting in a little bit of trouble. My friends and I go see a lot of movies, I read a LOT of books, and spend time laying around when it gets cold outside.

On the off-chance that I've got a little bit of pocket money and a ride, I do get around!

On Sunday, one of the clubs on campus (Chaines des Rotisseurs) was getting together to do a tour and tasting at a local vineyard/winery. A few of us decided to check it out, even though we are bakers! I am so glad that we went. Most of the other attendees had taken the wines class here (available only to the cookers - boo) so we were out of the loop. I definitely learned that there is a LOT I do not know about wine!

Benmarl is the name of the place and it is located in Marlborough. It was THE HOTTEST day yet here, to the point where we were just sweating buckets even standing in the shade. Wow. I was really impressed because the owner of the winery gave us the tour himself! He is a fairly young guy, a 30-something, who bought the place out in 2006.

They produce approximately 3400 cases a year which is small. I was surprised to learn that only 3 people work there full-time, and most of the part-timers work the tasting bar. That leaves the owner and two others to do all the cultivating! Amazing. In October they let people come and crush the grapes! Maybe we will try that out?

We got to see the room where they ferment the grapes, as well as the barrel room:

and the bottling room. They used to do it by hand! It took 4 people to complete the process and they could manage at best 6 bottles per minute. They recently bought a small bottling machine (which must look sooo cool when it's going!) that can do the whole process (rinse, fill, top off, and cork) and does 24 bottles a minute, using only two people! That is awesome.

Then they have a label machine and a hot press to put the seal on the top.

We got to taste about 5 or 6 different wines (small portions of course) and nothing really appealed to me.

When it comes to wine, I either like it, or I don't. At this point, I don't have the palate to appreciate all the various nuances. Someday, hopefully, I will. This visit definitely inspired me to read some books about wine and maybe do some more tastings soon.

Their front lobby is covered with all kinds of vintage labels like these.

The scene there was very picturesque, so my friends and I had a lot of fun taking pictures and looking around. I'm sure it looks AMAZING when Autumn rolls around and the leaves turn.

Monday was our random day off, and our student recreation center had offered a tubing package! It was about $10 cheaper than going on our own, so a bunch of friends and I signed up and went! We rode an hour north on a bus to the small town of Phoenicia, got hooked up with our tubes and life jackets, and had another bus take us up the river about 5 miles.

Our estimated "ride" time was just under 2 hours. I have no idea how long it actually took because I didn't wear a watch, but it felt long! We had some pointers about how to sit in the tube and some safety advice. We were required to wear shoes and the life jackets. It has been incredibly hot and humid here, so a dip in the cold river felt sooo nice! The tubes were huge black ones, very sturdy, and had a wooden part in the middle for the seat. I was glad for that! Without it, I would have snagged my bum on a LOT of rocks!

We thought it was going to be this lovely, lazy, relaxing float, twirling in our tubes, splashing and having a good time. It was anything but relaxing! The current moved quite fast and although we'd tried linking together and holding onto each others' handles, we could never stay together for more than a few minutes. Rocks would separate us and we'd catch different currents. It was a little like rafting but not super intense. I definitely had to be alert and pay attention 90% of the time. It was fun though! I flipped out of the tube once after going backwards over a rock, but it was slow and I sort of rolled out of it, so no harm done.

About 3/4 of the way through, one of our girls got seriously hurt, bashing her back and knee into some rocks. She basically rode the rapids without her tube. So she was hurt and crying and we were all worried. There were some local people playing around in the river at that point, and they advised us that it would be easier to float her down the rest of the way than to try and carry her/hike her up the hill to the road. It was 30 more minutes and we had to do it carefully (knees are tricky!) but we made it. She ended up going to the ER later and will definitely have a pretty bruise around her knee. I'm glad nothing more serious happened because we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

Well, back to the school week . . .

Friday, August 14, 2009

Press Release!!!

One of my fellow co-workers/externs alerted me to a just-published review of the restaurant where we did our externship!

I was extremely stoked to read that the restaurant has been received well and is continuing to grow and push boundaries. I'm also very happy for the chef/owner! Good for him.

Check out the article here.

Please note the sunflower in one of the pictures - planted by me!

picture of it as a baby:
Also towards the end, the externs are mentioned :) Subtly famous! Apparently we "all have futures". Good to know, because I'd hate to think I didn't have one. Haha!

Thursday, August 13, 2009


I took my first-ever yoga class on Monday. Our school has a pretty sweet recreation center, and being in the "great" Northeast, everything is indoors. Pool. Gym. Track. Basketball courts. Racquetball courts (fun!). Bleh. With the exception of two tennis courts which I have yet to try. There's also a cafe attached where we eat on the weekends because it is the only thing open. There's a small gameroom, a few couches, and locker rooms for men and women, sauna included!

The school offers a few different fitness classes a week with outside instructors they've hired. Some of my classmates were going to the yoga one and I decided I'd tag along and see what it was all about.


That's pretty much what I got out of it. I wasn't about to meditate in my mind, or mentally "thank my body for what it has done for me" blah blah blah. Then there are all the weird pose names. "Awkward pose" ? "Child's pose"? I wonder who came up with those.

I have to say that I enjoyed it and it was a challenge. I can definitely see how it can help athletes improve. For me, maybe it would increase my flexibility and help with balance when it comes to surfing. I know it strengthens your core and helps prevent injuries too. Not bad. Even though it is a little tough, there is literally no sweating involved and no increased heart rate or anything, so I'm not sure I'd count it as part of my exercise. It's good for the stretching aspect though!

Someday, maybe I will try Bikram yoga. Hot yoga, anyone?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

All in the Business

Recent class sessions have proven to be useful and interesting. 

Restaurant Law has been especially challenging to wrap my head around. First, you have the law. Then you have all the exceptions, the clauses, the "buts", "howevers", "ifs", and "ors". It is quite maddening! In addition to those, there are the state laws, the federal laws, and the ridiculous outrageous cases. You soon begin to wonder how and why we ended up with these laws. People are unbelievable! However, most of these laws are necessary to protect individual rights and of course it always comes down to money. Woot.

In the 6 class sessions (it's like a crash course) we have covered:

-Contracts: agreements, offers, acceptance, capacity, general assent, duress, formality, performance, bankruptcy, and remedies for breach.

-Restaurant Operations: real and personal property, discrimination, injuries, theft, and sexual harassment.

-Business Organization: corporations, limited liability corporations (LLC), partnerships, sub S corporations.

-Licensing and Liability: insurance, torts, licensing, and taxes.

It has been interesting, albeit confusing. Each day in class we were given about 20 real cases and told to answer what the outcomes were - who was liable for what, was it enforceable, void, voidable, illegal, etc. Our test will be much the same tomorrow, but we only have to give "yes" or "no" answers. Easy, yes?

From this class, I have learned that a person should never enter into contracts with minors, the adjudicated insane (who are running amok in society), and habitual drunks. They can always get out with no penalties. I also don't want to do a partnership. Too messy. Always write contracts for everything, everything, everything! Especially include the details.

I never knew that there was so much to know about the law and all the specific ones that go into my area of business. It is nuts! That's why we have lawyers I guess.

After this class is over tomorrow, I am really going to miss our professor. He was a lawyer before he came to our school. The man is older but is reeeeally good at what he does. He lectures to us and doesn't look at the notes he's provided with us at all, in perfect order. He stops and makes us take "joke breaks", tells us to relax and forget about law for a minute. The jokes are always in good taste, and usually we are all laughing by the end. I loved the ones no one got; he'd chuckle to himself and defend his jokes, saying he thought they were good! Maybe in his former life he'd wanted to be a stand-up comedian, and now he has the opportunity to practice because he has a captive audience. I'm cool with it!

Off to study - two exams tomorrow.

Wordless Wednesday #13!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

You're In a Chair, In the Sky!!!

How true this is... I often think about how far we have come in terms of technological advances. It is amazing! But do we ever stop to think about it on a day-to-day basis?

Mostly I am thankful that I'm trying to go against the grain of this "selfish" millennial generation.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

In Preparation

Tomorrow brings the first round of quizzes and the week brings a final and a project due. Already, yes! I haven't been feeling well (head cold), so I spent a lot of Friday and Saturday resting in bed, watching movies and reading for fun. It's times like these when I have to listen to my body telling me to stop and take it easy! Normally I am such a go-go-go person; it is hard to stop and do nothing (in fact, it drives me crazy!). First thing's first tomorrow I will be getting out and running or doing something active. Three days of resting is getting tough!

I picked up a peach and this basket of strawberries up at the farmers market this morning. It's been a gloomy day but I think I needed a little bit of California reminiscence to lift my spirits. These strawberries are grown in a valley close by, and since they're not "California Strawberries",  I had very low expectations. I just ate a few, and they're not too bad! A little tart but still delicious.

On to some work!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Purchasing Smarts Summit For Today's Chef

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend a summit/forum at school. One of my professors was moderating it, so I had to go in lieu of class, but I would have gone anyway. It was very interesting!

There was a panel of about six men representing various aspects of the purchasing process. One was a graduate from our school who was an agent from Baldor Specialty Foods, one of the largest suppliers of produce for this region. There were two men from Ginsberg's Foods, another supplier. One of the men had graduated from our school in '75 and he was like an advisor chef for this company. A fourth man was a representative of a seafood supply company called Foley's Fish. We also had a representative from Dairyland, a company that distributes milk, butter, eggs, cheeses and specialty foods throughout NY and NJ. Lastly, we had our very own buyer from the school present. He used to be an organic farmer for about 30 years. From what I have heard of him, he is very very knowledgeable about produce.

Here are some of the key points that we heard about:

-The term "local" can be defined in so many ways. Something they all agreed upon was that local should really mean anywhere within a leisurely day's drive. Most of the time, it is very hard to develop a restaurant or bakery that offers local products only fare due to seasonality.

-Organic - in my opinion, it just means more expensive and I won't buy it! I learned that for most of the farms today, they use organic procedures, but don't bother or can't afford to get the organic certification. One student brought up an article in class that stated that organic foods have no extra or added nutritional value than non-organic. So why pay more for something that is basically the same?

-How can buyers know that their food supply is safe? The panelists recommended that we as buyers should ask a lot of questions of our purveyors, including asking where it comes from, how it is handled, grown, cleaned, etc. All very important questions. They also stressed that before signing contracts and doing business with vendors, we should go and take tours of their facilities. We saw pictures of Baldor's facilities - oh my goodness! They were incredibly clean! That is how they all should be. You want to make sure that you are getting the best for your customers.

- In what areas have vendors seen the most growth or demand? Local-only products are gaining popularity and so are all-natural products. They have seen a jump in pre-portioned and value-added products as well. Buying something pre-portioned will help restaurants cut costs and save time.

- It was recommended that if we ever become food business owners, we should only have about one to two vendors that we buy from. If we have larger accounts with them instead of spreading our money out between several vendors, we will become more important customers. We will also have the opportunity to create strong relationships, which is always important.

-Buying at Costco, Wal-mart, Sam's Club, etc. for business purposes should be avoided. If we have time to nickel-and-dime shop at these big clubs, we shouldn't be in business. Any extra time we have should be spent working in the kitchen on new menus or making our business stronger. I liked this point and thought it was pretty valid.

*A few interesting facts I learned about my school:
-Our food budget for the year is $6 million!!! That is huge, then again, we make more food than most other college's cafeterias do!
-Our buyer orders about 780,000 eggs a year! 
- We receive produce from over 30 farms in the area.

I thought the summit was great advice, although a little lengthy at two hours long! Hopefully I will be able to take this new knowledge with me in the future.

Friday, August 7, 2009

In Defense of Food

I've decided to be more self-motivated when it comes to taking part in my education. My nutrition professor recommended two books to us to read on our own time, for general interest. One was a book my fiance had just finished, so I went to our library (which contains the most culinary books in the world, besides the Library of Congress!) and checked it out. I finished it in two sittings!

The book, In Defense of Food is by Michael Pollen (he's also known for The Omnivore's Dilemma).
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
This is how the book begins and proceeds. Mr. Pollen discusses the age of nutritionism. Nutritionism is not a subject but an ideology. He explains that the ideology is that food is essentially the sum of its nutrient parts. In this way, processors put together food products that look like foods.

He then discusses how the western diet has contributed to the diseases of civilization. One thing I found interesting was a study done by a Canadian dentist, Weston Price, in the early 1930s. He was trying to find out if dental decay was due to poor hygiene or poor diet. Surely cavemen and other ancient civilizations did not have dentists and they prospered just as well. This dentist traveled all over the world looking at other cultures' food habits and their teeth as well. Mr. Price found out that "isolated populations eating a wide variety of traditional diets had no need of dentists whatsoever".

Swiss farm girls - never visited a dentist, had a diet of milk, rye breads, broths, meat and vegetables - no cavities - perfect teeth!

My favorite example was when he visited the Swiss mountain men who had "never met a toothbrush , had teeth covered in a greenish slime - but underneath that Mr. Price found perfectly formed teeth virtually free of decay". Interesting! Scientists thought he was a bit of a crackpot and disregarded his studies. Arguments were thrown about and a public debate happened in 1934 in Manhattan between medical circles. The dental professionals then decided to focus on educating the public on proper hygiene to "fix" dental decay instead of adopting a better diet because hygiene was easier to correct than diets. Lazy!

Mr. Pollan goes on to name several studies done on Aborigines that had adopted a Western diet. They were sent back to the bush for seven weeks to hunt and gather as they had before, adopting their formerly traditional diet. All their health issues almost disappeared. Clearly, the problem is the Western diet of refined products and more.

The last section of the book addresses ways in which we can be successful in eating healthy. The main point I got from it was that we need to eat FOOD - real, actual, whole foods. The example Mr. Pollan suggested was to pretend that your great-grandmother was walking the aisles with you while you shopped at the grocery store. You should not buy anything that she would not be able to recognize as food (quite a lot these days!). The majority of "real" whole foods is normally found on the outskirts of stores - along the walls, in the back, etc. Prepackaged, processed, refined foods are on the shelves in the middle. You should avoid food products that have more than five ingredients, and any that have ingredients that are unfamiliar... Ethoxylated mono-and dyglycerides anyone? Yum. The other suggestions included eating at the table, not eating alone, buying from local farmers markets, cooking your own food, planting a garden, and eat slowly.

It is my hope one day to have a garden, to make dinners for my family every night if I can, and to frequent farmers markets. All the things I have been learning in my nutrition class have been very helpful as well. What I think we need to do is to go back to eating real food. Not the processed junk, the refined sugars, the enriched products with all kinds of vitamins added. Eat the real thing where the vitamins came from. Make things at home so we know what the ingredients are, save some money, spend time doing it with others. It is definitely hard to do because our bodies crave sugar naturally, but I really think that with some strong willpower, we can re-adapt to eating the way we did before the age of industrialization.

Monday, August 3, 2009

&%#$^*(! :(

Well readers, sad to say that the post this Monday was going along swimmingly until I hit "Publish Post" and was informed that I was no longer connected to the wireless internet. I thought a draft was being saved all along, but I guess not because it has mysterious disappeared!

I hate it when that happens.

I don't have enough energy to re-type, re-hash, re-do the day. 

Starting over tomorrow I guess!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Rainy Sunday

I love rain, but I think NY didn't get the memo that it is August and still summer for a good 50 more days! Despite the rain, I travelled with a few friends to the next town up north for the local farmers market. Don't I sound so rustic? 'The next town up north' - it's true. A good 20 minutes to the next town. I never want to live here permanently!
The farmers market here is probably the best I have ever been to, besides the one in Hawai'i. It has different offerings - no tropical fruits but everything else pretty much. All varieties of greens, peaches, plums, donut peaches, berries, currants, apricots, etc. Apples will come around next month for sure - the number of varieties is stunning! In addition to the produce, people come and sell locally made breads, cheeses, homegrown flowers, honey, and some fresh fish and cuts of beef. There is a lot of variety there for the amount of vendors (maybe a dozen or so tents). Even with all the rain we had, there was a large turnout. 

A few of our professors from school were spotted at the market as well. One is a farmer and I spoke to him about my externship and his farm's turnout for the season. He said there was a blight for the tomatoes and potatoes this year, making them super scarce! 

I walked off with a muffin from a local bakery and a quart of these delicious apricots which I have been craving for months ever since I smelled their essence in the sweet olive trees of New Orleans!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Welcome August, Good-bye Brother

One of my little brothers (who is not so little anymore) leaves today for his Army Reserve deployment. He will serve 400 days in the sandbox of Iraq! While I am sad that he will be gone and I will have yet another brother unreachable by telephone, I am incredibly proud of him. He will do good work there and is putting his life on the line to protect the freedoms of not only Americans but everyone else in the world. Thanks, brother! I'll be praying every day for a safe and productive tour and for him to come home safely next year :)
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