Concerning things that are great, and Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Ganache, Tempered Chocolate Sheets (pg. 209)

So this one time I said something like this out loud without thinking:

“I think I’ll stop talking about stuff I don’t like”

Coworker response: “I think you’d have to just stop talking.”

Ouch. I didn’t think I was that bad, just maybe a little too Canadian; Canada doesn’t have much of a cultural identity aside from being a) multi-cultured and b) not American. Sure we’ve got beavers and snow and the aura borealis but in the way Russia has stuffed Lenin and Cocoa-Cola has Polar Bears. Clip-art does not a culture make. Maybe we’re just post-modern?

Anyway, sometimes it’s easier for us, or maybe it’s just me, to describe ourselves by what we aren’t or what we dislike; I see this as saying “Hey, I like so many things, I’ll tell you what I really hate so you think I’m open-minded.” I suppose that makes us (read: me) sound negative.

While I see the glass as always being half full, the grass is, after all, always greener over yonder.

Negative thoughts are, after all, just another bad habit. For some time, when I was attending yoga classes 4 or 5 days a week, I stopped thinking negatively altogether. A situation would erupt at work, everyone screaming and stomping and slamming things and I’d be standing there in the middle saying something like, “Hey, man, why can’t we all get along? You guys just need to take some deep ujjayi breaths and remember that we are all connected, like, a blanket.”

No joke.

Thankfully, I decided re-read a novel I’d written moons ago, and I realized that before the daily yoga sessions, I actually had a personality. Goodbye ujjayi breathing.

I completely support intense dialogue about difficult subjects or experiences that evoke negative feelings because it challenges fluid intelligence and fuels emotional growth. But also, the fact remains that more often than not hearing about a horrible dinner or a bad movie is more engaging and memorable then hearing about a good one. When you have a vacation filled with beauty and perfection people say, “Really!? That’s amazing!” and then it’s over. When you start a story with, “So this one time I’m in the bus station in New York City at 2 am and I gotta get to Philly, and this guy cuts in line in front of me and the gigantic ex-con behind me just flips the fuck out…”

The next line invariably is, “What happened?” not “Sounds like fun.”

This is why I don’t blather on about rainbows and balloons all the time. I’d rather tell a good story.

Despite this love of all things hilarious over warm and fuzzy, I have been thinking a lot about the opportunities I’ve had here in this weird city, and the things I have taken for granted and will long for when I’m gone.

Neat things I have done:

  • i fed top guys from CSIS and CIA, which meant there were snipers EVERYWHERE, as well as the Governor General and the owner of Cointreau/Courvoissier
  • i was taught by a Meilleur Ouvrier de France, a Chef who is on this year’s team France for the World Pastry Championships, and a graduate from Lenôtre
  • newspapers and bloggers mentioned the things I make
  • interviewed on the radio? Yes.
  • made 5,250 pies by hand
  • baked cakes to be photographed for a pastry book
  • plated for a Gala at the National Arts Centre under one of the city’s handful of celebrity chefs
  • ate at the #6 resto in the world (okay, I had to leave the city to do this but couldn’t have gone without the friends I met here)
  • worked under a 5 Diamond chef, and I cherish the way he taught me to organize a fridge and guide sauces across a plate
  • made wedding cakes for two amazing friends
  • made a functioning phallus cake (thank you compressed air canisters)
  • met and worked with many of the wonderful, hard working, and dedicated people who are helping to develop the food-scene here
  • judged final exams at the culinary arts institute I attended and worked (note to self: never do this three days in a row. Ever. Again.)

Things I will miss:

  • the Café. Even though it drove me crazy, it still gives me solace
  • all the amazing people I’ve met who I love to death, even those who have moved away
  • seeing the same people on my way to work, on my way home, at the grocery store, at the café, at the coffee shop – there is something so comforting about them, even though I’ve never met them…but I know their schedules. Creepy.
  • the fantastic music my favourite used-cd shop blares on the outdoor speakers
  • the movie shop that won’t carry a copy of Titanic
  • the rogue pastry shop
  • neighbourhood crackheads who scream and wander into the street (this is happening right now)
  • going to the shitty gym with my two favourite men, then eating sandwiches and cottage cheese on my stoop until midnight
  • the monthly dance parties I didn’t attend enough of, but at least they taught me to dance and not give a shit about what I look like
  • sitting in the art gallery for hours
  • running along the canal, running stairs behind parliament — the view from across the river never ceases to impress me
  • leaving the house early enough to walk around when the streets are completely empty
  • my therapist who laughs at me and doesn’t seem to think there is anything actually wrong with me; I’m comforted by the fact that I’ve tricked her
  • and clearly my parents. I know a good deal of people say things like “I’ve got the best mom and dad ever!” well, that’s nice, but today is a sad day for you because today you learn it is actually I who has the greatest parents on earth

On that note, this is a chocolate cake I actually like to the point where I briefly considered eating a bowl of it raw while slothing it up on the couch watching Californication (frivolity by definition methinks) but for the sake of this blog, I baked and gussied it up instead. And look – NO FLOUR.

Chocolate Cake (pg. 209)

3 yolks

65g sugar

226g dark chocolate (I upped the sugar to accommodate the 76% chocolate I had on hand — reduce the sugar if you have the recommended 64% chocolate)

113g butter

5 whites

Melt butter and chocolate over a bain marie until fluid but not hot. Whisk 40g sugar and yolks until ribbon stage (very light in colour, thickened to the point where a ribbon of the mixture takes 8 seconds to sink back into itself or about 60 degrees – which is to say when you stick your finger in it and can’t keep it there longer than five seconds). Strain the yolks over the melted chocolate and whisk to combine. Set aside. Whisk the remaining sugar and whites in a spotless bowl until stiff. Mix a dollop of whites into the chocolate and egg mixture to loosen it, then fold in the remaining whites in two additions. Spread on a silicone mat or parchment and bake at 320 for 12 minutes.

Once baked and cooled, spread a thin layer of melted chocolate on it to keep it from sticking to a cake board or parchment, let it set in the fridge, then flip it over to remove the parchment or Silpat (carefully! if it sticks, freeze it, then remove). If the cake is uneven, protect it with parchment and even it out with a rolling pin. Cut into desired size and shape.

Chocolate Mousse

I didn’t make that. I made it before, for the BFG. Or rather inside the BFG. The cake. Not the fictional giant man. Instead I replaced the idea of the mousse with…Root Beer Chantilly.

Infusions are amazing. While I loves me some burned sugar and beurre noisette and mailliard browning, but flavour through infusion is likely more useful then setting everything on fire. Generally “unnatural” flavours and foods don’t interest me, I will admit I am a total softy for old-timey anything. Hence my love of Absinthe, bustles, penny-farthings, quinine, and three-piece suits. I never drink root beer, but I do love it. So I picked up this:

I’m not sure why anyone would want to do this, nor to I remember thinking “this looks great, I need this in my life now”. But here we are. I had to do something with them. Don’t ask about why I didn’t just use Root Beer candy oil. That isn’t part of today’s lesson.

Shit, I forgot I was talking about infusing things. Basically, you can take anything that has liquid in it and give it a flavour boost naturally by infusing it first. Like Ice Cream? And how, since that’s how it’s done. But here is a weird example:

This photo is of Jelly Doughnut flavoured nitro-frozen ice cream from a shop in London. They made some choux, threw them in with the milk and cream, infused that bitch, chilled it, strained it, crème anglaised it, poured liquid nitrogen on it and I shoved it in my gullet AND IT WAS AMAZING.

Today’s Lesson: EVEN YOU CAN INFUSE ANYTHING.

You want to make whipped cream that tastes like leather?

Now you know what you need to do.

Say it with me.

Infuse. That. Bitch.

Here is the procedure I used; it’s a Pierre Hermé recipe, but I think Pierre has a magic pastry hand I don’t, because this broke a bit, which I figured would happen.  This process doesn’t make sense to me. Heat the cream with the candy. Bring it to a simmer, then remove from heat. Stir occasionally until candy is dissolved. This will take patience (I recommend a good soundtrack). Re-heat as needed. Add gelatin, whisk it around, transfer to a bowl and cover with saran. Chill overnight (say wha?). Whip to stiff peaks when needed. Pipe immediately.

The third recipe is the Chocolate Ganache, I already went over that, and it is still a great recipe as the texture is outstanding. I totally added espresso powder, like 7g to 500ml.

I assembled this in that new wave pastry way all the chefs are doing in Paris. Piping little boules and layering with thin pieces of tempered chocolate. No doubt they look clean and elegant (though I tend to bend towards more organic looking food, ie: Noma’s plating style), like the pastry version of a Barcelona sofa. But slicing and mouth feel? Okay, they slice fine and the tempered chocolate provides a really nice contrast to the dense cake and cream. I may have been won over on this one.

Oh, and that weird gelatinized cream, when chilled, has the texture of marshmallow. Hm.

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A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering…Fail? Peanut butter mousse, milk chocolate chantilly, chocolate cake, blahblahblah (pg. whatever)

It’s been a while.

I went to Europe. It was not what I thought it would be. Well, Europe hasn’t changed much since my last visit, so that’s not what I mean. A friend who works at a hotel in central London arranged a short stage for me during my visit.

For readers uncertain of what a stage is (pronounced with a long a), it is basically an internship. The noun is Stagiair (with an e in the feminin, and strangely enough it’s anagram is agiterais – to agitate, which some stagiairs do with flair) and they are how the world’s finest restaurants a) train amazing chefs and b) stay in business.  Places that hold two or more Michelin stars, and especially those ranked on San Pellegrino’s list of the 100 best restaurants in the world take advantage (and so they should) of the eager young chefs happy to crack hundreds of eggs, trim micro greens, and sweep for free. For some (if not all) of the top 25 restaurants, half to three quarters of the kitchen staff are on a highly-coveted stage.

I don’t think it is as glamorous as it sounds; I myself have only had this one experience, though I’ve had a couple of stagiairs work under me, so I cannot speak for those fortunate Chefs who have gone through the system*, but this stage felt just like being back at the bistro. Which was…relieving considering I had quit because I thought I was a failface at my job. Okay. This is what it is like. Deal.

I guess I made some kind of impression. Mostly I think I was very comfortable and got on very well with the boys in the kitchen (boys! I miss working with boys!), but I didn’t really fuck anything up so I suppose my abilities played a role as well. They offered me a job.

So, now I move to London? I guess so. Which also means this blog is going to…change. Question mark.

Tonight I was speaking to the Pastry Chef who I will be joining and she exclaims how exciting it is that we now have a Commis.

Note: a Commis is the lowest level position in the French kitchen brigade system. Everyone starts out a Commis. Sadface. 

Okay, that’s great! Olymics are going to murder us, so we have someone to make tuiles! (First pastry commis chore, always). Except this commis worked at… A resto I shant name but is owned by one of the best chefs in the UK and who also happens to be one of my favourites, despite my never having eaten anything he has created. Oh, and his last Chef de Partie (my new position to be shared with my fantabulous pastry cohort) worked at…El Bulli. Because the fact is that like Kevin Bacon, all culinary roads lead back to that magical place in Catalonia.

I AM A FRAUD.

When one of my PhD friends began Masters, the school forced them to sit in a seminar devoted solely to convincing them they were not frauds, that they all worked hard and had the knowledge to be there. At the end of the class he, much like everyone else I assume, left thinking, “well, no one else is a fraud, but how long will it take them to realize I am?!”

I am Jack’s insecurity as well as his mildly hyperventillating lungs.

Below is the original post I wrote last week when I created this disaster. I had not given my notice at the time, so I wasn’t interested in plastering the interwebs with my plans. This is an excellent example of HOW I AM A FRAUD. Or insane. Whatevs.

This is the first thing I have made since my return.

You may note there is no photographic evidence.

This is because I suck at making cakes.

Erp, maybe only a bit. I can make North American style cakes, which I loath, because it doesn’t require a lot of thought to pipe some scallops around the edges and plunk a rose on top. Hello Costco.

French style cakes require a panache I do not have.

I can make chocolate decor.

I can make macarons (err, most of the time).

I can spray things (including the floor, the table, the radiator) with chocolate.

I can pour glaze on stuff.

But I can’t for the life of me put it all together and not have it look gaudy.

This is why I don’t work in a bakery. Or rather this is possibly why I SHOULD work in a bakery.

Given that Migoya has a selection of “lost cakes” (cakes that are listed but photos were left on the cutting room floor), and this happens to be one of those cakes, I am not posting photos because I didnt take any.

Instead I decorated the cake, crinkled my nose, smooshed it gleefully with a palette knife and scraped it into the trash.**

I really, really hate making cakes.

Now I’m going to gym really hard and think about how much I hate cakes.


Oh, and here is a photo of said cake prepared in a tasting menu style plating. Some guy on Facebook said it looked like a skinned cock and balls. His complaint (aside from the supposed phallus, I still don’t see it) was that it should be bigger and that I make food not arts and crafts. Come on. This isn’t a crochet Jesus fish, it’s a quenelle and some joconde and peanut brittle. And this isn’t innovative or novel in my profession. I’m not growing a jacket out of live mouse fur and calling it art. I attended a Culinary Arts Institute! My clever response of course was “That’s what she said.” I think I’m ready to go back to a kitchen full of boys.

* I was desperately hoping to find some culinary geek had created a flow chart or tree that maps the chefs who have travelled down from El Bulli and/or The French Laundry to end at their own top-ranked resto (ie. Grant Achatz) but alas my search was fruitless.

** For those of you concerned with my seemingly lack of respect for the many food products involved in the preparation of this cake, in my defense it was only 4″ in diameter. I would never discard a full sized cake so non-chalantly. Rather I’d scoop it into a bowl and serve that way.