Why you probably shouldn’t go to culinary school: a rant and a summer menu.

For months I’ve been racking my brain in hopes that I’ll find something positive to write about.

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We escaped for a bit. It was nice. I felt better.

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It was nice to see others enjoying themselves.

I don’t want this to become an emotional dumping ground of negativity. If it’s funny, that’s one thing. But laughing to keep from crying is altogether different.

There is a pattern I am starting to notice, working with culinary students, grads, and self-taught kitchen folk, and I can only infer from my own, somewhat demented experiences, but is it just me or do grads and students, people who pay to learn how to cook and work in kitchens, lack shockingly fundamental knowledge?

Like hygiene. And food safety. Personal safety.

Like responsibility and accountability.

Or how to tell if your equipment is on fire. How to put out said fire. Or to at least pay attention to how someone else is putting out the fire so if one day it is your responsibility you will know what to do.

The first day we made a cake in school, slicing the cake with our custom Wustoff Le Cordon Blue bread knives proved difficult to those with little knife experience; three people cut themselves. What.

More than likely, “Chef” school will teach you mother sauces, different knife cuts, how to cook meat in various ways, maybe give you a false sense of pride during a crash course in breads, and teach you how to make a cake or two.

They will probably skim over information about cross contamination, health and safety laws, proper organization of coolers, freezers, dry stores, proper organization of daily functions.

What it probably won’t teach you is how to order for your station or do inventory correctly, how to manage food waste, how to watch over a kitchen, how to see and hear everything that is happening, how to speak up when something is wrong, how to keep the kitchen from catching fire, how to put out a fire, deal with floodings, break-ins, front of house relations, how to wash dishes, the difference between a soap and a sanitizer, how to cost a menu, how to maintain good relations with suppliers, how to find suppliers, how to inspect orders, how to work efficiently, how to work in small spaces and large spaces, how to organize sharing equipment, proper use and care of equipment. How costly equipment is. How much your employers blood will boil if you treat their equipment like shit. How much it costs to run a restaurant, bakeshop, bar, that it is harder to make money selling food than almost anything else.

To taste your food. Do you know how many people I’ve worked with who won’t taste what they make?

Maybe schools do teach these things and most of the people I’ve met in kitchens have mysteriously forgotten all this less important stuff. It’s not cooking right? I can’t help but think somewhere along the line they picked up this notion that kitchen life is like that of Josef K. in the film The Trial, a workplace that begins and ends by the clock, you arrive, you work in a linear fashion, you leave.

A school can’t teach you to care. I can’t teach anyone to care. Caring just happens, it appears seemingly out of nowhere. Am I scared about the direction this industry is taking, where a Food Network celebration of the Chef has given us cities overflowing with restaurants, most of which claim to be “local and sustainable”? Where everyone with a 200$ rustic, handmade knife kit filled with 500$ handmade Japanese knifes they likely don’t bother sharpening or cleaning properly thinks they are a fucking chef? Yes. Yes.

Yes.

Needless to say, inspiration has been few and far between. This years’s summer menu has been the most difficult one so far.

Strawberries have finally come to Cowtown. Yes, the elevation and the old-west local meant I had to wait with only three dessert options, but it seems this summer’s complete menu reads more like an homage to brilliant chefs.

Cheesecake is back, but the “souffle” aspect was a hard-sell to cheesecake lovers, may work in Japan, but not in Calgary. This time I incorporated an eastern aspect with Ispahan flavour trio (Pierre Herme) of rose, raspberry, and lychee. With bubblegum and red wine to round it out.

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Smoked cream was a discovery for me after reading Michael Pollan’s Cooked, he visits Extebarri in Basque country and experiences the tasting menu created from various grilling and smoking methods, with various wood harvested each day. My rendition is surely nothing like his, I cannot get away with serving smoked butter without a bread accompanyment, so I serve cab sauv smoked cream with a double chocolate tart also made with smoked cream and toasted almond and rye shell.

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So finally to round off the summer menu, a David Lebovitz- inspired dish. Lebovitz recently posted about the discovery of miso ice cream, and in attempting it he folded strawberries in at the end. Curious about the combination, I added a miso anglaise to my strawberry shortcake of intensely pure strawberry sorbet, yuzu spiked macerated strawbs, roasted mirin-tossed wee strawbs, szechuan peppercorn shortbread, and plain old cream.

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I’m sure eventually I will remember how to write a coherent blog post.

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