Someone asked me the other day “Tina do you like cooking?” and without hesitation replied with “YES I LOVE Cooking”. And inside my yearning to do more with cooking was brewing.
Paul Newman I love you.
It has been an uplifting 2 weeks. The kids were so open to all the different foods in class; Ramen in a Miso broth with egg and fish patties, Pancakes and 3 kinds of Fruit compotes, Turkey Tacos and all the fixings, Spaghetti and homemade Marinara w/Meatballs, Vietnamese Springrolls with a sweet bean/peanut sauce, . I heard normal things kids would say like, “I don’t like mushrooms…cilantro…” yadda yadda but, by the end of the class they were eating everything up. ALL of them loved spicy foods, and one of my students had so much chilli in his Peanut Sauce he started to tear up…when I told him that he shouldn’t make it so spicy, he replied with, “But it’s so good teacher.”
On the last day of cooking class I took them on a mini culinary/career tour. We bussed to Hayes Valley and went into Dish where we met up with my friend Sherise who designs clothing and showed them the boutique and she gave her story, then off to the infamous SEBO sushi with Michael Black who was kind enough to slice up some fresh Kanpachi , from there we went to Paullette’s Macaroons and they each had their own brightly colored and flavored cookie fix. The group finally ended their journey at Zuni Cafe. Burgers, grape juice in wine glasses, pizzas, fries, and cookies. They were treated so well, beyond belief!
I wanted to show the kids what the world has to offer them.
The kids were magical. They had knife cutting skills, and great palates. I had them season their own food, and sat back while they savored every bite. It was such a good feeling. The best thing to happen to these kids also include Julie, Thuy, and Diana for their time as the positive role models for the kids everyday.
Cooking for anyone…well anyone that appreciates food is such a rewarding experience. Whatever happens I can only hope that these past two weeks in cooking class have affected them in a way that will secure a positive memory into their lives.
Latey I’ve been fascinated by baking. It’s fairly precise and organized, and its been quite the journey with this pastry apprenticeship.
Yesterday I used one of Flo Braker’s recipes, I had to learn how to work with conversions of grams and millilitres to ounces to cups to tablespoons etc. I had to research and tweak the recipe a bit but it worked out. I also added some apple purée to the banana bread to cut down 1/3 of the sugar. I had a couple of negative variables…butter was not room temp, I did not have the right whisk or mixer, and my conversion rates were a bit rickety. The cake did come out beautifully though, it was moist and Flo’s frosting added the perfect amount of cake-like sweetness and tartness that usually never accompanies a banana bread. I can’t say that I am fully confident in my baking skills, but the more I research and learn to bake I understand that it is a well honed craft. Like with savory cooking you can also learn to tweak the recipe to make it a bit more of your own style. I like to think that trial and error are the best ways to learn, but with baking the best way to learn is to follow the recipe…but it’s okay to deviate a bit.
Speaking of deviating from the norm…Last night’s dinner consisted of black beans with fresh sweet corn and asparagus, mexican style brown rice with sage and carrots, pork sausage tacos with green chile tortillas, a medley of toppings which included; fresh shredded lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, fresh avocados, finely diced red onions, segments of lime, shredded Monterey jack cheese, and a quick pickling of carrots chayote squash and red onions with some warm some spice
I didn’t mind it tonight…the climma’ klamma’ of the kitchen. It was a mellow night compared to last night’s wreckage. The other night I had my first mentally challenging night. I worked furiously and to no avail. On the line by myself, with various mishaps. Clearly it didn’t detour me. I’ve been fortunate to come across some reliable and successful kitchens with patience.
Tonight I spoke with one of my sous,and as a student at UC Santa Cruz a professor told him, “When reading becomes a chore it’s time to move on.” So that’s how he ended up in a kitchen…Santa Cruz…New York…Chicago…and San Francisco.
I’ve heard horror stories. For cooking, to become a chore. A haphazard mundane task. So far, a pastry chef puncturing the nerve in her arm with a sharp German pairing knife (her right hand), someone walking off the oven line in the middle of a busy dinner rush, slamming s hand in the walk-in then getting sent to the hospital also in the middle of a busy dinner rush, cases of ringworm, fingers getting sliced on the meat slicer, and this my friend is only the beginning of the cuts and scaring. The other night a fire loomed just 3 doors down from the restaurant. As the fire trucks came blaring down the street and the smell of plastic and burnt embers filling the air, through the lights and sirens we kept working. Mentors have even told me they heard a head cook screaming in the bathroom bloody murder in the middle of a hectic shift because of a kidney stones.
One night after a shift, a couple of us got together for a nightcap, and over a 40 oz and a glass of wine i heard a cook softly proclaim, “I just want to cook”. Simple. His eyes nearly welled up. It was the first time that I came across someone who feels that there is much more to cooking than just heat and chaos, the no frills. It is about nurturing a twisted instinct in us all to feed others, and to do it well. I’ve always wanted to do that.
Maybe it was growing up in a bakery. Maybe it was watching my mother cook. Maybe it was trying to cook for my brothers when my mother wasn’t home from a long work day. Maybe it was that one time I made homemade pastries for my fifth grade class (Chinese crackers chocolate and butterscotch chips), or the other time I had to make my twist on egg rolls for an Sophomore English class;the topic, food from your culture (ground beef sautéed w/mushrooms, onions and garlic, along some spices rolled in won-ton wrappers). I remember thinking, these kids definitely won’t like the grisly noodles and black mushrooms in my mothers egg rolls, so I’ll Americanize it!
In one of my first posts, I had mentioned that I carried my knives in a fancy bag. I no longer carry my knives in my calf skin Marc Jacobs bag. I no longer feel the need really to get such material possessions when now I can’t even afford to think about such extravagances, even before, they were just window shopping dreams. I can however think of foie grois, truffles, black-footed chickens, various charcuteries, cook books, a lovely dinner at Chez Panisse.
I now carry my knives in a fold-able black, hounds tooth lined knife bag. In it I carry 2, 8 inch knives, one western one Japanese, a serrated knife, a 6 inch Japanese vegetable knife, a Japanese pairing knife, a small mandolin, measuring spoons, an ergonomic peeler, Sharpees, Neosporin, and a board scraper. It’s exciting. I find comfort in holding onto my knives… my toolkit. Sometimes admitting that I throw in some chap stick, an eyebrow manicure kit, and even blush and a brush. I see my hands aging and my bruises and scrapes becoming more common.
Maybe I am exaggerating, after all we all tend to become our worst critics clearly hoping that growth and maturing will develop. It all pays off. When you can learn someone new each day, and so far I’ve learned various techniques to cooking meats, pastas, and vegetables, various prep shortcuts, and most importantly appreciating what is immediately in front of you. Focus and determination, just when you think your about to burst, you remember your ability to breathe. The kitchen has revived my sense of self. The kitchen has also shown me how to keep up a sense of cool, and a bit of awareness and confidence.
Travel…ohhh travel is on my mind. I have to admit I haven’t been able to travel much but I find it important for cooks to venture out to new territory, and to explore and cultivate their palate. To be able to get inspiration from other restaurants and cooks. To gain momentum by gathering new ideas and ingredients from farms and purveyors but, to also be able to experience authentic regional cuisine. Paris is currently on my mind…