Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hudson's on the Bend-My Dream Externship!

I was very anxious to begin my search for an externship to fulfill my culinary school graduation requirements. Part of my worry was the fact that I have little restaurant experience other than working for my father in his steakhouse 25 years ago. Even though I have done well in school, I was still very apprehensive to begin my search. Of utmost importance to me was that I extern at a restaurant considered to be one of the best. I am building my resume and to fulfill my goals, I felt I needed an externship where I could not only learn the business but further develop my skills to carry me through to the next level of expertise.

I had a short list of restaurants where I felt I could get the knowledge I needed. My top choices were Hudson's on the Bend, Zoot, Wink, Chez Nous, Louie's 106 and Jeffrey's. I decided to go to the top first. Little did I know that I would be in the kitchen of Hudson's on the Bend less than 2 weeks later!

I worked a "stage" (pronounced stahj) which is a free shift where you work in the kitchen in order to learn. I had the time of my life! Hudson's on the Bend is considered to be one of the best restaurants in the country and I didn't expect them to let me NEAR the kitchen. But, Executive Chef Robert Rhodes and Chef de Cuisine Kelly Casey were warm, welcoming and willing instructors. I was responsible for the special appetizer which was a venison carpaccio with micro greens served on a salt lick (that's right...a block of salt!) and helped to prepare and plate the desserts and salads. I cannot wait to go back and continue to work beside some of the best chefs around.

If you are interested in one of the best meals this side of New York City, I suggest you give Hudson's on the Bend a try. Their fare is upscale in a downhome environment. The game will make any Texan feel at home and includes venison, quail, pheasant, duck, rabbit, wild boar, ostrich, and rattlesnake which are smoked in the rock smokehouse or grilled over pecan wood. Seafood is also regularly featured. Hudson's creative sauces accent the food and leave you begging for more.

I begin my externship in earnest May 18th. I am honored to be allowed to learn from the very best chefs around and will keep you posted on my progress!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Emergence of Women in the Culinary Arts

A woman's place is in the kitchen. Unless that kitchen is a restaurant. Women have had a long hard road to being recognized as chefs or even allowed to work in the culinary industry. Traditionally, women have been responsible for making simple meals in the home, but not often was "cuisine" applied to female cookery.

In hunter-gatherer societies, before the advent of agriculture, women's importance in providing food was revered. Like in later societies, women stayed home or at the camp more often than men, but they spent their days gathering nutritious, calorie-dense foods to sustain the family. The men did go out to hunt and snare, but a kill was not an everyday event. Since most of the food ancient hunter-hatherers ate was gathered, not hunted, the female was recognized as the main food supplier in many ways. Many hunter-gatherer peoples, such as American Indians, treated women with equal respect as men for this reason.

As agriculture dominated Europe, most nomadic people in that area were settled by the early middle ages. Feudal agriculture begat specialization, meaning a few people could provide food for everyone, enabling others to do different jobs, like make clothes or work with metal. Women began staying home to raise children and cook meals, while men worked hard in the fields. The middle and upper classes followed this trend of keeping the women at home, despite the fact that middle and upper class women were often fairly sharp minded, and even shrewd enough to run their own businesses. The only business most of the would ever run was the business of looking after servants. Servants would do the bulk of food shopping, cooking and cleaning. The ways in which agriculture redefined society made women out of touch with their food, thereby out of touch with their necessary role as food supplier and family nourisher. They essentially lost their place in the food chain.

In the 18th Century Louis XV opposed the idea that women could cook. He loved fine foods and would only trust his menu to males, whom he belived to be superior in every way. This attitude upset one of Louis' mistresses, Madam de Barry, so she invited him to a supper made by the best "cuisiniere" (female cook) in France. Louis was delighted by the fare and asked, "who is this new cuisinier of yours? He must join the Royal household." Madame du Barry replied "It is not a cusinier but a cuisiniere and I demand a worthy recompense both of her and Your Majesty. I cannot cannot accept less than a Cordon Blue for her." At this point the Cordon Bleu was an honor bestowed upon anyone who excelled in their field, but ususally applied to cookery. Sadly, the cheeky mistress went to the guillotine in 1793, but fortunately her ideas about women as great chefs did not die with her. In 1895, a cuisiniere named Marthe Distel began publishing a newsletter under the title Le Cordon Bleu ou Nouvelle Cuisiniere Bourgeouise. She began offering cooking classes in the same year, and the school of Le Cordon Bleu was born----to a woman.

Famed chef Julia Child attended the Cordon Bleu in Paris in 1948. She penned several cookbooks, hosted a popular PBS television series and went on to form her own cooking school L'ecole de Trois Gourmandes Julia was later the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame. She was really the first Female celebrity chef. A little known fact about Julia was that she worked for the OSS during WWII as a spy in Ceylon.

The prosperity of post WW2 America made for what seemed like a happy life for the new breed of suburban housewife. Labor saving devices such as toasters, blenders and self-cleaning ovens turned the kitchen into a world of technological wonders, and the icebox cut down on daily trips to the food markets. Women began to enjoy their time in the kitchen and in the home and began devising their own recipies influenced by all the new prepared food products and wacky kitchen gadgets around them. Soon the age of Jello salads and microwaved eggs was upon us. Unfortunately, the kind of cookery perpetrated by the mid-century housewife did not contribute much to the culinary arts. In fact many of the trends in food from that prosperous era let to excessive beef consumption, fat consumption, and consumption in general. They many not have had a positive impact on cuisine back then, but women of the 1950's certainly did a lot to shape the way Americans would eat food for the rest of the 20th century.

The Feminist Movement of the 1970's did a lot to put some women back where they belong---that is in a commercial kitchen. By 1971, amid all this turmoil, chef Alice Waters opened her own restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley and became one of the first hugely successful female restauranteurs. She abolished the kitchen heirarchy that had been inherited from old Frenchmen, and encouraged a collaborative atmosphere at the restaurant.

Chefs now hold more intrigue for the American public than ever before, as evidenced by a rise in restaurant revenues and the phenomenal success of food-related media. However, a quick, online image search of the word "chef" still results in a dozen curlicue-mustached tubby cartoon men.

Compared to fifty or even 20 years ago, the success of women chefs today is staggering. However, there are still obstacles for aspiring women even now. According to a recent poll, 91% of all executive chefs in the US are men. The fact that male chefs are currently in power means they will continue to hire more male chefs, who will presumably cook like them. Once a woman gets her foot in the kitchen door, she must tiptoe to avoid the wrath of her male co-workers, who are all working toward higher position. If she works her way up to executive chef she will be paid, on average, 20% less than the man she replaces. As of February of this year, there were 2,134 certified excutive chefs in the US and only 92 of them are women. Now there are female chefs at all levels of the profession, and increasingly, these chefs are working to make a difference. First Lady Laura Bush even hired the first female Executive Chef at the White House. Being a female chef gives you another public relations facet. Also, women now have several good organizations devised solely for women. Les Dames d'Escoffier is one good example.

Women today must focus on their culinary skills and not let anyone stand in their way. There are good chefs and bad chefs, some are men and some are women. If we focus on being the best and nothing else not only will we succeed, but our businesses or employers will get the most out of us.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sachertorte...the litigious cake!

Baking was intimidating to me prior to beginning my patisserie and baking class. As a future chef, I am used to being free to change recipes at the drop of a hat. Adding or subtracting spices and changing ingredients is part of the creativity and art of a chef. However, a PASTRY chef follows the same age old recipes that have been in existence for hundreds of years.

Pastry chefs are very particular about the procedures used in making their fabulous delicacies. A good example of the proprietary nature of a pastry chef is the tale of the Sachertorte. The cake was invented by Franz Sacher in 1832 for Klemens Wenzel von Metternich in Vienna, Austria. Sacher was a 16 year old in his 2nd year of apprenticeship when he first made this now famous chocolate cake. The cake consists of two layers of dense, not overly sweet chocolate cake (traditionally a sponge cake) with a thin layer of apricot jam in the middle and dark chocolate icing on the top and sides. It is traditionally served with whipped cream without any sugar in it as most Viennese consider the Sachertorte too "dry" to be eaten on its own.

The trademark for the "Original Sachertorte" was registered by the Hotel Sacher, which was built in 1876 by the son of Franz Sacher. The recipe is a well-kept secret. Until 1965, Hotel Sacher was involved in a long legal battle with the pastry shop Demel, who had also produced a cake called the "Original Sachertorte." Numerous tales have circulated to explain how Demel came by the recipe. The ongoing battle over the recipe boiled down to whether or not apricot jam should be used and how. The cake at Demel is now called "Demels Sachertorte" and differs from the "Original" in that there is no layer of apricot jam in the middle of the cake, but directly underneath the chocolate cover, covering the entire cake.

Even now, the Sachertorte is a copyright protected recipe.

I find the differences between Culinary Chefs and Pastry Chefs to be more a battle of the wills than anything else and count my lucky stars that I am NOT a pastry chef! However, I too suffer from what most people have...a weakness for sweets. So, for those of you who love chocolate like I's the recipe as close as anyone can guess without a court order...

Sacher Sponge (cake)
9 oz. butter
7.5 oz. Sugar
8 oz. Egg Yolks
12 oz. Egg Whites
4 oz. Sugar
2.5 oz. Cake Flour
2.5 oz. Cocoa
3.5 oz. Blanched Almond Meal

Sift together Cake flour and cocoa. Mix in almond meal by hand. Add butter to mixing bowl and cream the butter with your Kitchenaid Mixer. You can use a regular hand mixer or if you are really into it, by hand (I recommend the mixer). Add 7.5 oz. of sugar and mix on low until blended. Add half the egg yolks and mix. Scrap down sides of mixer when needed. Add the remaining egg yolks and mix. Transfer to large bowl and retain. Make meringue with 12 oz. of egg whites and 4 oz. of sugar. Mix on high until you have stiff, large peaks. Fold meringue into the butter and egg mixture. Gently mix by folding and pour into cake pan. Bake 35 to 45 minutes until springy to touch in center of cake. Cool cake and cut into two equal layers. Set aside and make chocolate ganache...

Chocolate Ganache

12 oz. heavy cream
1 lb. bittersweet chocolate

Melt chocolate in double boiler. Add 12 oz of heated heavy cream and fold together. Chill.
Prepare cake for icing...spread apricot jam on the tops of middle layer. Ice both layers with Ganache retaining enough chocolate ganache to pipe decorations on the top of the cake. Stack layers. Ice entire cake with Ganache. Make it as smooth as you possibly can. Rest for 15 minutes. In the mean time make Sacher glaze...

Sacher Glaze

6 oz. heavy cream
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate
2 oz. of butter

Melt chocolate in double boiler. Add 6 oz. of heavy cream and mix. Finish with 2 oz. of butter (it will melt into glaze). Pour glaze over entire cake (on a rack). You want it to look poured not spread.

Let rest 5 minutes before you pipe any decorations you may want on the top. It's worth the hard work people!