Thursday, August 20, 2009

Chef Envy

Can my complaining about Chef X in my last entry have unleashed a viral hex on him and sent him sprawling, as if from the impact of a well-targeted arrow, into his bed with pneumonia for the past two weeks?

(Chef X and Jonathan, my partner from week 2)

I don't think so. I have only to think of all the hundreds of lotto tickets I've bought, plans, wishes, affirmations for fame, fortune and publication that I've scribed into journals or onto notes I've hidden under my mattress according to instructions from my Feng Shui consultant, and that time I walked the perimeter of my property dusting the four corners with some toxic red powder using rooster feathers while chanting my best intentions for the future, to realize that as much as I'd like it to be so, my thoughts, negative or positive, don't have the "secret" impact on the world that all the new age gurus would have me believe.

So, I'm off the hook as far as Chef X is concerned. I am not psychically responsible for his ill health. I wish him a speedy and full recovery. I've had pneumonia and it is not fun.

In the meantime, we are four sessions into Level 2 without our French taskmaster and we've had an opportunity to experience some other chefs at FCI. Chef Candy was our first substitute teacher and she took us through the lesson on Lamb and Mutton, which included a delicious and hearty recipe for Navarin Printanier D'Agneau (Lamb Stew with Spring Vegatables) and oddly, a Poulet Braise au Vin Rouge (Chicken Braised with Red Wine). Chef Candy is a wiry, compact woman in her 50's (I'm guessing) whose no-nonsense approach and passion for her craft my team partner, Emily and I agreed was refreshing. She answered questions without sarcasm, asked questions without trying to trick us, and gave criticisms and praise in an honest, straightforward manner. We made Spatzle as a side dish, which was a revelation. I simple and delicious alternative to pasta. (See recipe below).
(Me and Emily)

By the way, it's been a pleasure working with Emily these past weeks...we seem to have gotten into a great groove of partnership, instinctively dividing up tasks and ending up with some great results. One happy benefit of Chef X's absence has been that we haven't been rotated to new partners as we would have at the beginning of Level 2, so Emily and I continue our run.

The second session, there was no Chef X again, and in his place was Chef Roger (Roj-ay), a youngish, darkly handsome French chef who started out shy and nervous and ended up funny and playful. We cracked up everytime he pulled a tool from his kit...everything he had was inordinately over sized. He mentioned having worked with Chef X at Picholine, many years ago and the ironic smile he gave while sharing that bit of history, told us all we needed to know about that experience. With Chef Roger we learned about Farci. Farci or forcemeat consists of coursely or finely chopped ingredients that can be raw or cooked. These "stuffings" can be used in vegetables (eggplant, large mushroom caps, zucchini, tomatoes) or inside meat, chicken or fish. They can also be formed into terrines, pates, galantines, ballotines or spreads. Who knew, chopped liver is a farci! With Chef Roger's gentle guidance we pounded top round and rolled and stuffed it with mushroom studded sausage, to make a Paupiette de Boeuf. We sauteed more mushrooms with shallots, bacon and the scooped insides of squash to make a stuffing for various vegetables for Legumes a Farcis. Chef Roger demonstrated a Mouselline, which was basically a chicken mouse you could use in a variety of preparations and threw in a really cool demo of how to make clear and delicate "pearls" of watermelon consomme using a vegetable gelatin Agar Agar. We got a real dinner break! No one threatened not to feed us or send us home or keep us until midnight. And we got the job done nicely, thank you without all that hanging over our heads.

In Session 3, Chef Sixto, another French chef who has succeeded in debunking my theory about French chefs, with his delightful way of laughing at his own jokes and charming "let me tell you a story" way of teaching, took us through the hell that is Organ Meats. That awful realm of offal. We made Sauteed Kidneys with Mustard Cream Sauce, Braised Sweetbreads with Country-Style Peas, Sauteed Calf's Liver with Caramelized Onions and Lamb Tongue with Sauce Piquant.

The lump that is a pre-condition of vomiting stayed in my throat pretty much the entire class, but I refused to get wimpy about the whole thing. I boiled and peeled a pair of lamb's tongues, sparing my vegetarian partner the task, all the while instructing my brain to NOT think about what it was I was peeling or to picture the lolling tongues of my dogs as they raced breathlessly around the yard or sat next to me on the couch and licked my face. NO. I WILL NOT THINK ABOUT THAT. I will just peel, slice and nap the grayish/pink protein with this beautiful, dark, piquant sauce I've made with shallots, black peppercorns, red wine vinegar, veal stock, tomatoes, butter and chopped herbs. My consolation comes with the assistant Chef's praise that the sauce was the best she'd tasted in the class. My dark secret about this session is that I did not taste any of the offal meats, even though the chefs instructed us to, even though Chef Sixto insisted we would be pleasantly surprised how tasty it would all be once we disguised them sufficiently.

And I was relieved that they sent up a dinner for us from "family" kitchen that consisted of fish cakes, cous cous, sauteed vegetables and salad. The compost barrel brimmed over with untouched organ meats glistening with their glazes. Chef Sixto dumped his own demo of the dishes into the barrel and admitted, "No one wants to eat it. Liver? It filters out everything. Disgusting!"

Spatzle (Shredded Egg Noodles)

Ingredients (for 4 servings)
1 Egg
1 3/4 oz milk
Salt and Pepper, ground nutmeg
1 T chopped herbs (parsley or tarragon...your preference)
3 oz. all-purpose flour
Butter for finishing

1. In a bowl, combine the egg milk, spices and herbs. Work in the flour and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
2. Set a large stockpot on the stove with water. Salt the water and bring to a boil. Prepare a large bowl with ice and water and set aside.
3. Set a colander or cooling rack over the stockpot, above, but not touching the boiling water. Pour the batter through the holes using a plastic pastry scraper or rubber spatula to press the batter through the holes.
4. Let the spatzle simmer for 3-5 minutes depending on the size. Remove the spatzle with a skimmer and place immediately in ice water bath. Drain well and refrigerate until needed.
5. To serve, saute the spatzle lightly in browned butter and season to taste one more time.


Ellen said...

Get well soon Chef X & please keep the recipes coming Mrs. Fabulous!

Sophie said...

ooo... i am an eggplant super fan! sigh. i want the spicy eggplant sooooo badly right now. with rice.

Here I bought a sauce pack so as to skip all the seasonings! and i will try this friday after work.

Sharon said...

Thanks for the recipe! Love your rosey cheeks.

Chef Wylie said...

I miss Chef Sixto!!! I did the same thing you are doing, but 8 years ago! I loved my time at FCI. Glad to know things haven't changed that much. Enjoy your time. It goes by so fast.

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