Thursday, December 27, 2012

The dreaded 5th term practical...

While most college students are enjoying their month long vacation, I'm spending my 9 day winter break thinking about my 5th term practical! On the first day back to school, my class will be tested on the skills we have learned over the past year and a half.

Before I came to school here I was always curious about how the tests and practicals at The Culinary Institute of America were administered. Baking and Pastry students have quizzes, tests, and a final exam in each class, but only two practicals throughout the entire program. The first practical is taken right before leaving for externship,and it is a deciding factor on being able to continue to externship. The 2nd practical is taken before continuing on to specialty baking and working in the restaurants. Each practical consists of making 3 products. If you fail one product, you retake just that product. If you fail two or more you must retake the entire practical. Not only does failing result in the chance of setting you back in graduating, but you also have to pay a pretty hefty fine.

My 2nd term practical. Buttercream cake, puff pastry apple strip, and eclairs

Over a 2 day, 6 hour span (3 hours each day) I must produce a raspberry mousse cake, Grand Marnier truffles, and three loaves of Challah.

General grading is as follows:

  • Produce and present the required amount of each
    product as specified in this document.

  • Prepare all items without assistance from colleagues
    or proctor.

  • Demonstrate professionalism at all times including
    techniques, sanitation, organization and personal demeanor.

  • Complete all items within the allotted time. 

  • Present all items as per the specifications for each

Organization is key to passing this practical.  To prepare myself, I have put together a binder of all of my formulas, grading criteria, and other helpful tips and hints that can get me through this practical without any problems.  I have posted below the evaluation criteria for each product required. It is very detailed!

Grand Marnier Truffles

Raspberry Mousse Cake




2 six braid loaves and 1 four braid loaf
(One wrong braid in any of the loaves results in automatic failure.)

I have practiced the techniques to make each one of these products hundreds of times and shouldn't be nervous at all... Unfortunately that is not the case!  I'm sure I will be a bundle of nerves in a few days, but I'm hopeful that I will succeed. Wish me luck!


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Radio City Christmas Spectacular!

    This weekend a group of my friends and the members of student programming took a trip to NYC to see The Radio City Christmas Spectaculur! For $30 ($15 for S.P.I.C.E members!) the school provided transportation and a ticket to see The Rockettes! We had the whole day before the show to wonder around the city and do whatever we wanted. 

We spent a lot of time browsing The Holiday Shops at Bryant Park . If you've never had a chance to go there, you definitely should check it out. Bryant Park is located right next to the public library and during the holidays they have ice skating and tons of different boutique-style shops. All year round they have backgammon, ping pong, chess, and a carousel. A really cheap way to spend part of the day in the city! Along with all the cute shops filled with handmade jewelry, light fixtures, and other neat crafts, there are over 25 food vendors that serve some really delicious and unique foods. Of course I spent all of my money on food while there.. I couldn't resist a Nutella Strawberry Crepe or a feta and olive pretzel! Yum!

Beautiful light fixtures at a boutique in Bryant Park

After Bryant Park, we found a Mexican restaurant called El Centro. The decor in the restaurant was eclectic and bright! Great service and great food. For NYC, the prices were decent, but you do get free chips and salsa...A must have for a Mexican restaurant. I got two short rib tacos that were some of the best tacos I've ever had. Very fresh.

    To get out of the rain, we decided to take a snack break before the show.  All of us being in the baking and pastry program, we decided on something sweet! We found an adorable cookie shop called Schmakery's located on 45th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue. I split a Toffee Caramel Coconut Macaron with a friend and it was scrumptious.

    After our cookie break, we headed to the Radio City Music Hall for the show. It was my first time there and the theater was beautiful!! The performance was flawless and I spent the whole time thinking about how long they must have to practice for such a brilliant act. It also really got me in the Christmas spirit!! I definitely suggest seeing the show to anyone that is in the city during the holidays.

    Other than spending the entire day soaked from rain, the trip was a success!


Thursday, December 13, 2012

An extremely busy week.

I get a lot of questions from prospective students about what I do in my "spare time", and to be completely honest... I don't have any! I am currently in Specialty Breads class and wake up around 3:45 AM, and don't go to sleep until around 10:30 or 11:00PM. During the 19 hours that I am awake, I am busy in class, doing homework, studying, and meeting with S.P.I.C.E.  I am the President of Student Programming and usually have 1-3 events a week to plan and attend. Throughout the holiday season, Student Programming and other organizations have events almost everyday.

Two days ago I attended the first bi-annual Culinary Institute of America Leadership Awards Dinner. It was hosted by the deans of student activities and they used it as an opportunity to really thank all of the students for their hard work. We were provided dinner at one of the CIA's restaurants, Caterina de Medici.

The food was delicious and it was nice to be able to just sit and enjoy a nice stress-free dinner!

Last night SPICE and Res Life had a wrapping party where everyone brought their holiday gifts and we supplied wrapping paper, ribbons, etc.. We showed a movie and also had fresh baked gingerbread cookies, white chocolate peppermint cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and hot cocoa! There was a wrapping paper fashion show at the end and best dressed won giftcards to Target! To prepare for the event, we made ads that got posted throughout campus as well as being posted in the school's "scoop".

This past Saturday was one of the CIA's biggest events! Badabingo! Badabingo is held once every year during the holiday season. There are over $3000 worth of prizes to be won playing bingo, winning raffles, or winning one of the other three contests- Eggnog Chugging Contest, Fruitcake Eating Contest, and decorate a friend. It is so much fun and this year I got to dress as the present and hand out the gifts to the winners, as well as judging all of the contests, and helping plan the event.

I can't wait for the weekend to arrive so I can finally get some sleep, and to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular!!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

From Kitchen to Table

For the past week, I've been serving guests lunch at Caterina de' Medici.

  Never have I ever waited tables.

On the first day, I was completely terrified.

Would I be able to carry three plates?

Would the martini glasses REALLY stay perpendicular if I didn't look at the tray?

My confidence was shaken. I felt robotic and awkward. I was unsure of my every move.

I made my fair share of mistakes, however; I have learned the importance of atmosphere, service and the dynamics of opperating a restaurant.

SIDE NOTE:  No drinks have been spilled in the making of this post. I have somehow managed to keep my beverage trays stable. (knock on wood)
Beet Salad. Carrots. Mustard Greens.

Earlier this week, my class was invited to enjoy a complimentary meal prepared and served by the evening Caterina de' Medici class. It was elegant and relaxing. I could now see the flow of service from the perspective of a guest. Watching my friends and colleagues execute fine dining service put my nerves at ease.

Grilled Venison Loin. Polenta Croutons. Porcini Mushrooms.  (AMAZING!)

I realized that "reading the guest" is more important than following a list of steps and procedures. The most important thing is to make the guest feel welcomed, appreciated and comfortable!

My friends and I ordered Chianti Classico for our meal!

I was unfamiliar with the evening menu and had difficulty in making my selections (we could choose any 3 courses!). I realized how important it was for the server to be connected to the kitchen, educated and excited about the food and beverage selections. They are the ultimate resource for the guest.

Chocolate and Squash Tart.

It was an incredible experience and my class felt lucky to have such a wonderful meal. I would like to extend a HUGE thank you to the "PM" class for being so hospitable! It was truly a delicious and educational experience :).



Sunday, December 2, 2012

I Gotta Ricotta

Happy December! The holiday season is officially among us, and I have been plotting and planning for family functions. As a culinary student, I always strive to bring some excitement to the table. I love making dishes for my family that they normally wouldn't make on their own. That being said, I want to spend more time enjoying their company than in the kitchen. Which causes me to think:  

"How do I impress without spending too much time in the kitchen?"

This year, I'll be making Ricotta. I can make it ahead of time and use it in a variety of applications. I think I'll use it on  bread for an appetizer and the next morning for pancakes! I love the versatility and would you believe that it is EASY to make from scratch?

My quest to make ricotta came from an obsession with whey. During my externship, I read menus and met cooks who used whey as a braising liquid and as a savory gelee. I asked my chef in the kitchen of Caterina De Medici if we could make ricotta and save the whey to cook with. He told me how easy it was, and was more than willing to try something new in the kitchen.

 I used the whey to  braise pork..another post for another time.

Ricotta at Home

  • 1 Gallon Whole Milk
  • 1 Quart Buttermilk
  • 1 tsp salt
  1. Place all of the ingredients in a medium sauce pan, over a medium-low flame.

  2. Keep an eye on the mix, gently scraping the bottom every once and a while.

  3. When the liquid is about 170 degrees (you will see the curds and whey separate), remove from heat and allow to sit in pan for 30 minutes- 1 hour.

  4. Line a strainer with cheese cloth and pour mixture into the cheese cloth.

  5. Allow to drain and tie cheese cloth.

  6. Eat immediately or wait a few days!



Externship: The Greenbrier

Every student in the AOS program has to successfully complete an 18-week internship at a CIA approved food service site. This externship takes place in the middle of the AOS program. I personally believe that what you learn over externship is just as important as what you learn here at the CIA. It gives you real world experience and for those that don't have as much experience, it helps you decide on what you really want to do in the future.

I completed my externship at The Greenbrier Resort. The Greenbrier is a historic wonderland, dating back to the 1700's. It strives in culinary excellence and is a fantastic place to work for food service experience.

 How I "obtained" my position

My first thought on choosing an externship site was that I wanted to travel to another country. After going to the very helpful externship prep seminars, I learned it's not that easy to do... You must be able to speak the language of that country and have to go through the whole process for a student work visa. I quickly realized that that wasn't possible so my next thought was that I wanted to work somewhere where I could learn as much as possible. It didn't take long for me to figure out where I wanted to go. The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The Greenbrier's Executive Chef, Richard Rosendale, was one of the competitors of the Bocuse d'or USA Competition that was held this past January at the CIA.

He ended up getting first place and is headed to Bocuse d'or World Competition in Lyon, France in 2013! The Executive Pastry Chef of The Greenbrier, Jean Francois Suteau, has been named one of the top ten pastry chef's in the US by Dessert Professional Magazine. With plenty of determination and never giving up I secured my externship with The Greenbrier 3 weeks before my start date!

During my time at The Greenbrier, I worked on banquets, restaurant service, chocolate work, and even got to work events like the PGA tour! I learned so much more than I ever thought possible.

The experience was absolutely incredible and I'm thankful I chose to complete my externship at The Greenbrier! I highly suggest it for anyone that is going through their externship search!!