Friday, July 22, 2016

Chef's Table Review

by Lauren ByrneAssociate Degree in Culinary Arts, excerpted from La Papillote

                                             photo courtesy:

The first time I saw Chef's Table, the first season was inconspicuously placed in my Netflix queue as  something in which I might be interested. It was Sunday, I was bored and so I ventured. What unfolded in the next hour was a beautiful, personal, food-driven documentary about Massimo Bottura, the famed Executive Chef of Osteria Francescana in Moderna, Italy (which is now rated as the #1 best restaurant in the world according to San Pellegrino's 50 Best List). I was hooked and could not stop watching until the very last episode was over. I was starving for more but it would be another year until that thirst was quenched. Quenched it was, as I am happy to report the second season delivered. 

If you haven't caught the second season of Chef's Table you are behind the game big time. David Gelb, of Jiro Dreams of Sushi fame, delivers the same romantic and inspiring episodes he produced the first time around. In each episode of Season 2, which premiered on May 27, he focuses on one particular chef, their restaurant, and their backstory. Each episode is an opportunity for the viewer to get a rare look into the psyche of a successful chef and help them to understand how such creative food is produced. The audience also gets a glimpse into their personal lives--from Dominique Crenn's recent passing of her father to Grant Achatz's struggle with stage four tongue cancer.

The way Gelb tells his story his highly palatable as well. The cinematography is so artistic; every shot could be a framed photograph. The music composition matches the elevation of the cuisine in a stylistically classy way. It is this type of format which makes Chef's Table, Season 2 appeal to the masses. It is not just another foodie show or something which only culinarians could enjoy.

On the flip side, if you are an aspiring culinarian, you need to watch this series. We are novice chefs in culinary school bound by deadlines and tests. For the next two or three years, we are sequestered among these walls and limited by financial resources (for the most part). What Gelb does during each hour show is transport the viewer to another time and place. From the rolling hillside of Slovenia, to the bustling, colorful streets of Bangkok, and the jungles of the Amazon, you are there with the chefs cooking their food. You are in their kitchen; you feel the heat when Crenn screams an order.  You are there to feel the comradery of Enrique Olevera's kitchen when the whole staff tries a new dish. You are there sitting beside Gagaan as he anxiously waits for his name to be called at Asia's 50 Best reveal. Most importantly, you are there inside the mind of a chef as they walk you through their process of creating new dishes. I am not sure how many of us have the time or ability to travel to Brazil, L.A., Mexico, or Slovenia to experience these items in person. Which is why I think it is extremely important for us to devour them through media.

With Season 2, Chef's Table continues to be an important docu-series for the moment; a food-driven biographical series which appeals to both industry insiders and the lay person. This series sets expectations high with poignant delivery of memoirs for some of the greatest culinary artists of our time. I will continue to be on the lookout as Netflix has renewed the series for a third and fourth season already, with the next season focusing solely in France. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Choosing to Go to Culinary School

There was a time in my life when everything was heading toward studying whatever I could make a lot of money doing. My goal was easy money—instead of finding a way to get it by doing what I love to do, cooking. Before enrolling at The Culinary Institute of America, I was studying accounting. While I still think that it was a wise idea to choose a field that could help me to manage my own restaurant, I would love to go back and put all my hard work in the kitchen.  I spent my college days thinking about what to do? How I can make it through life with a career? Or just be a lucky guy that drops from college and becomes a millionaire. I clearly didn’t like where I was headed. I asked some of my closest friends if they look at me as a great accountant in the future, and they said, “NO!”

So I jumped into a kitchen with no experience at all. I was determined that this was my chance to have a career that I could build a life around. Then I enrolled in one of the best culinary schools.

When it comes to choosing the best culinary school, it’s a matter of your personal opinion and what you are looking for from that school. It can be location, financial budget or school reputation. There are many culinary schools in the United States, but in my opinion I chose the best one. The best thing to do is to focus on what they offer that will benefit your future in the industry. Look for knowledge, student activities, networking, career fairs and discipline.

But the real question—to go or not to go to culinary school at all— is an issue being talked about in kitchens everywhere. So, can you make it in the kitchen without enrolling in culinary school? My answer is, yes, you can make it. You will learn a lot of culinary skills and techniques. But what about hospitality? The point of going to culinary school is not just learning to cook or dicing potatoes to perfection. It’s about following your passion and making a professional life out of it. You will need to know how the waiter/server and kitchen systems work and so much more that school can teach you.

The first thing you should ask yourself is what you can get with an education and how you perceive education. In my opinion, education should be looked at as an investment. In finance before making an investment, you should do research about the company, study the risks and possible return on investment. It is the same with an education—just because you have to take loans doesn’t mean you are not going to be able to pay them back. It all depends on you.

In my case, I chose to go to culinary school rather to grow as a line cook. I wanted an education that could provide me a great perspective of the industry along with networking, knowledge and experience in hospitality and cooking skills. I completed my associate degree at the San Antonio campus, which is smaller than Hyde Park while still providing the same quality of education. (Here you will be able find the differences between those campuses.) After completing that degree, I took a break from school for a few months. I asked myself, what if I need a loan to start my own business? Do lenders consider educational background? What if something happens and I can’t cook for the rest of my life? Do I really need some business knowledge? The answers for all these questions were yes—so I decided to pursue my bachelor’s in culinary arts management.

The Culinary Institute of America has different majors and concentrations, which will let you choose the one that sparks your interest. You can take classes in food writing, food styling, film, wine, beer, food studies, farming, food photographer—the list goes on and on! It’s not only about cooking! Studying at the CIA includes everything related to food, which can really help spark your passion and grow your career.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Trending Podcasts: Gravy & Burnt Toast

by Makena Wininger, Associate Degree in Culinary Arts, excerpted from La Papillote

Currently, iTunes hosts 240 different food-related podcasts covering everything from home-brewing to vegan cooking. They are hosted by people from every level of the culinary world, from famous chefs to food bloggers to home-cooks. Having all of these different voices commenting on our food, how we grow it, the way we eat it, and how to make it better, lends to a great wealth of information out there just waiting to be heard. But with over 240 options, where does one even start? Well, I have a couple suggestions for those who are willing to give podcasts a try.

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From the curators of the food blog, Food52, comes Burnt Toast, a show hosted by Kenzie Wilbur and a rotating cast of guests. Burnt Toast discusses all the things that don't make it on to the Food52 website, but what Wilbur says they're all talking about anyway. Wilbur is often joined by Food52 founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs to talk about controversial cooking topics, food culture, and have the occasional good-spirited debate. One of my favorite episodes of the show is, And the James Beard Award Goes To. This episode takes the listener on a tour of the James Beard Award process, following the journey of a cookbook from submission to award-winning.

                         photo courtesy:

Produced by the Southern Foodways AllianceGravy is now a two-time James Beard Award-winning podcast that tells the stories of the changing American South through the foods we eat. This broadcast uses food as a means to delve into the culture of the South. The host, Tina Antolini, navigates the listener along a road trip of stories, seeking to show how the states below the Mason-Dixon line accommodate new immigrants, adopt new traditions, and maintain the old ones. The best episode I've heard so far is Episode 16: Fried Chicken: A Complicated Comfort Food. This episode reaches into the history of fried chicken as it has long represented the American South. Reporter Lauren Ober takes her listeners from the Gordonsville, VA Fried Chicken Festival to a soul food restaurant in Harlem to discover how fried chicken has been both the embodiment of empowerment and racism.

As an avid podcast listener myself and a lover of so many things food, the discussions taking place in this slowly emerging form of food media are fantastic ones. They're full of thoughtful, intellectual, and purposeful commentary on topics that culinarians should have on their minds. Why don't you, too, listen to a podcast and join the conversation.