Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Found out this morning that I did not make the culinary competition team. I had a blast and actually learned quite a bit doing it so no worries; I'll know more about what to expect when I try out again next year.

The chef in charge of the program is the instructor for a class I had this afternoon, and he talked to me about it some. He said they were actually very impressed with what I cooked, and I surprised them with it.  They weren't expecting a dish like that, especially from a first-year student with no real training yet.  He told me that I was 4th in line to be picked (there were only 3 spots open), so I missed it by one. So I guess if one of the people drops from the team then I could be flagged as a replacement.

Was kinda cool to hear that I managed to surprise (in a good way) all the chef judges.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


The Hot Food Team Tryout was pretty cool. I was fairly nervous going in since I’ve only been a culinary student for all of 2 weeks now and had never done anything remotely similar to this before. But I didn’t let those kind of thoughts bog me down. When my allotted start time came, I went to my station, took a deep breath to clear my head, and got to work.

The first thing we had to do was show our knife skills. We had to julienne 2oz of potatoes, create 2 tourne potatoes, and peel and segment an orange (with a knife so the pieces looked fancy). The juliennes aren’t super difficult, but cutting them all the same and to the required size is harder than it sounds. They have to be cut to ⅛ x ⅛ x 2 inch pieces; roughly the size of a small wooden matchstick. Mine ended up a little bigger than that, but I tried to keep them as consistent as possible so they’d all at least look the same.

(None of the below pics are mine, I didn't have a camera with me. I gleaned these pics from the web)

Julienne Potatoes

I’ve never peeled and segmented an orange with a knife before starting school, but turns out I’m pretty good at it. Takes a steady hand so you don’t cut too deeply into the orange when peeling it, and even steadier when slicing out the segments. You have to slice down between the thin membranes of the individual pieces to get a good looking piece, so it’s easy to frak it up if you’re not careful. Mine came out very nice though.

Segmenting an Orange

The big cutting skill is the tourne. You have to end up with a potato that’s 2 inches long, oval in shape (with flat ends), and has 7 distinct sides to it. Picture a barrel shape and you’ll have a better idea of the final figure. It takes a bit of finesse to get it right and the finished product is a fancy looking little potato slice. I’ve been practicing them all week and managed to turn out 2 that looked good enough for government work, so I was happy.


Once the knife skills portion was done I moved onto the cooking phase. We got to pick what we made beforehand from either an appetizer, entrĂ©e, or a dessert. I was the only person who picked a dessert, and it was something I sort of threw together from a mix of 3 other recipes I had. It doesn’t have an official name but it was a blend of baked apples slices, roasted sweet potatoes, candied walnuts, a balsamic vinegar glaze (technically a gastrique), and a fried sage leaf as a decoration to top it off. We had to make 2 plates, one they could examine and another they could taste. It all came together nicely (except for the glaze, which was a little too thick) and I put it on the judges table for them to critique.

They seemed to be intrigued by it and the majority of their comments were positive. They liked its flavor profile and said it had a good combination of texture to it. While they thought it might be a little small portionwise to be a full-fledged dessert, it would work great as a palette cleanser before a super sweet dessert course, or be a great accompaniment to something like lamb chops. Overall they seemed happy with it, and that made all the work I’d put into it worth it. And I had fun doing it.

11 of us tried out for 3 spots on the team and we’ll find out next week sometime who made the cut. It’d be super cool if I make the team and can start getting myself ready to do this on a more serious scale. If I don’t make it then that’s cool too; I’ll focus on my classes and honing my skills and try again next year. Either way, I had great fun doing this and am very glad I stuck my neck out there and did it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Week 1

Just completed my first full week of classes and it’s been a bit of a blur; tons of information and old-yet-new experiences thrown at me from all sides: syllabi and class projects; building layouts and professors’ personalities; eating lunch in the car and being surrounded by people half my age. It’s great!

It’s a little overwhelming but I think I’m starting to get a feel for the rhythm each class is taking on and how I’ll need to allot my time to get everything done. I did end up dropping my Psychology class in order to free up some time on Wednesdays and Fridays though. It felt like things were a bit too cluttered and I would be pressed for time since the culinary classes are going to require a substantial amount of commitment outside of normal class hours. No worries though, I’ll take it later down the road and enjoy it then.

Even though I’m just getting started with all this, I’ve already learned quite a bit. They taught several classical knife cuts this week, and I think I did pretty well with them. It’ll obviously take many, many hours of practice to get them all perfect but it should be fun. Next week we turn the stoves and ovens on and get to dive right into things even deeper…can’t wait.

I did do something a little crazy: I signed up to try out for their competition team. This is the team that trains hours and hours each week (in addition to their normal classes) in order to goto regional, state, and national level competitions to prove how good they are. They’ve made it to the national level competitions the last 6 years or so, and even won the national title in ’07. (I believe it was ’07 that they won…don’t quote me on the exact year though)

So even though I have absolutely no clue what I’m doing, I’ll be in the kitchen next Friday night cooking up a dessert dish for the culinary school chefs to critique(all of whom own or have owned their own restaurants, and some have competed at national/international levels for decades). It’s very daunting and I’m extremely nervous about the whole thing, but I figured what the hell. New Me has decided to walk this new path, might as well do it up right. No regrets. At the very least it’ll be a cool experience.

And if I somehow pull off the underdog thing and actually make it, what better way to become a good chef than by competing against the best students in the country.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

No Worries

Tomorrow I’ll be a full-time student again, for the first time in over 15 years. And I’m surprised at how calm I am about it.

The biggest things I’ve been thinking about are how hot I’m going to be in my culinary costume, and where to strategically park the car between class buildings to minimize walking and carrying of books. My books and kitchen supplies weigh in at 30lbs, so I’m trying to find ways to lighten the load by leaving some books in the car and switching them out between classes. On the AT having 30lbs on my back meant I was carrying enough food and supplies to survive for a week in the woods. Now it equates to a single day’s worth of books. Funny that.

The old me would have been a bundle of nerves about all this. Worrying about being the “old guy” in the class and what people would think. Anxious about doing something so different than what I’m used to doing. Nervous about failing and letting myself down.

But I’m not any of that anymore. I’m ready for this, and I’m excited about the possibilities of it all. I’m doing life differently this time around. I’m going to have fun and do something that I enjoy.

And hopefully I’ll get to eat some really good food along the way.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Visualize It

What the Gulf oil spill would look like if it were in Asheville. Click to make bigger.