Where to begin. A lot has happened in the past several days:
WEDNESDAY – mid-term black box
So Wednesday was the mid-term. The “secret ingredients” such as they were were not plenty. We had sea bass, pork tenderloin and 2 slices of bacon. All other basic items were rationed out, such as a quarter pound of butter, 1 carrot, 1 rib of celery, etc.
We had to come up with three dishes, and I was pretty confident. Basically I was going to ignore the pork and make a soup and two sea bass dishes. The last instruction to us countered my original idea and I was pretty much screwed, seeing as I now had to make use of the pork loin in at least one dish.
I ended up making cilantro soup with steamed sea bass; seared sea bass over wilted spinach with a curry beurre blanc; and the dish that went wrong – braised pork loin, roasted potatoes and an apple/thyme/bacon infused sauce (there was supposed to be braised radicchio on this plate but it tasted too bad to include it).
If I had to do it all over I would have braised the pork, shredded then deep fried, season it with a soy or hoisin type sauce and garnished the cilantro soup with it, then turned the steamed sea bass into another course. Oh well.
Chef liked the soup, though he thought that the sea bass in it took the emphasis away from the soup. This soup has become my Everest in a way and tastes much better than you might think it would. Next time I’m going to try to add some cream to it to see if it thickens – hopefully it won’t break.
The seared sea bass course went well also except my beurre blanc broke because the plate was too hot – fortunately this wasn’t held against me.
And the pork dish, I’ve already mentioned.
THURSDAY – farm raised vs wild, ad shoot
As you may have guessed this day was a study in farm raised vs wild, so we had sea bass & salmon to test out. As you can see in the photos, the sea bass were pretty identical when cooked but the salmon really stands out.
For the sea bass, I once again seared them and put them over wilted spinach (why not?) alongside some deep fried spinach, a sauce made from combining soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, clarified butter and lemon juice and some carrot oil. These dishes were a success with the exception that the Asian type sauce is too thin. I need to figure out some way of thickening it preferably without the use of a slurry. I suppose using a blender might help emulsify the sauce.
For the salmon I roasted them, made some potato puree, a true cream sauce accented with dill and a spinach sauce. I say the cream sauce was true because I didn’t use any other thickeners – I just started with some white wine, shallots and dill reduced to au sec, added some fish stock, reduced then added cream & reduced until nappe. It was yummy, and the only bad news about the dish was how I massively overcooked the wild salmon. The chef need not yell at me because I was pretty pissed off with myself for that one.
After class I was then off to work with the chef doing prep work for an ad shoot, really 7 two minute segments that are to be aired at various grocery stores.
I ended up working with a food stylist for the whole day. I have to say that in the end it really wasn’t that rewarding of a job. The amount of food we wasted was pretty crazy, all in the name of trying to sell food I wouldn’t put in my own mouth. I’m in danger of becoming all anti-corporate at the moment, so I won’t. At least I caught myself.
Anyway, I do have respect for the people who work for the Rachel Ray’s of the world. There was more than just prepping out a recipe for the filmed stuff, because we had to prep a certain amount a certain way if the person was doing a demo. One example was she was supposed to demo snapping asparagus, so we had to make sure there were a few for her to demo and the rest was already done. Not really a big deal it would seem, but over the course of the 14 hours that I was there it became tiring.
We were also working in a kitchen that didn’t have a dishwasher (it did, just the kind you use at home, not the kind you need to wash dishes in two minutes), so I ended up doing hundreds of dishes throughout the day. We had an electric stove. And the food stylist didn’t help by not helping to keep the limited workspace we had clean.
Would I do it again if I was asked? Probably not. Like I said, there’s something ultimately unrewarding about making piles of food that end up in the trash. That’s difficult for someone with a cook’s mentality. That’s not why I left the clusterfuck that I view the corporate world to be.
I’m done bitching.
FRIDAY – field trip, faith restored
So yesterday I skipped the lecture portion of our class (I didn’t get to bed until about 2 in the morning after working and waking up at 5 or so didn’t sound very appealing).
I met up with the class at Sun Wah BBQ (1134 W Argyle). (They don’t have a website or else I would link to it.)
We were given the story of Sun Wah by the owner’s daughter (Karen is her name I believe). He swam from mainland China to Hong Kong in order to gain his freedom, then moved to New York, opened a restaurant there, and then moved to Chicago with his business partner after about 10 years or so, where they opened up Sun Way BBQ.
We were also informed by the owner’s daughter that he would be back in the kitchen cooking for us, which we were told is a rare thing these days.
Courses included wonton soup, dover sole with stir fried broccoli, pan fried shrimp (in the shell) with hot pepper, stir fried vegetables, salted fish with diced chicken and rice, beef with rice noodles, bbq combination (which included fried pork skin and Hong Kong style bbq pig), congee with pork stomach, kidney & intestines, congee with century egg (a fermented duck egg that was surprisingly good).
The real treat came at the end with a dish that they’re working on to put on the menu – Beijing duck, served with a type of pancake (similar in nature to the steamed pork rolls at dim sum) and julienned carrots and green onion.
After this we were allowed to tour in the main kitchen in the back (they have two kitchens) to look around, watch the cooks do their work. Most impressive were the brick ovens which were large enough to hang an entire hog as well as some ducks.
My trip to Sun Wah was nearly a transcendental experience for me. Exhausted from having dealt with “fake” food the day before, I was energized by being fed really good food by people who care deeply about their craft and preserving the ancient traditions of their native country. I’ll be back again. Soon.