Saturday, December 27, 2008

Job hunt, night and day

Today I went to two restaurants to explore potential job prospects. The first stop was a steakhouse that had a reputation as a good venue. I spoke with the manager over the phone and was pleased when they invited me to tour the kitchen. I dressed up a little, excited to be on the prowl. When I got there, however, my enthusiasm deflated. The manager apparently has a cold, she coughed into her hand and then held it out to shake hands. I was half-tempted to sneeze into my own to return the favor. Luckily, I didn't, but I was kind of turned-off from the start. She took me back to the kitchen, which, given the scope of the restaurant was unexpectedly small and rather shabby. The equipment looked neglected and grimy, a sad slab of meat lay ignored on the grill, the prep stations were haphazard, and the crew looked like they'd all just gotten out of bed in their dirty wrinkled clothes. I was eventually introduced to the head chef, a 24-year old young man who'd been there since he was 16. I was sorely disappointed with the lack of interest he displayed, he seemed to have little more than the slop-the-hogs mentality when it comes to food preparation. "Well, we get it out and we get it done," were his exact words. After a few minutes I decided that this wasn't somewhere I wanted to end up, I thanked the manager and the chef for their time and the tour, and left.

My next stop was at a new up-and-coming restaurant that had just opened in October. Already gaining critical praise, the whole air there carried the all-important Sense of Urgency. The workers were all busy at their stations, the manager/chef was more than happy to show me around, he carried himself as one who is proud of his establishment. That in itself made all of the difference! Here was someone who in his own mind had the greatest job in the world, he showed me every nook and cranny of the restaurant and kitchen, introduced me to the staff, and said to give him a call when I was available to begin. I got a copy of the menu, which they plan to update seasonally, and a few news clippings. As my interview/tour was winding down, guests started to arrive and so I left before I got trampled.

I still have a few more places left that I want to visit over break, but I felt like I was off to a good start.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Shall I play for you...

As is usual for me at Christmas time, I find myself without much money to spare, so one thing I enjoy doing is taking an active role in the kitchen, making up for the possibly less-than-stellar storebought gifts I hand out. I feel like I've spent a lot of time making soup, that's been a big request around the Stehn household. I made French onion soup on Saturday and tonight, since my mom and I are a little under the weather, I made a healing batch of chicken soup. It was a good opportunity to practice my cuts! I even boned out the thighs and showed my mom that we could stuff them if we wanted (we opted out this time). I love making soup, there's something almost magical about making something so good from what most people throw away (bones=flavor!). I've been using my time at home to teach my mom a few tricks, like how beef stock easily becomes espagnole sauce, which then can become a demi-glace, etc. I improvised a variation of a demi to go with ham last night, by whisking in a tablespoon or so of apricot preserves. It was very good, but I might try adding red pepper flakes next time.

Tomorrow we'll probably make cutout cookies, I might try to find another use for some leftover ganache, so it'll be a good day all around I expect. Since we celebrated Christmas a little early this year, to accommodate my older sister's visit, it feels like it's already come and gone, so I'm going to try to bring a little cheer into the house tomorrow. I just got the idea to make a batch of croissants, which with very little provocation can morph delightfully into pain au chocolat! There's no telling what tomorrow will bring!

Pa-rum-pa-pa-pum :-)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Best Christmas Ever!!!

Tonight, we opened our presents because by Christmas Day my family will be dispersed once more. I'm going to use what I got until the day I die :-) I got an updated copy of Larousse Gastronimique (score!) two vials of saffron, and volume one of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I'm going to put these to considerable good use. In anticipation of my upcoming internship (in the "big city") I also got a gps system, since my sense of direction is sorely lacking. I have a morbid fear of being lost, and this makes me feel much better about it. Just to help me find my way around until I get familiar with the area. I can't wait to see what I can do with my new books, I'm going to read them like a trashy romance novel.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


It's been a few days, but I'm finally back. I've been busy/sick/travelling for a few days now and it seems that I'm now in a position to update.

Saturday's parties at Bridgeview went as well as I could have hoped, with only a slight mishap in the form of a dessert shortage. Luckily, I caught it in time, so we had another 90 pots de creme whipped up in record time. I got out a little after midnight, and went straight to bed.

I woke up the next morning with a sudden bout of the flu, the less said about that the better. Suffice to say, I've had better weekends.

On Wednesday, Chef Gordon told us that in light of the grim weather report, we'd all be excused from class on Thursday. We took a few tests and then I hit the road. I was home at my parents' house at 7pm.

Now my whole family is home, we all beat the storm, thankfully. Now if only our luck can hold out over the weekend.

I've been put in charge of feeding the masses. So far, I've made beef stew, one of my favorite meals in the winter. I wanted to make something that I'd be able to have ready for each of my family members as they would arrive at their own times. We'll probably do some baking this evening, so that will be fun.

Hope everyone gets to their destinations safely! Have a great holiday season :-)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Good to be back

Yesterday I worked for the first time in almost a month. I'd just about forgotten that I had a job! I was almost dreading going back, after such a long hiatus I wasn't sure how I'd slot in again.
For one thing, I'd gotten rather used to spending the entire weekend in my pjs! Any worries about diving back in again were soon dispelled; I whipped up 250 mocha pots de creme in record time, and stayed nicely busy. The day flew by and I was just happy to be back in the kitchen. Even though I work with a few of my classmates, there's a different dynamic when we're all working together. The way we interact is shifted ever-so-slightly, so it makes it feel even less like another day together in the lab. I work again tonight as a server, hopefully that goes all right. If anything remarkable happens I'll be sure to post when I get back. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Facepalm moments...

I was in the library today, checking out "The French Laundry" cookbook. Even amid my anticipation, however, it could not escape my attention that the book right next to it was by (dun dun dun!) Rachel Ray. That's like putting Britney Spears next to Janis Joplin, like putting NSync next to the Beatles! Then, as if that wasn't enough, when I checked it out, I was given an additional warning of "Now those new books are very expensive, so try not to ruin it..." What am I, 5? Do I look like I'm about to get peanut butter on the pages? It's brand new, it's Thomas Keller, I intend on taking very good care of it. I had just expressed how happy I was to get all these new books in the library for the culinary students, and I get treated like a baby. How are we supposed to take ourselves seriously if no one else does?

They're playing my song...

"I'm doomed to fail, the stage gives way, it's an apostrophe to my legacy, but though I'm bruised I'd happily do it all again"

The outlook might be grim for the immediate future, but despite the bad news on the work front ( I remain hopeful that things are going to straighten out before the Earth goes for it's final curtain call, and that I'll be long dead when that happens.

It's scary to think of entering the restaurant industry when so few people are choosing to patronize such establishments. I don't expect much out of life, although I still stupidly wish it was fair sometimes. I wish that I could guarantee that my class will get well-paying jobs in establishments worthy of our attention and skill, but it's more likely that at some point we'll all have to swallow our pride and work someplace just for money to get by. There's nothing wrong with that, provided it's only a temporary detour on our respective roads to wherever it is we're shooting for. There were times when I had to remind myself of a line from the sci-fi spoof "Galaxy Quest": "I have one job to do here! It's stupid, but I'm going to do it!" That, and the immortal words of Marty Feldman "Could be worse....could be raining" have been my ridiculous little mantras to get me through the worst of it.

My grandparents survived the Great Depression, my parents lived to see the other side of the Cold War, every generation has to go through its trials, like a macabre rite-of-passage. I don't have to like it, but I can accept what I can't change while I work to change what I can.

One thing that I hold as utmost importance (and I wouldn't be surprised if people were sick of it by now) is to remember that we're human beings. In times of great hardship or duress, it's easy to forget that we're civilized people with dignity. When money is tight, the first thing we do is cut out our various "luxuries", little realizing that to go flat-out and live on only the most basic necessities, is to deny ourselves what makes us us. My greatest comfort in my times of financial uncertainty was the secondhand store in Rochester. It was nearby, and even though I hardly ever bought anything, it was fun to do some treasure-hunting after working all day. I miss that. I adapted to fit into my pay bracket. The simple things I came to take such pleasure in was based on what was available. I started to breed my own brand of threadbare snobbery, turning my nose up at consumerism as something for the rich bastarads, "thank God I'm not like that". I became a clearance rack vulture, keeping things on layaway or hidden in the back until I could afford them, then bragging from the rooftops how little I paid for my new finery. I couldn't afford to go to Cinnabon every morning like the people I served, but I could afford flour, eggs, yeast, and sugar to make my own.

I think that's where my love of cooking got its second wind, I lived up to the standard of "I might be broke but I can still eat well." I learned how to make mango chutney, one of my favorite (albeit expensive!) condiments, feeling very fine indeed. My challenge in the kitchen was no different than my forebears: to make the very best of what I had, waste virtually nothing, and enjoy every bite.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Earth is Doomed...

On a McDonalds Coffee Cup:
....Caution Contents May be Hot
(I would be pretty upset if it wasn't)

On a Sear's hairdryer:
...Do not use while sleeping.
(damn, and that's the only time I have to work on my hair.)

On a bag of Fritos:
...You could be a winner! No purchase necessary
- Details inside.
(the shoplifter special?)

On a bar of Dial soap:
"Directions: Use like regular soap."
(and that would be how???....)

On some Swanson frozen dinners:
"Serving suggestion: Defrost."
(but, it's "just" a suggestion.)

On Tesco's Tiramisu dessert (printed on bottom):
"Do not turn upside down."
(well...duh, a bit late, huh!)

On Marks & Spencer Bread Pudding:
"Product will be hot after heating."
(...and you thought????...)

On packaging for a Rowenta iron:
"Do not iron clothes on body."
(but wouldn't this save me more time?)

On Boot's Children Cough Medicine:
"Do not drive a car or operate machinery after taking this medication."
(We could do a lot to reduce the rate of construction accidents if we could just get those 5-year-olds with head colds off those forklifts.)

On Nytol Sleep Aid:
"Warning: May cause drowsiness."
(and...I'm taking this because???....)

On most brands of Christmas lights:
"For indoor or outdoor use only."
(as opposed to...what?)

On a Japanese food processor:
"Not to be used for the other use."
(now, somebody out there, help me on this. I'm a bit curious.)

On Sainsbury's peanuts:
"Warning: contains nuts."
(talk about a news flash I was expecting rasins)

On an American Airlines packet of nuts:
"Instructions: Open packet, eat nuts."
(Step 3: maybe, Delta?)

On a child's superman costume:
"Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly."
(I don't blame the company. I blame the parents for this one.)

On a Swedish chainsaw:
"Do not attempt to stop chain with your hands or genitals."
(Oh my God...was there a lot of this happening somewhere?)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Baby, it's cold outside!

As much as I hate to admit it, part of me loves this time of year. The feelings, the foods, it all comes together, and if only for a short while we all become children again. Yes, last winter was rough, we got so much snow I was sick to death of it, and I know it's probably going to be more of the same this year; but then this year when we got the first snowfall, I just sat and watched in silent thrill. There is beauty in everything, we only need to look for it.

When it comes to church, I'm generally non-practicing, but I always make it to Christmas Eve Mass. That still has a special place for me. I can feel the surge of happiness, of goodwill, the seasonal outpouring of generosity (why can't we have that more than once a year?), and my favorite: Adeste Fideles, in Latin. Now at Catholic Mass, during the rest of the year the singing isn't exactly...heartfelt. It sounds like "aw, do we have to?". On Christmas Eve, we raise the roof. One night a year, we sing like we mean it. Joy to the World indeed!

I love firing up the oven, it warms the house in more than just the temperature. Sharing good food with my friends or family, those are the best parts of winter. It gives me an excuse to eat more (it's instinct!), and it makes me enjoy a hot, homey meal even more after coming in from the cold. It's like getting a hug inside. I love making all of the sweets and treats associated with the season, the smells of baking is intoxicating, and there's nothing like a simmering pot of soup or stew on a cold day. As I've said in class before, "That's the whole point of it getting cold: so we can make food like this!" To warm the body and the soul.

On various other sites and forums I've waxed rhapsodic about the wonderful miracle that is freshly baked bread, so I'll cut it short here, but it's so very much a healing food, and is such a luxurious staple this time of year.

Yes, winter isn't all warm and fuzzy Christmas-card cliches. The roads are going to be murder, there will be spin-outs and power-outtages (the power outtage last winter was actually kind of fun. Full story on that on my facebook) but we still need to be thankful for what we have, to appreciate the simple pleasures of a Mexican hot chocolate (or an Irish hot chocolate for that matter ;-) ) and buttered toast on a snowy day. Somehow it takes the icy bleakness of the winter to make us savor what small pleasures come our way.

Wishing everyone safe travels and safe returns this weekend.

Italian Luncheon, Fundraising

Today my International Cuisine class held an Italian/Sicilian luncheon in our demo lab. There were a few snags (as usual with any kitchen) but we all managed to come together and prepare a terrific meal. I started out on the first course, Pork Noisettes, but after a few errors I was relocated to the sauce station. It turned out really well, I thought. All of us got lots of compliments on what we prepared. Appetisers were Mozzerella Onion Tartlets, Soup was Chicken-Tomato Boullion, First Course was Pork Noisettes in Lemon-Bay sauce, Main Entree was Tri-Color Lasagna, and for Dessert we had Zeppoli, Italian doughnuts, filled with chocolate and coated in cinnamon-sugar. After our guests left, all of us got to eat what was left. I'm hanging onto these recipes!

Then we did some brainstorming about the trip to France, and how much we'll have to do to raise the money to go. I'm hopeful, but it's such an awful lot of money. It'll be well worth it, so I don't regret throwing my hat in the ring, saying I'll go, but I'm feeling a little discouraged. I hope we can raise the money. The school is going to give some, but of course they can't afford to send us all on their tab. I'm going to try making and selling chocolate truffles. If I sold them at $4 apiece, and sold ten per day, I could raise enough in time. I'll try to do some over Christmas. We're also thinking of hosting a lot more dinners. That could generate good revenue. I hope we can pull it off.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Awesome video!

I found this on the We Are Chefs forum, a man carves a watermelon to the main theme from Superman. A fitting musical selection indeed! It only takes him four minutes to create a work of art.
Find more videos like this on We Are Chefs

France or bust!

There's been pretty exciting news in the department this week, we're trying to get a enough of us together to join Kirkwood in a trip to France. I have about half the money raised, I've broken into my emergency fund, and I just have to come up with another thousand to get me there. So we're trying to come up with different fund-raisers and things. At first, I just wrote it off as something I couldn't possibly afford, but after reading the proposed itinerary, I was sold! I'll come up with the rest of the money somehow, I could even take it out on my credit card, come to think of it. Just to walk the streets of an entirely different country, to soak up the language, eat the food, learn what I can, I can't imagine not going at this point. Everyone needs a chance to step out of their home turf and see a new world, to explore sometime in their lives. My grandpa was in the army during WWII and he got to travel all over Asia. My younger sister spent the summer of 2006 being a counsellor in Germany for Camp Adventure, a summer camp for kids who live on army bases. My older sister and one of my best friends both made trips to France and had wonderful experiences to tell everyone about. Now it's my turn to go. If I have to start selling off redundant body parts (you don't need both lungs, do you?) I'm going to be on that plane.

A World Gone Casual

I've posted this rant on another forum, but I believe it bears repeating.

My class has recently been presented with the opportunity for a real fine dining experience at a classy white-tablecloth restaurant. Naturally, to prepare for this, I went to the mall to go dress shopping. I spent an hour going to the most likely stores in the mall only to be reminded that we are living in a world gone casual. Nobody dresses up anymore. The clothes that they bill as "formal wear" or "prom dresses" look more like nightgowns. Even the most modest dresses I found sport plunging necklines and hemlines that don't cross the knees. Most of them were so tight that the mere act of trying them on was like a birthing reenactment! I've frankly been more fully dressed at a Rocky Horror viewing.

I must ask, where is the elegance? The sophistication, the sense of occasion or grandeur? We don't dress up for anything anymore, people even wear jeans to weddings. When I asked a floor associate at Maurice's if they had any eveningwear, she answered "All we have for that is bras and panties". She thought I was asking for lingerie! Arrrg!!! Please, somebody, tell me I'm not the only one who's frustrated by this! Or am I just hopelessly old-fashioned?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Wilkommen, Bienvenue!

Welcome to my blog. My name is Katie Stehn, and I've lived all over Iowa and also in Rochester, Minnesota. I've loved cooking my entire life; some of my earliest childhood memories are of "helping" my mom cook, perched on a barstool next to the counter. I remember how I loved cracking eggs. Ever since I was little, all I wanted was to have a little corner cafe or bistro to call my own. Even now, after a year of culinary school, my goals haven't changed. Hopefully, the time spent here at Indian Hills will sharpen my skills; I've really enjoyed it here. My instructor, Chef Gordon, is smart, funny, stern, kind, and he makes me want to do my best for him.

What I would most like to do, and I know I'll be eaten alive for being a naive idealist, is to make people happy with my cooking. I want to give my guests a reason to smile. Most people work all day, get treated like crap, and then slink home to lick their wounds before the next day begins. I want to give them a moment where they can sit and breathe and remember that they're human beings, with dignity. Everyone deserves to be well-treated, and as we've been taught in class, in a restaurant there are no customers: everyone is a guest.

I'm a born feeder, my mother is one as well so that must be where I get it from. I love preparing meals for people, it's how I perform. I remember one time before making Thanksgiving dinner for my friends from work, I could actually hear an orchestra tuning up in my head. Even when I was pretty broke, I still laid a good table. When I was home last weekend for Thanksgiving break, I stayed up until midnight making brioche for my little sister, a rabid bread-lover. All the while I was singing an advent song, "People look East, the time is near/for the turning of the year. Make your home fair as you are able/trim the hearth and set the table. People look East and sing today/Love, the guest, is on the way". I think of it as a blessing for the kitchen, I've even sung it quietly in class.

More to come soon! Keep checking back!