Thursday, April 29, 2010


A few photos from the St. Andrews Cafe dining room - tulips handpicked by yours truly (I'm the designated class "forager").
Please don't tell the campus maintenance guys, but I've picked over 150 of the campus's tulips and daffodils during the past two weeks!

Yeah, the dining room is a bit outdated...

Monday, April 12, 2010


I just finished putting up several more quarts of ramps, some pickled, others experimentally confited (cooked in butter, then jarred with enough butter to cover). The pickled ramps are nice, but they taste like pickles - very garlicky, spicy pickles. Hopefully by preserving in butter they will retain that sweet oniony taste. My hope is to be able to save them until graduation in June, so my family can try ramps for the first time. Maybe they'll even make it back to Washington!

Ramp fever is sweeping over the CIA these days; on any given afternoon you will see dozens of students emerging from the woods with a pungent bag of these wild leeks. The dorm and lodge fridges are stuffed with grocery bags and garbage bags full, and half the kitchens reek - in a good way - of ramps. But it will be over all too soon, as they finish growing, die back, and flower. It's best to enjoy them while they last.

Natalie and I went riding again yesterday. It was the perfect day for it - warm, a nice breeze - on a good horse! My friends and I spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the woods around school - and found some amazing old ruins. I'll post photos later.

Today was a good day, though we had a lot of prep to do - like every Monday. We did apple tarts for a small banquet of 22; tomorrow it's 40 souffles. And then 66 apple tarts on Wednesday.

I feel like a weakling for hardly posting anymore, but working in the restaurants is very draining - all I want to do is sleep. But, less than 10 weeks of school left!!!!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

St. Andy's - in the kitchen

Wednesday was swap day - from Caterina to St. Andrew's Cafe. And a very painful switch at that. About the equivalent of swimming in the kiddie pool, then getting thrown into the ocean! But this is how a real-life restaurant kitchen is, and I've experienced worse. By luck I was assigned to Pastry with Natalie, so at least I have a good station and a great partner.
It's a fairly busy station, with a lot of items to account for: 4-5 ice creams and sorbets, apple tarts with apple butter and honey thyme cream, Coach Farms goat cheesecakes with Whitecliff wine-poached pears and raspberry goat cheese, chocolate tarts with shortbread crust and dulce de leche, as well as all the desserts for each day's banquet. My favorite menu item is the Shake Sampler, which consists of three different shakes/floats, all in cute little glasses - caramel ice cream shake with chocolate sauce, a root beer float, and a shake of the day/week, which was peanut butter and jelly last week (so good!). On Monday we're doing a rhubarb sorbet float, with a dessert wine seltzer (late harvest Riesling, if we can get it...).
Banquet desserts can range from something as simple as an upscale root beer float with root beer granita to souffles. More about that later!

Overall the menu items are far more complex than those at Caterina, and the food is some of the best of any of the restaurants. Once I make it through the class, I look forward to eating here again!

A day in the life

I started writing this last week, when I was actually still in the class. But I just finished it today, so here it is - only a bit late!


It's still mostly dark when I walk to Roth Hall at six in the morning. But a touch of pink shows behind the still bare trees to the east, and the air these past couple days has felt remarkably spring-like. The house sparrows and robins are especially talkative at this hour. Once inside Roth I get my daily bowl of plain yogurt (whole milk, with nuts and fresh fruit) and join the few classmates who have beat me there. (Two kitchens, K-16 and K-11, serve breakfast every morning starting at 5 am. These students come to class at 1 or 2 am.) Over the next half hour another dozen or so of my classmates trickle in, but the other half go straight to class. Besides, lunch is not far off. We then enter the Caterina kitchen, and the sluggishness is over. Knife bags are opened and the required tools brought out, and stations are set up. This usually means a cutting board, waste and compost buckets, tasting spoons, a bucket with sanitation solution, and paper towels, plus all the pots, pans, containers, tools, etc, that will be needed for the day. We have about 25 minutes to set up and gather ingredients, check in the day's food order and order in any ingredients we will need for the day that didn't come in. Then at 7:25 it's time to grab some coffee and head downstairs for lecture. This is Chef Scappin's time to shine. Normally he's very quiet, content to stand back and let the TA Danielle (who is like the sous-chef and basically runs the kitchen) be in charge. Each day he covers another important aspect of Italian cuisine: prosciutto, parmigiana reggiano, Aceto Balsamico di Modena, pasta. I begin to salivate as he rhapsodizes about the virtues of great olive oil and eating freshly sliced prosciutto di parma in Italy. Then we head back upstairs and start prepping in earnest - we have just under two hours to get everything ready for service. My station is Cold Appetizers, so I'll roll and form tart shells, make the filling for the warm onion tarts, wash lettuce and arugula, cook bacon, make salads for family meal, and many other various tasks. Pastry, fish, grill, pasta, hot appetizers, and amuse/cheese are the other stations, plus one team for family meal and banquets. At 10:30 it's time for family meal. Every station prepares three plates of each of their dishes, and family meal team makes additional food - there are about 35 people to feed (kitchen and front of house, plus the instructors). This is a great way for everyone to sample the various menu items - and especially beneficial for the front of house to learn the menu. Unfortunately we have to scarf our lunch and get back to work - just like in every other kitchen. After lunch I set up my station for service - all cold items go in an open reach-in fridge so they are easily accessible - and I organize all the plates, bowls, tools, etc, that I'll need.
At 11:30 the doors open for service, which lasts two hours. If it's a busy day - say 100 customers - I am kept occupied by tossing and plating salad after salad, but most days (50-60 people) allow time in between to work on prep for the next day. As soon as the last ticket of the afternoon comes in, I'm free to break down my station, wrap up everything and store it in the walk-in fridge, and scrub down the counters. And that's it! We usually walk out of there at 2:30.
I'll spend the rest of my afternoon going on a walk, making a timeline for the following day, eating dinner, and going to bed nice and early (plus hanging out with my friends, possibly watching a movie, normal things...).
And tomorrow, I'll do the whole thing over again.

In case you're wondering, we are assigned our stations. Sometimes you end up with an easier job, like mine, or get thrown on the hot line. But we switch from kitchen to kitchen, so it is all equal in the end.

P.S. Chef Scappin was the Italian cuisine consultant for the (great!) movie Big Night.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Today was another glorious, 75-degree day. It was a good thing that I brought my camera on my walk, because the first spring wildflowers are in bloom. I ended up sitting on a rock in the FDR field enjoying the last of the day's sun, while several owls had a hoot-off in the surrounding woods. There is no better way to spend an afternoon than tramping around barefoot in the woods and fields during these first real spring days.

I'm pleased to report that our pickled ramps are quite delicious, so we're definitely going to make more this weekend. On Saturday night I made a wild soup of potatoes, ramps, garlic mustard, chickweed and lots of nettles, finished with cream. Sadly the potatoes and cream are not wild. Super tasty, and very healthy too!

Our Easter celebration basically morphed into a dumpling-fest, as my friends and I made potstickers, empanadas, and pierogies, as well as a whole leg of lamb - grilled - and a bunny-shaped carrot cake. Aren't we festive...

bleeding heart



faux black widow?

trout lily - notice the spotted leaves
will make you vomit!


bleeding bloodwort stem
quite toxic

skunk cabbage
not really edible unless you dry it first

I suppose you could eat this sucker if you really wanted to...
I'm not sure who would win

pink bleeding heart

garlic mustard
very tasty and spicy

glory of the snow

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Happy April!

The sun is shining, it's 75 degrees out, and the world is turning green.
We'll toast the new month tonight with the unveiling of our first pickled ramps!