Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Is Culinary School Worth It?

Many people ask me this question - two people so far this week!  I HATE IT!  It really depends on the person and where they are in their life.  Here are some pros and cons to help you decide if it's for you...


1.  It's EXPENSIVE!  #thisaintcheap is an understatement.  You're going to pay upwards of $25,000 then graduate to try to find a job that pays $10/hour (If you're lucky!) Oh, and good luck with benefits.
2.  Time Consuming.  Many people I attended school with worked a full-time job before heading to class.  It's exhausting and eats a good portion of your free time.  There's studying and projects to do.  Plus, if you really want to succeed, you'll be making puff pastry dough at home, too.
3.  Gets you set in your ways.  I often come across people who say things like, "Well this is how they taught me in culinary school!"  There are many ways to do one task.  The best part about working with different people is learning from them.  I learn something new every day.
4.  It's competitive.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing as it can really help motivate you, but don't let that be your focus.  Do the best you can do.
5.  It may not meet your expectations.  You are not in school for 8 years.  You cannot spend two weeks blowing sugar.  Typically, a technique is demoed, you have an opportunity to try it out and then you move on.  If you really want to learn about a specific ingredient or technique in depth, you may have to do it on your own.


1. You're not alone.  Think about how scary it can be starting a new job - you don't know anyone, you're low man on the totem pole and you're expected to jump in and know what you're doing.  Well, everyone is on the same boat, so it's not as intimidating.
2.  Friendships.  You are trapped in a room with people who want to do what you do and who love cooking/baking/food.  You already have tons in common!  I am still friends with many of my classmates and we support each other constantly.
3. Builds a good foundation.  At any good institution, you will learn all the basics, and although you may not spend tons of time practicing a particular technique, you will have the knowledge you need to succeed in the real world.
4. Resources.  Schools have a tremendous amount of resources - libraries, clubs, workshops and culinary demonstrations - which are usually lead by instructors who you haven't been assigned to your class, or even guest chefs / celebrity chefs.  
5.  Alumni Services.  Job portals, advisors, etc.  This is priceless.  I still talk regularly with my advisor and she is always willing to help me make smart decisions. She has even helped me land some pretty amazing jobs,

So, as you can see, the ball is in your court.  YOU have to decide if it is a smart career choice. You can definitely skip culinary school and build a name for yourself in this industry, but you will have to hustle and build your own support system and create your own connections.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

I'm a Sap for Maple.

Last weekend I took a trip to Madava Farms, home of Crown Maple Syrup.  Once your car maneuvers up the narrow, muddy hill leading up to the farm, the road opens and you are face to face with thousands of maple trees, many of which are tapped with a food-safe tubing.  I arrived just as the sap season was beginning.  Sap is extracted when the temperatures are above freezing during the day, but below freezing at night.  The variance in temperature creates pressure which pushes the sap right out of the tree.

For a small fee, you can tour the facilities and learn how sap is turned to syrup.  Long story short - after an intensive round of filtering, the sugar content in the sap is increased until it is high enough to caramelize.

At the end of the tour you are lead to the tasting room where you can sample all the different "strengths" of syrup. Crown Maple Syrup is super smooth and has a very pure taste.  It is one of the best products I've sampled in a long time.  I purchased both the Medium Amber and the Grade B.  (SIDE NOTE: Grade B does not mean it is not a premium product.  It just has darker color and more intense flavor profile, therefor it is commonly used for baking.)

Madava Farm also houses a store that sells their products as well as the products of some other local businesses, like Mast Brother's Chocolate.  There is also a little "cafe" where you can order house-made savory and sweet items.

Fast forward.  I've spent a better portion of the last week developing recipes for my upcoming cookbook and am almost completely out of syrup.  Here's a recipe that I developed for fun.  Don't be creeped out by the thought of using cedar as an ingredient.  It is easy to find and offers a subtle, yet smokey flavor that balances well with the sweetness of the maple syrup.

Charred Cedar Ice Cream with Maple Swirl

1 cedar plank, charred and broken into three or more pieces
2 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 cup milk
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
5 extra-large egg yolks
3 tablespoons Crown Maple Syrup, Medium Amber, plus more for garnish

Bring 1 1/2 cup of the heavy cream, the milk,  1/2 cup of the sugar and the salt to a simmer in a high-sided skillet.  Add the charred cedar pieces and allow to steep, covered, for one hour.  Remove the cedar, making sure to scrape as much liquid off them before discarding.  Bring the liquid back to a simmer.

Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup of sugar until it begins to lighten. When the liquid begins to simmer, temper the yolks.  To temper, slowly add some of the hot liquid to the yolks while whisking constantly.  When half of the hot liquid has been added, pour the yolk mixture into the pot with the remaining liquid mixture.

Over a medium heat, stir the mixture continuously until it begins to thicken and coats the back of a wooded spoon.  Be careful to not overcook or the eggs will scramble.  Strain (the finest mesh strainer you have!) the mixture into a quart sized measuring cup (or a large bowl.)  Add the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream and gently stir until fully combined.  Transfer to a quart container or tupperware and refrigerate overnight.

Following the instructions provided with your ice cream machine, churn the base until it is the consistency of soft-serve ice cream.  Place a quarter of the ice cream into a pre-frozen container. Drizzle with the syrup.  Repeat the layers until you use all the ice cream and syrup.  Place a layer of plastic wrap over the ice cream and harden in the freezer for at least four hours, preferably overnight.  Serve as is or with a drizzle of syrup.