Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Relevant experiences

Since my return from my first stay in France, about which you read in my first two posts, I spent some more time in Europe. During a second period in France, as an English teaching assistant, I spent 4 months working for free in a pair of restaurants in the South of France. This "stage," as it is called in the restaurant industry, led to a change in my plans for life. I returned to the US, moved past my former career plans as a graphic designer, and enrolled in culinary school. Being 31 at that time I felt I needed a jump-start in my experience and knowledge to try to catch up on time lost. So I moved to Chicago and began my life as a professional cook. I completed 3 of 5 quarters at a good culinary school. I took all the required classes and a good number of extra electives. Classes like cheeses, fermentation, wine & spirits, sausage making and even Chinese Cuisine helped me learn beyond the knife skills and product ID foundations. I got a job during my internship and ended up not going back to school.

Beside the cost of the classes, the conflicting schedules of the required monetary income and the education wasn't very accommodating. But I was fortunate to be working at a highly regarded restaurant that helped me increase my knowledge in the charcuterie world. And through the excitement and interest exhibited through this I was eventually the go-to guy for charcuterie items like terrines, as well as some pickled goodies to accompany them. A few weeks ago I left said restaurant to go to a new place. Though my current role is poissonier, the fish guy, I have been told I will soon be filling the new position of charcutier. Since it is a new restaurant and the menu is still under some review and changes there is not quite the need for a FT charcutier, so I fill the split responsibilities of both jobs. A couple sausages, some foie gras, and lots of mise en place for the fish station plus cooking during service. But when I am home, I am still stuffing casings, mincing meats and smoking bellies. I just can't get enough of the stuff!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Why Low? part 2.

This charcuterie shop was more of a specialty foods type of shop. It offered imported items from Italy like dry pastas, canned San Marzanos and a vast array of anchovies. It had a sweets section with lots of imported goodies. It had some various liquor bottles. It had a lot. Then I reached the front corner of the shop exposed to the outside by two walls of glass. Facing the inside of the store towards me was two long display cases of prepared foods. But it wasn't potato salad and macaroni & cheese. It was their charcuterie offerings including pork rillettes, salmon rillettes, chicken rillettes and duck rillettes.

But even though it was those rillettes that drew me there, it was all the pork based items that amazed and intrigued me. Patés (at least 6 kinds), fresh sausages, dried sausages, smoked sausages, smoked slab belly, lardons, city ham (jambon de paris) and lots of dried hams. At this point I was familiar with and fond of proscuitto. But to see so many others versions, only identifiable to me by there tags, sparked my interest even more. Proscuitto de San Daniel, Jambon de Bayonne, Jamón Ibérico, Jamón Serrano, Pata Negra, Bellota and more I can't even remember. These were all in the leg form, still on the bone and with the hoof still attached (except the proscuitto). They were sitting in these wood based cradles that held them in a position to be carefully shaved by hand to order. Those yet to be carved hung in the windows with their labels and their prices, always by the kilo, some hitting over €150 /kilo.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Why Low? part 1.

So what happened when a latch-key child of a single, 2 job having, mid-western mother had to to fend for himself when hunger set in? It pretty much depended on the supply in the fridge. I was a huge fan of hot-dogs. I imagine I ate over a pack a week in my prime. After all, they were easy enough, boiled in water. Then in the mid 80s that microwave thing came out and made things so much easier. They were always covered in mustard, never ketchup. From time to time white bread had to fill in for the lack of proper hotdog buns. Sometimes I would put dill pickle slices on them too, but I usually let it ride with just the mustard.

Ahhhh, mustard. When the selection in the fridge was more minimal it was hard to beat a yellow mustard on white-bread sandwich. Bologna and Budig style dried beef sandwiches always pleased. Again, mustard with the bologna or butter with the beef. Or I guess back then it was margarine.