Thursday, July 24, 2008

All in the Family

All of the Assistant Chefs I’ve come into contact with have been great to work with but one in particular is my favorite hands down. Chef Laura, has been with my group all through Level I, II and III and she has become a wonderful confidant and mentor in many ways.

The other day we were happy to see her in our new kitchen since we don’t get to interact with her in our Level IV class. She mentioned that she needed some volunteer help to prepare family meal on a day that I didn’t have class – my cooking pal, Marcela and I signed up on the spot.

The evening we were slated to help out for family meal, Chef Laura told us what main ingredients we had to work and we quickly brainstormed and came up with a plan. We had grilled flank steak, boneless breasts of chicken and whatever produce we could possibly need. We also had to prepare some wraps/sandwiches for the Level VI students who were having their final that night.

We quickly got to work, Marcela decided to make a flank steak salad with cilantro and marinated red onions and a vinaigrette – she also worked on the wraps which looked quite tasty – especially the ones filled with roasted vegetables and goat cheese.

I decided to use the chicken breasts to make the largest amount of Jambalaya that I’ve ever made in my life. Chef and I talked out my recipe and she suggested some very smart ideas to make the recipe work for a buffet-sized portion. Learning to cook in large quantities is very tricky just simply for the mere size and proportion of ingredients.

I quickly cleaned and roughly chopped my celery, onions and red peppers than I ran batches of the vegetables in a giant food processor called a Robot Coupe. I began by sautéing bacon and sweating my vegetables in a pot called a Rondeau that had to be 3½ feet in diameter. Once the all the vegetables were properly sweated, which took about 30 minutes, I added loads of chopped shallots and garlic to give them a quick sauté. Normally, at this point I would toss in my rice, seasonings (including: ground pepper, salt, cayenne, Tabasco, chili powder and a touch of smoky paprika) and chicken stock but here is where we diverted from the procedure. We decided to season the vegetable mixture, add a restaurant-sized can of tomatoes (that were first chopped in the Robot Coupe), and a large quantity of red beans. After those additions I let the mixture sit on the stove barely simmering.

The 8 quarts of rice were started in another Rondeau with hot chicken stock and left covered to absorb all that flavor. The chicken (all three sheet trays) were drizzled with blended oil and then seasoned with salt, pepper, smoky paprika, and chili powder. Chef Laura suggested we roast the chicken in a high-powered convection oven to seal in the juiciness. About 15 – 20 minutes later the chicken was done and allowed to rest. The rice was perfect and ready to be transferred into hotel pans for the buffet table and my saucy mixture was thinned out with some hot chicken stock. For a nice garnish I sautéed more bacon lardons, chopped some scallions and sautéed some shrimp to add to the Jambalaya.

We layered sliced chicken breasts in a hotel pan then covered that with the flavorful Jambalaya mixture and finally added our garnish of bacon, scallions and shrimp. The rice was served plain and on the side which worked out very well. Soon lots of Chefs and kitchen staff filed into the family meal kitchen and started inhaling the food we laid out. The flank steak salad was a big hit as well as the Jambalaya – even one of the pickiest Chefs came in and told me it was flavorful, very good and that he enjoyed it. When it all comes down to it – that type of appreciation is why I love to cook for loved ones, friends and now my new family at the French Culinary Institute.

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