UPDATED – Pastry School – Seminars (Part 1)

Ooops!  Had scheduled this to publish when I started writing this weekend and never finished the post.  Then forgot.  Total blogger FAIl.  Well, here it is:

In addition to our two days of Kitchen Labs we have a three hour evening Seminar each week. The seminar topics complement and/or supplement our in class lecture time and cover a wide variety of topics from Chocolate and ServeSafe certification to Food Management and Recipe Writing.  Almost all of the seminars are taught by instructors other than our two primary Chefs so we get exposure to different teaching styles, culinary philosophies and specialties, which is fabulous.  As huge geek who loves and lives for all things school/learning related I have very much enjoyed the seminars and learned a lot, most of it practical knowledge that I’ll be able to apply across the board in school, work and life.

Our first three seminars were:

chocolateChocolate – Whoever does the scheduling for the Pastry Program seminars certainly knows what they are doing to schedule the Chocolate Seminar first.  Nice start to the semester.  Sydney Oland, Product Development Coordinator at Taza Chocolate in Somerville was our instructor for the evening.  Sydney was friendly, approachable, very knowledgeable about chocolate and obviously passionate about Taza and her work there.  In other words, the perfect person to learn all things chocolate from.  We talked about the cacao plant, products derived from cacoa and saw a short film on farming cacao.  Awful, labor intensive work that pays very little so that the industry can mass produce cheap, sugary chocolate products.  From there we moved onto much cheerier topics; the most popular chocolate products, tempering chocolate, different percentages (dark, milk, white) and some of the regulations that govern what can be called dark, milk and white chocolate.  Then the samples started, obviously the highlight of the evening!  We tasted everything from cocoa butter (think chapstick) and the standard semisweet we keep in the kitchen (pretty darn good) to dark chocolates from Taza (amazing) and Mast Brothers (meh).  We used a chocolate tasting wheel to describe the undertones of the better chocolates.  Amazing how many of us could really taste cinnamon, spicy, floral undertones in the same product.  It was like a wine tasting, but much cooler.  I have always been an admirer of chocolate but after the seminar have a much better understanding of the nuances between different chocolates and a healthy dose of respect for the people that try to make a living supplying the raw ingredient to chocolate manufacturers.

chef knifeKnife Skills – When we receive our equipment bags during orientation they are missing one key thing, our chefs knife.  In order to receive your very own super scary sharp knife you have to attend Knife Skills where you select your knife; 10″ regular or wide blade, 12″ regular or wide blade.  Our instructor, Chef Jim, is an almost 20 year veteran of professional kitchen work.  He’s got a lot of great experience and is happy to share advice and a smattering of scary kitchen tales.  We learned a couple of very basic techniques (Brunoise, Julienne, Chiffonade, Mince, Dice, etc.) on some vegetables (onions, carrots, zucchini, potatoes) and herbs (basil, parsley).  We tried out the different knives and learned how to use a steel to keep our knives sharp.  As Pastry students knife skills are important but not as much as on the savory side.  In general I find us to be a bit more knife-shy but we all did really well that evening and only one minor cut (not me, a surprise I know).  Most of us selected the shorter knife, we felt more comfortable with it, only to be told by one of our Pastry chefs that we should have all chosen the longer knife.  That the shorter one is almost useless.  That remains to be seen. In class we generally only take out a couple of knives (fear of lost/stolen) and share them as needed, which is not very often.  I have been practicing my knife skills and my onions definitely look chopped now versus mangled in a weed whacker.  Totally worth three hours of my time.

ServSafeServSafe – As part of our education at The CSCA we all become ServSafe certified.  This means that we have studied all things related to food safety – order receiving, storage, cooking, serving, personal hygiene, equipment cleanliness, pest management, allergy awareness and health department regulations.  It’s a three session seminar which culminates in the exam being held during the second half of the last class.  Of course due to the snow we missed a session, and I missed the Saturday make up, but as I now I think we’ve all taken and passed the exam.  The material is a lot to learn in a short time and is fairly detail specific in terms of safe cooking temperatures, food specific bacteria to be aware of and proper, hygienic kitchen protocol.  Our instructor runs a ServSafe education company and was extremely knowledgeable and, fortunately for us given the subject matter, fairly engaging and able to give real-world examples of what can happen when food is not properly handled.  Classmates who had done the course in the savory program told us that after the class we’d never look at restaurants and handling food the same.  They were right.  I’ll spare you the details.  Trust me.

Next up:  Fruits, Herbs & Spices and Food Management.

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