Over the weekend, I had the privilege of cooking alongside with legendary French chefs, members of the Societe Culinaire Philanthrophique. Nestled in the rolling hills of New Paltz, NY, the Culinarians’ Home hosted 800 Culinarians for the society’s annual fundraiser. We prepared for the event on Sunday over three days.
A member of the society whom I befriended early on, walked me through some of the appellations and recognition the chefs around the table on Saturday evening had won. It was a 40 minute monologue of stories, awards and business success, where I nodded in admiration with my mouth wide open. Probably the least intelligent I ever looked in my life. 
They were humble, nurturing, approachable and entirely at ease. 
Now, that was a great weekend. I won’t even talk about the copious amounts of wine, cheese, and laughter… High-res

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of cooking alongside with legendary French chefs, members of the Societe Culinaire Philanthrophique. Nestled in the rolling hills of New Paltz, NY, the Culinarians’ Home hosted 800 Culinarians for the society’s annual fundraiser. We prepared for the event on Sunday over three days.

A member of the society whom I befriended early on, walked me through some of the appellations and recognition the chefs around the table on Saturday evening had won. It was a 40 minute monologue of stories, awards and business success, where I nodded in admiration with my mouth wide open. Probably the least intelligent I ever looked in my life. 

They were humble, nurturing, approachable and entirely at ease. 

Now, that was a great weekend. I won’t even talk about the copious amounts of wine, cheese, and laughter…

Ham by Joiola Thomas

Joiola was called upon to do her one minute presentation about ham in our Meat 101 class. She walked to the board and, with a mischievous but humble smile, read the poem. I was blown away. One of the best things that has ever happened to me at 640 in the morning! 

Ham.

First you buy it..Devils, dips, danish, and dry it. Loaf it. Coke it. You know we smoke it. 
Can it. Tin it. Easter shopping you may win it. Stock or soup. I stop at 
ham juice. Render fat, marinade that. Bake fry.. eggs and ham, use green 
dye! Ice cream, confit , hang it… from a tree.
 Marinade. Ham parade. Kabob. Slider. Preserve and and pie her.
Gravy. Name your baby. Spam.
Fast food, slow food. Brine…take your time. 
Glaze,roll. stuff, slice.
Broth, casserole, & dice.
Barbecue. Sausage. stew.
A Wrinkle free moisturizer too..
Cut and paste, some use “meat glue”. 
Grind it up and watch it mold. Freeze the bone it won’t get old. Split peas and ham will warm the soul. 
Of all the things ham has in store. Ham was used to prevent a war.

Joiola Thomas

Beef medallion with sauce chasseur (En.: Hunter sauce), broccoli rabe, beer battered onion rings and potato au gratin. 

I had the privilege of having one of the best chefs at the CIA as my fundamental skills instructor. Chef Xavier Le Roux ran La Pavillion in NYC in its heyday, one of the best restaurants in the US at the time. His principle mantra is: Discipline. Consistency. Success (very similar in fact to that of my chef in Harrisburg, PA— Chef Quiqui).

Perhaps the most important thing he’s instilled in me and my entire team is the pride one takes in his craft. The satisfaction we saw on his face day in and day out after his demonstrations will stick with me forever. He’s a humble man — moves with purpose, respects his customers, his craft, his colleagues and the ingredients he works with. 





No gimmicks, no showmanship.





If you asked me the most profound thing I experienced at the CIA my first term here, I will say shaking hands with Chef Le Roux on the last day of fundamental skills class. 





The term culminated in the last day of class for me. I served a well seasoned, properly cooked, hot plate of food with a medium rare beef medallion, a golden brown potato au gratin, hunter sauce at perfect thin nappe consistency, and crispy onion rings.

Today we started meat identification and fabrication class! 
High-res

Beef medallion with sauce chasseur (En.: Hunter sauce), broccoli rabe, beer battered onion rings and potato au gratin. 

I had the privilege of having one of the best chefs at the CIA as my fundamental skills instructor. Chef Xavier Le Roux ran La Pavillion in NYC in its heyday, one of the best restaurants in the US at the time. His principle mantra is: Discipline. Consistency. Success (very similar in fact to that of my chef in Harrisburg, PA— Chef Quiqui).

Perhaps the most important thing he’s instilled in me and my entire team is the pride one takes in his craft. The satisfaction we saw on his face day in and day out after his demonstrations will stick with me forever. He’s a humble man — moves with purpose, respects his customers, his craft, his colleagues and the ingredients he works with. 

No gimmicks, no showmanship.

If you asked me the most profound thing I experienced at the CIA my first term here, I will say shaking hands with Chef Le Roux on the last day of fundamental skills class. 

The term culminated in the last day of class for me. I served a well seasoned, properly cooked, hot plate of food with a medium rare beef medallion, a golden brown potato au gratin, hunter sauce at perfect thin nappe consistency, and crispy onion rings.

Today we started meat identification and fabrication class! 

True story, fake name

Marbles, mulberries, her breasts and the last summer of my childhood

 

The summer of 1992 was a special one – I was eight years old. I can’t fathom how I fit so much indulgence and exploration into one summer. I went foraging with my aunt for wild fennel, oregano, and nettles. I had figs, fried mussels, and kokoretsi for the first time in my life – all on my own dime. Now, before I start talking about mulberries let me tell you something about Turkish figs, they are a miracle of cultivation and artificial selection. At the height of the season, they come fist-sized, green on the outside and ruby-red with yellow seeds on the inside. They’re perhaps better than mulberries – I’ve often thought what my life would be like if it was a fig tree instead of a mulberry tree that I climbed that afternoon. Fig trees are not fun to climb.

It was the summer before I started studying for the infamous Turkish middle school entry exams. My last worry-free summer…

Read the rest of the story here. 

A good falafel is one that is crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. It is not meant to be a dense pellet that challenges your esophageal muscles.
Aba’s falafel at the Rhinebeck Farmers Market in the Hudson Valley has got it figured out. The bright green meat of the falafel is the bonus of the fantastic textural contrast of the crispy skin and the warming and soft inside. The pita was warm and steaming when the daughter of the family cut into it to prepare my sandwich.
Familiar Middle Eastern flavors, including the chopped salad that is shepherd’s salad, a cabbage salad, and a sumac speckled onion confit, bring zest to the whole sandwich. If you want your sandwich richer and more filling, enjoy it with the simple tahini sauce that comes with the sandwich. 
Aba’s Falafel, Rhinebeck Farmers Market, Hudson Valley, NY High-res

A good falafel is one that is crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. It is not meant to be a dense pellet that challenges your esophageal muscles.

Aba’s falafel at the Rhinebeck Farmers Market in the Hudson Valley has got it figured out. The bright green meat of the falafel is the bonus of the fantastic textural contrast of the crispy skin and the warming and soft inside. The pita was warm and steaming when the daughter of the family cut into it to prepare my sandwich.

Familiar Middle Eastern flavors, including the chopped salad that is shepherd’s salad, a cabbage salad, and a sumac speckled onion confit, bring zest to the whole sandwich. If you want your sandwich richer and more filling, enjoy it with the simple tahini sauce that comes with the sandwich. 

Aba’s Falafel, Rhinebeck Farmers Market, Hudson Valley, NY

I think that’s a milestone! Thank you to all who have supported my efforts with their comments, feedback, love, and appetite. I owe a special thank you to the editors who have recognized my efforts and featured me on the tumblr Food and Drink spotlight page. I love Tumblr and I’m very thankful for everyone’s support. 
I kicked off my career in culinary arts on May 22nd, 2012. I left the life of an engineer, an analytics manager, and an economist to pursue my passion, the only purpose I want to have in my life: Cooking and through that making people happy. 
I’m pushing myself more every day on the journey to perfection. In the last year, I cooked in various places in North Eastern US, in Istanbul, and in Mumbai. I foraged forests and farmers markets; picked up bow hunting; sampled all kinds of food that I’d never tried before. The list goes beyond black salt, pork large intestines, birds nest, preserved eggs, head cheese, foie gras and more. 
I’ve been documenting the journey here to engage you on the direction I’m taking my culinary passion. 
I’m at the Culinary Institute of America now. My peers have elected me sous chef of class. I work with a great banquet chef outside of class. Just learning from my colleague’s experiences here has been tremendous so far. 
I tested a couple recipes this morning. Once the work was done, I walked to the gym for a quick workout. I have tennis elbow now from overworking my right arm. Deep in thought I entered the gym and saw the shadow of the man who said: 
“When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy, that is what cooking is all about.” 
We have Thomas Keller Day here at the Culinary tomorrow. He was setting up for his presentation and demonstration with half dozen of his sous chefs as well as recent CIA graduates who are working for him. 
I feel lucky but equally motivated and in love with life.  High-res

I think that’s a milestone! Thank you to all who have supported my efforts with their comments, feedback, love, and appetite. I owe a special thank you to the editors who have recognized my efforts and featured me on the tumblr Food and Drink spotlight page. I love Tumblr and I’m very thankful for everyone’s support. 

I kicked off my career in culinary arts on May 22nd, 2012. I left the life of an engineer, an analytics manager, and an economist to pursue my passion, the only purpose I want to have in my life: Cooking and through that making people happy. 

I’m pushing myself more every day on the journey to perfection. In the last year, I cooked in various places in North Eastern US, in Istanbul, and in Mumbai. I foraged forests and farmers markets; picked up bow hunting; sampled all kinds of food that I’d never tried before. The list goes beyond black salt, pork large intestines, birds nest, preserved eggs, head cheese, foie gras and more. 

I’ve been documenting the journey here to engage you on the direction I’m taking my culinary passion. 

I’m at the Culinary Institute of America now. My peers have elected me sous chef of class. I work with a great banquet chef outside of class. Just learning from my colleague’s experiences here has been tremendous so far. 

I tested a couple recipes this morning. Once the work was done, I walked to the gym for a quick workout. I have tennis elbow now from overworking my right arm. Deep in thought I entered the gym and saw the shadow of the man who said: 

“When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy, that is what cooking is all about.” 

We have Thomas Keller Day here at the Culinary tomorrow. He was setting up for his presentation and demonstration with half dozen of his sous chefs as well as recent CIA graduates who are working for him. 

I feel lucky but equally motivated and in love with life. 

During the day, I make stock, focus on my knife cuts and making perfect mayonnaise, among other fundamentals. At night and on weekends, I work for one of my favorite chefs on Culinary Institute of America banquets. I was part of a team of fifteen+ fellow students who produced this meal above for a black tie event at the Hyde Park, NY campus. We worked our butts off on a 14 hours shift after two half days of prep work to produce this meal (a couple hors d’oeuvres and courses missing). I loved it! 

  • Balsamic vinegar doused feta cheese with compressed watermelon (Here is my take on it. Also, here is something that I wrote on my passion for watermelon and feta)
  • Lobster mousse on brioche topped with paddlefish caviar
  • Beef tenderloin on roasted potatoes with a morel and Madeira sauce served with spring vegetables
  • Puree of yellow squash soup garnished with tarragon foam and crab meat
  • Smoked duck and fig skewers with a plum sauce glaze

Photos courtesy of Kelsey Leroque

Marist College Black Tie Event, Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY

The tasting cradles contain a soba salad with sesame seeds and a roasted pepper ketchup. The cup hold an amazing ginger carrot soup. The plate at 4 o clock has salmon two ways and a seafood terrine. Here is a dry cured ham in the back with radicchio and asian pears topped with gorgonzola. Next to it is a tasting cradle with a slice of poached salmon and a quail egg with a light vineigrette... Counterclockwise: Pickles, chicken galantine, duck terrine, chickpea and crab salad Clockwise: Smoked trout, aspic with chicken. Molded in bread. A vegetable terrine, a chicken galantine, a wild mushroom terrine, and a venison terrine! The venison was garnished with herbs-to die for Smoked salmon and pickled mushrooms, red onions, cheese cracker and blue cheese Soba noodle salad with peanuts, head cheese, lobster terrine, curried couscous salad goat cheese and beet salad

At Dartmouth, the most interesting use for our dinner trays was sledding down the hill by the golf course. And trust me that is just as much fun as eating dozens of different dishes with foie gras, venison, lobster and wild mushrooms. I never want to have to choose between sledding on a dinner tray and eating amazing food off of one.

Last Friday was a day when the choice was already made for me. 

I was done with class at four when I set up camp in the dining hall where the Gard Manger grand buffet was to take place. Peeking over the plates to see what was about to become part of a memorable feast, I basked in the presence of the rush of my colleagues 

My heart was beating faster. 

I tried for the first time foie gras terrines, rabbit rillettes, head cheese, galantines, wild mushroom terrines, and aspics. What a tremendous experience that was. 

Check out the captions for all the amazing food my colleagues put together last Friday. The best part is that this feast happens every three weeks here. Fourteen days until the next one! 

All models are wrong, but some are more useful than others

Steven Schwagger, Professor Emeritus at the Department of Biological Statistics and Computational Biology, Cornell University as quoted in Culinary Fundamentals lecture at the Culinary Institute of America

Have you ever thought about recipes as models? That’s what was implied at my first Culinary Fundamentals theory lecture at the Culinary Institute of America. In other words, recipes are imperfect statistical models that provide guidelines to interpreting the world around you and/or creating a somewhat consistent result.

I’ve always thought about recipes as algorithms that produce a consistent result. But this is a misnomer and the concept of a statistical model fits the bill as it attempts at controlling variation without eliminating it.

For instance, the simple formula we learn for pureed soups is:

  • For vegetables: 1 lb of vegetable : 1 quart of stock
  • For legumes: 1 lb of dry legumes: 2 quarts of stock

To get the light nappe (coating the back of your spoon) consistency, does it make sense to abide by the recipe 100% or to course-correct along the way? Which one will produce better results? 

Rhetorical questions aside, what intrigues me the most (and most geeks who care as much about words) —about using the right words to describe what a recipe is and what it isn’t— what makes a good cook is understanding the statistical variations of a recipe. We must know recipes and other general guidelines but understanding the science behind recipes will better allow for adjusting along the way to produce the best results. 

In short, a cook is someone who applies recipes and adjusts them along the way to account for variations in the results to produce a consistent product. 

Let’s see how my perspective will evolve.

Hmm… Evolution, eh? Variations in a model. Cooks selecting for best results. Sounds like another statistical model — artificial / natural selection… Maybe another topic for another post… 

Love for life. Love for food. Purpose. Inspiration.

It’s my birthday today. The most profound day of the last year was three weeks ago. Here are my reflections. 

I walked up to the French Laundry to see the venue —this restaurant is often cited as the best restaurant in America. Lunch service was coming to an end and I saw the chefs walking out of the kitchen. I said, ‘Can I walk with you?’ Of course, I could. I thought they were going to the Laundry farm to harvest the produce for the next shift but they were headed to the bench where they hold their staff meetings…

They didn’t know who I was, where I was from. They never questioned my purpose or intentions. Somehow they had the right intuition to let me immerse myself in their creative process and have an out-of-the-body experience that will stay with me my entire life. I was in such a daze that I did not move for two hours – I just listened, focused on the joy that manifested itself in a thousand goose bumps, and let myself be inspired.

I never thought I was capable of such intense feelings. I was so content with life that I could vanish in that moment without any resistance.

 

We visited the Benziger Estate in Petaluma, California with my parents and members of my extended family. I care a lot about wine but that Sunday was more about spending time with my parents than turning the day into a culinary adventure for me. So, we did as they pleased.

I had just come back from cooking in Mumbai for two months. San Fransisco was my last stop before coming back to the East Coast to attend the Culinary. Prior to meeting my parents, who were visiting from Istanbul, I’d been in Bangkok, Pondicherry, Chennai, Mumbai, Istanbul, Amsterdam and New York. And all of this was in the interest of exploring food!

 We left the Benziger Estate that sunny Northern California morning and my uncle decided he wanted to go to Napa after all. That was a pleasant surprise because I didn’t expect that my old relatives would be so inclined to have a busy schedule on a lazy Sunday.

 We crossed the mountain through windy roads with the smell of fluffy, friendly and ethereal mimosas. Mimosas are my favorite flower. They’re beautiful, delicate and highly ephemeral. The season in Istanbul lasts a couple weeks in the beginning of March.

 Prior to the embrace of the mimosa smell, I tasted a superb Pinot Noir with characteristic Burgundy flavors and a strong base of truffles. It was fascinating.  

 I was already on cloud nine by the time we arrived in Yountville. Searching for parking spots, we first drove by Ad Hoc, then Bouchon and last but not least The French Laundry. We parked and I went on a reconnesaince mission with my parents.   

 Those are the circumstances under which I met the French Laundry team and had one of the most profound experiences of my life.

 Their meeting was well structured and followed the flow of the menu for the next day’s specials. The chef de partie was running the meeting, taking detailed notes on a piece of paper that linked all the newly designed menu items to an ordering sheet. There was some chatter at the table but I haven’t heard a single word from the eight young chefs that wasn’t about food. The chefs pitched their elaborate ideas for each section of the menu with variations on specific components of their dish. The concepts were respectfully broken down, analyzed, and reconstructed as a team with the big picture of the options for the evening in mind. The discussion was not just logical and mathematical but it was also poetic, which was reflected through everyone’s passion and the deep intellectual curiosity they displayed throughout the process.

 When they stood up, they each walked over and shook my hand. Even though not much was spoken, they knew why I was there. I felt at home.

 An hour later, I walked into Ad Hoc to have dinner at the bar. The menu was Irish themed as it was St. Patrick’s day. Everything was excellent but the stuffed quail was heavenly. There were no blemishes, no rips, no tears on the deboning work. The stuffing was well seasoned and balanced with bacon and corn bread. The cooking on the quail was at textbook perfection with beautiful brown skin and a pink inside. I paired my meal with a Russian River Golden Ale, a beer that has character but does not dominate your palate.

 Just when I thought my life was complete, the crescendo culminated in a visit to the kitchen after I said thank you to the gentleman behind the bar and mentioned that I was about to start at the Culinary in New York. He was quick to invite me to the kitchen and give me a walk through.

 In Ruhlman’s book Becoming a Chef as well as Achatz’s  Life on the Line, I’d read great things about the Laundry kitchen. The Ad Hoc kitchen reflected this image as well: Efficient; clean; well-lit; full of great people, passionate about their work and a smile on their faces moving around their station with a conscious sense of urgency. Everything in the walk-ins –multiple walk-ins managed at different temperatures—was clearly labeled with neat and legible writing. The kitchen was impeccable in the middle of service when three quarters of the tables had guests.

 I’ve been at the Culinary for two weeks now. That day in Yountville –what I felt, observed and tasted—has become a calibration point. Every time I mince shallots, strain the stock we make in class, listen to a lecture on catering, I think about the camaraderie, the openness and the uninhibited creativity of the Laundry team or the order that inspired a sense of excellence in the Ad Hoc kitchen. The zeal they shared for their profession, their professionalism and their uncompromising adherence to perfection will propel me through life at the Culinary.  

I’ve been through very cynical times in my life. I was stuck up, opinionated and cared about the wrong things. The two years that led to my arrival at the Culinary culminated in this moment in Yountville. On a bench, right next to the French Laundry farm, I found myself reformed, enlightened and present in the moment more than ever.

I was ready. 

Korean street food tastings at the Culinary Institute of America! 

Eating Korean street food while sitting over the Hudson is pretty good! Sharing it with great people who know all about the food and are passionate about is a privelege! 

The combo was complete with yuzu juice; deep fried and sweet chili sauce doused rice cakes; fried glass noodle rolls; a corn dog with a deep fried potato batter; and my favorite jumuk bab! 

Jumuk bab is a rice ball flavored with nigiri flakes and toasted sesame seeds. It’s stuffed with tuna and topped with Japanese fish flakes (katsuobushi) and served with a mild chili mayo. 

Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY