LJ-razz, 6.06.06: Dear Geoff

Dear Geoff,

Oy, awake again at 2 a.m. I really need to just start working nights. If only my boss would let it happen!

Tonight was my first night at Phoenix College, and so far, it seems all right. The teacher, Chef Bartz, is very monotone, but funny. Apparently, ball caps are a part of the uniform if you've been cooking awhile. Chef (eventually I'll be able to say that without thinking about South Park) had a ball cap, and so did a couple of guys in the class who are certificate candidates, meaning they're the ones that the rest of us are holding back. Ever notice how there's a fine line between familiar and cocky? Tonight, they were on the familiar side. I have a feeling that will change next class around on Wednesday. Chef made a point of telling all of us that we'd be doing a lot of dishwashing, with no exception--"There are no divas in this class." Overall, everyone, including Chef Bartz, is laid back and fun. They all put up with my sense of humor, which is always ace. I was afraid that people would brush me off, but I did well in the impromptu quiz (What is in a bouquet garni? Name the four components of a vinaigrette. How many tablespoons are in a cup?).

I'm looking forward to seeing what Chef will teach us. He said there was no mistake we could make that he couldn't fix unless we burned the crap out of something. When class started, he listed off all his accomplishments, including the kitchens he's cooked in. All my large-scale experience comes from cooking for 150-400 homeless people in soup kitchens stocked with stuff that barely passed code (and some stuff that snuck through and that definitely would not have passed code). The kitchen director would look at what came off the (non-refrigerated) trucks, call it chili or stew or soup or pasta, have us start chopping, stirring, and cooking. Then we'd man the slop line, and at the end of the night, we'd wash hundreds of dishes and hose and sanitize everything down. Not quite Chef's Four Seasons. Now is as good a time as any to learn more about hollandaise and bechamel.

I like this group and was hoping to be able to work with everyone in the class because there are so many experiences each person has gone through. Unfortunately, our class of ten got split into three teams. The two guys, heretofore known as the baseball cap brigade (a brigade is a culinary term for kitchen team), are team 1. I'm in team 2 with two of the other women in the class and a guy, Brian, who's already voiced concern aplenty about the three-absences-and-you're-out policy (he said he travels a lot and left it at that). One of my teammates, Sally, is Amazon tall and just now checking out of the Air Force Reserves after two years, not including one year active. The Air Force started her out with missiles, and she ended up as a dietician. Now she's a corrections officer. My fourth and last teammate is an energetic, earnest, small, older Asian lady, Victoria, who I'm worried about in the sense that I feel like I should look out for her well-being. Team 3 is a guy who kept insisting he be in a team with at least one person with heft kitchen experience and a quiet, back-of-the-room guy and a guy who's already taken a few classes at the college and with Chef Bartz. He cracks me up, and it was nice talking to him about Pacific Rim food. I think he'll be a good go-to guy when I need help in a pinch. There was another member (female) of the baseball cap brigade who missed tonight because she had to bid for a bed and breakfast on eBay, but apparently, she's very very very good (according to the other two ballcaps). She's rounding out team 3.

I love the kitchen, even if it is kinda old and creaky. Chef was careful about telling us about all the horrible, limb-losing accidents involved with each piece of equipment--barrel of laughs, that guy. Hopefully I'll get out of here unmaimed. As Chef says, "Just don't turn around to tell jokes when you're using the meat slicer." Check. He taught us how to properly hone knives, so I finally broke down and bought a steel. Now every knife in the house is like fresh out of the bubble packaging. Harhar!

On a side note, Chef mentioned that he won this year's Scottsdale Culinary Festival with his team of students, and he told us that if we worked our asses off, he might pick us to be on next year's team. The clincher is that we have to be "serious" students, and not just from the general interest crowd. That was kind of a pisser. You know me well enough to know that after he said that, I really wanted on that team. That won't happen, though. On a good note, I'm taking Classical Desserts in the fall because Baking is full.

Anyway, to celebrate having lasted the first night, I went and bought a short set (8" chef's knife, boning knife, paring knife) of Forschner knives (by Victrionix--the fine folks who also make Swiss Army knives), a sporty red knife roll, and $20 of lamb loin chops. I really only wanted a single chop, which would've cost only five bucks, and I wish I'd stuck with that. I've cooked every cut of lamb that's legal, and my favorite is still the shoulder chop. It's the most flavorful, impossible to screw up, and the cheapest. I also whipped up some rough-mashed potatoes with sage, red bell peppers, garlic, and sweet onions, and stuffed it into a steamed giant globe artichoke. Good stuff, photo attached. I gave myself a break and bought a piece of cake from AJ's, and it was fair at best. The cake parts were so well-soaked in syrup (you know the style--it's European, and I'm sure you've seen it everywhere out there), that it may as well have been custard. Then there was actual custard in the cake. In summary, the cake part was useless--what a waste of a time-consuming gateaux. To be fair, it was the end of the day when I bought it. To be fair, the place should've sold it at half-price the way any self-respecting bakery would do. That's the tricky thing about dessert--you make them look great, then sell the taste short, and if it's from a classy place, you get away with it.

I finally made that apple cheesecake this past weekend, but I cheated and didn't bake the apples in. I wanted to see how the cheesecake was plain, first, and I made a caramelized apple glaze to go over the top. It was a hit at the barbecue. They did a cheesecake challenge with a Cheesecake Factory cheesecake, and they voted it off the island. What's kind of a stinker is I thought the recipe I tried last week was better, but I figured it would be rude to tell them about it. It was just cool to see that everyone liked it--actually closed their eyes and did the whole "Mmmmm" thing. Later that night, I was talking to my antisocial, reclusive nephew, and he told me that he really wanted to make his peanut butter cheesecake for me, and that he liked cooking because it made people happy. Kid after my own heart, huh? He and my niece and I sat around on the patio swing, "talking shop," and they want to do a baking day one of these weekends. My niece told me about a cake she made that had brown frosting and a pile of frosting imitating a pile of doo, and on the cake, she wrote "Lulu was here." Lulu is her dog. She told me she really wanted to learn how to do roses, and I told her she might have a little more success in the decorating business if I taught her flowers, then she started talking about incorporating poo and roses. You're a writer, Geoff--invest your wealth of metaphors and symbolism here.

Anyway, I've got work to clear before I go to sleep, so I oughtta get to it. My computer's still going, but I have to boot up on Safe Mode with Networking. I'm looking to buy a new hard drive after Wednesday. I should put the smoke detector back up before I do anything else. I've finally learned the hard way to take the thing down whenever I cook any kind of meat on the stovetop in this apartment. The hood above the range apparently leads back into the apartment. I had to help Scotch the Dog into the oxygen mask that dropped from the ceiling.

Gotta run. Chow!



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