“I was always the first to say, ‘Oh Mom, you put too much mustard in the vinaigrette,” Chef says, chuckling to himself.
Our mornings usually proceed like this. We stand in front of our ovens staring at a Powerpoint presentation to discuss the background principles of the day’s lesson. But the only thing that makes standing and not cooking bearable is listening to Chef’s childhood stories. He has loads of them and I’m not sure what’s more amusing: The fact they’re funny especially since he’s always like an animated cartoon character when explaining his memories or the fact Chef tends to crack himself up mid-story. Regardless, this Frenchman who ties his neckerchief like a scarf and rests it on the outside of his chef’s coat (most of us tuck it in) is adorable. (One caveat: When he starts yelling at us for mixing up the trimmings and peelings. That is not allowed, and will turn a chuckling Frenchie into a stern chef de cuisine.)
Today was all about salads. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to spend six hours mixing leaves, but it was the first time we got to flex our creative muscles. We were given a smorgasbord of ingredients and were instructed to make a mixed salad, or a salad that has several ingredients that are all dressed together.
While my classmates created beautiful masterpieces on fancy plates, I know that I’m terrible at plating and can get carried away when I add too many ingredients. So, I keep it simple and stick to my roots: Frisee salad (a staple in my household thanks to my Italian mom) with pine nuts, sherry vinaigrette and pan con tomate. The last element I stole from Spanish cuisine because on a recent trip to Barcelona I couldn’t eat enough of this. It’s the Spaniard’s version of garlic bread: Toasted baguette rubbed with garlic and then rubbed with a halved tomato. The seeds and juice soak into the bread and make the most glorious marriage of simple ingredients. Top with salt and you have a snack that you’ll be sad you’ve only just discovered. I promise.
And of course we had to make some old-school salads like this timbale-molded vegetable salad that is gelled together with mayonnaise. Not my favorite. But it does look pretty—well, not when I’m plating it. I think Chef’s exact words were, “Shows a lot of personality.” Code for crazy, I’m sure.
My station partner, Lissa, made a really beautiful plate though.
TIP OF THE DAY: Salad dressings should use extra virgin olive oil which is the first press of the olives, yielding the most unrefined oil that has the most flavor. Reserve this for your greens, not your sauté pan.