These are a few of my favorite things!!!

right hand

Whether it be a conductor with his baton, a mason his trowel, a wizard his wand or a Chef her knife, the tools of your trade become an extension of yourself and a priceless possession. The other day in advanced baking I was put to work on an apple strudel. Thank God!! I picked up my Chef’s knife and hit my happy place. My shoulders dropped away from my ears and my heart rate followed suit. In a kitchen dedicated to blow torches and analogical airplanes, the feel of my favorite Wustoff put me at ease and I knew exactly what to do.

This begged me to question the Chef’s at ACI, “What’s your favorite kitchen tool?” Here are their responses.

Chef Macc/Basics: Mandolin. When we were working on knife cuts in Basics, I offered to buy him a steak dinner if I could have one. NOT!!

Chef Rigollet/Meat Fab and Saucier: French Knife. DUH!

Chef Wolf/Basics: He was walking through the HUB at his frenetic pace and stopped dead in his tracks and gave this some serious thought. ‘Intense’ doesn’t even come close to describing this guy. His first pick was a Vitamix, but then he started describing a 3 inch serrated paring knife with such passion I almost fell over. He’s like, “Dude! You gotta’ get one of these!”

Chef Santos/du Jour: “My hands….and then my feet and then my whole body.” He’s so awesome!

Bruce Sandground/Management and Placement: He pulled his out of his pocket. Wait for it….a switchblade!! NICE!!

Chef Maddox/I’m not really sure: A gnocchi board. That, in and of itself, is interesting. What was fascinating is that he didn’t ruminate on it and deliver a 10 minute diatribe. God love this guy!!

Chef Schroeder/Basic Baking: Not even an instant of hesitation as she sped by at light speed and yelled, “Scissors!”

Chef DeWitt/Advanced Baking: Air pump and a blow torch. Go figure!!

Chef Smith/Basic Baking: Another Blow Torch. Look out!!

Finally, our fearless leader, Chef Wilson, replied, “My favorite kitchen tool is a paring knife, and I use it like it is the extension of my right hand.” Great minds.

During one’s journey through life and in particular, culinary school, you are exposed to lots of different tools, tangible or otherwise. While my French Knife elicits lovely moments of zen and my mandolin is essential in so many ways; the thing that has guided me, fueled and inspired me is creativity! It exudes from the pores of my instructors and I sop it up like a sponge.

Random thought by Heidi: A chef’s world is the only place you can wear pajamas to work; and, legitimately ask someone, “Does this smell okay to you?” 9 times out of 10 they’ll stick their nose in it. That’s a good tool to have, too!!!

The War of the Roses!

rose sugar

What the hell is it with all these roses? I learned how to make one out of a tomato many moons ago and left it at that. These past three weeks I’ve worked with molten lava sugar, marzipan and butter…over and over and over again. Is there some sort of culinary school fetish I don’t know about? Perhaps they are applying the 1,1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9 Fibonacci code to torment us for shits and giggles. Suffice it to say, I was the worst in my class at making said blossom from sugar and marzipan; but for some odd reason, my butter roses were pretty good. Who woulda thunk it?

I’ve had my share of culinary dreams during my last 15 weeks here; however; none of them were nightmares until I started Advanced Baking and Showpieces. The worst was when Chef Wolf had to expel me from school due to thorny issues and then he was excommunicated to Boston. WTF? Of course, the morning after said excommunication nightmare, talk radio told me that those occur because you’re not meeting your own expectations. Really???

I’m a bit of a control freak and my inability to dexterously transfer small domes of glazed mousse onto a teeny, weeny cookie and place it on a sheet pan without sabotage drove me nuts! Landing my offset spat plane to create a perfect plane on a turntable of cake was nearly my undoing. Can’t forget this little gem: homework required the piping of “Happy Whatevers” and odd little geometric shapes and swirly-q stuff within the confinement of a square border! I need a cocktail just thinking about it!

I question everything, especially when it comes to money I’m spending to be taught. Who the hell needs to learn how to make a chocolate box? Or, blow air into fire hot sugar to make a bird or a fish? Did I really need to labor at creating those intricate, little gumpaste flowers and leaves; not to mention, the mind-blowing rose applications? YES, I DID! And again, oddly enough, my showpieces were my favorite things to do…and I did them well. ACI’s curriculum proved me wrong; which is why it was so very right for me (or anyone for that matter) to come to this school.

The other day, with much pride, I posted a picture of the wedding cake I made. A friend replied, “Wow! That’s gorgeous! You’re a natural!” It’s all in your instructor and I’m so grateful for Chef DeWitt. She was on my ass constantly because she knew she would get through..and she did.

So, while not being a ‘natural’; in a pinch, I can make a piping bag out of parchment paper, temper some chocolate and decorate a dessert plate; or, make that simple wedding cake for a friend in need; and, I plan on coming back to Chef DeWitt’s class at Christmas time to pull some sugar and make the most glorious ribbon candy for my family, friends and clients. While my roses may not be perfect, I may just go out and buy some marzipan and take the time to perfect them. I LOVE MY SCHOOL!!!!

Mom! Look What I Made!

chocolate box

My new teacher, Chef DeWitt, is so neato! She gets really excited about everything and smiles all the time; except when she acts like you after Dad didn’t get his list done! We get to color; make funny cone shapes out of paper; write words and weird shapes in chocolate; play with shiny, noisy kitchen toys; and, when no one is looking, we lick the beaters!!

Our teacher uses stories to help us remember all these new words and ways to do stuff. Did you know that chocolate has a temper? “Feel the bottom of the bowl, if it has a little fever, that’s fine; if it’s too hot to touch, YOU PISSED OFF THE CHOCOLATE!” When she was teaching us how to frost a cake she used plane noises and everything and said, “Bring your spatula down like you’re landing on top of your cake. Let the back wheels hit first, take it to the middle of the runway and then take off again. It’s like a touch and go!” But my favorite is when she does her dough cheer: “4-4-3-2, that’s how you make a Pate a Choux!” She is de bombe!!

Chef showed us her diary with all of her awards in it. She’s been on Food Network like a billion times and got the gold medal for a sugar sculpture that was six feet tall! And, in 2010, she won “Pastry Chef of the Year” for the American Culinary Federation. That’s a BFD, not to be confused with a GB&D! You could tell she was really proud….but in all seriousness (and now in the voice of an adult), her greatest pride is watching her students succeed. By far, this is the most challenging class I’ve encountered, and it makes me a touch nervous; everything is different and difficult to grasp. As hard as I tried, I kept pissing off my chocolate.

She stood close, looked me in the eye and said, “You can do this! Just make it work, Heidi.” So, when I put the finishing touches on my chocolate box and realized that I DID DO IT, I teared up a little. She put her arms around me, told me she loved me….and beamed!!

My Mom doesn’t live nearby, so when I got home that night, I gave it to my daughter. She jumped up and down, pointed and said, “Mom! That is so cool; I can’t believe you made that!” And like that little kid, excitedly walking through the front door with her school project, I beamed!

Our French Farmer…um, Cowboy!!

When I think of Chef Jean-Marie Rigollet, I think of gratitude. Not my own, but his. He is one of the most grateful people I have ever met. He is completely and utterly serene in his own skin and is tied to this earth the way his apron his tied around him – snug and comfortable. He admits to having been a bit of a cocky French Chef when he first came to America more than 40 years ago. Lucky for him, and for us, he mellowed. And, after living a very successful restaurant life, he moved on and pursued his passion to be a cowboy and a teacher.

While I know he loves his wide open range, I think that deep down in his heart, he’s a farmer. You should have seen him beaming as he brought in box after box of figs from his tree; and no one loves their cheekins (that’s how he pronounces it) more than this guy! He was quoted once as saying, “Then you go outside before the sun comes up and apologize to the chicken before you take its life….That’s chicken with integrity.” He can’t stand to see anything wasted and at the end of each day, after we’ve all contributed our scraps to his blue bucket, he throws them in the back of his humongous pickup truck and goes out into the desert to feed his fowl and ride off into the sunset. No shit!!

The other day I asked him, “What is the thing you love most about life?” Without hesitation he said, “People!” Again, lucky us. A teaching kitchen can be a very vulnerable place. You open your heart and soul to your instructor, whether you recognize it or not. That’s a great deal of trust and he respects it implicitly. It’s the only way he can guide you to your personal vision of success. The first day of class he asked me if I was nervous. I admitted that yes, I was…a little. He took my hands in his, kissed the palms and said, “Voila! Now I have all your nervous!”

We are entering week 3 of Meat Fab and Saucier and I want nothing more, than more! We are a full on production kitchen and there is a sense of urgency, pressure and humility here which are essential to achieving the goals set for us. He watches us constantly and knows the amount of rein he can give. I felt it loosening on a daily basis and then, he let go! It’s akin to the first time you start pedaling ‘wissout ze training wheelz’! Freedom begets creativity, liberation creates opportunity, opportunity fulfills dreams…and that’s why we’re here.

So, back to that farmer/cowboy conundrum! Sure, you can be both and I’m sure that he is. However, he is a tender, a cultivator and a keeper of things simple and slow. You can’t rush a cheekin to lay an egg any more than you can boil the shit out of something and reach that perfect consistency and flavor. In the end, it’s all about gratitude and I’m so grateful for that….and for him! Oui, Oui!!

*I highly recommend that you read ‘Creating Chefs’ by Carol Maybach, a former culinary student of Chef Rigollet’s and many others.  Click here to read

Live Love Laugh…..Laminate!!!

Heid’s Blog is brought to you today by the numbers ‘8’ and ‘1’, and the letter ‘L’. If you’ve ever taken a Baking or Pastry class, you’ll get that reference immediately. If your only thought was of the gang on the left, that’s fine, too!!

Prior to laminating dough for Croissants, Danish or Puff Pastry, I would highly recommend a few weeks with a personal trainer focusing on an upper body routine including shoulders, lats, triceps, biceps and consistently squeezing a tennis ball in each hand. If you ain’t all pumped up, you could wind up with that metaphorical feeling of a head on collision with a Mack truck! Week 2 in Baking 101 totally kicked my….entire body!! Was it worth it? Hell, yes!!!

I used muscles I’d forgotten existed, and after having resurrected them from their deep, dark coma; they came kicking and screaming back to life, leaving me on the couch with my feet propped up on 3 pillows and an ice bucket containing a bottle of Pinot Gris. Oddly enough, ‘3’ and ‘pillows’ are essential to the process of laminating dough.

Regardleslaminated doughs of how many layers one espouses for a particular end product, they are all divisible by 3 and each roll of the dough multiples your layers exponentially. So, you start with your first set of dough/butter/dough and ‘lock in’ the butter so it looks like a pillow, 3; then roll, tri fold, rest, 9; roll, tri fold rest, 27; roll, tri fold rest…..81 layers, baby!!


Being the inquisitive gal that I am, I googled the history of laminated dough and found that there are as many power grabbers for this invention as there are for Eggs Benedict and The Reuben. Remaining loyal to my current classical education, I went with the French. In 1645 an apprentice baker named Claudius Gele wanted to make a bread for his sick father who was prescribed a whacked out diet of flour, water and butter. His master baker wasn’t too thrilled with the idea, but Claudius persevered and voila! Puff pastry was born. Bummer for CG’s dad was that his serum cholesterol levels spiked and another quack prescribed a diet of oysters, blubber and Zagnut bars. YIKES! Next time I take a tasting tour of France, remind me to pop over to Germany in case I fall ill.

In my desire to keep things relative, I was sipping my 3rd glass of grape, randomly researched the number 81, and found some pretty, well, random shit! Numerologists can be fascinating, but I wouldn’t date one, or quote them. Here’s a little looky loo at what I discovered. 81 is:

The number of squares on a shogi laying board
The code for international direct dial phone calls to Japan
The atomic number of thallium
A perfect totient
Number of prayers said in the Rosary in each night
‘The 81’ is a 1965 song by Candy and the Kisses

How interesting is that? However, my favorite and the one that made my heart skip a beat was this: 81 is the symbolic number of the Hells Angels in that ‘H’ and ‘A’ are the 8th and 1st letter of the alphabet. Although he wasn’t in that club, I was instantly reminded of my friend Chef Glenn Humphrey, so I raised my glass in a toast! He played a major part in my decision to attend ACI and I guess he’s watching over my shoulder, urging me to explore this wonderful world of culinary. To learn, to live, to laugh to love and to laminate! Oh, and he’s probably saying something like: “Wine? Where’s the tequila?”

Challah…….Wait For It!!!!!

…….Lujah! Now be honest. What did you think I was gonna’ say? Hee Hee!! Emerging from the storm of WEEK 6, we entered the relative calm of Chef Meyer’ Baking 101. In the culinary world, a wee rivalry exists between those who are patisseurs and those who are not. Was I excited about it? Not really; but I kept an open mind, and again, it opened my eyes.

My approach to baking was rather odd: I told myself I would undertake this unknown application with a sense of comfort. Color me happy! This is exactly what I found; not to mention the joy of the rediscovery of playing with dough! The ovens were humming, timers quietly dinged, and it brought to mind the serenity of my mothers’ Christmas kitchen.

Every morning I prepared a batch of French dough; precisely measuring, mixing, fermenting, punching, dividing, and pre shaping into boules. It was a bit nerve racking at first, but once I became familiar with the process and how it should look and feel, it was the quiet solace that started my day. I’d lay my boules on the baking sheet to put them to rest in the walk in, but before I cater wrapped and tucked them away, I’d give them a little pat of reassurance. If done properly, they are as smooth as a babies butt!!

My finished baguettes didn’t shape up the way they were supposed to; but hey, we all have our skills. So, you can imagine me getting my freak on when I pulled my Challah from the oven, see picture above, as I jumped up and down, pointed and quietly sang the chorus to a Gwen Stefani song. (Admit it, that’s what you thought I was going to say!)

Random thoughts by Heidi. Although I’m the first one to jump on a BuzzFeed quiz to ascertain things like which historical figure I would have been; or, what comprises my ‘ideal’ soul mate; and, of course, the overwhelming urge to know what my stripper name would be; I’ve never ‘shared’ them. But this was just too apropos not to post.

In your past life, people used to call you…. “Spicy”!

– You lived in 18th century France.

– You were a baker with a lot of talent and yes, a very “spicy” personality.

– You were loved by everybody in your town, always there for every party with a few delicious delights and a joke or two.

A baker? I’ll ferment on that one for a while.

I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “Where’s the part where you make yourself look like an idiot?” Not one to disappoint, here ya’ go.

Whilst attempting to free up the greasy clog of buttercream from a 12 star piping tip, my middle finger slipped through the end and, um, got stuck there. In the voice of a very concerned 8 year old, I said, “Chef?” In the end, he had to use my paring knife to pry the barbs apart and release said finger. I asked Chef Meyer if he’d ever had a student do that before. He paused and I said, “It’s okay if you say no.” He shook his head and said, “Nope, that’s a new one.”


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