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.”


WEEK 6!!!!!

Whenever anyone mentions “week 6” within the hallowed halls of Arizona Culinary Institute, you get the feeling that scary movie music and a Vincent Price voiceover are imminent. “So, you ready for WEEK SIX?” “Is it WEEK 6 already?” “God, you look like hell! Oh right, it’s WEEK 6!”

We went through the motions of WEEK 6 with expected trepidation; and, considering I’m such a whack job, more than expected. We were tested and graded every single day. Although Monday in the kitchen was simply the fabrication of a chicken and the construction of a Veloute, it wasn’t so simple as it was crucial to the continuation of our testing for platings on days 2 and 3. So basically, if you screwed it up, you were screwed!

Suffice it to say, Shi’s rendition of “The Patience Song” just before I pulled out my boning knife made all the difference. I took my time, picked a chicken with lots of skin on it and memorized the components and procedure for my sauce. Well, maybe with a little helpful banter from my classmates. My presentations to Chef weren’t all perfect 10’s, but I did my best and that’s good with me. Except for one thing, and this is for you, Ty. EFF CONSUMME!!!

On day 5 of WEEK 6, we were charged with the task of preparing French Omelets for 60 with sides of fruit, caramelized onion hash browns, bacon, sausage and salsa. As much as I adore preparing a meal for family and friends; nothing compares to the rush of working a line with a solid team and getting it done! We bantered, we sang song snippets, and fist bumped all day long! Chef was proud of us and that was the best bit of all.

Escoffier gave us the brigade system and our Captain worked hard to instill that sense of cohesiveness and team work in his Cereal Killers. More importantly, he gave us the liberty to be ourselves, to be creative, to express and fuel our passion. We 7 are all very different people from very different walks of life. But our love of food and dedication were one and the same. He was an amazing teacher and mentor, and will continue to be the lethithin that binds us.  (Yes, I spelled that wrong on purpose.)

I posted a pic of myself cleaning an oven on our last day and a childhood friend remarked, “You look like your 20!” Considering it was WEEK 6, that’s a helluva compliment. At the end of that day, I felt every inch my calendar age and then some. However, the youthful vibration and energy which emanates throughout those hallowed halls of ACI keeps me young at heart and if that shows through in a big ass smile whilst on the floor, cleaning an oven with steel wool, I’ll take that 20!!!

I Think I Need a Nap, Eh?

If I have to nappe a demi sauce in the next few months, it will be too soon. Weeks four and five took us into the mesmerizing macrocosm of meat and poultry. As much as I love a demi based condiment, the process of seasoning, tasting, seasoning and then tasting, tasting, and tasting again became a bit much. Nappe is the art of having the proper texture to lightly coat foods, not to mention getting you a passing grade from your Chef based on his scientistic and subjective palate.

At the end of the week, our last dish to present as an eye of round roulade style and a sauce, demi nappe. My mouth was worn out and I just couldn’t feel it. While presenting to Chef and he says something like, you’ve got 10 more minutes, reduce the shit out of this!  Nope!  I’ll take the 8. He then says, “I guess you’re just demied out!” Yep!  It’s pronounced (nap eh), which is so much more than appropriate. Demi sauces are food coma thus eliciting the question, “Looks like you’re ready for a nap, eh?”

We fabricated chickens; trimmed and pounded beef; prepared pork schnitzel with a poached egg, which rocked my world! We were all over the seafood in week 4; THAT was interesting. A few classmates were turning a little green whilst gutting their flounder, so I suggested they breathe through their mouths and cover up the viscera with a paper towel. We shucked some oysters (fun) and some clams (not fun); deveined shrimp; filleted a salmon and a seabass, and watched Chef demo a lobster. At least we didn’t have to do a demi. Hell to the yea!!

We are now gearing up for our last week of basics and I’m freaking out! Not so much on the written exams and practicals, (still studying my ass off), but for the anxiousness that’s hitting me hard as we prepare to bid adieu to our Captain and split into two separate groups for the remainder of our journey at ACI. On our first day of school Chef Macc said, “You’ll never forget me!” How right he is! Your Bascis Instructor becomes indelibly imprinted in your mind and heart ~ you take them with you always. He knows how we feel and has professed his adoration of us as a team and individuals.

With that, he’s upped his Maccism game to keep everyone light and smiley. Discussing the difference between roasting and baking (there isn’t any); Chef says, “Yea, I’m gonna’ roast my cookies today.” Out of the blue, “I think crabs taught me how to scream!” Finally, Tucson was mopping the floor and Chef stands in front of her and blurts, “I can lick harder than that!” Brought us to tears and we love him for it. Thank you, Chef!

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