Backyard to Table: A Cooking Reminder

Finding good food in Portland does not seem like a difficult task. Everywhere you turn offers a craft cocktail, a beer brewed up the street, fish fresh from the coast and mushrooms handpicked in the misty wildwood of the Oregon back country.

But after a while, the delicious food scene either numbs your palate to deliciously prepared, well-sourced delicacies or you start to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of restaurants to try.

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Don’t get me wrong– I adore the food scene in PDX. I’ll even give you a list of my handpicked favorites to try should you ever visit.



And believe me when I say the food scene out here is the best in the US. If you think you’ve had good wings, you absolutely haven’t until you’ve tried Whiskey Soda Lounge‘s fish sauce wings. Those would probably be my last meal should I ever leave this place.

Despite all of this goodness, you know what resonates the most with me these days?

The tiny garden in the backyard.

Portland can tell me all day long (and it does) that they ‘source locally’ and ‘pick from the garden’ and establish ‘farm to table’ connections. But despite their best efforts and their tremendous successes, there is nothing that can compare from a fresh red tomato plucked off the vine, still warm from the sun.

Their farm to table and my farm to table are tremendously different. Those were seeds we dug into the wet ground a few months back. (By ‘we,’ I will admit, my green-thumbed roommates did the heavy lifting since they don’t kill plants like I do.) Now they’re vegetables, big and ripe and bursting with wonder.

So, for the past week, I have made all meals at home. Despite one late-night run to the greasy spoon diner in Southeast after a ceiling-splitting worship jam from the talented Matthew Zigenis at Bridgetown Church, there has been no money spent at all on food this week.

I am lucky enough to know — and take advantage of– the wonderful folks at a local bakery who give me their day-old breads in exchange for coffee. I never have a shortage of thick, fresh, crusty loaves within reach. This is the springboard for every wonderful sandwich and toast imaginable.

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Pie, made with the fresh apples from the tree in the backyard. Also, arts and crafts day with the roommate. We are working on floral wreaths.

I am remembering with startling familiarity how wonderful it is to cook, elbow-deep in something crafty, tasty and new.

Plus, it’s cheaper. My wonderful fella and I are trying to hit up some overseas countries for some crazy Jesus-loving missions work in the next few months and are saving every penny possible to get there. Eating deliciously seems an easy way to do so– its hardly a sacrifice at all.

We’ve even gone so far as to build campfires and construct gourmet ramen noodles with one kettle and some random ingredients.

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Gourmet fire ramen. 

Here’s to the friendly reminder that food doesn’t come from grocery stores. Food doesn’t come from restaurants. Food doesn’t come from well-meaning companies that send gift boxes.

Food comes from the earth, and it’s delicious that way.

 

Lament of a Le Cordon Bleu Alumni

My newsfeed has been flooded with links to articles on the closing of Le Cordon Bleu campuses across the US, most of them posted by alumni that graduated Le Cordon Bleu Orlando alongside me. I have read every one.

There have been plenty of explanations as to why the schools are closing.

998745_10201313052848919_818875982_nStudents have come out of the woodwork citing dismal experiences, the inability to find gainful employment enough to pay off their tuition costs. The response is intense scrutiny from the public eye — tuition, Career Education’s financial status, high drop-out rates.

Headlines like, “Feeling The Heat!” and “Recipe For Disaster!” have popped up as suggested links on the sidebar of my Facebook page. A heavy flood of dismal and discouraging things have started to spread over the masses, to people who would normally have no opinion on the outcome of a culinary student’s education.

I have no new facts to offer on this topic. I have no control over people’s opinions or Career Ed’s decision. But I can tell you from my own personal experience, I have nothing but praise to sing for Le Cordon Bleu. 1013233_10201325986452251_413799925_n

It is a shame to watch these schools close. Given the opportunity to go back and make the decision over again, I would choose LCB in a heartbeat.

I spent my entire high school career gunning for culinary school. I had scholarships lined up for Johnson and Wales. I had pamphlets galore from the Culinary Institute of America. I had visited my local community college programs multiple times.

Ultimately, I made the decision to attend Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, Florida. I wanted to go to school somewhere far from home, and I wanted to work for Disney.

Walt Disney World Resorts hired me straight out of the pool of eager budding LCB culinarians like myself. In fact, many of the big restaurants in Orlando frequented the school, filling their entry level positions with students.

12395_10201313126970772_642459974_nI never regretted my decision to attend culinary school, and I never regretted choosing Le Cordon Bleu. I had attentive instructors who were straightforward, often very blunt, incredibly talented and cared about their students.

Granted, I am a bit of an overachiever. I never scored low marks. I am a shameless student. I love school. I was on the newly formed Student Advisory Committee, spearheading school projects and networking with advisors. I pulled a consistent 4.0. I was the graduating speaker for the culminating four classes of 2015 and walked out of graduation with an honor cord around my neck.

I am, perhaps, a bit biased. Yet in the end, Le Cordon Bleu was the best decision for me. I have almost nothing but positive memories, especially of instructors that were forward and respectful of students, teaching us not only technically correct skills but proper applications in the more difficult, less buttoned-up, ‘real world’ of cooking.

Although the schools will run through their remaining students, I am truly bummed about the decision to firmly close their doors. In a day and age where chefs are gaining more respect than ever before, it seems unfortunate that such a big institution so well-known for their fostering of gastronomic education would shut down. There will be, I’m sure, an increase in enrollment for Johnson & Wales and the CIA. Despite the fact tuition rates for 559737_10200457009208363_1369650342_nculinary school are undeniably high, Le Cordon Bleu was the most reasonable option out of big-name schools. (Relative, I know.)

There will be an impact on the communities where these campuses are located, especially on businesses who pull cooks from the school. Many entry level or line cook positions have been filled with LCB enrolled students or grads. Will the world keep turning without Le Cordon Bleu and its eager students? Of course. But it will be a shame.

I know my case is not unique. I know there are other disappointed alumni. It 1982237_10202972348450272_3390432160077902463_nmakes us a rare breed. Alumni of a school that no longer exists.

I suppose this is a lament from a student who loved her education. Le Cordon Bleu was a second home to me, and I will never forget the education of my respected instructors, nor the influence of the students I was lucky enough to work beside. To watch something I find so valuable close its doors is, to me, a bit of a tragedy.

LCB Orlando — I can’t thank you enough for the time and dedication you poured into me. I, for one, have the pleasure of being the face of this now-dwindling organization, but I will still boast my blue medal in every kitchen I enter.

I am LCB Alumni. And I am proud.

Food and Wine, I Still Love You

Every once in a while nostalgia hits. Hard.

I am only twenty, but the past two years occasionally make me feel as though I’ve lived centuries.

The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival is going on at Disney World right now. I spent the last two years working this event and having an absolute blast. Part of the magic as a Cast Member was cooking like mad while also conversing with Guests. It was incredible.

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To not be involved in the 20th anniversary this year is, admittedly, a little painful. Part of me wishes I could end my nights cleaning grease traps, singing along to Illuminations: Reflections of Earth alongside culinary Cast Members who felt like family.

But, I’m a different person than I was back then.

Instead of running away from sad, sentimental emotions like I tend to do, I decided to spend my morning going through my old culinary school notebooks. I found myself reading over a refresher course of inspirational quotes from chef instructors, quite a few time/temp stipulations I had forgotten and plenty of old recipes that brought back a desire to cook everything with butter.

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I will be honest right now. Listening to the Illuminations soundtrack may have (almost) made me teary.

I’m not on the grill this year searing skewers like a madwoman. I won’t be there to dance around the world at 2:00 am on Wine and Dine Half Marathon night.

(If you’re madly curious about my subpar writing skills and over-the-top F&W enthusiasm, my old blog is still up!)

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It feels as though the Food and Wine Festival, in a way, was my first foodie love. I knew I wanted to cook, I knew I wanted to learn, I knew I wanted to be put through the wringer. But until I had done it — run the culinary gauntlet — I didn’t realize just how much of a fire it would light within me.

I no longer push a hot metal food cart through throngs of tourists. I plate sleek dishes at a fine dining restaurant thousands of miles away from Epcot.

Everything I learned about the kitchen was based out of this singular event. It was my first grommet job, the first time I burned my hands on a hot oven, the first time I learned to yell, “Heard!” above the noise.

I’m not there anymore. But I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Epcot, particularly Germany and Norway.

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I can’t be there this year. I don’t want to live life in the past, all sick over the great times I once had. I do, however, want to remember where my love of the food industry was born. Epcot Food and Wine, you were my first kitchen love. Cheers to old times, and happy 20th!

Book Review – The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season In The Kitchen At Ferran Adria’s elBulli

Lisa Abend

The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen of Ferran Adria’s elBulli

Lisa Abend, 2011

For a prestigious and unprecedented five years in a row, Ferran Adria’s now-closed elBulli was voted best restaurant in the world by Restaurant magazine. Widely regarded as the most influential chef in the era of molecular gastronomy, Ferran Adria’s mind-blowing cuisine was the talk of the restaurant and foodie world. What exactly was it that happened behind those kitchen doors on the coast of Spain?

Thankfully, author Lisa Abend has pulled back the mysterious curtain to reveal a team of dedicated stagieres working incredibly hard at the both physically and mentally demanding tasks found in this prestigious kitchen. Unlike many restaurants taking in up-and-coming chefs, elBulli demanded only the best chefs from restaurants like The French Laundry and treated them as rookies, educating them in the methods and madness that allowed elBulli to stand out.

Featuring an intriguing cast of diverse stagieres, thirty-five in total, this book leads the reader through the spotless, fluorescent kitchen. The result is ability to feel the steam from blanching edible rose petals, or sympathize with the pain of chefs hunched over hot stoves, peeling skin carefully off of hot milk pots for hours on end.

It was almost with a sense of relief that I closed the book, as though I had lived the experience and gleaned all the information I needed to know without having to rearrange patio stones out front or clean mysterious, slimy sea creatures. Ferran Adria, it is revealed, is not only a talented culinary genius, but a perfection-driven master allowing nothing less than the most impeccable plate to ever reach a guest.

So detailed and unique it was almost an exhausting read, I found The Sorcerer’s Apprentices to be both intriguing and educational. I quite simply could not put it down, and would highly recommend it to anyone who has ever wondered about the thought process behind molecular gastronomy. Far from traditional, these techniques require a certain creativity that few have, and to watch from afar through the skilled wordcraft of Lisa Abend allows the reader a glimpse into the mind of a mad gastronomical genius and all those who willingly, exhaustingly do his bidding.