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The Number One Thing to be an Exceptional Cook

I was going through some old papers this weekend, and I happened to come across a performance review from may of 2000.

One point that struck me was this comment under “Quality.”

At times due to business levels quality was an issue but Jason is dealing with this

What separates a phenomenal cook/chef from any one else? Attention to detail.

For example: a fruit platter

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Imagine having to make twelve large fruit platters for a banquet the next day. This was a daily reality in garde manger at the resort I used to work at.

That meant peeling and cutting two cases each of pineapple, canteloupe, honeydew. It also meant slicing one case of watermelon.

After that, garnish. Sliced oranges and kiwifruit, berries, and finally any other whim of the sous chef at the time.

As a general or second cook, maybe you had two people working on these platters, all twelve. Thing is, you were expected to have them done within a reasonable time frame. Let’s say 3 hours would be generous.

I’ll never forget working in garde manger (as a second cook) and showing my sous chef the results of my hard work.

Indeed, the platters looked gorgeous. Subtle lines, colours and shapes attractively arranged to be pleasing to the eye. It was in the bag.

My sous chef walks up to the platter, turns over a kiwi slice to show the remnants of a sticker still attached.

Silence.

It was all that needed to be said.

He walked away, and that was the lesson.

Attention to detail is what matters most. This is what separates a chef from a cook.

What did I learn from that day? For one, peel the sticker off the fruit before slicing it, then you don’t need to worry about whether you need to check each and every one.

Further, know what you are putting onto the platters. You can’t be on auto pilot and get it done. That’s what cooks do. A chef is on top of all aspects of his work, even if it’s just a platter of fruit.

Now it’s your turn:

What have you made that suffered from your lack of attention to detail? What happened? Let me know in the comments.

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These 4 Ice Cream Books NEED to be On Your Shelf

So, let’s say that we don’t want to recreate the disaster that was the Zombified Smarties Ice Cream Fail. How do we proceed?

First, hire yourself a great sous chef. Meet the newest addition to the team!

Couldn't be prouder!

Couldn’t be prouder!

Second, get yourself a good ice cream machine. I talked about my favorite in this post here.

Then, which books are good to get? Well, there are a lot out there. Several lists. I’ve bought almost all of them out there, and the top 4 are on this list here: (All images are links to Amazon)

1) Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book

This book is one of my go-to books on how to make ice cream. All of the recipes really work. The only snag that I have is that the recipe themselves do not call for making a custard or cooking the eggs. If you are squeamish about raw eggs, then this is not the book for you. Otherwise, this book is amazing. There are

2) The Perfect Scoop – David Lebovitz

There should be no surprise at this book. I love David Levovitz, and follow his blog since I learned about blogging. His theory is something everyone should aspire to learn, and his tips are second to none. For instance, a touch of vodka in your sweet cream mix can make all the difference to the taste of the final product. That’s what it’s all about. I used the theory I learned in this book to create my duo orange sorbet – blood and regular oranges with 5 peppercorn spices. A perfect palette cleanser!

3) Making Artisan Gelato – Terrence Kopfer

A musician turned artisan gelato maker. This book hands down is the one that I turn to for the more gelato-inspired frozen treats. The pages on the ingredients and how they work together are right on the money, and well worth the investment. Remember, it’s not only all about the recipe, but the why of how everything works together that is of utmost importance.

4) Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home – Jeni Britton Bauer

The owner of the famous Scream and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams finally came out with a book that you can make your ice cream at home. This book also has a lot of meat and bones, with theory enough to have you understanding all of the steps you need to make your ice creams and gelato a success. In fact, in the front part of her book she goes into a quick-take for you to see the steps required first hand. One of my favorite of these four.

Your Turn

So, there you have it, four books that you need to have on your shelf if you are serious about this ice cream thing. Next, my new sous chef and I are going to get in the kitchen and start making a gelato with some mystery ingredients. Stay tuned!

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This post kicks off National Ice Cream Month. For the next while I will be posting some fun to do with ice cream. Recipes, funny story, some theory here and there. In the meantime, enjoy this soft-serve from my past.

-Jason

You know what? In theory, ice cream is no big deal to make. All it is – a mixture of a rich liquid that is frozen while churned to add air to it. (Introduction of air to the base is known as “overrun”.) Yep, no big deal.

Let me tell my little story about ice cream.

Back in 2001, I started dating an awesome woman (who would later become my wife) so of course I wanted to impress her. I went out and bought an ice cream maker from the local hardware store. It cost me $100, and you had to freeze the canister overnight in order to make the ice cream.

Picture of ice cream maker, link goes to my Amazon store

This was the ice cream maker I bought for $100. Sounded like a demon cat caught in a dryer! (Picture links to my Amazon store.)

I didn’t know what kind of ice cream to make. Now, you would think that someone who just got a brand-new, shiny ice cream machine would start out with the basics? Perhaps vanilla?

Hell no. I asked her what her favorite ice cream was.

Smarties… of course. So, I set out to make Smarties ice cream.

Of course, there were no books on how to make Smarties ice cream. I had a computer that had dial up. The best thing that I could figure on was heck, it’s just chocolate ice cream with Smarties added to it.

An aside… how lucky are we today?

This was back in 2001, and although cable Internet was available in our area, certainly not for staff accommodation. Imagine the horror of downloading a song that took 3-4 minutes to download! Napster never really caught on up there.

Now, today I could just pull out my Samsung Note 4, and within 3 seconds could have a link to a YouTube video that would show me how to make that Smarties ice cream. Back then, no such thing. I think I had a flip cell phone that was horrible to text with.

No problem. ONWARD!

So, I figured I would make the ice cream base. Chocolate. Seemed easy enough. I made ice cream once in cooking school. (Unfortunately, that was also the last time I had made it. No restaurant I worked at would produce an ice cream that you could just buy.)

I made the chocolate custard mixture, then cooled it before starting the churning process.

A quaint review of the ice cream maker above:

That ice cream maker sounded like someone caught a cat and tossed it into a dryer. Here I was, trying to impress my girlfriend with this machine whirring so loud, and obnoxious. Of course I had to put it in the bathroom! You could barely watch the television with the bathroom door closed, but it was passable.

Besides, my girlfriend would know my ice cream making prowess!

So, I knew that you had to add the Smarties near the end. Problem was, I had no idea when. So I added them when I thought the mixture was firm enough. Turns out this machine didn’t produce the same texture as the one from Cooking School. I remember thinking, “Meh, what’s the difference?”

In the Smarties went, with 10 minutes time to go.

The machine (that poor cat!!) whirred away, until it finally stopped.

DING!

I ran to the bathroom and triumphantly looked at my new ice cream!

The candy coating from the Smarties had worn off from the churning and all the colors mixed to a greyish black.

Unfazed, thinking I could explain the color away, I scooped up a bowl of it and tentatively served it to my girlfriend. I remember her looking down at it and the look in her eyes betrayed what she was thinking. (Why did he make this when he could have just bought it? It doesn’t look very good.)

Listen, I was confident, okay? My eyes implored her, please just try it, you won’t be sorry!

(Full disclosure here… I don’t remember if I even tasted it. Seriously, I was so wrapped up in it, I didn’t even taste it. OF COURSE IT WAS GONNA TASTE GOOD. I MADE IT!)

The full review of my AWESOME ice cream?

I took a tentative taste of the grayish goop with bits of dead zombie Smarties. Oh, zombie? Maybe that was too nice.

Imagine for a second you were a five year old again, and got a mitt full of Smarties. Now, stuff them into your mouth and let the candy coating melt up in there. Got that taste sensation? Now imagine eating a spoonful of that yumminess!

I liked sweet things back then. I lived on coffee with sugar, donuts, cookies, and desserts. This was a whole new level. Gagging sweet.

My girlfriend was really nice that day. She kept going out with me.

To this day my wife will hesitate to eat ice cream I make.

On the back of that, who can blame her?

I’m proud to say that my ice cream skills have improved immensely. July is Ice Cream Month. For the next while I will be posting various frozen desserts made with the ice cream maker from this post.

Your Turn:

Have you ever had an ice cream that just sucked? Let me know in the comments!

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Poutine is an iconic dish from Quebec, Canada – but no one is quite sure about who is the real creator of the dish. Who cares? How can you go wrong with fries, gravy, and cheese? Want to make it better? Just add meat!

This week marks the first PoutineFest in Montreal, so I thought I would bring out one of my favorites. Sure, it isn’t a true poutine, in the sense that it doesn’t have the squeaking cheese curds. I promise you that you will like it though. It ran as a lunch special for a pub that I was associated with.

Quebec is lucky to have some of the greatest product around. Lac Brome duck is a great example. In my opinion, it makes for the best foie gras, The legs from the ducks are some of the best for confit you can get your hands on. With next to no labor you can find yourself with the most succulent, tender duck you have ever experienced.

The Oka cheese in this recipe is produced in a factory that is less than a 10 minute drive from where I am at. It’s important to remove the rind for this dish so you are left with the creamy interior of the cheese. Grate it with a medium plate so you still have the texture of the cheese when the poutine sauce melts it.

In all, there is not much that you can say is wrong about this dish.

Let’s dig in.

Lac Brome Duck Confit and Classic Oka Poutine

Confit of Lac Brome Duck and Oka Cheese

The best that Quebec has to offer right here

Servings: 1 | Cook time: 4 min

Ingredients

1 order side fries
2 oz portion duck confit, skin and bones removed, shredded
2 oz portioned oka cheese, rind removed, grated with medium plate
4 fl oz poutine sauce
1 g micro beets for garnish

Method:

PLATE: LARGE SOUP BOWL WITH PLATE AND DOILY

  1. Prepare a side french fry in #1 fryer. Season well.
  2. When the fries are almost done, place duck into the microwave for 30 seconds to warm up.
  3. Place half of the fries into the soup bowl, and 1 oz of the grated Oka cheese over the fries.
  4. Pour a 2 fl oz ladle of the poutine sauce over the fries and cheese.
  5. Plate the remaining fries on top of the poutine, then add the remaining Oka cheese on top.
  6. Pour another 2 fl oz ladle of the poutine sauce over the fries and cheese.
  7. Place the hot pulled pork and duck confit on the top of the poutine and garnish with micro beets.
  8. Serve immediately.
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Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto


New From: $12.83 USD In Stock

A complete meat- and brisket-cooking education from the country’s most celebrated pitmaster and owner of the wildly popular Austin restaurant Franklin Barbecue–winner of Texas Monthly’s coveted Best Barbecue Joint in Texas award.

I couldn’t have said it better.

shot of the Franklin Barbecue book

Awesome book and the manifesto to great barbecue

I was at a kid’s party event this past weekend and struck up a conversation with a friend over the finer points of barbecue. While we were comparing notes about pulled pork, smoked turkey, and the dangers of smoking brisket, I was floored to see that my friend hadn’t yet got his hands on this offering.

I found out about this book when a mentor of mine posted his copy on Facebook. I had never heard of Aaron Franklin, but his barbecue joint is well known, even up here in Canada.

This isn’t a book full of recipes or step-by-step instructions. It’s a combination of a memoir and a technical manual on the fine art of smoking and cooking in a barbecue pit.

This is where the book truly shines. It goes deep into the theory of how he does what he does, and the decisions that he makes. It gives you the tools you need to make your own success at barbecue, and not with a simple set of instructions a la “follow my recipe and it will all be good.”

If you have ever contemplated adding an item on your menu, such as smoked ribs, brisket, pulled pork, or even smoked salmon, this book will give you the head start to be ahead of everyone else in the class. Plus it is an enjoyable read.

Yes, I am a chef and have no problems reading a cookbook in bed before I sleep. This is something deeper. I have mad respect for Aaron Franklin.

Buy yourself a copy by clicking the link below. It will take you to my store and it’ll tell them I sent you!

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Bonne Saint Jean Baptiste

Over the next few days there will be a lot of celebration in the province of Quebec, and people will be getting ready to move.

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I will be moving too!

Hope you all have a great couple of days, and see you on the flip side!

Pour toutes mes amies québécois… Bonne fête nationale.

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Happy Father’s Day

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What a difference a year makes. At this time last year, I was slugging away at my job, and I hadn’t really seen my son for a few weeks here and there.

I’m not going to lie, this business is hard as hell. Holidays, birthday parties, anniversaries, and vacations are left by the wayside when you pursue your passion.

I remember attending Communications class at culinary school. Ironic that after taking that class no less than three times, I still struggle with communication skills. (Aparently you still need to go in order to get a passing mark.)

So it was in that class that our instructor gleefully told us that aside from dentists, chefs have the #2 privilege of divorce in their career.

Bonus!

Turns out that it was true. Over the years I’ve seen the toll this business has on our family life. The constant demands, the owner who is not willing to understand that you yearn to be with your family.

The fights with the wife about yet another holiday you can’t attend with family. The stove and the chit machine beckons.

Better yet, for those of you out there in brunch hell, I hope you remembered to double up on the bacon and sausage today because You. Will. Run. Out.

To all of you out there slogging it through the holiday, here’s to you:

Happy Father’s day. On your smoke break, call your family. Let them know you love them. Say HI to your munchkins.

After all, my instructor was right. It’s all about communication. Tell your family (and kids) that you love them as much as you can. Don’t take them for granted.

Communicate.

Your turn

What are you up to this Father’s day? Let me know in the comments.

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Menu Makeover: Coleslaw With Secret Ingredient

Over the next couple of recipe posts, we will make over restaurant dishes to add excitement or a personal touch to them. The first will be a common side dish that gets next to no love – coleslaw.

Why make your own coleslaw? Can’t you just buy it from most suppliers at a modest price per portion?
True, convenience products will save you on labor. Use convenience products and you could run into two problems:

  1. The labor saving is offset by a higher cost of goods sold.
  2. Everyone else is probably using the same product.

This is what I faced after reviewing the menu of a casse-croûte. There were multiple issues with the menu (too long, too many convenience items, etc.) but the one that stuck out was that there was nothing using the bounty of local produce. Coleslaw was the most important side in that restaurant, and yet they were using a product they bought in. Trouble was, like in the above list, that everyone else was using it too.

It was time to come up with a coleslaw recipe that kicked butt. It should be the opposite of what was available out there. Instead of a watery, cabbage stinking mess, it should be a delightful, crunchy texture. Instead of the bottled “Coleslaw Dressing,” it should have a taste that is all it’s own, and unique to the restaurant.

There are a lot of recipes out there, and this one was based off a Google search long ago. I am not sure where the original recipe came from, but it doesn’t matter because we re-worked the recipe from the base and added a different spin on it.

The pickle juice here is what makes this coleslaw sing. To add interest to the dish, add grated broccoli stems and other vegetables on your daily vegetable list and get full usage of your produce.

To make this recipe easier, grab yourself a mandolin and go to town.

A picture of the "secret coleslaw"

Add in your own twist to this coleslaw and make it your own.

“Secret” Coleslaw
Servings: 45 | Prep Time 25 min | Portion Size 2.5 oz | Shelf Life 3 Days

Ingredients:
16 fl oz pickle juice
3 fl oz rice wine vinegar
30 grams dried garlic
2 kg cabbage, shredded (red and white)
400 grams carrots, shredded
400 grams broccoli stems, peeled and shredded
200 grams granulated sugar
3 grams dried mustard powder
10 grams celery salt
5 grams dried parsley
8 fl oz canola oil

Method:
Soak garlic in pickle juice and vinegar; set aside for 20 minutes.
Combine ingredients together and mix through.
Place into 1/6th inserts. label and date.

Your turn:

This coleslaw is a great vehicle for local produce. What do you like to put into yours? Let me know in the comments.

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Let’s imagine for a minute. You are the new chef of a Casse-Croûte style restaurant, and the amount of coleslaw you go through is enough to make your head spin. We’re talking 40-60 liters a day. That’s a lot of cabbage to slice!

All fun aside, there are several problems to doing this by hand. First off, it would take your cooks forever to cut it by hand. There is no guarantee, even if your cooks are whizzes at prep, that the threads of cabbage will be consistent.

Bron mandolin

After 17 years, this mandolin is still going strong!

 

Time is money.

Imagine for a second that your cook is an entry level cook making minimum wage. For our purposes here we can imagine that the minimum wage is $10/hour to make our calculations easier.

Let’s say that a competent prep cook can roll through a whole 2 kg cabbage in about 10 minutes. To make 60 liters of coleslaw would require 16 heads of cabbage. Let’s assume that your prep cook is not going to get sick of cutting your cabbage, all the while cursing your name, and continues through with the task until done, with no wasted time.

10 min x 16 cabbages = 160 minutes, or 2 hours 40 minutes.
Let’s give 20 minutes to finish the rest of the recipe, and we are looking at 3 hours of labor for coleslaw. In this case we are adding $30 to the cost of the coleslaw.
This represents a cost addition of 0.0625 per unit sold.

It’s no wonder it’s attractive to turn to convenience products!

I faced this very problem. It wasn’t feasible to use the Hobart machine to shred the lettuce because we ended up with a watery mess that looked like the pails of coleslaw the vegetable company offered us.

Since we were selling over 150 units of fish and chips daily, we blew through coleslaw like it was nothing. Cutting it by hand just didn’t make sense.

The thing is, using a convenience product would make me the same as everyone else in the area. Why come to our establishment if the guest is getting the same thing down the street, often for way less?

I know, you’re probably saying, Jason! It’s freaking coleslaw! True. Thing is, it’s the all about the little details. The accents are what sell your dish. If you offer the same as everyone else, you are the same as everyone else.

Bron mandolin to the rescue. How a mandolin cut the labor cost by over 40%

It can slice, julienne, chip, waffle, and ripple cut as thick or thin as you need. A classic French design, this modern version is made from stainless steel.

The benefit to the mandolin is the ability to section the cabbage, then use the guard as a guide to quickly chop the cabbage into even, consistent threads while still maintaining the structure of the cabbage. The resulting coleslaw was crisp, and held the vinaigrette better than the watery mess that came out of the Hobart slicer attachment.

What took 3 hours to make dropped considerably to 1 hour 15 minutes. That’s a savings of nearly 55% labor. Now the cost of labor for the coleslaw is $12.50 for the batch.
This represents a cost per portion of 0.026 per unit sold.

Given the cost of the prefab coleslaw and the “labor saving” benefits, it is easy to see why a lot of chefs opt for convenience. It doesn’t have to be that way though.

If you are looking to put your vision and food out there, then give your cooks the proper tools to execute the recipes, and you won’t be sorry.

Get the Bron Mandolin from my Amazon Store

Okay, so that’s one example of how this tool will help you. I know that it’s expensive. The labor cost you will save will pay for it. Plus, the mandolin is made with sturdy materials. The one in the picture above is over 17 years old, and still going strong.

Below this post is a link to my store. Buy the mandolin there, and I’ll get a coffee. Best of all, you’ll save money while making a product that is your own.

In a future post I’ll give you the recipe for the “secret” coleslaw made with a Bron Mandolin.

Until then!

Your turn:

What’s your favorite mandolin story? Let me know in the comments below!




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Additional Images:

Bron Original Stainless Steel Mandolin Slicer


New From: $139.90 USD In Stock
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Swearing in the Kitchen: Poll Result

Last week I put up a poll about cursing in the kitchen. I also put the same poll over at cheftalk.com, and reddit. What a response. Lets get into the results.

I admit that when it comes to the use of “colorful language,” I take my cue from the great Gordon Ramsay. I find that it gets worse when I am in the heat of things, and the swear words fly out of my mouth.

Of course, things can get out of hand. People have misunderstood what I was swearing about, and took it as I was swearing against them.

Swearing

So, what were some of the responses?

I think it really comes down to the intention behind the swearing. If you’re telling someone to fuck off in a joking manner and they understand this, I don’t see an issue. Same with just general swearing at things/situations, assuming that none of the customers hear.
However: if you’re swearing at someone in anger or doing it to try to offend them/piss them off, then you should probably fuck right off. – EbriusOften

I never call any of the staff insulting things but I jokingly swear all the time at/in conversation with them. My boss however seems to think that we should all call each other sweetie or some shit and always says something. But fuck! Im aussie, be more insulted when I call you mate or sweetie than when I call you a cunt. – taniastar

I’m going to try this approach. It can be so hard to hold back when you want to tell someone exactly how much of an incompetent f-ing idiot they are at times. Swearing at the situation releases the frustration without sending anyone home to cry into their pillow. I struggle to find the balance between being the authority and being kind to people. – ontothebeach

I lead by example and do not swear myself. Rarely can you catch me use swear words. As a result, most of my summer staff withhold swear words around me. Yes, I hear ‘F’ bombs on occasion, but as a rule we run a clean kitchen (double meaning!).– Seabeecook

The best tidbit I came away with is this answer:

Swearing a’la Ramsay is sooo crude, so predictable, and so boring, F-this, Sh*t that, etc.
People, we are artists, creators of new and exciting things, we don’t need old boring stuff to get our message across.
Say, for instance a cook is moving too slow. The standard expletitive would be something like “Move your (deleted) arse”. Bore-ing! there’s no real initiative there for creativity, about as bland as fried ham steak with a pineapple ring.
Instead, say something like ” You know, I’ve seen heroin addicts on the nod move faster than you, are you going to get any work done today?” or
“You call that clean? The raccoons leave my garbage cans cleaner than that when they go diving for the moldy Kraft single slices at the bottom of the can”
That’s not to say we can’t use bodily function or fluid comparisons to get our message across, but there is a protocol, and proper terminology.
For example: “What did you do to that lemon curd? It’s so sour it’ll pull my foreskin right through my rectum” or “What do you mean you want a side of risotto, but with no extra charge? I wouldn’t give you the little wisps of steam from my morning dump without charging” or “You’ve been texting for 10 minutes now, and you’ve already had your break and you still want to get paid for this? You have your head so far up your rear, your sphincter muscle thinks it’s your tongue”
But to swear like Ramsay? Nah, no creativity, no class. – foodpump

The takeaway

When it comes to the kitchen, it’s all about relationships with your coworkers. You can’t afford to breed misunderstanding by using foul language. For me, it pays to keep the language clean.

Your turn

Knowing what some of the people have said in the poll, how will you handle swearing in your kitchen? Let me know in the comments below!

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