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How to Caramelize Onions: A Few New Tricks

An overhead shot of caramelized onions

I’ve made more batches of caramelized onions in my career than I care to admit. They make a great flavor base to add to all sorts of preparations. If you want a new dimension to your Dauphinoise potatoes, just add caramelized onions. Perhaps that hamburger steak calls for caramelized onions? Better still, it forms the base to a silky onion soup. (More on that in a future post.)

The problem with caramelizing onions is that it is not a thing you do on a whim. It’s mise en place that you plan for in advance. The love and care you take to make your caramelized onions will pay off later with the full flavor.

So, what if you need them in a pinch? Like, we messed up, and need them NOW! Click to find out…

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How to Save The Greatest Free Fat – Bacon Grease

A jar full of precious bacon fat

Once upon a time, I worked breakfast in a fast-paced hotel. You may not know this about me, but the breakfast shift is my favorite. For sure, it’s never fun to get up, walk to work (whilst your best buddies are still partying it up in the staff party room – the debauchery that happened in that room shall forever stay there too) but the bonus is that by 3 PM, your shift is almost always over.

Check out how I save this fantastic fat!


International Chef’s Day: What’s it Like to be a Chef?

It’s the night after a groundbreaking election in Canada. The dust has settled, and we are looking at a majority Liberal government under the watchful eye of Justin Trudeau, son of the legendary Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

One cannot help but feel as if they are hung over, after all 78 days of hysteria, hoopla, complete with a three ring circus.

Imagine then, I wake up to see – on my Facebook feed of all places, that it’s International Chef’s Day. I didn’t know that was a thing. I mean, I’ll take it, why not? I think it’s great that people out there would appreciate what it means to be a chef.

What it Really Means to be a Chef

[click to continue…]


Water: How To Create an Awesome Pasta Like a Restaurant

Seriously? A post on pasta water? I recently read the book Flour + Water: Pasta by Thomas McNaughton (U.S. Amazon link here) and I came up to the entry on water. I realized that I took pasta water for granted. It didn’t dawn on me that I’ve been making pasta the way a restaurant does for years, not realizing that it wasn’t common to do it this way. Well, today I will share my “secret”.

Here’s the thing – have you ever gone to a restaurant that specializes in pasta, and just can’t recreate it at home? Chances are good it’s because of the pasta water.

a photo of the setup I use to make my pasta water

Before we get started, let me give you the recipe for pasta water. A recipe? Seriously?

Let me explain, but first here is the recipe:

Pasta Water


Prep time: 

Cook time: 

Total time: 

  • 4 liters water, boiling
  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • ½ cup semolina flour
  1. Bring your water to a boil; don't add the salt until the water is boiling - it will take longer that way.
  2. Add kosher salt and stir to dissolve. I've read it should taste like sea water. I don't know. I've tasted sea water, and that's pretty gross. This will do though.
  3. Add semolina flour, stir and set the burner to maintain a boil.

So, what’s the deal? Why is it so important to have this set up for pasta water? To explain fully, I need to tell you how we make your pasta in a restaurant:

A pasta dish is assembled to order. That means that all the components are already made or prepared. (The sauce, garnishes cut, even the pans should be heated constantly) Let’s say you order a spaghetti putanesca.

All the sauté cook has to do on order is:

  • Grab a pan off the burner that is set to low. The pan should be hot enough that the oil shimmers.
  • Hit it with a 1/2 fl oz ladle of olive oil (because that chef is a tight ass. This is how we control the food cost here.)
  • Toss in a spoon each of garlic, anchovies, capers, and crushed chilies.
  • Sweat for a few seconds, shaking the pan. Take great care the garlic doesn’t burn.
  • Toss in a small handful of sun dried tomatoes, and kalamata olives.
  • Hit it with a blast of wine. About 1/2 oz for those who are counting.
  • Add an ounce of tomato sauce to keep it moist.

Now, the next moves happen at pickup: (Pickup should take less than a minute:)

  • Put your pasta of choice in the strainer for the pasta water. In our case here it’s spaghetti. Drop the basket into the pasta water.
  • Reheat your sauce you made. If it’s on order-pickup, then you can drop the pasta first and make the sauce.
  • Once the pasta is reheated, pull up the basket and let it strain.
  • Once the pasta is strained, take your reheated sauce and add your pasta to the pan.
  • Begin to toss it (it’s all in the wrist) a few times.
  • Add a small ladle of the water from the pasta container to the pan and finish the toss.
  • Put the pasta onto the plate and garnish with a bit of basil leaves.

In a good, fast pasta place, a spaghetti pomodoro order can be ready in as little as six seconds flat.

So, what does the pasta water have anything to do with how good your pasta tastes?

What the pasta water does is add a little of the starch back into the pasta dish. It gives it a restaurant style sheen that you can’t get at home.

 So, how do we do this at home?

When I am cooking at home I don’t use a colander for pasta. Instead I set myself up with a spider. This way I can use the pasta water to finish my dishes. This method perfectly recreates the water we use in restaurants to finish a pasta dish.

Your turn:

What is your pasta setup? Let me know in the comments below!


No Periscope Today

Sorry folks! I won’t be doing a periscope cast today. Have some computer issues to figure out (damn you Windows 10!!!) and some back end stuff to do on this site that I have been procrastinating on.

Stay tuned for Monday where we will return for another episode of Ask the Chef!

An aside – I’ll be looking into Blab (a Twitter live cast app) where I’ll be able to add a seat for someone to come and ask questions. I think it will be really good to use.

Happy weekend everyone!


Will Write For Food: Chapter 1 writing exercises

So, continuing with that awesome book, Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Memoir, Recipes, and More.” (That link goes to Amazon. U.S. residents can get it here… ) Here are the other exercises from Chapter 1:

3) Compare the following foods to inedible objects, try being outrageous, and then try it again and be sensuous


The cheese was as ripe as your favorite wool socks you wore on your last four-day camping adventure.

The donut smelled stale, like the first time you opened your mother-in-law’s spice cabinet and realized that some spices could be older than you.

The roast beef sandwich tasted like the chef called dibs on a tire blowout from the highway on his way into work.


The cheese was as ripe as a canary sponge when you remove it from the package, your fingers sinking deep into the middle until it finally gives you resistance.

The donut smelled stale, like when you find yourself at a hut in the Calgary Stampede, led like captain Hook’s steel appendage was stuck in your nose-hole.

The roast beef sandwich tasted as though you sank into the display leather couch at the Brick, in front of a wall of televisions, dreaming of the first home game of the season.

4) Choose a favorite food. Write two paragraphs explaining why you love it.

Hot dogs. Tiny tubes stuffed with lips and assholes ground together like a pink meat play dough, perfectly heated up in the quickest way possible. It’s procrastination food at its finest, and it can be prepared in as much time as it takes to pull them out of the freezer, pierce with a fork,  slap onto a plate, and into the nuke box for a minute.
Forget those whitish hot-dog buns (they inexplicably sell in sets of 8,  while you have packages of 12 dogs) because we didn’t even think of that; two simple slices of bread will do, the tube steaks laid out like a damsel in distress in front of the screaming hunger train barreling down the tracks. Deep golden zigzag of my favorite condiment, and the obligatory official Anglophone sauce spiraling the hot-dog like the blood oozing from this Franken food’s stitches, and all that’s left to do is await the DING! Dinner is served, two minutes flat!

My thoughts on this

I liked this exercise. It made me really dig down and write with creativity. That hasn’t happened in a while…

Your Turn

What is your forbidden food? Let me know in the comments below!


Ask the Chef Episode 6

Today we get into: Steak spice before or after grilling? What kind of wood for a butcher block? How do you know when to flip a pancake? What kind of salt used for pickling?

Come check out what I have to say!


Food Blog Writing Prompt: My Favorite Meal

No picture today, because it’s all about the writing folks!

I recently re-bought the excellent book by Dianne Jacobs called “Will Write for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Memoir, Recipes, and More.” (That link goes to Amazon. U.S. residents can get it here… I have three versions of this book now, and here’s my confession: until this version, I have never actually read through the entire thing! That changes with this here blog. I’ll be working all the way through it now.)

The very first assignment is to pick out top 5 adjectives that describe you and your voice.

I chose:

  • Sarcastic (Really? As if. Okay, I’m totally corrupting my son too!)
  • Knowledgeable (At least I pretend to be!)
  • Approachable (I think I am. I say that I am. I haven’t bitten anyone that I know of yet…)
  • Funny (Don’t we all think we are funny? Do people laugh to make me happy, or is it because they want me to shut up? Who cares? As long as the crowd loves me!)
  • Competent (My least favorite. Check out this wonderful Google-definition:
  1. having the necessary ability, knowledge, or skill to do something successfully.
    “a highly competent surgeon”
    • (of a person) efficient and capable.
      “an infinitely competent mother of three”
    • acceptable and satisfactory, though not outstanding.
      “she spoke quite competent French”)

Well, that was awkward! Let’s attach “highly” to that competent bit, and we can move right along.

It’s not like the world revolves around me, and that everyone is a figment of my imaninimantion (Yeah, that’s a made up word too!) but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from all of this stuff!

So, without further ado… my first real assignment… write about your favorite meal, using all of the senses… a pretty tall order. I hope that I make you salivate! Here goes:

My Favorite Meal

Out of all things that a chef could eat, what we have access to – I have to admit that my guilty pleasure comes from a pork burger off a simple grill. That’s right, a burger. I’m not talking about any old burger though. I’m talking about a patty, thick as your thumb AFTER you slide the stainless steel spatula underneath to show a perfect char, walnut colored with almost black hatchmarks – like the bars of a jail cell locking in all the flavors. A tiny drip sputtering it’s last dying breath on the graying coals below, and you get a nose blast of the toasted matrimony of salt, a whisper of anise, intermingled with molten fat. You sense that as soon as you drop it in your mouth-hole, a volcasmic eruption will smack your taste in line. (Gomer Pyle has no chance, soldier!) Its home is a pillow of potato brioche with dreadlocked onion shavings laid open, a crisp emerald blanket of iceberg and two rusty heirloom tomato wheels, pocked surface studded with crystaline shavings of Maldon salts, the warmth of the vine, and freshly milled black pepper. I like a virgin bun, pillowy, inviting, flavor fleeing into the bread’s cavern complex while the meat rests its back on the comfortable bed. Mayonnaise? Why? I prefer to inhale my treasure in its au natrel glory.

Okay your turn:

What is your favorite meal? Let me know in the comments!
Oh, don’t forget to vote for me! I want to go to Paris to compete against the other bloggers! Go here and find my name, click on the “Vote for this Recipe” button and send me there. Thank you so much for voting for me!


Ask the Chef Episode 5

Today we talk about Hungarian peppers, how to dry them, can we use them in a salsa? How long to dehydrate them? What kind of cake for carving, and the difference between Italian buttercream and American buttercream.

If you haven’t had a chance to yet, vote for me at the Cono Sur blogging competition.
Go to:


Find the recipe “RISOTTO WITH MILD ITALIAN SAUSAGES, FRESH PEAS, CONO SUR BIC…” and click on the “Vote for this Recipe” button. Thank you!

Show notes:

My post on drying chili peppers can be found here: http://jasonsandeman.com/2011/02/how-to-dry-chilies-in-4-simple-steps/

Your Turn:

Don’t forget to hit the Subscribe button over there if you are interested in seeing my cray cray antics. As always, if you have a question for me, hit me up on the sidebar and shoot me over a question. That’s what I love to do!

Social Media links:


Facebook page: https://www.facebook…/jason.sandeman

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Jason_Sandeman

Instagram: https://instagram.com/jason.sandeman/

Pinterest: https://www.pinteres…m/welldonechef/

Youtube: https://www.youtube….er/welldonechef


There will be no broadcast for Monday, as it will be Labor Day! Have a great long weekend everyone!


Cooking Schools Need to Stop Lying to Wanna-Be-Cooks

Okay, the last “rant” post was about the state of our industry. There is a severe shortage of cooks and chefs worldwide. Today I place the blame squarely on the biggest culprit – cooking schools.

Don’t get me wrong. We all need to learn somehow, and there is a place for cooking schools. The problem lies with the broken promises. Let me explain.

Crushing debt

How do you expect to pay off a 60K debt on minimum wage?

My experience with culinary school, and apprenticeship

I decided on September 2, 1997 that I wanted to be a chef. I remember it clearly. I was sitting in the doghouse on a hot day, smoking cigarettes with the rig crew. (We were waiting for the water test to finish so we could finish laying another strand of pipes.) I was gabbing about the kitchen again, and one of my colleagues turns to me and says, “Hey, you’re always talking about cooking, why don’t you become a chef?”

Fast forward a few months. I’m back in Calgary, and I have a mission. I’m going to be a chef.

There’s two avenues: Apprentice, or go to culinary school.

I didn’t know any chefs or restaurants that would apprentice me, so I chose culinary school at the awesome Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.

I spent around $13 000 (after tuition, tools, rent, food, and books) to attend 3 semesters.

After that I went to work at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge where I then apprenticed for a year to write my Red Seal Exam.

Total cost: $13 500 to get my red seal papers.

My position at the time? Second cook. I was making $9.35/hour. I had a huge student loan debt.

That’s the problem with this industry today.

What does it cost to attend culinary school?

While cooking school tuition varies depending on where you attend, for the purposes of this piece, we will focus on the most popular schools:

The Culinary Institute of America includes tools and uniforms in the tuition, and the other two do not. Average cost is listed in the S.A.I.T. site as $750 for tools and uniforms. I can tell you that back in 1998 I paid $1100 for all of the supplies and books listed, (including the ones that were “optional.”)

The promise:

All three sites tell you that you will find work, but tantalize you with the promise of becoming an executive chef, or even a sous chef. There is a case that it may happen that way, but let me tell you. It’s rare. Sure, the “skills” are taught to you that may serve you in that function. If you had a job as an executive chef out the door.

To be fair, they use words like, “You may find work locally or abroad as:”

The reality of the situation:

First off, there is no fucking way that you are going to get an Executive Chef (or a sous chef) job out of the gate. Why would you?

  • Have you ever led a team to execute your vision?
  • Do you have the experience needed to lead your team through all the good times and the bad times?
  • Do you command the respect of your peers, and your team members? Will they follow you into the fire and back out again?
  • Can you comfortably tell your owner or general manager what you can do to increase revenue, while cutting costs related to labor and food cost?
  • Can you troubleshoot a wonky inventory?
  • Can you teach, coach, and mentor your staff?
  • What about hiring and firing staff?

NONE of these things are taught in school. How could they be? Did they have a class called, “How to Mentor 101?” Doubt it.

Crushing Debt

If we were to be conservative, let’s say that we spent around $20 000 to attend culinary school. I am going to guess that you took out a student loan, because far too many people don’t have the money to attend college these days. With tuition like that, no wonder.

You are given the option to pay your debt off in up to 10 years time. Sure, it’s a great idea to pay off your loan faster, but let’s be realistic here. So, we choose 10 year repayment terms at 3% (I chose fixed because I don’t even want to think about floating – my head hurts too much.)

Okay, so that means a payment of $242.66 per month that you can NEVER get out of paying.

So, let’s pretend that you went to the crème de la crème of cooking schools, and racked up that impressive cost of $66 000 over that four year term.

Using the same payment terms, you are looking at a payment of $800.76 per month.

Let’s be real for a second. How much does an entry level cook get paid?

I’ll hire a culinary student at $10.55/hour. That’s if they have no prior experience, and are literally just fresh out of school. Why? That’s the going rate.

Let’s say they have experience. Maybe it will be $13 or $14 an hour, and we’d look at things later.

That means that on average, if they are working 40 hour weeks, they are making around $633 per pay. To be smart, let’s say that they are paying $121.22 from that pay for their student loan. (Assuming the 20K debt.) That’s a large chunk to be paying over 10 years.

If it were the 66K loan, then they would be paying a full $400 (or 64% of their take home pay!)

Keep in mind that we are talking about what the pay is here in Quebec, Canada. In New York the minimum wage is $8.75/hour

Even at $15/hour the take home pay is around $900.

Are there any more questions on why culinary school graduates are not staying in this industry?

So, what’s the solution?

I’m not 100% sure there is one, except schools need to be up front about what these graduates can expect. I don’t think anyone graduates and gets a job as an Executive Chef making 65K a year.

There is another way into the cooking field, but it’s not as lucrative for the universities and schools. That is, become an apprentice. Join the dark side! I’ll detail that in another post sometime in the future.

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