Top Three Things I Learned This Week
1.Precious Produce- Jacobsen’s Orchards. We began the week with a field trip to Yountville, just north of Napa. We spent the morning strolling through the petite orchards of Peter Jacobsen, a San Francisco dentist who supplies exquisite produce to French Laundry, SPQR, and Benu. The photo above is some of what he grows, when he is not fixing people’s smiles.
The trip wasn’t just a chance to gawk and admire, but was an exercise in thinking about all the different parts of plants and their flavor components, and how to use them in non-traditional ways. Peach leaf ice cream, for example. The most mind mind-blowing exercise was tasting the oyster leaf, a plant which tastes just like the shellfish it’s named after.
2.My Externship Placement- Mourad! At the end of our field trip to Jacobsen’s Orchards, we learned our externship placements, with the caveat that we might be required to stage. (A stage, pronounced like “stahj,” not as in English, is basically an unpaid apprenticeship in the kitchen.) I was crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t have to. But of course I did, and even though I spent the days leading up to my stage being nervous, I am very excited to say that it’s a go! The night I spent in the kitchen at Mourad, the Michelin-starred modern Moroccan fine dining restaurant from Chef Mourad Lahlou, was eye-opening and nothing like I’ve ever seen, except in documentaries. (And you might recognize Chef Lahlou from Iron Chef America, too.) Some people refer to the precision plating style he uses to serve his food as “tweezer food,” and it’s true– everyone was using tweezers the entire night to make plates of food that look like true works of art. In fact, some of the sauces are referred as “paint.” But this is not just eye candy, it’s exquisitely prepared food with complex flavors. One of the highlights of the evening (besides the privilege of being there, and being asked to come back for a few months) was being treated to tastings of some of the evening’s most popular dishes. One was an octopus appetizer, which was garnished with a chickpea puree with such a complex and deep flavor I couldn’t even begin to guess what it contained. I was told that the list of flavors that went into that simple spoonful was at least 10 spices long. And as you know, I love cooking with spices, so I am thrilled. I cannot wait for my externship, which starts next month.
3.Pizza Party at Pizzeria Delfina– We also had a chance to cook in the Pizzeria Delfina kitchen. While I was disappointed that the proprietary recipe for Delfina’s excellent crust remained secret, it was a good time making pizza in the Delfina kitchen, using their dough.
And I did learn some pizza dough stretching tricks:
-keep your dough as round as possible when moving to your board to stretch
-press the center of your round of dough outwards with your fingertips, to provide firm base by working the gluten, but leave a rim around untouched for a soft and chewy crust
-after you’ve flattened out the base, pick up your dough up carefully and position two thumbs up at top, pinching the dough (again, not the crust) between your thumb and fingers on opposite side, rotating around the entire crust until it is stretched to the right size thinness
The remaining steps for Delfina pizza:
-place sauce and toppings as desired
-and now, the tricky part: bake for 4 minutes total in a 725 degree F deck oven. (Don’t try this at home!)
-the finishing touch: a drizzle of excellent olive oil on top
(If you’re wondering what my toppings were, I basically recreated Delfina’s broccoli rabe pizza and added red bell pepper and oyster mushrooms.)
Thanks for coming by! If you’re curious what it’s like to be in culinary school, check out my previous posts and also come back weekly for my latest updates. I’ll be sharing tips, ingredients, and recipe ideas straight from the classroom. And for healthy cooking and eating tips, join my community on Facebook at The Doctor’s Spicebox.