First Day    

July 20 1998
Soups, Stocks, and Sauces
Well, mostly stocks

The task of the day:

3 stocks, 3 roux

You walk onto the campus in the morning. Lots of students have already been there for as long as 5 hours. Breakfast Pantry starts at 3 AM. Bread baking is at 5. The first thing you smell as you approach the school are stocks being made. And it's not like you sort of smell them. You really smell them.

The next thing you notice as you walk around is that everyone, and I do mean everyone, is wearing full chef's gear. You can only feel so stupid wearing it when everyone else is, too. In fact, the tourists (in civilian clothes) really do stand out as the exception. As you walk around the buildings, you smell food of all sorts. Fresh baked bread, pastries by the gross, and the ever present smell of natural gas from the stoves.

Meals here are really good. Really. Better than you get at many restaurants. Every side dish, sauce, roll, cake, dessert, and main course is made on campus, by students, for students. Brunch is self serve, and you walk through one of the production kitchens (called "Pantry") to pick up your food. I had Falafel Sandwich with Curried Potatoes today. Dinner is sit down, and you are served by students. Soup (an amazing Gumbo), Salad, and Crawfish. Our dinning room is served by the American Regional Foods Kitchen, and today was entitled "The Gulf States."

All meals feature a huge assortment of very complex and rich pastries. As one of the students pointed out to me "We need to make it anyway, so somebody might as well eat it." The level of obesity in the students is pretty low. I suspect it has something to do with the workloads. More about that in a bit, too.

* * *

Today my team made:

  • Brown Lamb Stock (1 gallon)
  • Chicken Stock (1 gallon)
  • Fish Stock (1 gallon)
  • Clarified Butter (3 pounds)
  • Light Roux (1 pound)
  • Medium Roux (1 pound)
  • Brown Roux (1 pound)

* * *

The day starts with lecture, although tomorrow we are in the kitchen first thing to finish off the longer cooked stocks. Today's lecture was long, but tomorrow's will be shorter as we come up to speed. There was alot today about basics of kitchen safety, working with others, finding pots, pans, and suchlike. The kitchen is busy and confusing, and I'm not yet up to speed in it. The day's prepwork went like the wind. I felt I cooked under my normal level, but the pace is pretty killer. Tomorrow, I'm sure I'll do better.

Chef Smyth is funny and nice. He's very helpful in the kitchen, and quite understanding of our current levels of inexperience. But, there's certainly a level of seriousness there. One addresses him as "Chef." You're in the Army now.

After lecture, we launched straight into the kitchen. We work in teams of three or four. My team seems to be working pretty well together. Milli is a private chef on yachts, and Ed is a prep cook in various restaurants. Both have limited "real" experience, but know their way around the kitchen well enough that we don't need to sweat the basics. We divided the mire poix work into three and flew through it in about a minute. But then it got a bit more crazy.

We had to clarify three pounds of butter (with which to make the roux), blanch off chicken bones, brown lamb bones, prepare the vegetables for all of the stocks, cook the fish stock, sweat the vegetables for the chicken stock, brown the vegetables for the lamb stock, cook the roux (three pounds of flour added to the three pounds of clarified butter), removing it in stages after reaching the desired color. Then, all finished stocks had to be strained, placed into ice baths, and cooled down, labeled, and placed into the fridges. Oh yeah, somewhere in there we left and ate dinner. Tonight we got out of the kitchen around 9 PM. I was drenched in sweat, and mostly just wanting water and sleep. And this was an easy day.

These quantities probably seem enormous to you. But they are nothing compared to some of the production kitchens. Where my class made 16 gallons of stock today, a production class might make as much as 100. We made three pounds of roux each, as compared to 50 pounds. Of course, all of this will get used over the next week as we prepare sauces from the stocks we have made.

I can see why people lose or don't gain weight. It would be very easy to not leave the kitchen, particularlly if you felt you were behind in the cooking. It would also be very easy to be on your feet all day. Certainly when you are done, even if you didn't eat, the last thing you want is to eat or even think about food. You want a beer (maybe), water (certainly), and to take off that damn hat (without a doubt).

It's not just the workload, though. This place is just swimming in food. You smell it everywhere. You eat the products of your own (or others) hands. You talk about it. You hear others talking about it in the hallways. You see it through the windows that look into the kitchens. It is constant. If you had a special relationship with food that caused you to want to eat it all, you'd lose it pretty quick here. You oversaturate. You couldn't possibly eat it all, nor (after even half a day) do you desire to. Very interesting.

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Copyright 1998 Tom Dowdy