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Monday, August 18, 2014

Culinary School - Session 1: Apple Tart


Culinary School: Session 1 (08.15.14)

Orientation and Apple Tart



72 hours: that's how quickly I went from meeting with admissions to stepping into the kitchens. Dressed head to toe in chefs' whites... jaunty neckerchief included.

That's not to say the move to enroll full-time in culinary school was a snap decision. The idea had been long simmering. 

I should have realized it was a fait accompli back in February. I had (finally) ended a decade-long career as in investment banker. That first Monday, after waking of my own accord and not to the demanding electronic chirp of my Blackberry, I spent the day experimenting with Canele recipes. By the end of the week, the fridge and freezer were packed. I had no idea how the NASDAQ was trading. Things were changing quickly!

Entrance to the International Culinary Center


Why start culinary school now?


I have spent almost every waking moment since February diving deeper and deeper into all things culinary. I find myself enthusiastically recommending Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" as a cover-to-cover read to anyone who will listen (and some who won't), and I relish any opportunity to geek-out on topics like gluten formation and starch hydration (real life-of-the-party material).

But it was when I found myself keeping a mother dough rising at all times, "just in case", that I knew it was time.

As a life-long casual cook, and following several months of my own immersive self-study and experimentation, I would like to think that I have a solid culinary knowledge base. But the more I learn, the more I realize I do not know. 

You have to love living in New York City, because there are no shortage of options for fixing that.

In the end, I settled on the Professional Pastry Arts Program at the International Culinary Center (founded as the French Culinary Institute). I was won over by the comprehensive nature of the program: 600 hours in the classroom covering every pastry topic imaginable (and many I had never even considered). I may no longer be an investment banker, but I will never lose my type-A focus and love of precision.

I met with Admissions on Tuesday. At the end of my session, I had just one question. When can I start? 

There was space in the class beginning that Friday. 

It was an all out sprint for three days. Applications... approvals... deposits... vaccines. I handed in my final enrollment form minutes before the first class began.

Presented with a student ID, three sets of uniforms and a toolkit bursting at the seams with every gadget imaginable, it was official... 

Culinary School Uniform

So what's in store for Outside of the Breadbox?


While studying at ICC, I still plan to create all sorts of dishes in the test kitchen, armed with a growing toolkit of tricks and techniques. But for the next 9 Months - 120 Sessions - 600 hours... I will be focused on sharing the culinary school experience.



- The Recipes -



I left the first class with a bit of a buzz. The fact that it was Julia Child's birthday had to be a good sign.

The group seemed great - a diverse mix of 17 students ranging from those who were fresh out of high school to, yes, other career changers. 

I was equally happy with the two chef instructors.

They were experienced: Le Cirque and Jean George were among the litany of resume credits.
They were technically-inclined: My professed love for Harold McGee was met with a shared enthusiasm.
They were firm yet welcoming: "Follow my rules, and we'll get along fine... break my rules, and you're going down!"

... and after some quick intros and a rundown of the rules of the road, we were cooking.



Item:

Apple Tart (Tarte aux Pommes) 


Description:
A Sweet Tart Dough (Pate Sucree) filled with Apple Compote (Compote de Pommes) and topped with fanned apple slices

Focus Techniques:
- Evenly rolling out Pate Sucree without overworking the dough, developing gluten
- Tightly fitting tart molds without marring dough or leaving fingerprints
- Creating fanned apple slice top



Next - Session 2: Pate Brisee; Pastry Cream 


Take a look at the full syllabus



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