Cooking School Journal: Food Safety

fightbacjpgThe lecture began with “Food Safety”.

All fridges should be set to 41 degrees or less. That is the safe temp for all perishable foods. Your freezer should be at 0 degrees.

Chicken needs to be cooked to 165 degrees, the same temp is safe for any foods in steamers or kept warm. That can last for 4 hours. After 4 hours they are in the “danger zone”. Bacteria invades. Then they need to be 86’d (apparently the cooking term for the round file).

Botulism (improper canning), Strep (sick workers handling your food), salmonella (uncooked poultry, eggs, milk, custards and mayo) and of course, e. coli (we know where he lurks) are the bacteria most commonly among us.

Parasites…. well let’s just say that after last night’s lecture, I will never again order swordfish prepared in any style (Chef had a lovely once-at-the-fishmonger’s-I-saw story).

Part Two of the lecture we talked about the “Brigade” or the hierarchy in a kitchen.

At the Top:

  • Chef (his coat has covered buttons)  the manager of the kitchen.
  • Sous Chef (his coat has frogs in place of buttons)  in charge of food production.
  • Chefs de partie (plastic buttons) There are many of these, each with a different job  i.e., sauces, fish, pastry, the grill, etc.

Then finally there are the rest of us:

  • Cooks
  • Prep cooks (no fancy French here)

Then she ended by quickly and elegantly demonstrating basic knife skills: see-full-size-image1the julienne, the brunoise, the rondelle, chiffonade, batonet, bias and the dreaded mince. Each uniformly perfect. That’s essential.

I was in awe.

Then it was time to pair off and begin cooking.

The foursome on the right, the giggling gaggle of gourmands (a lot of alliteration from an anxious author writing agonizingly long anecdotes), immediately paired off and chose two “easy” recipes.

I was stuck with Mr. Forty-something.

He is nice. Lance (not gay) is about to retire from a 26-year career in the military (still not gay).

He and his wife want to open a restaurant much in the fashion of those he enjoyed while he was stationed for 12 years in Spain.

brown-derby-hollywood-lucyjpgWe were assigned the Cobb Salad. It’s a recipe which was created at the Brown Derby restaurant in L.A.  The Derby was a landmark restaurant made even more famous in the hilarious William Holden episode of I Love Lucy.

When I was in my twenties,the Los Feliz outpost of The Brown Derby became a nightclub. My friends would be more than happy to tell you about the one time I went there. I was accidentally so rude to actress Juliette Lewis that her entourage scurried her out the door. Oops.


The Cobb. So easy to order, so easy to eat… but a bi#%h to make.

Gently poached chicken, browned diced bacon, diced eggs which must be perfectly hard-boiled, diced avocado, tomato concasse (kon-kah-SAY) — which means blanched, peeled and roughly chopped, and 4 types of lettuce washed, spun and chopped. All topped with crumbled roquefort,  minced chives and a basic vinaigrette a la moutard. It’s an Atkins-lover’s dream.

It was a lot of work, and this is where I really began to get uncomfortable. It’s one thing to cook  in your home kitchen and serve up a meal that,  although not perfect, is still delicious. It is another to prep and cook and plate a dish with a teacher watching your every other move, and on top of that, partnered with someone else whose cooking style may be completely different. We were working  against the clock and knowing it was going to be critiqued at the end. It made me tense.

We did pretty well, though.

The bacon was the toughest part. It’s hard to uniformly dice raw bacon. But, I tried really, really hard. That is until Chef noted on my last slice, that uniformity is not THAT important in dicing bacon since it fries up into its own shape anyway.

Side note… great tip I learned from Layla the TA (definitely gay): drain the fat as you cook bacon. It caramelizes more quickly and evenly instead of boiling in its own fat.

After what seemed an eternity, but was really 71 minutes, it was time to plate up.

  • 1 point off: I didn’t pre-chill the platter.
  • 1 point off: The recipe called for a bed of lettuce with the toppings placed upon it in narrow strips… I chose to line them up in this order: egg, bacon (a natural pair), tomato, chicken, avocado, roquefort. I was instructed that tomato then bacon was a bad call. Red and brown next to each other draw the eye. It’s better to put something white – the chicken or egg in between. Grr.

But, as Lance poured on the dressing and tossed the salad to taste, I exalted “Mmmmm. Salty Fat!”

Chef laughed and praised, “We are going to love Jules!”

So, I guess, maybe it was a success.