Monthly Archives: June 2004

Cooking School Journal: Fish

This is what I learned from the fish class: Eating perfectly prepared fish in a fancy Beverly Hills restaurant is way more fun than learning how to perfectly prepare fish for a fancy Beverly Hills restaurant.

Carving up fish sucks. It’s smelly and messy and gross. Outside of changing diapers, those are three parameters that I tend to avoid.

It’s why I don’t go fishing.

We eviscerated (carved open and discarded the innards) of three types of fish. John Dory, trout and salmon.

John Dory, I learned,  was the prize. It is actually more expensive to procure than lobster, as is monkfish (which used to be considered lobster’s humble replacement). BTW the monkfish is the ugliest fish I’ve ever seen, but totally yummy. How does that happen?

The Monkfish. Yum.

The Monkfish. Yum.

John Dory is a firm white fish much like tilapia or roughy, but much more expensive. Its bony head and gut account for a large part of the fish’s weight, and therefore you get less edible fish for your money. However, it splits easily into four boneless filets that are delicate and sweet with fine flakes.  It’s really wonderful, but again, not so handsome.

John Dory. Yum

John Dory. Yum.

Side Note: Speaking of value, Chef explained some basics about menu planning and pricing. Restaurants charge WAY over wholesale prices for chicken and salmon ( the two most popular entrees). Chicken can be procured for less than $1 per pound and salmon for $2.  Compare that to its $25 price tag on a menu. What a racket!

However, by making so much money on the chicken, the Chef can then offer veal chops at a price that doesn’t prevent customers from ordering them but yields a much smaller profit margin.

The moral: Unless you find yourself dining in a 4-star establishment on the banks of Alaska’s Copper River, skip the salmon. Make it at home instead. However, at Morton’s, order the veal chop. You’ll get more bang for your buck (even though the restaurant won’t).

Okay, so back to class. First we watched Chef demo how to make Fond de Poisson (fish stock). She sauteed diced shallots with the bones and bits of remaining meat from the fish we eviscerated and filleted. She deglazed the pan with white wine and added aromatic veggies, more wine, a bouquet garni and enough water just to cover.

Simmer for 30 minutes. Don’t simmer longer than that because the natural salt in the fish will make the stock too salty. As always, no salt in the stock! Then it would be a broth.

It smelled divine.

When she was finished,  it was time to break into groups.

Home-schooler was waiting for me with a sharp boning knife and a big smile.  I braced myself for an attack.

“Oh, your mother is so lovely! She was so charming. She made everybody feel comfortable. Why don’t you come and sit next to me? We can be partners on the next recipe!”

I stood in the middle of the room completely dumbfounded. Oh my God! Is she being nice to me?

And like some dumb kid on the playground, I forgot all transgressions and skipped off with her to play on the swings.

She was my partner for the next lesson.

Cooking School Confessions: My Sister

I have successfully avoided telling my sister that I am taking this cooking series. She’s an amazing cook, and we have this weird competitive thing anyway. She is the first born, so I’ve spent 33 years trying to show her how cool I am.

In the meantime, she has spent 33 years trying to show me that she will always be cooler.

Handball?  Ass kicked.

Math?  Schooled.

Art?  Penciled out.

Music? Major dweeb.

Beauty?  Honorable mention.

Cool ride? School bus.

Amazing baker?  4000 failed pie crusts.

Equestrian? Horses are scary.

Master of all things European?  ‘Le Failure’ (sp?)

She is always is supreme.

However, we are both controlling , and we always think our certain way is the best way. So bring that into the kitchen, and let’s suffice it to say that things do not always go well.

165307491cb889938b2Last summer we had an unfortunate Tapatio Debacle . I had made scrambled eggs and (to my taste) over-seasoned them in a way that I thought she would enjoy. She loves her flavors. Needless to say, she did not like them. She had a frown. I was annoyed, and when she added hot sauce to them after plating, I started a fight. Ridiculous in hindsight.

Unfortunately,  the result of our fight  involved an emergency call to Super Shuttle and an early flight out.

Her parting shot was: Well she’s not a chef. I should be able to season the scrambled eggs the way that I want.

Not a Chef. The words rang in my already steaming ears.

I immediately enrolled in a professional cooking course.


All of that said, you can see how I’ve tried to avoid the subject with her. I’m really doing this for me, but somehow I can still hear her (or maybe my) voice.

Well, it’s not the CIA or Cordon Bleu.

She’s going to think it’s some half-assed local cooking class. The Puck thing will be laughable to her.

But I need to tell her because everyone we know, but she and Grandmere (who doesn’t have e-mail) is reading my updates.

So when I finally, after 4 months, confessed that I had been going to cooking school and writing these diaries, I was admittedly concerned.

It was over the phone.

” I’m taking these cooking courses. Umm, they are really hard. Umm, but fun. I think? And cool? A little?” I said.

“Yeah. Grandmere told me,” she replied. (But she doesn’t have e-mail!)

I was busted.

“Well, they are really hard and kinda intense.”

“Is it at that little place by your house?” she asked, having seen it before.

“Yeah,” I replied lowly.

Mustering up confidence, I added, “The instructor is very well-known. She knows Wolfgang Puck.”

She waited and muttered, “Well, at least you’ll learn how to make a good California pizza.”wolfgang_puckjpg-wolfgang-upchuck-image-by-nipplequeenGrrr.

Cooking School Journal: Food Glorious Food!

“We got so much food in America, we’re allergic to food. Allergic to food! Hungry people ain’t allergic to sh*t. You think anyone in Rwanda’s got a f*ckin’ lactose intolerance?” — Chris Rock

What an amazing month I’ve had in cooking school. Last I left you I was bloated and full from an amazingly decadent tasting menu at Maple Drive, my mother had buttered up the home-schooler Sabrina and I was ready to cook.

I came to class  Monday excited to cook fish. The first thing I encountered, however, was Sabrina’s gaping maw in my face.  I braced myself for an attack.

“Oh, your mother is so lovely! She was so charming. She made everybody feel comfortable. Why don’t you come and sit next to me? We can be partners on the next recipe!”

I stood in the middle of the room completely dumbfounded. Oh my God! Is she being nice to me?

And like some dumb kid on the playground, I forgot all transgressions and skipped off with her to play on the swings.

She was my partner for the next lesson.

Cooking School Journal: Taking Stock

beef-stockIt’s really hard to think, let alone write, while a human being is screaming in your face.

If I had a nickel for every time someone said to me, Well, you’re home all day. Why don’t you write some articles on the side and make some cash?, I’d be paying our next month’s mortgage.

It’s hard to do anything with a toddler in your house. I thank the Lord when I come out of the shower and Hannah is still alive. Truly. So here it is, 10:25 on a Tuesday night, the kids are asleep, I’m so exhausted I feel like the meat’s gonna fall off my bones, but I feel compelled to bore you with my last three weeks of cooking class.

We’ve done soup, salad and pasta since we last spoke. And somehow, it’s all gone well.

The biggest highlight was when I walked into the fish class with my homework, a white/chicken stock and a brown/beef stock. We lined them all up together so Chef could do a blind tasting. As I anticipated, my white stock sucked. As she dipped her tablespoon into the plastic cup that held my stock, she slurped and shook her head and said, “Too much water. Bitter.”

Then it was time to taste the brown stocks. Again, she went down the line, plastic cup by plastic cup, slurping from her tablespoon until she got to mine. It sat in its container a deep, rich brown.  It was darker than anything next to it, which made me fear that I had completely screwed it up. She dipped her big tablespoon into my stock, sipped it, and asked, “Who’s is this?”

I slowly turned and said, “Um, it’s mine.”

Quietly, she said, almost mumbling, “This is the best brown stock a student has ever brought me.”

I faced her and quietly said, “Thank you.”

Then I turned around and said to myself, “Yesss!”

Cooking School Journal: Maple Drive


I feel like I’m totally lagging on this journal. Well, it’s probably because I am. When was Mother’s Day? And what day is it now? When I left off we were going to go on a field trip. And we did.

Our class took a field trip to Maple Drive. It’s a restaurant in Beverly Hills that’s been re-invented as of September ’03 by Chef Eric Klein and his wife Tori.

He was Executive Sous Chef at Spago, hence the connection once again to Puck-land, and he and Chef are friends. Once a year he creates a multi-course tasting meal for students of my school, and at the end he comes out of the kitchen for some Q & A.

I took Mom. It was the Tuesday before Mother’s Day, and it was a nice chance for two old broads to get dolled up and drink and eat in a fancy place.

We grabbed a good parking spot – one point! But we arrived and it was tables of eight with strangers (students from other classes that I had not met yet) – minus two points.

Mom loved Tori! She has a southern accent and pretty blonde hair. She ran the operation outside of the kitchen. She talked for a long time about how much work it is running a restaurant. How financially, emotionally and physically demanding it can be. She stressed that it must truly be your life’s passion or forget it.

She also felt like she needed to make sure that we knew what each course was. I guess so we could appreciate it more?  She talked so much that I had trouble really enjoying my meal.

She was quizzing us, “What type of lemon is this in the vinaigrette?”

Somebody chirped, “”Meyer?”

“Well tell me,” Tori said, “Of what two fruits is Meyer  a hybrid?”

At which point, I wanted to say, “It’s the you-shut-up-for-ten-seconds fruit crossed with the ’cause-I’m-trying-to-enjoy-my-$100’s-worth-of-food fruit.”

Instead I muttered, ” Lemon and mandarin orange.”

Just then, Sabrina, the home-schooler, fluttered in with thick locks of brunette hair behind her, stressed that she was twenty minutes late. The only seat left was next to Mom.

“Oh my God!” I thought. “The antagonist of this entire cooking course  is seated next to my mother!”

And Mom instantly began chatting it up with her like it was her job. I was annoyed. I kept trying to hand her clues. “Mom, this is Sabrina. She’s home-schooled all of her children. Isn’t that great Mom? Mom? Home-schooler? Right? Sabrina’s the one I’ve been telling you about!”

My mother just continued to savor every bite, chat away and smile like I was mute.

kina-lilletjpgChef Eric had put together an amazing tasting menu. Eight courses, six wines paired with the first six courses and a lovely glass of perfectly chilled Lillet to accompany the last two courses: a tangerine granita that was hands down  the most perfect dessert I have ever had, and a chocolate souffle with deep chocolate sauce poured into the middle and surrounded by freshly made pralines. It was so fantastic that everybody licked their plates clean.

It was there, however, that the dinner took a lull. We were all waiting for the promised tour of the kitchen and lecture from Chef Eric that Chef had promised.

But then chaos quietly erupted when Rod Stewart walked in and he wanted his meal done in a certain way.

And then Garry Marshall walked in. And he wanted his dinner a certain way too.

Chef Eric was whisked away into the kitchen. It was 10:40, and I was tired. Other students ended up bailing, but I felt compelled to stay. On one hand I was genuinely interested in learning from such an obviously talented Chef, but also I wanted to make a good impression on my teacher.

Chef had the remaining students gather around one table. We sat and waited for Chef Eric to come and greet us. And finally he did.

I whispered to Mom, “He looks like he’s thirty!”

“Oh no,” she said, “He looks at least your age, if not your sister’s, and Tori is definitely forty.”

When the smoke cleared, Eric spoke to us in the thickest Alsatian accent that I could hardly understand him. Only Chef, for whom English can sometimes be elusive,  could translate what he was trying to say.

Apparently, his first sentence was, “I have cooked for sixteen years, that is, since I was fourteen.”

I turned to Mom and I said, “See. He’s thirty.”

Chef Eric shared with us his philosophy about staying true to yourself. Cook with your personality and style. Make each customer feel like you are cooking for them in your home. Work hard. Work hard. Work hard.

He was fascinating and so gracious to take the time to talk with us.

Suddenly, Mom started to get really tense about Garry Marshall being there. I’m not sure why, and I’ll probably never know. It probably had nothing to do with him, either. That’s ONE OF the tough parts about being the child of the psychologist to the stars, even when somebody cool is there, you get grabbed by the wrist and yanked out of the party.

So we left.

We were so happy, though. We had the Mother’s Day Trifecta: amazing food, fantastic wine and Rod Stewart. I think we embraced twice.rodstewart11

When we stopped off for gas in Brentwood, I turned to her and said, “You totally missed all of my cues, Sabrina is that one I was telling you about! The one who hates me! She’s out to get me!”

And Mom turned to me and said, “It’ll be fine now. I’ve buttered her up, and she won’t give you any more problems.”

Hmmm. It took me awhile to ponder how that could be.

And then I dropped Mom off,  feeling surprisingly okay.