Monthly Archives: September 2004

Cooking School Journal: The Market Tour

Mom came and spent the night. Joe was in Florida, and I had to leave at 5. Stupidly, I hung up until 11 the night before, sipping wine and telling endless “funny” stories to Mom, who kept courteously laughing and telling me to go to bed.

Finally, I had a great idea: I really should get some sleep. I headed to bed.

5 am came two minutes later. My head hurt. I was exhausted and it was cold and dark outside. But, I managed to get in my car and get to the school parking lot by 5:15 am. There sat  Alice and Home-schooler tapping their feet and fakely smiling.

“Sorry I’m late guys,” I said with my morning voice, which now sadly sounds much like Abe Vigoda.

“Oh. It’s okay,” they lied. I climbed out of my Ford Expedition and climbed into the back seat of Home-schooler’s Ford Expedition. We hopped on the dark, empty freeway and headed to Downtown L.A.

It was clear to me within the first mile that Home-schooler is the worst driver on the planet. Even my 82 year-old grandmother would rank #47 behind her. I immediately began having a panic attack. I quietly began my deep-breathing and positive self-talk exercises that I learned in my 14 different fool-proof fear of flying therapies. Meanwhile, I was clutching my seat belt so tightly that it almost melted in my hand.

Too bad I drank all the wine last night. I should have saved it for the drive.

We narrowly escaped disaster on the 101/134 merge, while Norah stared at the number pad on her cell phone. She was trying call her husband to give him his “morning wake up call”. I felt truly thankful when we pulled into the parking lot at the L.A. Produce Mart. It was in absolutely the lousiest part of the city, and when I got out of the deathmobile and stared at the gun-toting Cholos on the opposite corner, I felt completely safe.


We were the first to get there. We politely chatted with Mr Neruya, a GOD in the produce industry who is about 90 years-old, and was annoyed with Chef for being late. Although he’s done these tours with her for over a decade, he still hasn’t figured out that she’s always late. Hmm.

Everyone slowly trickled in. Amber, Bridget, Lana (another Wed. class person in an SL 500. Nice), Bigfoot, and Cameron. He’s so nice. I was  glad to see him there. I wanted to get to know him better. He really had me laughing in the “at least you’ll learn how to make a good pizza” class.

Chef finally pulled in 20 minutes late with Loretta the bubbly and kind TA.

I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that I was cold, tired and really needed an Egg McMuffin.

Lobster Part 2

“Demo!” Chef shouted. “Here is how we fabricate the lobster.”

She grabbed one of the poor things by the head, raised her chef’s knife into the air and stabbed it right through the “skull”.


“Nooooooo!” The class screamed in horror. (Well, actually it was just me).

“Then you rip off the tail with a twist,” she continued. The knife was still jetting up vertically from the lobster’s head, and I think I was still screaming.

“And now the claws,” she said as she grabbed her lobster shears and snipped off its arms.

“This is the humane way to kill a lobster. It feels no pain,” she said trying to make eye contact with us while we watched it flop around on the counter, tail-less, armless and with a giant knife sticking out of its head.

Suddenly, my appetite was gone. (Except for that brie that someone had brought in. Well, it was just sitting there on the butcher block behind us… and it was good. I didn’t want them to feel bad.)

I was so horrified!!! How could anyone do that to an animal!?! I may never eat again!

“Okay”, she said. “Now it’s your turn. And be quick because we’re short on time.”

I grabbed my biggest knife and stood by as person after person jammed their knives through the lobsters and had at them. It was awful. You have to keep the bands on their claws because they keep snapping at you horribly. The tail, even after being completely separated from the body, will flip so hard it that it almost rips your finger off. YIKES!

There I stood in the stuffy commercial kitchen staring at the one lobster left. Mine. It was not quite so heavenly. I really didn’t think I could do it. Unfortunately, I had already planned to approach Chef that night and ask her for a job in a restaurant. I couldn’t let her see me wimp out now. I knew she was watching me, too.

I clutched my knife and lunged for the poor little lobster. As I grasped it around the head, it jumped from my hand, skidded off the counter and landed on the floor. I was screaming like an a-hole.


Everyone jumped. So much for not looking like a wimp. I stared at Chef. ” We always just throw them in the water and cover the pot. They never seem to struggle,” I implored.

“How do you know? Can you see through steel?” She asked.  “It takes them 15 seconds to die by boiling water,” she added.

“Would you like to be boiled alive for 15 seconds?” She asked.

Well to be truthful. At that moment I did.

I scooped the poor thing from the floor, while blurting out a colorful variety of vulgar expletives, as if I was speaking in tongues. I jammed the knife through the back of its head. I continued swearing like a sailor with Tourette’s Syndrome.

I snipped off the claws as its tail kept snapping at my hand. It stung, but I kept going. I snipped off each leg. Snap. Snap. Snap.

I removed the tail from the now limbless thorax. I cut the thorax in half to remove the tomalley and coral. There was a lot of coral in this poor girl. So much that Chef proclaimed with a gleam in her eye, “Oooh! This one would’ve had a lot of babies!”


I was thoroughly disgusted. I was still muttering foul things as I as I cut the tail into 4 small pieces where the segments join. When I was done, the thought of ever eating lobster again was a distant one. I felt horrible.

But, when cooking was done, in true Jules form, I was one of the first to the table with my fork.

A beautifully presented lobster pasta, Lobster a l’Americaine and lobster bisque were served. They were all delicious. I felt guilty enjoying it so much and embarrassed of my tantrum.

Chef came to my side. She patted me on my back and said, “Jules, you swear like a real cook!”

Cooking School Journal: Third Section: Advanced Preparations II

Third Section: Advanced Preparations II

I was so eager… I actually made it to school early.

Chef had not yet arrived.

It gave us all a chance to talk. The giggling gaggle was around me.

“Jules you should have been here last Monday!” Alice said.

I told them I was in Chico.

“Jules, she went on and on about how your hors d’oeuvres were the best.” Alice said. “She was impressed with your gumption to e-mail that chef for the date thing, and the truffle oil. She kept saying that your stuff was really elegant.”

I was hanging on to every word.

I learned that NGL got a lashing, and across the board she was pretty disappointed in everyone else’s stuff. She liked the home-schoolers pumpernickel/trout concoction. She apparently liked Alice’s mini-Maryland crab cakes which were really good. Chef overall was generally disappointed.


I was dying to hear more about how great I am, but it was time to start class. Lobster time!

Layla the Verbally Abusive TA began the lecture. She prefaced it by sharing that she is actually deathly allergic to shellfish. She keeps an Epi-pen in her purse because she could go into anaphylactic shock just by touching a piece of shellfish.

My wheels began turning…  Nope, too easy.

And then I wondered, why the hell is she here? Are those rubber gloves really going to save her?

I listened intently anyway. I wanted this lecture to move along as quickly as possible so that we could throw those puppies in the boiling water and have a feast!

Lobster Time!

Lobster Time!

It sure made me miss our “lobster fests” in Mill Valley. Jonah and Sara would join Joe and me for Maine lobsters that we would order on line from Webvan (I LOVED Webvan). A simple gallon of melted butter and 400 bottles of wine later and we were beaming for weeks.

I can’t forget my vacations on Cape Cod where my mother-in-law would treat the whole family to a lobster feast pulled fresh from the water with steamers (and for some weird reason baked ziti. We’re not even Italian.) We’d sit around the picnic tables and eat every last bite, laughing and joking. Those were such great times.

I will never forget sitting on the beach in Wellfleet watching the kids play at the water’s edge while chomping down on a fresh lobster roll I purchased at the shack a few feet away. Heaven!

Lobster roll. Best sandwich ever!

Lobster roll. Best sandwich ever!

Layla began her lecture:

The most prized lobsters in the world is the American Lobster. It  lives off  the  Atlantic coast between North Carolina and Newfoundland. Most are fished from the waters off of New England…blah blah blah. Even Michelin three- stars in Europe buy their lobsters from the lowly American fisherman… blah blah blah.

Finally, in the world of food we have something exclusive. Our wines often sit in the shadow of their French counterparts. Bread? Nope. Coffee? Not so much.Cheese? Are you kidding me?

BUT! Have they tried the Six Dollar Western Bacon Cheeseburger at Carl’s Junior? No? C’est Bon!

They are convinced that Americains suck, but apparently our lobster is amazing. Wicked cool!

Layla continued: The lobster has a large flexible tail, two claws and four pairs of legs.  The meat from the claws, tail and legs is eaten.  The roe is the unfertilized eggs of the female. Lobster eggs were once considered a delicacy, like caviar. The roe is also called “coral” because of its bright red color. The tomalley or lobster paste is the soft, green substance found in the body cavity of lobsters, that functions as both the liver and the pancreas. It is also eaten.

The lobster is classified by weight: the chick is the smallest at 1 lb. Although many consider the chick to be sweetest, the optimum size to serve is the jumbo which is between 2-3 lbs.– any larger and the meat becomes somewhat tough.

You can tell a girl from a boy by the swimmerets. They are pairs of tiny fuzzy legs under the tail. The first pair of swimmerets on a male lobster are hard, whereas on a female lobster, they are soft and feathery.

Blah, blah, blah.

Layla finally stopped talking.

Just then Chef blew in as if on queue.

Oh crap!  Not another lecture. But, no, she was too preoccupied and told us to begin killing the lobsters.

Layla dumped eight lobsters on the counter. Their claws were bound with rubber bands, but they were flipping and squirming and trying to get away. Oh poor things. I wanted to put them in the boiling water as quickly as possible to end their horrific anticipation.

But, suddenly I noticed that there were no lobster pots simmering anywhere in the kitchen. Just two glass bowls, a 9″ Chef’s knife and 8 lobsters were presented.

I quickly became concerned.

Cooking School Journal: Third Section: Advanced Preparations

The third section came quick.

It seems like just yesterday that I was lying on the sofa in my patented “approach-avoidance-malaise” begging Joe to call and not call the school to sign me up for this course.

But, alas…

I was slowly stirring on Monday morning getting ready to say goodbye to my sister, Jeff and Grace, who had been visiting for a long weekend, when the answering machine went off bringing me back to reality. “This is Roxanne from the Culinary Institute. I just wanted to remind you that your final tuition installment is due when you arrive to class tonight”.

My first thought was, “Oh. I’m actually paying THEM for this?”

Then I woke up.

Okay. I have to remember to bring my “you’re-not-getting-new-windows-before-Lucy-graduates-from-college” credit card to school tonight.

I turned on my side to Joe, “What’s your schedule today?” I asked in my early morning voice.

“I have to pack. Then I am going to Boca Raton for eight days.”

“Oh. Right. Don’t go.”

“I have to.”

” I know.”

We both got up and began the morning routine: Coffee. Diaper. Cheerios. Juice. Mark and Brian Radio Show. Showers. Teeth. Hair (Uh!). Clothes.

In those two hours, Melinda and Jeff had run five miles, showered, dressed, eaten, packed, checked their e-mail, returned phone calls, played with the kids outside, played with the kids inside, cleaned the guest room, watched the Today Show, gassed up the car, grabbed coffee and returned to load the car. God! They looked great. They were ready to go. They even had snacks packed. That must be what it’s like to have one kid. (As my friend Dave O’ Brien, father of three girls, once said: having one child is not parenting. It’s a hobby.)

Joe and I waved groggily, almost Eeyore-like, as they pulled away.  Jeff yelled from the driver’s side window, “What’s your class tonight?”

‘Umm. I don’t know.”

“Lobster!” my sister yelled from the passenger side. “I saw the syllabus on the bulletin board!”

“It is?” I perked.



I rubbed my hands together as they drove away. I turned to Joe and said clapping, “This is going to be a great day.”

We headed back into the house and back to the grind.

Laundry, laundry, laundry. Dishes, dishes, dishes.

Joe’s packing. The girls and I told him how much we’ll miss him, and then he was gone (I was already trying to precisely remember his last words so that I could tell everyone at his funeral how poignant they were). Meanwhile, I donned the insipid grin and told the kids not to cry because Daddy will call us tonight.hindenburg

Mom arrived just in time to listen to me bitch about how tired I am. Then I left. I was exhausted. The whole hors d’oeuvres debacle, then traveling without Joe, house guests for the weekend, and then he’s gone for eight days, it’s a lot for me.  However, when I walked out the door leaving Mom with my over-tired kids, I forgot it all.

I was starting to get excited. Lobster!

It’s my favorite food on the planet.

Dungeness Crab is the second… and very fresh Atlantic sea scallops are the third.

Of course all of that ranks up there with beef, butter, salt, sugar, Coffee Heath Bar Crunch ice cream, In-n-Out Burgers and Coca-cola.

Lobster meant that it was my birthday. When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait all year. Whether it was at Gladstone’s, The Bellevue (now gone) in Santa Monica, or even “Benihana Delight”, every year somehow  my mother and grandmother scraped together enough cash to give me my birthday lobster. And I loved every last bite.

Even in these days of Kobe Beef, Abalone, Beluga, Sevruga and Osetra… nothing beats a lobster for me. It will always be my decadent treat.

There is nothing like a Maine lobster. It really is the ONLY lobster. I have been lucky enough to eat them in Maine and Cape Cod and get a true sense of the convergence of sweet, brackish, chewy and tender. It’s amazing. Once you have it you may never want to bother ordering anything else again.

I love lobster.

More tomorrow from a much more awake…


Cooking School Journal: Personal Failure

Apparently, persons close to me were concerned that I was depressed. I guess when you call yourself a failure people get concerned. (Jot that down for future reference).

I explained that self-deprecating humor is an ironic device that writers use in prose to make the audience feel engaged and somewhat more comfortable, while easing the tension from the drama built by the subject matter itself. That was lost on the person concerned… and I think I have an appointment with “Dr. You’re-not-a-failure-give-me-a-hug” next week…

Actually things are moving along.

Cooking School Journal: Hi

So, the culmination of this fantasy/nightmare class is the graduation banquet. We are to cook and serve the most elegant of tasting menus to our guests.

I can’t vouch for the food or the wine, but, it’s my graduation. So, since you’ve been forced to go along on the ride of this long-winded journal… it’s the least I could do to invite you.

So, the invites will arrive in the next few days. It’s $85 a plate, and although the net proceeds go to charity, I think it’s an exorbitant amount.

Please don’t feel compelled to come.  I know you all support me in everything I do. Whether it’s changing a diaper, changing a tire or changing my life, I am “truly blessed” to have such a great support system.

The best thing about being surrounded by people who tell you that “you’re not living up to your true potential” is that you can make them a sandwich, and they’ll tell you that you’re a ‘genius’. Nice.

Just a perk I guess of being a professional failure.

So, blah blah blah. The invites are out.

I hope you all come, and I hope no one comes.

I’m shy and nervous and stressed.

It could go either way.

Meanwhile. I’m just proud that for the first time in ten years…  (Hannah’s shoving her lollipop in my face, “Look Mommy. Purple. It’s purple. See the purple. Thank you mom, mom it purple. Yay.)

I’ve done something for me. As small as it is, it’s huge.

A hit?

Although I was really looking forward to trying everyones appetizers, the majority of the bites passed were disappointing.

I began to wonder if we had all been in the same class.

I tested and served 17 recipes at my cocktail party, and I came away with two bites that were modified a couple of times. That’s a lot of  work.

I’m not sure anyone else worked as hard.

I sat down next to NGL at the wine tasting class and was lucky to enjoy suffered through such culinary delights as…

Bruschetta. No I’m not kidding. Yes, in the summer we all love it. It’s really good, but I think you can go to Howard Johnson’s and order bruschetta now.

We had at least three bruschettas.

Ceviche on Frito Lay White Corn tortilla strips. I began to feel like I was living in some separate reality.

Fritatta bites. Yuck! They were jammed with mint leaves. What part of mint do people not understand? First of all, mint gets stuck in your teeth. Secondly,it is the flavor of toothpaste.

When was the last time you stood in the supermarket asking yourself, “Hmmm. Should we have fennel and citrus vinaigrette dental floss or roasted garlic with truffle butter dental floss?” Probably never. Because those are the flavors of food… the last thing you want to floss your teeth with is food! Right? So conversely, the last thing you want to bite into at a cocktail party is an overcooked egg that tastes like Colgate.

While the passing of all these crappy hors d’ouevres was happening… a man from the local wine shop was lecturing about wines.

weird-al-in-colorjpgAlthough he looked like Weird Al Yankovich, he was actually pretty knowledgable. I tasted some great new things. My favorite was a Pinot Blanc (I know. A break from Chard.)  from Willakenzie in Oregon. It was hands down the most complex white that I had ever approached.

And it tasted great.

I waited with bated breath for the Pringle with Onion Dip to be presented, but was served such concoctions as gingerbread with some sort of pink aioli and topped with a marinated artichoke heart. Gross.

Then the dates came out…

I was nervous.

Are they hot? Are they crispy? I’m sure everyone’s going to hate them. Serves me right for being so condescending. Oh crap. Oh crap. They look awful. Of course they look awful. They are cured pig wrapped around dried fruit. Yuck!. What am I an idiot? What was I thinking?

Everyone took a bite.

“Whose are these?” definitely gay Cameron yelled out.

“Mine.” I said.

“Well actually they are not mine. They are Suzanne Goin’s from AOC.” Some nodded knowingly, happy and chewing. Some complimented them.  The rest looked at me like I was cement. Overall, though, I think they were well-received.

Next,  we were offered a dried apricot jammed with a piece of blue cheese… and as if our mouths weren’t scared enough, there was a half a walnut pressed into it.

Help me God.

Finally a reprieve.

Creamy smoked trout topped with shaved green apples on pumpernickel squares. The look,  flavors and textures were perfect.

I was so happy.

“Whose is this?” definitely gay Cameron asked. What? Is he taking a survey?

Lo and behold it was the Home-schoolers.

For some “unknown” reason I was totally irritated. It was delicious… and I don’t even like smoked trout or apples or pumpernickel.

But Chef chimed from the back of the room:

“Sabrina? Did you bake the pumpernickel yourself?”

“Umm. No.” She replied.  “Everything else I made from scratch by myself, though.”

It fell on deaf ears.

Weird Al was still swirling, sniffing, swishing and babbling.

“Who makes their own pumpernickel?” Sabrina muttered sarcastically through her teeth, just loud enough for everyone around her to enjoy it.

I chortled silently.

Next were my “rustic” mushroom cups. The TA came around to present them. I couldn’t even take a bite. I was too nervous.

“Why don’t you pass them around first. I’m afraid there’ll not be enough,” I said. Although I was lying, I must have looked pretty confident because she smiled at me and moved along.

Nobody said a thing.

Not one damn thing.

We all went to the next Australian big red and faced forward.

The mushroom cups were a failure.

Several more happy-hour-at- the- Embassy-Suites- culinary-delights were passed around until Weird Al finally poured the last glass and it was time to go.

We all began to gather our things and thank him.

Suddenly, Chef appeared again.

“Jules. The mushrooms. They were wild?”

“Umm. Yeah.”

“Was that truffle oil?”

“Umm. Yeah.” (At the last moment, in a desperate act of great self-doubt, I added a drop to the mushrooms)

The parmesan?”

“Uhh. Reggiano.”

“Oh. Okay”

As I went to pack up, she began rifling through my things. The TA stood guard. As she pulled out the miniature bottle of truffle oil and examined the brand she asked, “Where did you buy this?”

“Bristol Farms,” I answered.

“May I ask how much it is?”

“Seventeen. I think.”

“SEVENTEEN DOLLARS?” the TA bellowed.

The Chef just nodded.

Damn. I blew it with the truffle oil.

Cooking School Journal: The Vote

I arrived in class just as the wine tasting course was about to begin.

I brought my food to the TA’s. They had lists and food everywhere. They jotted my name onto the bottom of the list. They wanted to know what I was serving, how they should prepare it and how I wished them to present it.

On top of the covered sheet pan of bacon-wrapped dates sat the platter I chose from home and the e-mail correspondence I had with Suzanne Goin. I felt totally solid about it.

For the rustic mushroom cups I had the filled mini muffin tin, but no recipe or instructions. Time was short since our lecturer was getting ready to begin. I grabbed a piece of scrap paper and quickly wrote: Bake mushroom cups at 400 degrees for ten minutes or until golden. Let cool slightly.  Top with a shave of Parmesan and a sprig of fresh thyme.

They nodded, and I quickly found an open seat next to NGL.

Before the lecturer began Chef got up and began discussing our final. Jesus! I’m in the middle of my damn midterm! And we’re already talking about the final?

Our final is a banquet. We will invite our families to The Sherwood Country Club for several courses of beautiful and delicious food. That sounded great to me. I couldn’t wait to go, but then I started getting the gist.

We were DOING the banquet.

We had to come up with 6 courses to prep, cook and present. Oh sh*t!  That seemed so daunting after all the stress I went through over thirty bacon-wrapped dates and thirty “rustic” mushroom cups, that I began to feel nauseated.

We’re screwed.


We voted on the Executive Chef. Four people nominated themselves: NGL (well actually, Alice, Ashley, Sabrina and I put him up to it. (He was reluctant but smiling), Bridget the bitchy Brit who was rolling her eyes at me at the Wednesday class, Bigfoot (No, I’m not kidding), and Amber.

Amber lives two blocks away. Her kids went to the same school as mine (she has the same spread, but hers are thirteen years older. She plays Bunko with Lucy’s teacher, so I’m always nice to her.  But, she’s too direct and talks too much, and I always feel like she’s putting me down).

They each gave a campaign speech.

Lance’s was very informative, concise and exactly to the point. Just what I want in a leader.

Bridget the Brit Bitch gave an endearing speech about being working class, coming to America, blah blah blah… she’s devoted the last ten years to her kids (sounds familiar). Now it’s time for her to do something for herself (I hear that). She was apprehensive to start this course because she was afraid that she might learn that food was not something she was good at (I reached to my bag for a tissue). Being the Chef de Cuisine for this banquet would teach her so much and finally give her the recognition she’s been longing for (I almost had to excuse myself).

So maybe she’s not so bad.

For a Brit.

Bigfoot said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Just in case you didn’t get it that I’m really crazy, I’m going to blabber on for a really long time about crazy things that confuse you and make you feel really uncomfortable… and bored.”

Never stops talking

Never stops talking

Then Amber spoke. She basically said that she was just going for this job because the Brit refused to do it without her. She has catered events from 100 to 2000. She’s comfortable creating menus and analyzing them logistically regarding prep time and difficulty in presentation. She has years in the industry and has a great relationship with the hotel and feels very solid about producing an event there.

Well, I thought, there’s no way in hell I’m voting for her. If she’s catered events for 2000 people than what the hell is she doing here in this little class?

The nominees left and we cast secret ballots.

I was front row, so when they counted them, I could actually read them. Bridget got the most.

It was close between Amber and NGL, I was starting to get nervous. Oh please God let it be NGL.

The final nominee, Bigfoot, had one vote. I’m surmising that it was her own, but you never know.

The winners were announced: NGL and The Brit were our Chefs De Cuisine.