From September ’13 to March ’14 I travelled to the USA to train to be a Natural Chef at Bauman College in Berkeley nr San Francisco, in California. I’m currently recapping some of my American tales in a blog series which I’ve called ‘San Francisco Friday’. Today’s post focusses on my Natural Chef externship.
To gain my certification I had to complete 50 hours under the guidance of professional chefs outside of college. I divided my hours across 3 very different organisations – a cooking school, paleo caterer and a locavore cafe, so that I could keep my options open for future career options. I also learnt many things along the way, from how to get blisters on your hands from knife friction to how to portion up burgers equally (see end of post for tip).
And now a spotlight on my extern hosts…
Back to The Table Cooking School: A gorgeous little cooking school based in Lafayette, just east of Berkeley & the other side of the BART tunnel where the sun seems to continually shine away from the San Franciscan fog.
I helped out at 3 different cooking classes, with Chef Lizette Marx, my tutor from Bauman. Each with a different theme.
- Cooking with Herbs & Spices
- Flour Power – Gluten Free Holiday Baking
- Lighten up & Tighten up in the New Year
This was a great exercise in learning how a cooking school functions, learning a heap of new healthy recipes under wonderful Chef Lizette and working alongside members of the public. I came away from my first session incredibly inspired. I loved every second of working with the public and teaching them hints here and there – an easier way to cube a potato, a simple way of cooking fish en papillotte, and how to rescue a pesto when you’ve mistakenly added a Tbs instead of a tsp of salt. No doubt this experience has helped shaped which direction I want to head in and I’m looking forward to teaching my first workshops in London soon at Blackheath Cooks and Made in Hackney.
Zenbelly Catering: Zenbelly is a paleo & gluten free catering company run by Simone Schifnadel – who also happens to write a fantastic blog. I worked with Simone on a couple of occasions, but mostly working towards a weekend of catering events in early January – book launches for Nom Nom Paleo & Chris Kresser. One a brunch, the other a canapé and sit down dinner affair, both on the same day!
Here I learnt…
- The art of cubing 1000’s of sweet potatoes and wrapping them in bacon for a delicious brunch appetiser.
- That there is no fool proof way of escaping hand blisters during that process.
- That flaking Brussels spouts to make Brussels sprout chips is probably the most laborious and fiddly task in the world, for such a small volume of food, but satisfying when you see the end result to know that you played your only little part in it (top right pic).
- That endive lettuces make great canapés – especially when filled with seasonal grapefruit, beetroot and walnuts.
- That Simone makes the best paleo chocolate cake in the world.
- and most impressively how tricky catering can be when the venue you’re serving at doesn’t have a kitchen and that clever prep is the ultimate tool for success.
Barkada Oakland: To round off my set of experiences I wanted to spend time in a professional kitchen of a café. If I ever got round to setting up my own venture (who knows?) then these experiences would be incredibly useful. Barkada was situated next to one of my adopted yoga studios – Flying Yoga, in the Temescal area of Oakland and I’d go a sit in there with my laptop to catch up on blogging, emails and homework after many a Friday morning yoga session, enjoying a good old cup of coffee and brunch. I was thrilled when owner Christine agreed to have me on board for a couple of days in January of this year.
Barkada – a locavore cafe come restauarant – places local & seasonal produce at the heart of their cooking, and whilst a nutritional outlook is not at the core of what they do, the menu was filled with dishes containing kale, gluten-free pancakes, and grass-fed burgers, so it was a great match for me. I helped prep for brunch & lunch service (there must be over 100 eggs in that tub below), learnt that apple cider vinegar in boiling water is the only way to get perfect poached eggs every time, and even how to shape up croissants and scones from their patisserie chef (now I just need a gluten free/paleo recipe to play with…)
and now to leave you with something I learnt…
The Perfect Burger TIP
Seems so small, but one amazing tip I learnt from the Barkada chef was how to get perfect shaped burgers from a pack of mince every time. For years mine have been looking determinedly home made, knobbly and wonky – not impressive for dinner guests. Here’s how:
- Grab a ball of mince from the larger pack, and adjust quantity till you get size you want. You can even weigh it if you like. 6oz (170g) is a usual restaurant sized burger.
- Roll into a ball then push down into a cylindrical tub (a supermarket small hummus tub works well), till the burger is squished into the best shape.
- Turn the tub upside down and tap the burger out. Repeat till you get all the burgers you need!
- To store, place a circular piece of parchment paper between each burger and layer up in a taller tub.
- That’s it – no more knobbly uneven burgers!
Many thanks to Lizette Marx, Simon Schifnadel and Christina Bondoc for hosting me!0