Since I still haven't found an inspected kitchen to work out of on a full-time basis, I've been spending my time trying to put together some sort of plan to move forward with Elgin Harvest. I still want to cook, experiment, write, eat, share, laugh, and grow. I don't ever want to stop because if I did, I know I would really lose a big part of who I am. That actually makes me tear up a little bit thinking about it.
I may not have a commercial kitchen to do all the things I would like, and I may not be the best at what I do, but I will continue to share and encourage anyone who is listening to prepare and eat real food again - with as much of it locally sourced as possible.
The culinary arts are a fascinating topic to study, practice, and eat. For over 15 years I have been working professionally with food and I am continually learning skills and experiencing new flavours and food combinations to his day. In the beginning days of working, attending school, and completing my apprenticeship, I took the opportunities presented to me to build a very broad and strong foundation in regards to all manners of food. I'm met some fantastic characters along this road I've traveled and I've learned a tremendous amount by listening, watching, tasting, reading, asking questions, and by doing. One memorable lessen I remember quite vividly happened way back in 1998.
Becoming Seasoned in the Kitchen
After deciding to become a chef I needed to gain restaurant experience before being accepted to culinary school. I took a job in a 120-seat Mediterranean-inspired restaurant and was quickly thrown into the world of excess heat, never-ending Caesar salads, and the constant sound of the dishwasher running. In the male dominated kitchen (I was the only girl), I learned many practical skills such as: eating-while-standing, how to hold three saute pans in one hand at a time, and soaking my feet in buckets of ice water after 14-hour work days will temporarily relieve the aching pain - at least enough to fall asleep. If the ice didn't work, pitchers of cheap Labatt's 50 would.
It was here, my first 'real' restaurant job, where I got a taste for some pastry arts and started to become seasoned in the kitchen. Being the only female and having somewhat of a talent for preparing sweets (at least more than my co-workers), I was delegated to making the desserts for the restaurant. At one point a new menu was being implemented into the restaurant and that included a new cheesecake with a sponge cake base (or Genoise) - something I had never prepared before. After reading the recipe, the method did not make any sense to me and I asked the sous chef, Joe, for clarification. My question was about whipping the eggs then beating in the flour. My thoughts were: why would I spend all this time preparing super-airy eggs than flatten it by beating in flour? It just didn't make sense. So I, an inquisitive (and sometimes mouthy) firecracker contested the method in hopes Joe's experienced voice would clear up my confusion. Well, Joe didn't understand the recipe either and he really didn't like me asking questions he didn't know answers to so he told me to "get the f*** out of the kitchen". (Yes, that was the first time I was kicked out of the kitchen. No, it wasn't the last.) I was scheduled to work later that night so on my split I decided to head uptown to the bookstore. This was in the days before the wide use of the internet and researching happened the old-fashioned way - with the card catalog or thumbing through gigantic volumes of Larousse Gastronomique.
Sure enough, I found information for preparing a proper Genoise and the recipe back at the restaurant had instructed an incorrect method. The texture of a Genoise is integral to a successful cake; the cake should be tender, light and airy. Because the cake does not use any chemical leaveners (such as baking powder), the whipped eggs are what gives the cake its lightness. Once the eggs and sugar are whipped to the ribbon stage, melted butter (for richness) and sifted cake flour are carefully folded into the batter. If I were to beat in the flour, I would not only deflate the fluffy eggs, I would also overwork the batter creating a chewy, tunnel-studded cake.
My lessons learned that day were many. I learned how to prepare a sponge cake, I learned not everyone in a position of authority knows any more than I do, and I began to trust my instincts in culinary arts. The book I used for reference, 'Chocolate' by Nick Malgieri, has become a great resource for some of my pastry inspirations. I didn't purchase the book that memorable day, but it was so awesome to my hungry mind that I went back on my next pay day and picked it up.
Joe was a hard-working hotel chef with a certain flair in the back of house that will never be forgotten. A lot of fun was had in that kitchen despite the never-ending workload and he was a large part of it. He had a stern, authorative voice but I remember him most by his Joe-isms: "hot like your sister", "good memory but short", "dead soldier", and "how-do".
Sponge Cake - Genoise - Recipe
8-inch round or square, 2-inch deep cake
4 eggs, room temperature
9 T white sugar
1 cup + 1 T all-purpose flour
1/4 t kosher salt
2 T melted and cooled unsalted butter
1 T vanilla extract(or other flavouring)
Line the cake pan with parchment paper and coat with non-stick spray. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350°F .
Place the eggs in a large bowl and using a whisk or mixer, beat eggs gently to break them up. Pour in sugar and continue to whisk until the mixture is very thick, pale, and airy. If it is mixed enough, the egg/sugar mixture should leave a thick ribbon into the bowl when it falls of the whisk. Mix in vanilla.
Sift flour together with salt. Gently fold flour into egg mixture in three batches, using a figure-eight action to incorporate. Fold in melted butter.
Immediately pour batter into prepared cake pan and bake until the sponge has risen and is pale golden, about 20-25 minutes. When cooked, the cake will feel firm but springy.
Allow cake to rest 2-5 minutes before removing from pan and cooling on a wire rack.
Serve with whipped cream, stewed rhubarb, or fresh berries.
A classic sponge cake may instruct you to heat the eggs and sugar over a bain marie or water-bath. I've found if the eggs are warm enough, the bain marie isn't necessary and the differences in airiness isn't noticeable. To warm up your eggs quickly, place the whole eggs into a container of hot tap water for about 10 minutes then crack and use as directed. (Warming the eggs for mixing into most batters such as cookies or cakes helps ensure they inflate as much as possible and helps ensure the temperature of the ingredients are all similar for smoother mixing.)
Another method for preparing a sponge cake may instruct you to separate the eggs and whip the whites and yolks in different bowls. Some people claim it makes a more tender cake. Try it and see.
Other flavourings can be used in this cake. Add 2 t of finely grated citrus zest (lemon, lime, or orange) and 1 T of juice to the whipped egg/sugar mixture instead of vanilla. Sift 2-3 T cocoa powder into flour for a light chocolate cake (with vanilla extract or creme de cacao or Kaluhua).
This cake can be baked on a 9 x 13 cookie sheet to prepare a jelly roll or roulade. (Use 4 eggs, 1/2 c sugar, 9 T all purpose flour + flavouring.) Increase oven temperature to 375°F and bake for 5-6. Immediately remove cake from pan onto cooling rack then use cloth to roll the cake into a log shape. Allow to cool then unroll, fill with whipped cream, nuts, or preserves, and re-roll. Cool then slice to serve.
I have a habit of leaving paper items in my books as a reminder of where I was in life when I read the book. I've used receipts, pictures, notes, doodles, and in the case of this 'Chocolate' cookbook, I left an old matchbook cover from the first restaurant I worked at. It was marking the triple chocolate cheesecake recipe - not the sponge cake. I forgot it was in there.
In case you are wondering, the definitions of the Joe-isms:
"Hot like your sister" - It is extremely important and fundamental to the success of a kitchen to always communicate what is happening. This is for efficiency and also for safety. If you are moving anywhere or putting a hot pot/pan/plate down anywhere (like in a sink), you always inform others that the object is hot so no one burns themselves by touching it. Usually the phrase is "hot-coming through" or something similar but whenever Joe was in a good mood he would say, "hot like your sister".
"Good memory but short" - I can't tell you how many times I heard this phrase. I think Joe forgot sometimes he had said it not a minute earlier. Usually said in relation to a mixed-up order.
"Dead soldier" - a piece of equipment, usually a frying pan or plate, that is dirty and can be picked up or sent to the dish pit.
"How-do" - Joe's special term of endearment.
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.