Monday, June 2, 2014

Alsace Degustation @ The White House Davao

Whenever I think about “Fine Dining” I always come back to the Erap joke where our former president was shocked to see the their bill after dining at a swank place and demanded an explanation, after which one of his companions would answer with something along the lines of, “You’re not only paying for the food, but also the ambiance” in which our former president would reply, “Ahhh, yes, but who ordered the ambiance?”

DVO 62 had its dine out last May 31st at The White House, and as the name suggests, the restaurant itself is a restored white house in the heart of the city.

The interior of the place was what one would expect of a fine dining restaurant, with warm lights and soft décor that’s pleasing to the eyes.
The tables were at first glance, set with white tablecloths with black lining, but upon closer inspection, it was the other way around. The tablecloth was pure black and there was a white paper lining (as opposed to the standard cloth) which made sense, as to save on the laundry costs.

The room temperature was nice, not too cold, not too warm and there were no odd smells, which meant that the cleaning staff was doing their job. Good start to a potentially great evening.

The service in the place was as one would expect from a fine dining restaurant. Immediately after being seated, water was poured and table napkins were placed on our laps and orders for drinks were immediately taken.
Before dinner, we had the privilege of going on a kitchen tour of the place. It’s not every day that we get to see the kitchen of a bona fide fine dining restaurant.

First impression of the kitchen? It was huge. It was probably around 60 square meters and larger than most single detached homes in the city. The second impression of the kitchen was that it was clean, there were no smudges and waste material on any of the stations. Everything was organized, and after a few minutes of looking at the stations, it made a sense on how everything was laid out for maximum efficiency.

As one can see, everything on the expediter’s table was organized. From order tickets to final sauce garnishes, everything was laid out for easy access and speed.

And this vacuum sealing machine. My first guess is they use this for their sous vide preparations. (Either that, or they have very strict storage policies)

We saw different kinds of equipment that one doesn’t regularly see in a standard kitchen, like this ice cream machine.

As their chef mentioned before, everything is prepared in-house. So they invested in things like this proofing oven (to proof their dough) and huge double deck ovens.

They even have an industrial putobungbung cooker made out of stainless steel. (None of that galvanized iron stuff that one sees in public markets.
Their storage units / chillers were huge. Each unit also had a temperature monitor which showed the actual internal temperature of the unit.

And most of all, they observe FIFO, First In First Out, to keep the ingredients as fresh as possible.

After the kitchen tour, we were on to the reason we were there that night, the food!
Our menu for the night.
 Alsace Degustation.
Amuse Bouche of the day
Smoked Toro Tempura Roll
Pako and Prawn Salad
Cream of Asparagus Soup
Pan Seared Halibut in 3 Kinds of Mushroom
Buta Kakauni
Dessert of the day

Before the start of the Degustation menu, we were served some house baked bread with some whipped butter.

While this may be standard for most high end restaurants, the bread itself was quite surprising. Baked into the bread itself were pieces of pimiento which added a nice tangy flavor to the bread.

My only comment about the bread was that it could have been served warm.

We were given a sample of the Buta Kakuni as our Amuse Bouche. Basically it was the trim from our main course then placed on a crispy seafood kropek cracker. It seemed like a novel idea but the taste of the cracker clashed with the sweetness of the meat.

For an opener, it wasn’t really that awe inspiring.

Next up was the smoked toro tempura roll.

Now we’re getting serious with the food. The tempura “skin” on the roll provided a nice crispy texture to the dish.

The tuna was smoked just right with no hint of being oversmoked or any of that fishy smell that usually comes with improperly smoked fish.

The balsamic mayo provided a smoothness and a richness to the dish that goes quite well with the smoked tuna.

And finally, the ponzu sauce added a bit of acidity that brought the dish all together.

Next on the menu was tha Pako and Prawn Salad.

To be quite honest, this was the first time I had Pako. Surprisingly, the plant wasn’t as bitter as I imagined it to be, in fact, the flavor was quite mild.

The salted egg provided an excellent contrast to the sweet red onion vinaigrette and those two ingredients were definitely the star of the dish.

I’m a bit saddened by the fact that the prawns in the salad weren’t seasoned, and they were a bit tough. I feel as though it was placed in the dish as an afterthought, I guess just to justify the cost of the salad.

I mean, a “Pako Salad” would be a nice addition to any menu, but a “Pako and Prawn Salad” would be a nice Expensive addition to any menu.

Even without the prawns, the salad could have stood out on its own.

*Oh, and I found a piece of hair in my salad, and for a high end place like this, that’s practically inexcusable.

The next item on the menu was cream of asparagus soup with shiso froth. Now the original item on the menu was pumpkin soup, but since I’m allergic to the stuff, they graciously agreed to replace it with asparagus.

The soup itself wasn’t anything out of the ordinary but the addition of the shiso froth gave it another dimension, an extra “bite” if you will.

Overall, this dish was for the lack of a better term, a classic with a twist.

Our first main course was the pan seared halibut in three kinds of mushroom.
First off, the fish, definitely the star of the dish. It was light and flaky and tasty as the same time. Very clean taste and perfectly cooked throughout. The mushrooms added an earthy fullness to the dish that was just exactly what the lightness of the fish needed.

While the uni yuzu sauce added some nice flavor to the dish, I couldn’t taste the uni, all I got was yuzu and a strong hit of lemon.

My only real comment about the dish was that the skin of the fish could have been a bit crispier. But that’s just nitpicking since I absolutely love the dish.

Oh, and bigger serving portions hehe.

Our intermezzo was pineapple sorbet. The purpose of the sorbet was to cleanse the palate in between the main courses, but for me, I found it cloyingly sweet and it really didn’t serve its purpose as much as it was originally intended.

Next was the Buta Kakuni. Pork belly that was braised for at least 8 hours till overly tender. On paper, the dish looks to be really tasty, and the presentation just screams fine dining. The braising just renders almost all of the fat out of the pork making the usually fatty pork belly into a lean, yet tender and juicy morsel of meat. The flavor itself wasn’t as impressive as the cooking method though. It was overly sweet (the Japanese mustard helped, but there wasn’t enough of it) and the texture wasn’t something to write home about since the meat was soft and almost had no bite and blanched bok choi leaves were also soft. It’s soft on soft, with no contrast whatsoever.
And, as a true blue Filipino, the dish for me lacked a starch component, rice! Rice! Rice! but then, it was a tasting menu so I guess the starch wasn’t really an issue.
And finally we get to dessert. Banana harumaki. It’s basically a banana, wrapped in a sesame roll, styled made to look like a sushi roll. The flavor was nice overall. The sesame roll provided a nice earthy flavor to contrast the sweetness of the banana. The matcha ice cream was rich and refreshing at the same time.

It also came with a couple of spherified juice balls just for an additional texture kick but I didn’t find the flavor to be all that special.

Now, at the end of all of that, was the cost of the degustation just right or were we just paying for the ambiance? Well, aside from a few hiccups with the dishes here and there, I must say that we got our money’s worth with the food and the ambiance and the service are just the bonuses. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Butchery, Importance of Knives and other stuff

Last saturday we had our butchery class and I can honestly say that it's equal parts knife technique and knife quality. The reason I say this is that for me and my class, this was the first time that most of us has handled whole fish and meat cuts and butcher them into usable cuts. 

For first timers to break down a chicken into classic 8 cuts and do a decent job at it says how straightforward butchering a chicken is. 

Eight pieces 
2 drumsticks
2 thighs
2 wings
2 breast halves

Ten pieces 
2 drumsticks
2 thighs
2 wings
4 breast quarters

Twelve pieces 
2 drumsticks
2 thighs
2 wingettes
2 drummettes
4 breast quarters

I always thought this to be daunting since I always buy chicken pre-cut but it was surprisingly easy. Of course, having a decently sharp knife helps a lot. If you have a dull knife then it's going to be really dangerous since chicken is really slippery. Not only dangerous but you're going to end up with ragged looking cuts as a dull knife will more likely tear the meat rather than slice. 

Another thing I learned about was the use of a flexible filet knife. To those who haven't used one before and have only seen it being used on TV. Let me tell you this, the flexible blade isn't a gimmick, it's a godsend! When fileting a fish and taking skin off, the flexible blade is a blessing. It makes getting the blade to the right angle a lot easier than using a stiff chef's knife. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Tourné a l'anglaise or Vegetables English Style

So another session of Culinary School has gone by and I've added another tidbit to my skillset. Now, what is a Tourné ? Basically, it's cutting a vegetable to a small oblong football shape roughly 2-3 inches in length. While it sounds like a waste of time (since it's only a garnish right?) it does elevate whatever dish it's paired with to another state. This technique transforms plain blocky vegetable cuts into something worthy of a fine dine meal.

It looks and sounds simple but believe me, the first time we made it, it was HARD. You face the dangers of the vegetable (or worse, the knife) slipping and injuring yourself. But I guess with enough practice, anyone can make beautiful tourne'd vegetables.

The vegetables that are commonly used are the following (ranked from easiest to toughest, in my opinion)
1. Zucchini
2. Potato
3. Carrot
4. Jicama

Now, as these are kind of thick, you can't just boil them or saute them in butter, there's also a technique that was taught in order for one to cook these vegetables properly.

First, cut a piece of parchment paper enough to cover your pan, and then punch a hole in the middle. Dump some water into the pan, put in the vegetables, add about a tablespoon of butter, then cover with the parchment paper. While this is heating up, the vegetables inside will cook and the water will evaporate through the hole you punched in the paper.

You can tell when the water is all gone when the pan starts to sizzle. When this happens, take out the paper and then saute the veggies in the butter as usual, seasoning to taste. To check for doneness, you can poke the Jicama with a paring knife and if there's little or no resistance, then it's done.

After that, you can enjoy the veggies on their own or add them as garnish to your main dish!

Whew, that was a mouthful. That sure takes buttered vegetables to a whole new level if you ask me.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Knife Skills + Recipe/Technique

Yesterday was our first ever laboratory session (Yippie!) and we started off with some basic knife skills.

I didn't grab any pictures but you can see some great images from About's "How to Use a Chef's Knife" HERE

I guess I was too busy cutting up vegetables to really worry about taking pictures. Also, there are tons of resources out there for proper knife grips. I'm not going to say that you're going to need to enroll in a culinary class to learn how to hold a chef's knife, but it really helps to have someone there to ask if your grip is proper. I mean, again, there are tons of resources out there, both pictures and videos, but nothing beats the feeling of chopping vegetables just for the act of chopping itself.

Anyways, we sliced up a lot of potatoes and what do you do with odds and ends? Well, make mashed potatoes and crispy shoestring potatoes of course!

Recipe # 1 Mashed Potatoes
Yield 6-8

1 Kilo Large Potatoes (It's important to use large potatoes, because we need the starch)
1 Bulb Garlic
1 225gram bar of unsalted butter (or 1 cup)
1 Small box all purpose cream
Salt (To taste)
Pepper (To taste)
Nutmeg (To taste)
Cayenne Pepper (To taste)

As a whole bulb, cut the top off the garlic
Dress the garlic with oil and place inside an oven at a medium temperature (this should be done about the same time as the potatoes) (Roasted Garlic)
In a large pot, bring water to boil.
Cut up potatoes into quarters (for faster cooking) I prefer not to take the skin out as this adds flavor to the dish. But if you're going for the ultra-smooth variety then by all means, peel the skin off before boiling the potatoes
Boil the potatoes for about 20 minutes until cooked
Drain the potatoes (Don't let cool! Do all the steps while still hot)
Squeeze the garlic into the potatoes
Start mashing the potatoes with a potato masher, or thick gauge wire whisk
Add the butter and all purpose cream slowly while whisking/mashing
Mash until you reach the desired consistency (Some like it ultra smooth, others like it chunky)
Once you reach the desired consistency, add the chopped chives, salt, pepper, nutmeg (some people skip this spice) and cayenne pepper to taste.

Enjoy your mashed potatoes!

Recipe #2
Crispy Shoestring Potatoes
Yield: 4-6

1 Kilo Large Potatoes
Salt (To taste)
Pepper (To taste)

Peel the potatoes
Slice the potatoes into shoestrings (about 1/8 inch thick)
After slicing the potatoes, drop them in a bowl of lukewarm water to prevent browning and to help draw out the starch
Drain the potatoes thoroughly and then dry with a paper towel to prevent splattering while cooking
In small batches, deep fry in hot oil for 3-4 minutes
Drain the potatoes on paper towels and cool for a few minutes
Once the cooked potatoes are cooled, re-fry in hot water for about 2 minutes for that extra crisp
Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy your shoestring potatoes!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Learned something about Canned Tomatoes and more

Living in a tropical country, it's pretty hard to find those large sweet tomatoes that we see on tv. Our tomatoes here in usually come in the small tart variety.

Anyways, after researching on how to make a basic tomato sauce, I looked into canned tomatoes and discovered something that I really hadn't thought about before. If you take a look at the ingredient list of canned tomatoes, it should only say "Tomatoes, Tomato Juice" and that would mean that the tomatoes were picked and canned at the perfect ripeness. Oh, and some citric acid as an acidity regulator. But when I checked out most of the local brands, most of them contained stuff like salt, sugar, calcium chloride, msg and other stuff.

This just made me laugh as I know a lot of people who say that they never use MSG and that MSG gives them headaches etc etc etc, and then they use all sorts of convenience products like magic sarap, broth cubes, ready-to-use sauces and the like. It's no wonder they say that their food is so yummy and they use very little salt. Reality check, read the labels, you'd be surprised at how much salt you've already dumped into your food.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

HACCP Wrap up

Well HACCP was a total bore. Personally I think it's some pretty high level stuff and should be left to those who are already late into their careers and are in the running for the executive level jobs, but for those who are just starting out (read: Culinarians) then basic food safety should be more than enough information.

Rather than putting down what was taught that day, I'll just put in a couple of really helpful links (Which will probably be clearer than anything I can type down here)

Wikipedia's HACCP page HERE


Sunday, February 23, 2014

First two weeks

Class officially started last February 16, 2014. So it's official, I'm a student again! To be more precise, I'm officially a culinarian! It is true what they say about doing stuff you love, that time flies. Sure there are times when the subjects get boring and dragging, but 80% of the time it's engrossing and I just can't get enough.

It's all lecture and theory at this time (apparently we won't be going into the kitchen for the first month) but I guess that's a lot better than just throwing a bunch of inexperienced cooks into the kitchen without first knowing WHY they're doing it in the first place. I mean, knowing how to do stuff is fine and all, technique is always great, but knowing the reason makes it possible for the cook or chef to apply it to other dishes.

That's all for now! Can't wait till the next class, which is going to be the dreaded HACCP.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

First Day of Class... Delayed!

Class was supposed to start February 8, 2014. Well, for some reason it got postponed to the 15th. O well, and I was excited to go as well, new haircut and all.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Kitchen Confidential

There's a couple of weeks left before classes actually start so I decided to pick up a book for some advanced research hahaha if you can call it that. Anyways, the book is "Kitchen Confidential" by Anthony Bourdain. First off, let me say that I love the guy, his shows are funny and informative at the same time. I mean, I had an idea of how dark and seedy the culinary world was but then, hey, it was the 80s (or was it earlier? I forget hahaha)

The book itself would discourage any chef-wannabe who thinks that being a Chef is all glitz and glamor and preparing one dish at a time for a panel of judges or a table for two. Oh yes, you'll get to a point in your career where you'll be preparing less and less and getting paid more and more, but that's years down the road.

“Cooking is a craft, I like to think, and a good cook is a craftsman—not an artist"

With that thought, I think back to all the people who I've taught recipes to down the years who  tweak those time tested recipes by adding something completely uncalled for and then call themselves "Chefs". These people don't have any training, they don't even cook that much, heck, if you don't teach them a nice recipe, they'll probably never come up with good dishes by themselves... Oh, I'm ranting, but to that point, I'm no chef, but I've honed my skills and some recipes to perfection to which I can probably say I'm a half-decent cook, but these people? I'd like to take a cast-iron skillet and whack them a couple of times for good measure.

And as usual, I've completely gotten off-track, but still, it sounds like a chapter to Bourdain's book. Sometimes incoherent, but utterly true.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Most Institute / Islacare Davao it is!

Well, after going through all the choices and after weeks of agonizing coin flipping, I finally decided to entroll at Most Institute / Islacare Davao. Classes start two weeks from now and from there, who knows? Although I was tempted to take a much shorter, much more intensive one-on-one training from Chef Steve Pollard, but my whole initial purpose of going into the Culinary Arts was to get some actual kitchen experience and only the bigger culinary institutions have the pull to place students in hotels for that actual on-the-job training. Not just lip-service OJT but actual working experience in a real kitchen. 

So yeah, here's to the next step!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Choices, Choices, Choices

After weeks of research (online and offline) I narrowed down the choices to three. CACS or Center for Asian Culinary Studies, IChef and Most Insitute (Islacare). My brother did the Certificate course at CACS and according to him, it was pretty informative. Not much help huh? Well, I decided to drop by the other day and to my surprise, the person there told me that they were no longer accepting applications for the culinary certificate course due to some issues with the parent company. Oh well, that makes my search much easier as that option is now off the list.

On the same day, I went to IChef to inquire about their shorter and more comprehensive course. Their course runs for 3 months with an M-W-F schedule. Their rate is, and I quote the person who wasa kind of entertaining me (and by "kind of" I mean that he was barely answering my question and was almost not interested in answering) was "Mga 50,000 sir" I mean, that's really no way to entertain a potential student now is it? Especially if your school touts hospitality as one of the foundations of their system.

Not to be turned off by that reception, I messaged IChef on Facebook and this was the reply:

Thank you for your interest in ICHEF! The next session for the 3-month course will be this coming June because we follow the academic calendar. For the requirements, kindly bring 6 pcs passport size pictures and original NSO Birth certificate. The schedule for 3-month course is 3x a week, 8-5pm and weekdays only. It costs P60k, approximately. Our rate includes chef's jacket, culinary knife set, toque, apron, towels, ingredients. For More information, you can visit out office at ICHEF building, S. De Jesus St. Davao City or contact us at (082) 305-8833 / 09199298154. Thank you and looking forward to having you be a part of the ICHEF family!

Well, I got two different figures, one is around 50k and the other is around 60k. Still, that's still within my budget so that's still in the running. The only turn-off of me was that their next batch isn't until June. I mean, a lot of things could happen in six months, and I'm not getting any younger ahahah.

Now the only other remaining choice would be Most Institute (Islacare). Their tuition is around 45k for the chef's uniform, knives, apron and course. While that might look cheap, one also has to factor in the cost for ingredients. Yep, you read that right, cost of ingredients isn't included. If you add it all up, it'll still hit the 60k mark for the entire 6-month course. Whether that's a clever marketing ploy or what, there's that psychological effect that they're "cheaper" than the other two places. After thinking about it and after talking to their admissions person, it does seem like a good idea to make the students buy the ingredients themselves, good training if I say so myself. 

I guess the only question now is which of the two do I choose? I mean, time-wise, they're kind of the same. If I go with IChef, I'll start June, and finish Late August/Early September. If I go with Most Institute, I'll Start February and finish Late July/Early August. 

Hayyyyy, choices, choices.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Starting the Journey

Well, this is the first post of this blog (hopefully not the last! hahaha). I've been blogging on and off for a while now and hopefully this one sticks. Now a quick background, I have -zero- formal training with cooking, so this foray into the world of culinary arts is a first. Altough I love to cook, everything so far has been done by ear and from sniping recipes and techniques online.

Now, my brother told me that it would be a lot cheaper if I just learned stuff online, but to my mind, nothing still beats the actual experience of holding a knife, slicing your ingredients and cooking the food yourself. Don't get me wrong though, there are excellent resources online for learning almost anything but for me, hands on is still the best.
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