All posts by The Experimental Gourmand

Jacques Torres Demo at the International Culinary Center

Hot Chocolate by Jacques Torres

This cup of hot chocolate symbolizes the power of social media.  When Jacques Torres tweeted that he was getting ready for his demo at the International Culinary Center last Thursday, I sent back this message.

The end result was that he did bring his famous and much-loved hot chocolate to the afternoon’s pastry demonstration!  The beverage went perfectly with these samples of plain and chocolate croissants that he showed us how to make.

Plain and chocolate croissants

It was also a nice treat to wash down the last of the sugary, sweet, fried bomboloni filled with pastry cream that he’d made for us earlier.  These were made with a variation on a brioche dough, which Chef Torres also showed us how to make.

Bomboloni with Pastry Cream

During the afternoon’s event, Chef Torres also shared his baking tips and left us with some helpful hints in working with croissant and brioche dough.  He told us that this is one of his favorite demos to do, adding that when he’s in his hometown in France, he likes to cycle around to sample the croissants from each of the local bakeries.  “If you go to a pastry shop in France and the croissants are beautiful, that means something,” he said.

Adding water to the dough

As he made the dough in front of us, he talked about the baking process.  The smell of the dough early on is the fermentation process taking place.  When the dough is baking, the smell is of the process of caramelization taking place (aided by the egg wash).  “Put the starter [for the croissants] in warm water if you want to make them the day of,” he advised, “It activates the starter a lot faster.”

Letting the croissant dough rest

He also said that he uses filtered water to make his croissants, as tap water smells like bleach. When putting together the dough, he added, it is best to write down what you added to the dough and to put all dry ingredients in separate parts of bowl so can see what was added.  That way, you can know if you need to adjust the ingredients and by how much as you work with it.

Adding butter to the dough

With the assistance of a previously-made batch of dough, Chef Torres continued the demo, rolling out the initial form and adding a layer of butter to it.  He took a whole pound of butter and thwacked it with a rolling pin, turning it to each side as he flattened it into the perfect shape to fit the dough.  “The fatter the better,” he said, when asked by an audience member about his preferred kind of butter to use to make croissants.  “Listen, if you want good croissants, you have to butter them,” he counseled.

Folding the layers

Then, Chef Torres folded the layers of dough over the butter,  turned it one-quarter turn, rolled it out and then folded it over again, in classic puff pastry-making technique.  The dough went back in the fridge to rest.

Rolling out the dough

Another previously-prepared dough was pulled from the fridge at the same time.  Chef Torres sprinkled some flour on the countertop and then rolled out the longest sheet of dough I think I’ve ever seen.  Note to future demonstration attendees: if you sit in the front row, be prepared to have flour sprinkled on you (not on purpose, I’ll add).  Then, with a few quick strokes of the knife, Chef Torres divided the dough into triangles and squares to make croissants.

Filling the chocolate croissants

Some of the croissants were set aside to be filled with chocolate.  When making them, leave the seam side down after you shape them, so they won’t open up during the proofing stage, Chef Torres advised.  Also, if you have leftover dough, incorporate that into your new batch of dough as that will give it flavor and aid in the fermentation process.


Chocolate croissants

Here’s the results of all the mixing, folding and baking.  I’d like to say that the ones that I make at home will turn out exactly as perfect as these ones, but that might take a minor miracle (or lots of butter and flour and patience).

Cutting the bomboloni

Chef Torres also made a modified brioche dough to use to make the bomboloni.  As with the croissant dough, he had a batch he’d made earlier in the day to fry up for us to sample.  He showed us how to cut the dough, first rolling it out into a log-shape.  Then, he cut the dough into pieces.

Shaping the bomboloni

Chef Torres shaped the dough into small rounds, put them on a baking tray, and set them to the side to proof.  The batch that he’d let rise earlier were ready for frying.  A quick toss of the hot dough into a bowl a sugar and a shot of pastry cream, and they were available for us to sample.

Tray of bomboloni

This demo has to be one of my most favorite ones of all that I’ve attended so far as a student at the International Culinary Center.  It had some of the things I love the best: humor, fried dough, chocolate, sugar, and pastry.  It was very helpful to hear Chef Torres’ guide to making amazing croissants.  Maybe I’ll even get up the courage to fix up a batch of them at home.  Here’s some more photos of how the demo looked from my Flickr photostream (Please remember, these photos are copyright protected and may not be republished anywhere without my express written permission.)

Buon appetito!

General Tso’s Chicken by Appetite for China

Cooking via computer

A couple of weeks ago, at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference, I had the pleasure of meeting lots of writers, editors, and authors.  One person I had the chance to talk to was Diana Kuan from the site Appetite for China and the recently published The Chinese Takeout Cookbook.  During the season for Chinese New Year, she’s put together a virtual potluck of seven of the recipes from the book.  Each of the bloggers who make one of the dishes before the end of the festivities is entered into a drawing for some really great prizes.  I haven’t had much chance to participate in blogger events recently with culinary school studies, so I decided to take some time over the holiday weekend to throw together one of the dishes from the book.

Plated dishGeneral Tso’s Chicken

General Tso’s Chicken is one of my favorite Chinese restaurant dishes, and it was great to find an easy recipe to make this at home.  The crispy chicken had the perfect balance of sweet-tart-spicy when dressed in the sauce.    It was difficult for me not to munch on the searing hot chicken pieces the moment they came out of the fragrant sauce, leaving nothing to plate for the photo.  I used chicken thighs, as the recipe called for, but I also wonder about using chicken breasts or both the next time.  This dish would be a great addition to the Chinese New Year’s celebration table.


Chicken marinating

Chicken in cornstarch

Frying the chicken

Scooping chicken out of the fryer

Pile of crispy fried chicken

Sauce ingredients mixed together

Sauce reducing

Chicken dressed with sauce

General Tso’s Chicken

Buon appetito!

My Takeaways from the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference

Roger Smith Cookbook Conf

Last weekend, I spent several days in the company of some amazing food-focused folks at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference here in New York City.  This is the second year I’ve attended this conference, and I took away lots of great information and insights from the various panels and workshops.  This was also my first opportunity to speak at a conference, where I shared some of my experiences of having had content lifted from this website and how I’ve addressed that issue.


  • “Platform” seemed to be a key catchphrase this year.  How and in what ways do you communicate your recipes and thoughts?  Is in it paper format?  Do you have a blog?  Do you need an app?  How engaged are you on social media streams?
  • Cookbooks are being examined on many other fronts in addition to the printed words on the page or the recipes contained within.  They can also reflect issues of race, class, and income in addition to religion, culture, ethnicity, and nationality.  Even the act of giving and gifting cookbooks can have a meaning about how you wish the recipient to use them or experience them.
  • While there is lots of free recipe content available via the internet, cookbooks are still one of the strongest selling segments of the book-buying market.
  • When taking food photos, don’t copy someone else’s style or the latest fad.  You need to have a personal vision (well, in addition to the right equipment) and execute on it.
  • Copyright and plagarism are very thorny issues.  The Digital Millennium Copyright Act offers some protection and means of redress if this happens to you, but there are also grey areas.
  • “I have something to offer” – This is something to keep in mind when putting together your cookbook and/or your blog if you are serious about making it happen.
  • WOMM (Word of Mouth Marketing) is very important.  It is all about “surprise and delight.”  Make it fun, interesting, and leaving people wanting more.
  • You have to be a part of the conversation, no matter what medium you use (Twitter, Facebook, Google+).  You also have to be accessible, authentic, and accountable.
  • For those who have been writing a while, go back to why you started.  This will help you determine your identity.  Also, figure out what emotion you are looking to create in a person coming to your site or reading your book.

This is far from a complete list of all the terrific information and valuable insights that conference attendees heard during the conference.  Several of the panels were videotaped and additional ones were recorded for audio replay.  You can check them out on the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference website.  You can also pull up the real-time conversations about the conference at the Twitter id #cookbookconf.

Buon appetito!

Lent 2013 Kick-off – Meat-free Meals

Fab-u-lous Dahlin!Easter Bonnet – 5th Avenue NYC 2012

Today is Ash Wednesday.  Lent starts today, so scenes like this one from last year’s annual Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue in New York City are still a few weeks away.  As I mentioned last year, it’s also the start of “Oops!  What am I going to fix on Fridays now that I can’t have meat” and the annual menu re-programming phase.  Hopefully, you haven’t already blown it, like I did, by eating meat this morning at breakfast.  In looking through my recipes over the past year, I realized that I’ve added a few new ideas to my files which I’m sharing with you to round out your Lenten menu planning.



Ricotta-Stuffed Pasta Shells with Savory Tomato Sauce – a family favorite and so easy to whip together





Now that you’ve got a batch of homemade tomato sauce on hand, why not use it to make Eggs Cooked in Spicy Tomato Sauce – add steamed vegetables or salad to make a complete dinner





You could also really spice up a Friday night dinner with these Beer-batter Fried Fish Tacos with Kimchi and Guacamole






Or warm up the evening with some comforting Wild Mushroom Risotto (just be sure to use vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock)





Pizza will make it on the menu at some point, so why not try Make-it-yourself pizzas using Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Pizza Dough recipe




You can also see my post “Ack, it’s Lent – Recipes for Meat-free Fridays” for additional ideas on how to get dinner on the table while observing the season.  Hopefully, these recipes will help you and your family to break up the tune casserole / macaroni and cheese / take-out pizza / fish sticks ‘n tater tots rotation for Lenten Fridays.

Buon appetito!

International Culinary Center – Level 5 Working at L’Ecole

GM - Pork Belly dishGarde Manger – Braised Pork Belly with Prune Glaze, Bulgur & Tomatillo Vinaigrette

It looks like it’s been a bit quiet around this website, I know, but the reality is that I hit a really busy patch with classes, volunteering at events, and developing and executing the menu for a major project that we had due in class last week.  About a month ago, my group changed over to the next level in the programme at the International Culinary Center to working at L’Ecole, the restaurant that is affiliated with the school.  This step is to prepare us for the reality of working cooking on the line, a job many students take as their first step in their cooking careers.

Portioning out the pork belly to serve it

In this level, we rotate through the various stations in the restaurant, preparing the dishes that are on the menu that is served to the public.  I don’t have any restaurant experience, so for me, this level has been an interesting almost “baptism of fire” into this realm of cooking.  I’ve helped out at culinary demonstrations, chopped vegetables for a food distribution organization, and worked catered events, but I haven’t worked on the line doing an actual service at a restaurant until now.  It’s definitely a different from my other cooking experiences where we just prep and prepare the dishes, plate everything, and then serve it all at once to everyone at the same time.

Patissier – Cranberry Linzer Torte with Chestnut Ice Cream

The first part of the lesson each evening consists of restocking the mise en place for that day’s service.  Then, when the menu changes over from the professional chefs fixing the meals to the time when we, the students, take over the stoves, with the supervision of our instructors, we put together the plates and give them to the waitstaff to be served, just as in any other restaurant.  Given how hard we all work, and how much experience some of the students already have, it was a bit distressing to me to find out that at least one website has advised possible patrons not to come to the restaurant during the time the students are working their shifts.

Poppy Seed Cake with Lemon Curd and Baked Apple

My first station in the kitchen rotation was in Pastry (Pâtissièr).  So our assignment was to figure out what we need to plate each dish when the orders come in and then make the amount we think we need to fill the orders that night.  With the guidance of the instructors, we make all the individual recipes, like the lemon curd, cake, and baked apple in the photo above, and then organize our stations so that we can respond quickly when the tickets arrive.  The chefs call out the orders and then we plate the dishes per the sample plates that they’ve shown to us.

Gooey French Onion Soup – tried to get to it before my classmate ate it

As the clock starts to tick towards 8:00 p.m., when the student part of the service starts, the chef instructors push us to get everything together and our stations cleaned up and everything in place so that we can work efficiently and quickly when the orders start being called.  From Pastry, I moved over to Garde Manger, where we prepare the appetizers on the menu.  There are two other students in my class with whom I rotate through the stations.  There’s also several other students from the class level above ours who have their own separate recipes to prepare, plate, and serve.

Cooked pork belly

One of our dishes, the braised pork belly, actually takes a few days to prepare.  We start a couple of days earlier by trimming a piece of belly of its tough, exterior skin and rubbing a cure of spices, sugar, and salt on each side of the belly.  This then gets covered with heavy cans and weighed down for about 24-hours.  Then, it is cooked and pressed again at least overnight.  After that, we cut it into serving portions and set it aside until it is glazed with a plum sauce and cooked again right before it is served.  It’s probably my favorite of the dishes I’ve worked on in the restaurant so far.

Seared Scallops with Squid Ink Risotto

After Garde Manger, I moved over to work the Fish Station (Poissonier), which I’ll be doing again tomorrow night.  Here the system works the same way: we arrive in class, do the prep work, and wait for the orders to come in to fill them.  The scallop dish is very popular at the moment, and we seem to fill lots of orders for it every evening, keeping our station pretty busy.  My next turn will be at the Sauce Station (Saucier) where we have a rabbit dish and a pork dish on the menu.  With each rotation, I hope I’m getting better at improving my speed at working in the kitchen.  That’s the goal for this level, as well as having us get used to the pressure and flow of restaurant service.

Buon appetito!

Cassoulet Cookoff at Jimmy’s No. 43

Cassoulet signCassoulet Cook-off

How do you Cassoulet?  Yesterday, at Jimmy’s No. 43, nine cooks and chefs got together to display their interpretations of this classic French dish at a benefit to raise money for the Greenmarket’s youth programs.  The public was invited to taste their creations and to vote for the best-tasting result.  Jimmy Carbone had reached out to me to see if I’d be willing to judge the dishes, a task which I happily accepted.  On a grey, winter Sunday afternoon in the city, what could be more comforting than a helping of a hearty casserole and a pint of craft beer?

The Cassoulet Cook-off Ballot

Along with my fellow judges Jackie Gordon from The Diva That Ate New York, Margaret Chen from Savory Sweet Living, Nancy Matsumoto, and Amy Zavatto of Edible Manhattan, we ate our way around the different offerings, made notes, took photos, and compared opinions on what is and isn’t cassoulet.  Then, we put our heads together and picked what we thought were the best of the ones that we ate.  Matt Timms of The Takedowns announced our results to the crowd.  Here’s what the day looked like, plate by plate:

Jimmy’s No. 43: David – Black Bean Cassoulet

This didn’t really strike me as much of a cassoulet as a black bean casserole.  When David introduced his dish, he said that he wanted to highlight beans that are indigenous to North America, making this a more native spin on the recipe.  It was still a tasty offering and the crunchy topping was a nice complement.

Jimmy’s No. 43: Yojersey – Pinto Bean-Mozzarella Cassoulet

Again, this was also a non-traditional rendition of cassoulet.  This version when even further in the direction of classic casserole territory by using pinto beans, having a slightly sweet sauce dotted with burger bun bits and topped with chunks of melted mozzarella.  The combination was definitely an interesting one.

Jimmy’s No. 43: Michael – Cassoulet

Sticking a bit truer to what everyone thinks of as a classic cassoulet, Michael from Jimmy’s team produced this deep, rich dish.  The flavors were all there, although I wished for a just a little bit more seasoning.  It would also have been better if the dish had been served a bit warmer, but that is always one of the challenges of these food events.

Out East Foodie: Laura Luciano – Cassoulet

Starting the process of making her dish two weeks out with putting together a duck confit, Laura Luciano stuck pretty closely to the classic definition of cassoulet.  She also made a garlic confit and use the bones from the duck to make a duck stock.  The crunchy topping that she added to each plate she handed out added an extra burst of herbs to give every bite a fresh pop of flavor to the creamy, meaty dish.

Iberian Beer United: Jessica Aguillo – Iberian-style Cassoulet

Using butter beans and Iberian products, Jessica Aguillo contributed a Spanish twist to this French classic.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get my hands on a plate of this entry, as it was completely wiped out by the time I got to her table.  I heard from several of my fellow judges that the dish had a wonderful flavor to it.

Mighty Quinn’s: Hugh Mangum – BBQ & Burnt Ends

As a cassoulet, this wasn’t it.  As pretty delicious, nicely spiced barbecue beans with smoky, chewy burnt ends, this was a great dish.  I really enjoyed it and look forward to having it again the next time I’m on line waiting for one of their equally enticing brisket sandwiches.

Rich Pinto Catering: Rich Pinto – Vegetarian Cassoulet

I know, you’re thinking, “What?  This cannot be considered a cassoulet in any way, shape, or form!”  Hang on there for a second.  This dish captured all the aromas, fragrances, depth, and warmth of this French classic, just without having any meat.  The roasted carrots and parsnips added that earthy dimension that sausages normally fill.  The fact that Rich had finished it off with some Ronnybrook Farm butter at the end, as he mentioned to a few of us, didn’t hurt it a bit either.

Patricia Clark Catering: Patricia Clark – Cassoulet

Presenting a more Italian spin on this French dish, Patricia Clark used cannellini beans and Great Northern beans in her version of cassoulet.  She also started her preparations in advance by roasting and making a confit of duck legs as well as making a duck stock.  She added a dash of Amaro, an Italian liqueur, to her creation, and I spotted some tomatoes used in it, too, giving this dish a more Mediterranean feel.

Matthew Knoff: Cassoulet

Matthew Knoff filled in for the slot listed for Ian Kapitan of Alobar, who couldn’t make it when a member of his staff called in ill.  His dish, he explained, was a based upon the one from a Julia Child recipe, with the addition of goat meat for extra heartiness.  He also used a couple of different kinds of sausage (Toulouse and garlic) and lamb shoulder as well.

 Jimmy Carbone thanking everyone for being there

The event raised over $2,000.00 to go to the Learn It, Grow It, Eat It initiative run by the Greenmarket.  We heard that this would let them hire 15 teenagers from the South Bronx to work with the program.  It was wonderful to hang out at Jimmy’s No. 43 for the afternoon, eating and drinking all in the company of fellow food folks and some good friends.  Jimmy’s had been hit really hard by Hurricane Sandy with flooding and having to close down for a week due to having no power so it was also terrific to see how Jimmy and his team had been able to come back to host this event.

The overall winner of the day for the 2013 Cassoulet Cook0ff was Laura Luciano of Out East Foodie.  As Matt put it, it’s like synergy when the People’s Choice winner and the Judge’s Pick for winner mesh.  Hands-down we all though that her dish capture the spirit, flavor, and essence of a classic French cassoulet.  Michael of Jimmy’s No. 43 captured second place, and Matthew Knoff came in third.

We also awarded two “non-cassoulet, cassoulet” prizes, as our judges’ discretion allowed.  One to Rich Pinto for his vegetarian entry, and one to Jessica Aguillo for her Iberian spin on this dish.  Truthfully, though, we were all victors yesterday in getting to eat delicious food and to support a great local cause.  A big “thank you” to Jimmy for inviting me to attend and to judge this event.  For a calendar of other food and beer tastings taking place at this venue, please see their website.

Buon appetito!