Monday, November 15, 2010

Food Porn - Cesare Casella & Salumeria Rosi

I am thrilled to death to get to work for this guy! Chef Cesare Casella is an Italian food rock star. This video takes place at his upper-west-side restaurant Salumeria Rosi (located on 73rd and Broadway) where I and three other students in my class (Ura, Craig, and Joe) have been interning for the past two months. Three days a week we go in and prep, work at Chef Cesare's beloved salumi counter, and even get thrown on the line during dinner service.

It is definitely hard going from a full day of school to a six hour shift at work, our feet hurt, we're exhausted and dirty, and all we want to do is sit down and have a drink. However, the experience is absolutely invaluable. We are learning so much that it's like attending two culinary schools at once. The lack of sleep and rest is definitely going to pay off when we get to Italy and already have some serious experience in our back pocket.

I can't remember another time in my life when I've eaten so much meat! please hold the laughter because I am actually being serious here. We try everything at Salumeria. Under the mentorship of the Chef-de-cuisine Aarone we have been taught the huge difference between a prosciutto di Parma and a prosciutto di San Danielle, the proper way to efficiently handle multiple tasks at once, and how to wrap and tie a porchetta (pig loin wrapped in pig belly and roasted) along with a myriad of other tips. It's been a lot of fun, a lot of work, and very educational.

Italy in one month...the countdown begins...

Cesare Casella featured on Best Thing Ever

Oy Vey!

Oy vey!

So it has now been six weeks of culinary school and I have barely had a moment to breathe let alone sit down to write anything of substance. Every morning I wake up at 6am and make the long hour and a half commute into the city and spend all day on my feet in a hot kitchen. Don't get me wrong, it is exhilerating and fulfilling in a way that nothing else in my life has been so far, but it is hard hard work. I am exhausted. I don't remember ever being so tired.

Part of my exhaustion is due to the fact that I have been the lucky recipient of a coveted internship with Chef Cesare Casella at his upper-west-side restaurant Salumeria Rosi. Out of twenty-five students in my class everyone applied and only four were picked for the internship, myself included. I feel over-the-moon proud of myself for being picked and eager to work my ass off in gratitude. So now three days a week after school I take two subways to get to work and spend four to six hours doing whatever work the Chef-de-cuisine Aaron finds fit for me to do. The experience is invaluable, it's like being in two culinary schools at once.

We have already survived our first practical exam, which is pretty much like a quickfire challenge on top chef. We walked into class that day knowing that we would be expected to produce two recipes that we had learned over the course of the past six weeks within a time constraint of two hours. The hardest part about it wasn't actually the recipes which we had to manifest, which turned out to be Caponata (a dish I alone had successfuly executed during the lesson we had learned it) and fresh ravioli with a sage butter sauce. The hardest part about the practical exam in fact turned out to be the stress. The recipes were simple enough, nothing out of the ordinary, no special tricks or hard techniques involved. What I didn't expect was the nerve-wracking anxiety of it all. It tripped me up, made me lose my cool and composure, and although I got my dishes accomplished during the required time elotment, I didn't feel entirely confident. At the end of the day I did well, better than average. Chef Guido called us out to another room to give us our scores one-by-one. I ended up getting an 89 on my evaluation (out of 100) which is impressive considering Chef Guido never gives anyone above a 93.

So now I'm working my ass off. Every moment I have is spent in a kitchen, or with my boyfriend and our new puppy. I feel like time is flying by. I can't believe I have already been in school for six weeks. It feels like just yesterday that we were all strangers meeting for the first time at orientation. Mariano (my bf) is getting stressed, I can tell. The time apart and the impending four months in Italy are weighing him down. He doesn't want to lose me, nor I him, but there is nothing to be done at this point, it is going to happen, I am going to leave. But for now, I enjoy my time here. Loving class, being exhausted, and spending as much time with the man I love as I can until I leave on the other half of this journey of mine.

Buona Notte


Thursday, October 21, 2010


Almost through week number two. Tomorrow is Friday and we have our first test in Italian language class. For myeslf and the two other advanced students that means we must recite an Italian cuisine recipe in Italian. Something I have done in college classes but still very annoying.

Most of this week in the kitchen we have been learning about things that are going to be on our Serve Safe exam. This is the test about kitchen health standards and regulations, a test we must pass to be able to serve food in New they say. It's all pretty much common food sense like that you can't use the same tools to prepare raw fish as you do salad greens. The best part of this week though, was finally getting into some real cooking. On Tuesday we made our own fresh ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. They turned out delicious and I definitely took a few balls of mozzarella over to my sisters apartment as payment for a free couch. We also had a woman come into speak to us who is one of the largest importers of authentic Italian artisnal cheeses in the country. She was very tranquil and knowledgable about her products and knew most of the producers personally and had herself seen each cheese's production process. She brought ten different and delicious cheeses for us to sample before returning to the days work of cheesemaking.

Today was my favorite day in the kitchen so far. We sill had Chef Guido lecturing us about Serve Safe for part of the lesson, but today was our first full day in the kitchen. And today was seafood anitpasto day! We made tuna tartar, pesce crudo, octopus terrine, we shucked oysters and clams, and had the opportunity to present to Chef Jessica Botto (our co-instructor) and Chef Guido our unique takes on a Himachi pesce crudo. It was freakin' awesome!! Not only did I have a praised tuna tartar (minus needing a little less acid) but my pesce crudo was my first home run. I watched most of my classmates struggle to execute their ideas for a dish and mine not only looked clean, symmetrical, and had beautiful color contrast It also tasted pretty darn good and Chef Guido called it cute, interesting, and tasty.

I've got to admit, besides feeling like I'm about to get sick, I feel like a million bucks. I am doing something I love to do, I'm doing well at it, I'm living a dream, I'm going to Italy soon, I have a great man, and, what else for a girl ask for?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday No-Fun-Day

Today is Sunday. Once reserved for all-you-can-drink mimosas and eggs benedict is now the bane of my existence. I have to work, of course, and waiting tables on a Sunday morning with its screaming children and fussy old ladies is about as fun as a hole in the head. However, working during the weekends is the price I have to pay for being a full-time culinary school student (not including the actual $41,000 it cost in student loans), and that being the case I gladly do it. I couldn't image doing anything else with my life now that I have started school. It has only been a week so far, but I absolutely love it!

The kitchen classes are by far my favorite part, especially considering the language classes we have to do are just review sessions for me. We started learning basic knife skills this week. Our chef instructor Guido I-Still-Can't-Pronounce-His-Last-Name is a short Italian man with a gray goatee and a great sense of humor. The first day of class we got our knife kit and he went over each piece and explained what everything was. He explain kitchen procedure and what we were expected to do/set up each time we entered the kitchen. Eager to use our knives, the class was ecstatic when Chef Guido pulled out a potato and showed us the dimensions of a proper julienne (1/8 x 1/8 x 2.5") and then asked us to do the same. That first day also practiced slicing and chopping onions and garlic.

The second day in the kitchen was more more eventful. We once again went over julienee, but then we tried a another proper cut which was just a bigger version of a julienne. Those were a bit easier for me, and I got praise for my good work from Chef Guido! A couple of the others had a bit of a rockier start. Amy, the 60-year-old oddball from Alaska already managed to cut herself as well as burn a hole through her knife hit on the first day. Another woman, also a little older, also cut herself on the first day. The second days casualty was my friend Chelsea. So far, in fact, I am the only female in the class who has yet to cut herself. The third day in the kitchen, Friday has been our most exciting so far. We actually did two recipes: bruschetta and panzanella.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

2 Days Down

Today was my second day of culinary school. We haven't actually touched any food yet, we've been having full day intensive Italian language classes which honestly bore me to death. I'm one of the only people in the class that can actually speak the language already, which gives me a boost for sure but also means that I spend most of the day reviewing the basics. They already broke our class down into two groups, the people with absolutely no language skills and those of us with at least some knowledge. Out of us "advanced" language students our teacher, this gorgeous wild-haired Italian woman named Stefania has separated us even further. Four of us have been given an even more advanced curriculum due to the fact that we are already conversational if not fluent. Out of this tiny selection I am the only female, and the only one who has no Italian heritage.

Yesterday after our first long day of Italian language class a majority of us were giddy with excitement and decided to wander together to a nearby bar to celebrate. It was a good way to break any ice and get the ball rolling on being new-found best friends. After all, we will be spending seven months together five days a week in a hot kitchen in New York and then living together in the dorms in Colorno. It's safe to say that if we didn't like each other it was going to make this experience much less comfortable. Thank god we all clicked right away. We are definitely a group of extroverts, after one or two beers we were all laughing and chatting like old buddies. Almost everyone went home about an hour or so in, save for five of us. The obvious misfits. There was Chelsea, definitely already my pick for roommate when we move over to Italy. She's a cute 22-year-old University of North Carolina grad who seems to share with me a good sense of humor and an active drinking schedule. We're going to get along just fine I can tell, it will be nice to have a girlfriend to buddy up to during all this. Also included in our group of stragglers was Uda, a chill ass hell Puerto Rican kid who can shoot the shit and crack jokes just like I'm like used to at the restaurant. There were two other guys, Nick and one that I really can't remember the name of at the moment. Both fun, eager to get right into the food talk, and outgoing. Nick is in my Italian class and we already have been exchanging glances of abject boredom during class when we review once again the definite articles.

Tomorrow we get our knives and our first crack at the kitchen. I can't describe how excited I am. It's going to be a half day of kitchen time and half of language class in the afternoon. We start at 11am which will be nice, but I'm exhausted from my 6am start this morning so it's time to hit the sack.

Buona notte.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Italian Culinary Academy::The Italian Culinary Experience

A Culinary Orientation

On a beautiful crisp Friday afternoon I took the train to 462 Broadway for my culinary orientation. It was the first time I would enter a room as a culinary student; not a foodie, not a culinary enthusiast, but an actual student of food. I admit I was nervous, but more so excited. I anticipated who I would meet, who would be my peers for the next seven months, and if I would measure up to their already-acquired skills, and more importantly, would I be better. I can't help but believing that anything worth spending $40,000 on is worth being the best at. Although I admit as I entered the baren lecture space my insides were shaking, after all my journey to culinary school has been a long and steadfast journey.

I began as a naive and delicate 13-year-old girl who had fallen in love with the intricate art of pastry work after avidly watching the world pastry championships in the year 2000. From there my passion exploded and my eyes were opened to an entire industry that captivated my interests and provoked my creativity. From the age of thirteen on my heroes became the champions of the culinary landscape including Thomas Keller, Ferran Adria, Jose Andres, Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, Jonathan Waxman, Alice Waters, and Jacques Pepin. Those names, they became my rockstars. They were my Lenon's, my Hendrix's, my Joplin's. What they did for the taste buds to me was the same thing that the great music legends did for our eardrums. They opened them up and made them feel alive!

Orientation was everything I expected it to be: somewhat awkward, but at the same time exciting. It is never easy starting a new phase of one's life, but all necessary change requires discomfort. All of us expectant students sat obediently as we were informed of the many details of our scholastic endevour. Most of the information we were given regarded our "stage", the internship we will partake in whilst in Italy as the final and concluding piece of our culinary education, during which we will be split up individually and sent to work as employees in different restaurants. The other most pressing matter seemed to be the quality and standard of shoe we all should possess whilst in school; this being a clog of sturdy black leather and non-slip sole. I, having already been in posession of such a shoe found this redundant reminder unnecessary, as the school had already sent us the list of required materials well in advance of the orientation date.

After we had been introduced to our professors, briefed on most of the finer points of what we had paid for and thoroughly tuckered out, we were granted a reprieve in the form of a wine-filled reception. For 15 minutes we were all treated to glasses of wine and pieces of bread and butter in order to make getting to know each other a little less uncomfortable. In typical fashion the girls mingled with the girls and the guys with the guys, until of course I venture over to the guys circle, brazenly introduced myself as a force to be reckoned with and then got as much information out of them as possible. After all, I was here to size up my competition. After closer inspection it seemed that I was one of the most seriously devoted to my chosen career path. There were a few who seemed to have a genuine interest in cooking and more so who had a true passion for Italian culture; however there were few, if any, who had a passion for cooking, experience in the kitchen AND previous knowledge of Italian culture. I seem, thus far, to be the only triple threat in the group.
I left orientation feeling pumped. I am so excited that this is finally happening! I've waited so long to fulfill this dream and it is amazing that it is finally coming to fruition. Classes start on Monday, and I have two full days of Basic Italian Language 101 before I even get to see a kitchen or get a hold of my knife kit. The basic crash course Italian classes seem like a waste of time for me considering that I've taken about 8 years of Italian language class at both the high school and university level; however, it can't hurt to review the basics and of course they are required.

I can't wait for Monday and the beginning of a new beginning.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

All Scream for Ice Cream!!

Nothing, I think, sums up the exuberant hopefulness of childhood quite as well as the ice-cream man's jingle. Almost as anticipated as the last school bell, kids line their streets having, by mid-summer, already figured out at what point of the day he will round their corner and shower them with his coveted frozen confections. This Pavlovian response has to be about more than just the ice cream inside? doesn't it? After all, those rocket pops and drumsticks are all fine and dandy, but are they really any good to anyone over the age of ten? The Good Humor man ultimately serves an age-old purpose, luring in a new generation of ice-cream consumer with a cheery jungle and a brightly colored truck. By the time they are in their mid-twenties these kids are just the type of conditioned mass to shell out big bucks for the next gourmet ice-cream phenomenon (Coldstone Creamery anyone?)

Now with that being said, I LOVE ice-cream. Coldstone Creamery was actually the first place of food business to hire me at the ripe young age of fourteen. To this day I still maintain that working at Coldstone was the most fun job I have ever had. Even though I was making minimum wage and came home smelling like waffle cones, I got to play with food all day! Making ice-cream, decorating ice-cream cakes, dipping waffle cones in molten chocolate, and yes, singing Coldstone jingles I was tipped.

I think that there is nothing better than a perfectly creamy bowl of ice cream. And oh! the choices we have now when it comes to flavor! The big ice cream companies have given a serious face lift to the boring trifecta of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream flavors of yesteryear.

Some of my very favorite new flavors come from a brand that has been taking the world by storm with their creative American take on classic Italian gelato. Ciao Bella Gelato started in New York City's Little Italy in the early 1980's and has since exploded onto the ice-cream scene. With creative flavors like Key Lime graham, Matcha Green Tea, Malted Milk Ball, Banana Mango, Maple Ginger Snap, and Blackberry Cabernet (a personal favorite), it is no wonder why this company continues to grow. All of their flavors are bold, clean, and surprisingly perfect frozen versions of their culinary inspirations.

Also worth noting about Ciao Bella Gelato is that all of their products are Kosher as well as gluten free, making their gelato accessible to a larger audience than most ice-creams. There is no other company that can compare to Ciao Bella at the moment, they have the gelato market on its knees and aren't ready to give up supremacy any time soon. Personally I can't wait to try whatever new and exciting flavors they come up with next.

There is certainly an exploding market for specialty or 'gourmet' flavors in the ice-cream world, and everyone is getting in on it. Häagen-Dazs, a company that has been producing ice cream since 1961 has recently revamped their marketing approach and come out with a new line of ice-creams called '5' (a nod to the fact that they claim to use only five all-natural ingredients in the line's production). They have also taken a note from the advertising book of health-food giant Kaashi with a powerful new commercial showcasing a naturalistic approach to creating flavor and a commitment to quality. This has to be one of the best new image campaigns in the food world I have seen. The first time I saw it I thought it had to be a health food commercial. I was pleasantly shocked when, at the end, it was good-ol' Haagen-Dazs, a company I had never looked at as particularly progressive. They were just an ice-cream company! A great one that made tasty ice-cream, yes, but a role model for the new food revolution? Alice Waters be proud, you've got another one.

Here's the commercial that started it all:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Summer Institutions: Part 1: Ode to the Hot Dog

As we make our way into the last lazy month of summer I think its as a good a time as any to reflect on some of my favorite summer foods. Of all the summer time treats to choose from I must say that two reign supreme over all others, the hot dog and the ice cream cone. To me, no summer is complete without a sizzling grill and the promise of sweet frozen bliss for dessert.

Let us set our sights on the magestic hot dog, snuggled tightly into a lightly toasted bun and smothered with an array of topings as varied and colorful as ones imagination.
To me, the hot dog represents all that is great and perverse in the world of food. A cacophony of ground meat parts and fat all stuffed begrudgingly into a synthetic or (if you're lucky) organic intestine casing, cooked to tenderness on a grill or in a boiling vat of water, and finally set to rest in a perfectly designed bun, ready to be topped and eaten with pleasure. As someone who values the purity of fresh ingredients and holds fine food in high esteem, the hot dog is my guiltiest of pleasures. The total opposite of anything I would herald as good food. However, what would this world be if not for the simple and cheap thrill of a hot dog at a ball game, or a Nathan's Coney Island hot dog eating contest, or even the steaming aroma of the corner Sabretti stand. As a New York girl, hot dogs are as much an institution as pizza or pastrami on rye. This being the case, us New Yorkers are very particular on how we eat our hot dogs.

Personally, I am a Hebrew National girl myself, comforted somehow by the promise of a higher quality of meat-filled casing. However, it has long been heralded that the Sabretti hot dog is the king of New York dogs. In a city filled with people that demand myriad choices and flock to the "new thing" in herds of crazed hysteria, we are all traditionalists when it comes to the hot dog. One curly line of bright yellow French's mustard down the middle. That's it. Toast your bun if you must, and in my case prefer, but mustard is all you need for a traditional New York frank. Of course the other classic toppings are available, ketchup, onions, sauerkraut, and relish are available at all sidewalk hot dog stands; however the real purists know one needs only a steady hand on the mustard bottle.

If you are looking for something a little more outlandish when it comes to your hot dog choice in NYC, then look no further than Crif Dogs located at 113 Saint Marks Place. Long has this Saint Marks institution been voted the #1 hot dog spot in the city, a serious honor and a well-deserved privilege. The hot dog joint was opened in October 2001 by two childhood friends and hot dog enthusiasts from New Jersey, Chris Antista and Brian Shebairo. A haven for late night eaters and East Village riff-raff, Crif Dogs is open Sunday-Thursday noon till 2am and until 4am on weekends. Crif Dogs offers a variety of gourmet dogs including (but not limited to) the chihuahua dog (bacon wrapped and topped with avocado and sour cream), the jon-jon deragon (served with a schmear of cream cheese, scallions, and everything bagel seeds), the morning glory (bacon wrapped and served with melted cheese and a fried egg), and the spicy red neck (bacon wrapped and topped with chili, cole slaw, and jalapenos). you can also create your own specialty dog from their array of exotic and traditional toppings. The possibilities are absolutely endless and positively delicious. Come on, who wouldn't want a bacon-wrapped-cream-cheese-filled-jalapeno-topped hot dog at 3am after a night of drinking in the Village?

If you happen to find yourself hungry for a quality hot dog in my neck of the woods however, there is one place that has stood the test of time as the best darn dog in Westchester County, NY. Do not be decieved by the Chinese pagoda, or the long counter line, Walter's Hot Dog Stand has been open since 1919 and hasn't changed the menu since. Walter Warrington opened his hot dog stand selling his special variation on a traditional treat: split down the middle, grilled in 'secret sauce', served on a toasted bun with homemade mustard. The business moved into the eye-catching and now historic landmark Chinese pagoda in 1928 and has remained at 937 Palmer Ave in Mamaroneck, NY, pumping out its signature dogs for the hungry masses. Don't be fooled by the decor, where Crif Dogs wins on originality, Walter's wins on simplicity. I grew up with these hot dogs, a staple at every soft-ball game and a treat that I find myself waiting in line for every summer. They are in a word, sublime. Juicy beyond belief, dripping with a sweet and salty buttery concoction, and made to order these hot dogs are incredible.

So there you have it, my shameful love for all things 'dog' broadcast over the internet. An ode to the perverted cousin of the sausage that will surely bite me in my ass one day when I have all but forgotten about this, my first food blog. Hot dogs will never be haute cuisine, it is not in their nature, nor would we all love them so much if they were. They are simple and cheap and almost surely a cause of some kind of cancer. Yet we as American's scarf them up during the summer months with such ferocity one would think they had magical properties.

And maybe they do. Maybe their power lies in the ability with one bite to transport us all to a simpler time, a time in our childhood filled with running through sprinklers and backyard cookouts. A time when we didn't care what was in it, only that it tasted good. A time when we could eat as many as we wanted because there was no fear of running out, there were always going to be more coming off the grill later.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The First Bite

This blog has been ten years in the making. I say this because that is how long it has been since I realized that I wanted to become a chef. Ten years ago, as an eager and naive twelve-year-old glued to the television screen during the world pastry cup I realized that nothing could be cooler than making food for a living.

Now as a post-collegiate twenty-two year old I am about to make my dream come true by enrolling in the Italian Culinary Experience, the Italian counterpart to the French Culinary Institute in NYC. I will spend three months taking classes at the institute in SoHo, and then jet off with my classmates to finish our education in the place where it all started: La bella Italia!

I should make this very clear from the beginning, I am not Italian. Yes, my last name ends in a vowel and I've spent the better part of ten years learning all I can about Italian language, culture and food; however, I am a Canadian born, New York raised Jewish American princess. So where did this love for all things Italian come from? Simply put it came from the enthusiastic efforts of one of the best teachers I have ever had, my high school Italian language teacher Signora Maria Longo. Her all-consuming love for everything Italian was contagious and has followed more than one of her students into their adult lives. She inspired me to learn as much as possible not only about her beloved Italy, but about the rest of the world and its myriad cultures.

I have since been on a personal quest to see and experience the world, a journey that has already taken me to some incredible places, allowed me to meet some truly unbelievable people and taste some mind-blowingly good food.

From here, the rest of my journey into the world of food is about to begin and this blog will document it all. I hope along the way to entertain and to inspire, and ultimately to share my love of food and culture with the world.