It was the second visit to Wegman’s Food Market yet the first time walking through those automatic sliding doors as an employee. The store looked vaguely different from behind the pupils of an employee. After a brief orientation, one of the Sous Chefs led me on a tour through the prepared foods department. I grabbed a jacket and a hat and through the kitchen we went. I got a look at where hot foods were prepared and the buffet lines were served. I peaked in the “Wokery” kitchen and the meal center, which remains at frigid temperatures. In that kitchen, sandwiches and salads are prepared and packaged. I also took a walk through the produce and meat coolers.
Concluding the tour, I journeyed to the Olde World Cheese Department, where I spent the rest of my week, and thoroughly cross-trained for the duties I would take on. I received an overview of the cheeses sold- and the ones that didn’t sell so well- as well as the storage and procedures by which the department operated. I learned and practiced labeling and pricing items, something I was rather familiar with, having done my share of labeling in the CIA’s meat room. I then learned how to wrap cheeses, which, along with labeling, varies depending on the cheese’s shape. I spent a great deal of my day wrapping cheeses; there was a lot to wrap.
On my official first day, I started at the beginning, reviewing the history of cheese and the details of the cheese making and aging process. I reviewed cheese categories and general characteristics. I learned of the exterior rind and the interior paste. A learned some of this from the departments copy of the Cheese Primer, by Steven Jenkins.
During my stint in the department, after proving myself, I eventually learned how to cut cheese, primarily using a wire cutter. Certain cheeses, require their own tools, such as the Italian hard cheeses which are more cracked than they are cut. In order to meet the needs of a supermarket, Wegmans cuts and wraps most of their cheeses and display them on shelves. ideally, a cheese is cut as needed, preserving its flavor as best as possible.
I tasted lots of cheeses too. In the Culinary Institute of America’s Product Knowledge course, there was a Cheese Day, but with as many cheeses as there are and their potential boldness of flavor, it’s impossible for them to remain displayed on the palate simultaneously and in such a small space of time. It was nice to taste cheeses day by day, taking notes on each. The cheese department is also responsible for a Mediterranean olive bar- featuring olives and dips and such. I was introduced to the Peppadew pepper- the brand name of a pickled “sweet, picquante pepper, native to South Africa. It’s got a nice sweet, sour, spicy kick for a world of flavor.
As little as you may think of it, cheese is an example of the magic and science that is cooking and the joy and beauty that is eating. It’s the transformation, and maturing of an animals milk, good for drinking, into a mouth-filling snacker, party starter, or, for some, even a meal. It means enough that Wegman’s would devote, not just a wall among the dairy section, but an entire department to it.
But that’s just aisle one…
Edited and published in the Culinary Institute of America’s LaPapillote, student paper
When I tell people that I am externing at Wegmans Food Market, a supermarket, I get baffled responses, stunned faces, and the curious question “What do you do there?”- the same bewilderment with which I approached the Wegmans representatives at the CIA’s career fair in preparation for externship. I asked them, “What does Wegman’s do for a culinary student?” To answer the question, I am now rotating through perishable and prepared foods departments, having increased my knowledge of cheeses in the “Olde World Cheese Department”, practiced my knife skills in the “Veggie Market”, filleted in the fish department, and tried my hand in the bakery; and I’m now continuing lessons in batch cookery in the prepared foods kitchen.
I knew before committing to an externship at Wegmans, Hunt Valley, MD, that it is not quite like the rest of the industry; it was and remains my intention, in seeking satisfaction of the restaurant crave, to visit a number of restaurants while here in Maryland, whether it be at the table or the stove. I have recently traveled to Woodberry Kitchen, a local, farm-to-table restaurant in Baltimore MD, biting into a refreshing, wholesome experience.
Upon my arrival, I was led to the prep kitchen…area… or, perhaps, arena. As tomato season has ended, I was assigned primarily to assisting the canning team on this, their last Tomato Day of the year, preserving tomatoes for the season to come. I understand I risk sounding geeky and overly sentimental, but after weeks at the industrial Wegmans, simply applying finishing touches to prepackaged items, or packing away the kitchen’s foods for customers to grab and go, I was amazed at the joy I ripped into as I scored skins of pounds of tomatoes. It felt good to have a hand in what was practically the beginning of the cooking process.
As I stood there, peeling tomatoes, a panoramic scan of the kitchen faded to the CIA’s campus, progressing through the curriculum. In my hand, I held Culinary Fundamentals, or Skills, Day 2 blanching and peeling tomatoes. To my right, I saw fish fab: up and over filleting, practiced on a tile fish. In that very same region, meat fab: deboning a loin, and I recognized the sausage maker from day 13. Swing to my left, baking and pastry (in my case, baking for culinary)
Woodberry is the epitome of the old fashioned standard of a restaurant: lots of scratch cooking and baking, the service of family meal, deliveries from the local farmers, and trips to farmers markets, allowing ingredients to develop a menu as opposed to concocting ingredients to sustain a menu and cultivating a culture of community- elements that have become myth in today’s industry. The level of scratch preparations and in house fabrications was unlike any I have personally seen within the field thus far, defying and exposing the excuses and limitations of other restaurants that say it’s just not possible or reasonable- cost, time and labor considered. I spoke of canning but also saw crackers being baked, bread baking from scratch, and peanuts grinding to a creamy paste. Not only were fish, including eel, filleted, but a beef side was broken down…all the things I have seen at school but rarely the real world kitchen. The staff doesn’t seem to mind the intensive labor but they too think it’s pretty cool. It’s not one of those scenarios where the guys in charge, come up with this “great” idea that doesn’t transcend very well once applied. Woodberry offers knowledge of the entire process, allowing you to choose which practices to retain.
Even with a day’s visit, I was challenged to examine my philosophies on food, my commitment to the pursuit of my culinary passions, and my knowledge of the work I observed. For a moment, I struggled to remind myself that I chose to pay to attend culinary school as opposed to being paid to learn solely by means of hands-on experience on the line or in the prep kitchen of a restaurant; but I remembered that I resolved not to stand on line forever, waiting for my turn at success, eventually craving retirement. A lifetime on the line is possibly for some, but not me. I will always make food the focus of my work, yet by means of avenues broader than just cooking. Woodberry Kitchen is worth the thought. I’ll be back.
“A jazz musician can improvise based on his knowledge of music. He understands how things go together. For a chef, once you have that basis, that’s when cuisine is truly exciting.”- Charlie Trotter
As I quietly fumbled on the keys, my fingers timidly stumbling down the lane musical of black and white, a girl who apparently knew her way down this road better than I, sat down beside me and showed me how simply the knowledge of a few notes can easily combine to the amazement of an audience; one chord quickly becomes a composition. My thoughts quickly barged through the swinging doors, headed in the direction of the kitchen as I realized, ”It’s just like cooking: knowing a few basic ingredients and their flavorful contributions, along with a few basic techniques, you can easily build a fascinating dish.” I watched as she magically played, the music merely an echo of the beat of her heart, but she was able to do so based on the knowledge in her head.
Jazz and food are two of my great enjoyments. I would like to think of my culinary career as an indication of my love for food winning over that of jazz, but I don’t believe I ever realized how much of an affinity the two hold for each other. My desire to quickly learn the basics of cooking and later apply my creative expression is what drew me to the Culinary Institute of America. If you know the “what”s and the “why”s of the kitchen’s tools, ingredients, and principles, you learn to work with what you have. If you run out of white wine when making consomme, knowing that it contributes primarily acidity to the recipe, you realize that you can substitute lemon juice if need be. You would realize the precautions necessary when attempting to make a vegetable consomme; its not impossible but you must comprehend the differences between a protein and a vegetable and the resulting qualities, ensuring that all elements are in place. A valuable lesson I’ve learned is that we should never look at lack as poverty, but we ought to look at it as an opportunity for creativity.
Whether it be food or music, or any art or craft for that matter, establish your foundation and build from there. As the young grasshopper must have patience with the trivial tasks of the master…“Wax on. Wax off.”...There’s freedom found in the fundamentals. If you start anywhere but the beginning- jumping to a recipe or a song- never visiting the basis, you remain bound by that limited knowledge, potentially collapsing when endeavoring to do anything greater, missing steps in the staircase. With a firm foundation, you can build in any direction you choose. Find the field of your passion, dig your roots deep, and grow. Bloom your flowers and bear your fruit, occasionally taking a bite. Music and food have their similarities and they have their difference. At the end of the day, one things for sure, though: you can’t substitute music for food.
to be published in the Culinary Institute of America’s LaPapillote student newspaper…
The Olympic events are more than underway in London, and Team USA is remarkably more than over the top. Recent medal counts place our home team at 102 medals: 44 gold, 29 silver, and 29 bronze. Our teams sport these medals thanks to such athletes as the now retired swimmer, Michael Phelps, seventeen year old, gold swinging boxer, Claressa Shields, hurdle hopping LoLo Jones, and many more.
Unfortunately, one team not doing so hot is the one competing in the kitchen events, that of the caters, among which America based companies- Aramark and Sodexo- are included. Aiming to flaringly represent the cuisine of the world and draw the global population of spectators, their canvas reportedly portrayed nothing more than a dissatisfying knock off. Bloggers Sam Jones and Robert Booth (Word of Mouth) report that the overall operation was, so far, executed in a manner unworthy of gold. Not only did dishes fall from the pedestal erected by tradition, shooting, perhaps, for creativity but more certainly missing the mark of authenticity; but also, caters failed to supply for the demand of the hungry crowd s that, notwithstanding, were still looking for grub.
Some diners simply wanted and could not find the memorable, kid friendly taste of a sports game: hot dogs and burgers and the like that are connotative of sports games. Such comfort foods were not readily available. In such arenas as this one, it is sometimes best to forsake the extravagance, especially if you cannot confidently do it well, and boldly execute the simple to perfection. Diners are not bubbling with excitement to know how long a short rib “braised” by sous vide; they’re not arrested by how sustainable your foie gras is; they are not roaming with wonder at the cage free status of your chicken; nor are they encapsulated by the fact that you spherified the contents of a $44 million bottle of D’Amalfi Limoncello Supreme- not if it doesn’t taste good . Start with simplicity and build from there. The Olympics should currently remain the focus without competition, caters proudly serving as a humble auxiliary.
Shortly the torch will once again be passed to the culinarians, giving us yet another platform on which to skillfully display our craft. The Internationale Kochkunst Ausstellung (IKA) Culinary Art Exhibition, more widely known as the Culinary Olympics approaches, beginning October. The American Culinary Federation’s Culinary Team USA will represent America. How rewarding it would be to comprise the team of CIA graduates. Our very own President Ferdinand Metz, has been heavily involved with the ACF in years prior, having orchestrated the team, leading as ACF president. Great things are in store for you; grab hold of them.
I challenge you to not just be impressed by the indelibly praiseworthy performance of our United States Olympians, or any country for that matter, but to be inspired to excel and exceed in the field you were made for. Grab hold of your cuisine- American or otherwise. Gain an understanding of your culinary roots and pridefully develop an Olympic worthy feast. Congratulations Team USA! And best wishes moving forward team CIA!