The value of reputation.

Today I had the pleasure of speaking to my girlfriend at lunch. I had just sat down at as local pizza buffet when she called. We talked about how her day was going and a few other things. In an effort to make more pleasant conversation, I asked where she was planning to eat lunch. She began to read me of a few menu items from the nearest kitchen. As I heard the items I was able to place her at K-16 the high volume (and sometimes low quality) kitchen at the school. After hearing the menu items I assumed she was going to be eating there.

I then jumped her with several questions. “Why do you eat at those kitchens, there not that good?”. She then informed me that she wasn’t eating there but just checking out the menu. “Why don’t go eat Cuisines of Asia’s or Med’s?” She then gave me some insightful information: “I can’t eat at Med’s.” When I asked her why she told me that she and nearly half of her class had gotten quite sick from food poisoning when eating at the Med’s kitchen. Now the chances of getting food poisoning from a culinary school where students are coming to learn is higher than it would be at a restaurant. Still, to me it seemed like the chances of her getting sick again were still relatively low. That didn’t change her mind though.

I find it absolutely amazing how just one bad experience can ruin a restaurant’s reputation with ease. I find the quality of the food the comes out of these post-extern kitchens fabulous. It is always well presented, well seasoned and great quality. That doesn’t matter. Fabulous food is trumped by one bad review. My girlfriend is a perfect example of that. If she was ever asked whether Med’s was a good kitchen to eat at by a new student she would tell them no. She probably would volunteer that she had gotten sick in order to qualify her point.

Now even without eating at this kitchen the student would go around, scared to eat there, telling others the same thing. It is a vicious circle that is extremely hard to fix. It takes minimal momentum to kill a reputation and maximum effort to correct the problem. This is something that has been made clear through school, but hearing it from another person and seeing it action is a fascistic motivator.

Extern Posting Schedule

As many of you know I have now been my externship at the Marriot Marquis. This is a brand-new location the heat of Washington D.C. I will be working on this program for the next 18 weeks. After speaking to the chef he offered me more then 40 hours a week. Keeping that in mind I am going to limit my posts to 4 times a week. You will be able to see daily posts from Monday to Thursday. I will be messing around with more site formatting and hopefully be securing a solid domain name sometime in the near future. I will keep you posted.

Go chew glass.

If you are a student at the CIA I am sure you are very familiar with a local takeout Chinese food joint that goes by the name Yeung Ho II. Now I want to begin by mentioning that Yeung Ho II has been my favorite place to dine on “Chinese” food since I started back in late September. I have been a loyal customer and this incident has disappointed me more than anything else.

About 2 months ago my roommate and I both ordered a special combination meal of boneless pork spareribs. Now for a college student this is a great deal: about 1 pint of fried rice, and a pint of pork with a pork eggroll for $7. I just recently spent $7 on about 5 oz of gelato the other day so this is a fabulous deal. Quality has never been an issue, in fact I thought that this particular order was fantastic. The pork was relatively lean so I wasn’t chewing on fat the entire time. The heart of the problem was in my roommates food. As he bit down on a mouthful of pork he felt a sharp pain in his mouth. He spit out his food and he saw a shard of glass glistening like a diamond in the rough.

He immediately called the restaurant to let them know and as I sat there and listened he was extremely cordial and polite. He made no threats or complaints, he simply wanted to let them know why had happened. They listened and apologized she even offered to comp a free meal. They even drove all the way back to Hudson to drop off the meal. I honestly don’t think it could have been handled better by both sides.

So what is my complaint? About a week before the semester ended we attempted to order our usual. But as we told them our room number they began to give us trouble. They told us that they didn’t want to serve us. Now I respect the right to refuse service but the justification was farfetched and ludacris. They told us that they didn’t want to serve us because hey didn’t want to put more glass in our food. My roommate asked to speak to manager but they refused, claiming that he was not working that day. This went back and forth until my rooms hung up.

Now my intention is not to scare anyone. The food that they produce has great price point and is very good quality for what it is. But their customer service department needs a major overhaul. I hope they see this but until then with what you et when you order from them, you may just end up with a mouthful of glass.

Chef Johnson Analysis

Chef Johnson is easily the toughest chef at the CIA.  Not because he yells, screams or throws food across the kitchen.  But rather the way he teaches and grades.  Lets start with grading.  Chef has a fondness for timing and in an industry that focuses so much on being quick and timely I can understand why. The grading for class was very simple. You have a deadline for all prep work to be completed.  this was typically 10.30am. But for each minute late that team lost 4 points up to a cap of 50 points.  This was one of the reasons I have not written in sometime.  The first 3 days my group and I failed for the day.  This was based sole poor timing. The reason that this was so damn frustrating was the fact that our group, who is quite competent and proficient, would prep very well but then lose all of our points in the last six minutes.  This became quite annoying and it really made us rethink our timing.  The real reason Chef stressed finishing on time was because of the practical exam. 

For those of you who don’t know, the practical is a two part exam that tests students on one of six basic cooking competencies, as well as knowledge of 100 facts pulled from a 300 question bank.  The questions range from fundies go gastronomy to nutrition.  The grading is done on a pass fail basis, nut each student is still given a grade out of 100.  I passed with lower numbers then I care to admit. 

But back to Chef. The performance or cooking practical gives students 2.5 hours to cook and serve an entrée and soup that has been randomly selected. Chef mimicked this situation each day in class. Chef was the only person in school to take off 4 points for each minute late. Other chefs took 1 point just like you would get penalized on the actual practical. Chef forced us to work fast and quick.

The other thing that made Chef such a tough instructor was his methods. He was very hands off but he wanted us to know our material. He gave us no answers and expected us to do our research.

So how did I feel about Chef?  I honestly hated each and every second of his class.  I blamed my poor daily grade and performance solely on him and I struggled to learn much.  I found that his hands off approach was lazy and not helpful.  I frequently complained to others about how he ran class and how I thought he should teach class.  But I never really appreciated the value of working with him.  He worked me hard and gave no free handouts.  He was a surprisingly tough chef with a unique teaching style.

In three words: tough, quiet, strict,

Watching Traffic 2.

As I explained here I am really interested in seeing who looks at my content.  After speaking to some of you about this I was informed that it is rather unclear about how to subscribe or follow me.  If you take a look in the bottom right hand corner of your screen you will see a small gray button that says “+ follow “.  That is the button you will want to click.  If you have any questions please feel free to leave comments below or contact me personally:

At least the consomme’ was clear…

Today was the worst day I have had at the school.  My team and I earned a 50% for our daily grade meaning that we failed the day.  Now I want to preface this by saying that we are a team of three.  Now I am don’t want to seem like I am making excuses but it seems difficult to work with such a small team.   Chef said that during extern we would be working one station making double the prep.  So I guess I just have to get used to it.

The day started of alright.  We got into class and I had the consomme on around 8.00 am.  After completing that I jumped on some of the various prep work we had to complete for that day.  About 30 minutes before final inspection, this is where chef comes around and checks our prep work to make sure we are all set for service, shit hit the fan.  Sorry for the foul language, but that is the best way to describe this next series of events.

I had to finish cleaning the stock kettle because our team was assigned to make stock for the day.  As I was wrapping up my team had someone else jump on the kettle so that I could finish our prep. We had decided on vegetarian chili with cornbread for the day.  I began to make cornbread but shortly after measuring out the cornmeal chef came by and told me that it was to coarse and that it wouldn’t properly cook.  This was only a minor setback, so instead of cornbread I decided on making polenta.  Within minutes of me informing my team of the change I discovered that our chili, the body of our dish, had been scorched because someone had turned up our burner.  Chances are it was a mistake and we should have been watching it, but it still was frustrating.  So as it stands, no cornbread and now no veg entree.  In the midst of this confusion Laura remembered that we had not made our consomme garnish.  We were already 5 minutes late and had little to no prep work done.  The last few hours of work had been for nothing.

It gets better.  We knew we had lost all of our prep points for the day so we decided to be creative and use the polenta as our vegetarian option.  We spiced it up with cheese to give it a creamier and richer flavor and then we decided, after what seemed like and eternity that we would top it with tomato ragu and fried shallots.  “We played chopped in the kitchen…” This was Laura’s evaluation of our days performance and she couldn’t have been more spot on.  We made our entire dish from miscellaneous items we found in the kitchen.

We were nearing family meal and we still weren’t ready.  Service was going to be starting in 45 minutes.  Chef came by our station and told us that we needed a side for the poleta as well.  At this point we really had no more ideas, we used carrots that we cut and blanched.  As we presented our demo plate chef made a comment about how we needed something else.  He told us to make small garlic crostinis.  We were about 10 minutes out from service before we started these.  We cut french bread, made a garlic butter compound and then spread it and toasted them.  If only to make matters worse the first batch burned.  We had no more bread in teh kitchen so I had to run up to Bakeshop 1.  The chef was kind enough to give me a baguette to use for service.  About 5 minutes before service we were just getting the second batch in only to find out that they burned within seconds of being placed under the salamander.  Poor procedure but it was the best we could do with our time constraints.  Service itself went smoothly but our prep left about 2,000,000 things to be desired.

In the end what did we do.  We had a decent consomme and a “F” for the day.  The real reason why I think I am writing about this is not to vent and beat myself up.  But rather show that our team had commitment and perseverance.  After failing the day, we could of just left.  Leaving the kitchen short on hands and one less menu option.  I know that my group had the same though as we were stumbling to get ready for service.  In our chaos, I ran to Chef Riley’s room to see if he had extra baguettes.  As soon as he saw me he knew.  “What do you need Nathan?”  I explained that we were in the weeds and he said just a few words, “Keep going.”

I think that we resolved our issues and tomorrow we plan to have a much better day.  The first and second day of A La Carte actually went well.  Our timing was a little off but it wasn’t nearly as bad as today.  I will keep everyone posted.



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