You provide the food and I will provide the perspective." – Anton Ego, 2007


February 2014

We will the blood to stop.

Today I completed my second day of Modern Banquets Cookery.  The class has been pretty simple but my performance has been suffering.  I will get into the reason behind that some other time.  While prepping bok choi for service today I overheard the brief conversation that really helped lighten my mood.

A student went up to the chef and asked whether we had a first aid kit.  The chef responded with yes and then followed up with “Why, what did you do to yourself.”  The student responded quite simply and to me it made perfect sense: “I cut my self on a piece of plastic hanging off of the salad spinner.”  Now to the chef this was hilarious.  “What?” he asked, “How did you cut yourself on the salad spinner?”  At this point the entire kitchen was aware of what was going on.  “I could understand that you might cut yourself on a knife or something sharp, but a knife?”  At this point most people had pulled away from their assigned task and began to drop eaves on the situation.  The student struggled to explain that he had not actually cut himself on the flat plastic, but rather a piece that was hanging off.  The chef was in such shock that he was still hung up on getting cut on the spinner.  This exchange went back and forth about one minute.  “We never bled in front of a chef, when I was a student if we got cut, we would will the blood to stop.”  This was Chef’s closer and the student walked away, somewhat embarrassed.

I really do enjoy the chefs at this school.  I have never found one to be to aggressive or harsh.  In fact I feel like I would enjoy working with some of the more cruel chef’s at this school.  Today I must have heard the salad spinner reference from chef at least 5 more times. I have heard so many horror stories about chefs when they first began teaching at this school.  Two of the chefs that I had were known as some of the toughest chefs in the school.  I really feel like I might have missed out on a few things because the chefs have a limited spectrum of behavior that they must teach with.

Modern Banquets class has been good otherwise.  The information is more cooking based rather than technique based.  Each day that we come in, it is treated more like a real kitchen.  We have no real technical instruction.  We are expected to know the material and be able to competently cook.  The chef is there to instruct us with different methods to use when cooking on scale larger than a la carte.  He also is there to make sure that we don’t burn down the school.

So far I have had one major mistake.  Day one when we made rice pilaf myself and my teammate neglected to follow the proper ratio for making the dish.  After clarifying with the chef that the ratio I had for pilaf was correct, I began to make the rice according to his ratio.  About 45 minutes later, double the normal cooking time of pilaf, my team removed, from the oven, a mass of starchy goo that looked no more appetizing than the white rice that you see at the end of Chinese buffets.  We had to redo the rice and as a result lost a portion of our grade.  When we made our rice the second time, I made sure to use my ratio, the one I was taught in Fundamentals.  It turned out perfect.  Because of the rice fiasco our group did not finish on time and lost more points.  I have been keeping a record of all of the mistakes I have made in the kitchen and so far it is quite impressive.  This rice issue wasn’t really my fault.  I guess I should have followed my intuition.  Stay posted.

Viverito Analysis

Cocky.  Passionate.  Brilliant.
My analysis in three words.

Where do I start.  I don’t think I have enjoyed having a teacher as much as Vivertito.  I mean my first and forever favorite teacher was Christopher Balzano.  He shared many of the same traits as Chef and I think that is what makes him my favorite.  It might just be the Italian heritage.  So I guess each time I say my favorite teacher so far I mean my favorite teacher at CIA so far.  I also want to say that Chef DiPerri means a lot to me.  He was my fundamentals teacher and I think that just like everyone else in class, I became somewhat attached.The first day of fabrication Chef came into class with no hat.  This was my first observation.  His hair isn’t short either, in fact I am fairly certain he should be wearing a hat, but you could tell he didn’t care.  We began the ID and Fabrication portion of class and I was astounded at the amount of knowledge we were getting bombarded with.  He knew everything, activity levels, habitat, identifying features of fish.  He should, he is teaching the class.  I guess it was more of a shock value thing.  I was really blown away by everything that came out of his mouth.

What happened next was what really sealed the deal.  As we were beginning to review different fish he began to ask us questions.  Simple things like “What is the activity level of the salmon/trout family?”  Or “What is the identifying feature of the Bass/Snapper/Grouper family?”  And to his dismay none of us could actually answer any of his questions.  He started off by getting upset.  He didn’t yell though,  “Why don’t you know any of this information, you had a three day weekend to study?”  No one knew anything and it got to the point, about halfway into ID that he stopped and he said, “Well I guess i’ll just wait until you say something.”  No one knew the answer so we just sat there in silence for about 5 minutes.  He didn’t even give us the answer, he just skipped it and continued on.  He knew that our class was unfamiliar with the material and he was rightfully disappointed.  It showed.  He continued to ridicule us for the rest of class and he didn’t hesitate from using colorful language.  He is the only chef that I have heard drop the f-bomb more than 10 times, but “shit” is definitely his favorite word.  Cocky.

I had been told by many people who had taken his class how much loved fish.  I didn’t realize that his love for fish was deeper than any ocean.  His eyes light up each time he goes through lecture.  He does remind that he has said the same thing over 300 times, but what shows better dedication.  He has done it this long and still loves it.  That really says something to me.  I have been given so many fish facts that I don’t have place to write them all down.  Here are some:  91% of all seafood in the US is imported.  67% of fish is consumed in restaurants.  It is extremely difficult to get mercury poisoning from fish.  Fish is the last wild/non-domesticated protein we can consume.  Hanging certain fish by the tails can actually destroy the flesh.  The list is never ending.  This material isn’t stuff we learn in the book.  These are things he has researched, learned and embraced.  If you asked why he tells us these things he would say, because I love fish and I want you to love fish too.  Passionate.

Lastly, actually meeting and listening to Chef is amazing.  He really has brilliant ideas and knows just about everything there is about fish.  I guess this last trait is really a combination of the first two.  It was early on in lecture that Chef talked about the three animated movies that far better explained AL Gore’s Inconvenient truth.  Chef told us that some of his favorite movies were animated: Wall-E, Happy Feet and Finding Nemo.  Now of course to me I was shocked.  How did these even relate and why did they have such a profound impact on Chef? Think about what Al Gore talked about.  Rising temperatures, human effects on the planet.  In Wall-E, Pixar highlighted the importance of sustainability.  In Happy Feet, we were informed about over-fishing and the effects of litter.  And in Finding Nemo we were taught that all drains lead to the ocean.  Chef lives by these movies and the fact that someone his age and knowledge places so much value on them, really showed me what his character looks like.  One of my favorite quotes so far is about horse racing.  We talked briefly about how people enjoy horse racing but still refuse to eat horse.  We raise cows to slaughter what is the difference between the two.  His response:

Love em’ all or eat em’ all.
-Chef Viverto

I have recently started recording lectures because of how many nuggets he tosses out.  I don’t even know if he does them on purpose or if their just spur of the moment.  But he has never said something I didn’t enjoy.  BrilliantChef has had and will continue to have a lasting impact on me.  I hope to have free time to be able to sit into his lectures in the future.  Something I still have to ask him about.  He has made fish enjoyable but I have also learned so much.  I am very upset that Fish ID is coming to such an abrupt end.  But I am just as excited to be moving on

Critical Thinking and Common Sense.

I really enjoyed our first day of lecture in Fish ID.  Chef Viverito has a completely split personality.  As soon as he moves from the kitchen to the classroom he becomes more friendly, relaxed and funny.  Within minutes of beginning lecture he discussed the importance of critical thinking.  After hearing the words critical thinking three times, once in each of my kitchen classes, I have begun to realize its importance.

We first touched on critical thinking in Culinary Fundamentals.  We really discussed the difference between common sense and critical thinking.  Chef DiPerri talked about they were exactly the same thing.  I think the discussion originally came up when someone in class used a 1 gallon pot to make 1 quart of soup.  He talked about how we had to think for ourselves and the importance of critical thinking or common sense in the industry.

When we entered meat class, it wasn’t until the very end of the class that we began to talk about common sense.  Chef Elia was talking about how it was crucial that when we make purchases for meat that we think about what we are doing.  Why would it make sense to pay more for portion cut steaks?   He said we could just spend the time to learn how to do it and then save a lot of money.

And now fish class.  There really wasn’t a reason why we started talking about it.  Chef just decided to include it in his lectures.  I thought that this was fascinating because each chef had managed to touch on this topic at least once in the course.

I feel like critical thinking is something that people can’t learn. You can teach someone why it doesn’t make sense to peel the carrots before you cut them.  Critical thinking says, because I have to peel the carrots before I cut them, I should also peel the potatoes before I cut them.  No amount of schooling or money can make someone develop critical thinking.  Each person takes their own route when learning things.  Some learn quicker than others and more often than not, people that can use common sense learn quicker.

I am certain that when we I begin working in production kitchens in the next two weeks that I will be hearing a lot about making smart choices.  Using common sense or critical thinking in the kitchen drastically separates the skilled chefs from the amateurs.  Now, I am by no means a professional but I feel that my ability to think quickly and critically places me in the top portion of our class.

Second breakfast…

For those of you who are Lord of the Rings fans I am certain that you get this reference.  For those of you who are not, I would reccomend you watch the first movie in the Lord of the Rings series.  It is a lengthy movie to be prepared to spend some time.

In the movie the protagonist is a Hobbit. Hobbits are smaller versions of humans that have some unique traits.  One of them is the amount of food they consume on a daily basis.  During the movie it is explained to the viewers through a more casual discussion.  One of the hobbits exclaims, “I still haven’t had my breakfast!”  To which a human says, we just had breakfast.”  The hobbit goes on to explain that the usual eating schedule consists of:


Hopefully it is more clear now.  Yesterday I was extremely pleased when we started off our Fish ID class by tasting an arrangement of shellfish and mollusks.  I got to sample many different tastes and even, which I forgot to mention, ended the meal with three raw oysters and one raw clam.  By the way I found the clam quite delicious.

This morning after we had begun our normal routine of scaling and cutting the fish we were called in to begin our tasting.  As we sat down we were handed a spread of 10 different caviars as well as 2 pieces of smoked salmon.

We sampled three kinds of tobyco, which is a roe substitute made out of corn syrup and fish flakes. It pops in your mouth and mimics the texture and taste of caviar.  We went on to taste rainbow trout and salmon caviar.  And then finished the plate with 4 separate varieties of sturgeon caviar.  I enjoyed all of the tobyco although I found it left and almost bitter soapy taste in my mouth as well as the residue from the fake “shell” of the egg.  The trout caviar tasted like drinking a freshwater pond that had been used to make fish stock.  The salmon caviar was an explosion of oily salmon flavor. We were given nearly 7-10 eggs and I found the taste overwhelming.  All of the sturgeon caviar were soft and had a buttery flavor an texture.  They were quite briny but always finished with a sweet fishy taste.

One thing I find amazing is the aversions that our class has to food.  I hope to write an article on it at a later date, but during gastronomy at school I read an interesting article on food fears.  To be brief, it said you can eat anything and even can treat food allergies.  Essentially humans are the most universal vacuum and have no limits.  Keeping that in mind I am always shocked at the amount of fish that gets thrown away during tasting.  Our class has several individuals who don’t enjoy seafood. Now when it comes to caviar and raw shellfish I can understand.  Even I was a bit skeptical.  But sampling fish I watched entire plates of food get thrown away.  To me, the purpose of tasting to learn what the item tastes like so you can pair it with other dishes and write menus and recipes in the future.

The reason why I bring this up is because Chef said today that we were throwing away $100’s of caviar.  I believe him, I saw so many people that had only eaten 2 eggs out of a pile of 50.  People like different things and I respect that but when you are given such a unique opportunity why not bite the bullet and try a few new things.

Today was our last day of fabrication and we took our ID final that I talked about.  It was pretty easy but I got two of my fish confused.  I made the mistake of IDing a summer flounder as a gray sole.  I think everyone in the class confused it for something else.  I also confused the Atlantic cod for a pollock.  Otherwise I believe I did quite well.  The fabrication final went well.  I had to cut a flounder into two fillets using the up and over method.  The method was simple and we were graded on our yield and timeliness.  I filleted it in 7 minutes and 23 seconds with the first person getting done in 6 minutes and 50 seconds.  I did wait a few seconds to get my time and I am certain that I did not go as fast as I could of.  Nonetheless I believe I was the third or fourth person done.  We will be moving into lecture tomorrow and it should be fun.  I will keep you posted.

Best breakfast ever!


This was what was left after my breakfast yesterday.  We were reviewing shell fish and mollusks in Fish ID.  We sampled everything from shrimp to lobster to mussels.  I love seafood and I couldn’t have had a better breakfast.

When we do our tastings for fish it isn’t just an opportunity to eat food.  Our chef tells us different facts about what we’re eating.  He also lets us know different ideas for paring this food with items as well as how it is caught and where it lives.
We also review the aromas of the food.  Obviously each shellfish has a general taste that most people are familiar with.  The aroma is what the eater actually perceives they are tasting.  For example when I tasted the sea scallop I got a sweet and briny flavor finished with a more meaty aroma.

We were especially lucky yesterday because we actually combined two tastings into one.  We normally would have only tasted shellfish or mollusks but due to the snow storm we had to make up for lost time.  I didn’t complain.  Something interesting I found out was facts about the abductor muscle.  This is the small round muscle that allows hinged shellfish to open and close.  Whenever I prepped scallops at The Perfect Caper, I was told to remove this muscle.  Come to find out, that small muscle is essentially a scallop.  When you look at mussel shells after you have eaten the animal you will see a small round pad.  This pad is very similar to a scallop.

Today is our last day of fabrication and we will be taking our final ID test.  This is a test that consists of 30 questions.  10 random fish, that we have studied, will be placed on trays and our job will be to to name them as well as answer 3 questions that we should be familiar with.  For example we may be given an Atlantic Farm Raised Salmon and be expected to know that it lives in anadromus water, has red flesh due to what it consumes and that it is a high activity fish.

The next 7 days of fish will be lecture.  We are completely done cutting and we will be moving on to the academic portion of class.  I have been told that it is also quite interesting and I am excited to be moving forward in the program.  Only one more week until we begin working in a production kitchen and that is extremely exciting.


Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the highroad to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction.
-Margaret Thatcher

I have been learning so much here at the CIA.  As I have said before, I do not go a day without learning something new and intriguing.  Each day we are reminded of our expectations and I strive to produce the best product I can each day.

That being said, I was alarmed in Meat ID class when Chef called me on something I didn’t even think about.  We had just frenched our Lamb Racks, which can be seen here, and after making my own personal inspection, I brought it up to chef’s table to be graded.  He took one look at it, flipped it over and said, excellent job.  I could tell he wanted to add something else though.  He then said something that I haven’t forgotten yet: next time you do something make sure to clean it up a little bit.  I had frenched my rack of lamb on the butchers block.  This was the same block where I had fabricated some other lamb products.  As a result small bits of fat and skin were left on the table and they ended up depositing themselves on my lamb rack.

I was really upset with myself that I had let something like that slide.  Especially after what I learned when I was at the Perfect Caper.  Somewhere around my 3rd or 4th week, I was assigned to make Chicken Flautas.  These are tightly rolled chicken burritos that are deep fried so that they have a crispy shell.  Liz, the Sous Chef and my teacher at the time, told me how to do it.  She then asked me to repeat what she had done and finish using up all of the Flauta mix.  Judging by the amount of chicken she used in one and the amount remaining I knew I had a big task ahead of me.  I rolled three flautas and she came by to check on me.  I will always remember what she said.  Those aren’t that good, I’m going to need you to roll them again.  Liz wanted me to unroll the flautas I had rolled which would mean, throwing away the shell, wasting egg wash and time and having to start over.  When she first said this I thought nothing of it.  I just tried to make more of an effort to get my flautas to look more like what she had shown me.  After rolling about 2 more she came by again.  She said, this one is good but this one needs to be done over.  This second time it really clicked, one, I wasn’t going to be allowed to move onto my next task until I completed this one and two if the flautas weren’t nearly perfect I would have to start over.  I tell this story a lot but it really helped me learn how to take pride in what I do.  The first batch took me somewhere around 2 hours.  If I had to go back and do it today it would only take me 25-30 minutes.  The fact that I had to perfect these flautas, which at the time I thought was the most tedious and stupid thing in the world, forced me to care about what I did.  To this day I still roll the best Flautas at the Caper!

Taking pride in what I do is something that I learned as a kid.  I feel like it really didn’t start to become applicable until I began to work on things I enjoyed myself.  I know that I frequently didn’t care about how my school work turned out during high school.  Now, I refuse to hand in work that isn’t my absolute best.  I make sure that this includes my dishes or papers.

Meditation through sharpening.

The great challenge of cooking to derive deep satisfaction from the mundane.
-Thomas Keller

Today we had off due to President’s Day, so I spent my time sharpening my knives.  This is something that I do on a weekly basis and it can be quite time consuming.  In fact I spent nearly an hour and a half sharpening.  The reason why I felt this was important was because I have heard Keller’s statement twice.  The first time I actually saw it in his book, The French Laundry.  For those of you who don’t know, that is one of his cookbooks that highlights the majority of the recipes from his restaurant The French Laundry in Napa Valley.  The second time I heard it was from my Fish Chef, Viverito.  He talked about how he found scaling fish one of the most relaxing things he could do.When I sharpen my knives I usually do it alone.  While there are plenty of distractions around I have never found it difficult to focus.  I wet my stone and start.  I could work for hours and not even feel tired.  It is something so mundane and tedious that it allows my mind to wander but become refreshed at the same time.

The funny thing is that I really don’t look forward to sharpening each week.  I see it as a chore that requires attention.  But for some reason, every time I begin sharpening I just feel relaxed.  I have begun to sharpen knives for other students for money.  I do have quite a decent reputation when it comes to knife skills.  If you saw my walking around with short sleeves you would notice how my left arm is hairless.  I have talked about this briefly before in my short on Signs of a Chef

But back to sharpening, I guess the best way to explain what happens is that I enter a zen state.  I think one of my favorite parts of sharpening is that other people will watch.  It’s not like I am doing anything fancy.  There are no flourishes and it isn’t a show but people feel compelled to watch me for 5-10 strokes of my knife.

What fish ID is really teaching me.

We are halfway through our Fish Identification and fabrication.  Unfortunately we have missed two days of class due to the ridiculous weather up here in New York.  For those of you who don’t know we have had about 32 inches of snow over the course of the past 2 days.  Another interesting fact is that the school has only closed 7 times in the past 10 years and 4 of those closures have been this year.

Fish fabrication is actually quite interesting.  The fabrication part is quite simple.  We have learned three methods of filleting a fish.  They are all simple methods and really don’t take that much skill.  You have to  be careful and focused by as long as you are paying attention it is quite easy.  Up and over, flat cut and straight cut are the three methods we have learned and are used depending on what the anatomy of the fish is.  Fish with hard bones are fabricated with the up and over technique whereas fish that have softer bones get cut with the straight cut method.

We have also been learning how to identify different fish and the families that they belong to.  For example salmon and rainbow trout are both in the same family but they taste and look entirely different.

While the fish facts make up the core of the class I have been pleasantly surprised at the additional material we cover each day.  Our class has always had somewhat of a volatile chemistry.  Many small things get blown out of proportion and there is an excessive amount of drama.  Jen, the MIT or teachers aide has really been helping our class become more of a team and work together better.  We had a day recently where the leader was telling us one instruction and someone interrupted to disagree.  Jen silenced the person who was interrupting and gave us a small talk on why we need to listen to our leader.  Our class has grown stronger as a whole.  We also have started to reduce the drama and talking that really beleaguered our class.

We still have the lecture portion of class remaining and while I’m certain we will learn a lot more, I feel like the leadership portion won’t be focused on as much.  Fish has been interesting and quite informative and I have enjoyed each and every second of it.

Diving into Fish Fabrication and ID

Tommorow I will be starting a new class.  It will be the Fish Identification and Fabrication class.  The purpose is the same as the Meat ID class.  We will be learning different cuts and products used in the culinary industry that pertain to seafood.  We will be working with several types of popular fish as well as different species of shellfish.  I have been told that this class will be just as interesting, if not more, then the Meat ID course.

One interesting thing about this new class is its composition.  The class is split in half, the first 7 days we work on fabrication and the the last seven days there will be lecture.  With Meat ID we had alternating days of demo and fabrication and lecture.  Another interesting fact is that the MIT or teachers aid will be leading our classes in fabrication.  The actual fabrication teacher doesn’t step foot in the kitchen during fabrication.

I am really excited to be working with fish next week.  I have not yet been disappointed by a lab course and I feel like this class will be exciting and fascinating.

The temperatures have still been in the single digits and it seems like the snow just wont go away.  We haven’t had anymore storms but since it has been so cold the snow hasn’t melted yet.

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