Jamaican Jerk Recipe – A Photo Shoot

I never buy jerk seasoning. It’s just as easy and even tastier to make my own. Everything goes in the blender, press, press, press and I’m ready to marinate chicken thighs, pork shoulder or snapper wrapped in tin foil. I like to season a day ahead and let the flavors infuse in the refrigerator.  I always make extra, so there’s more than enough to spice up chicken wings for a tasty late night snack.

Jomo’s Jerk Recipe

6 Scotch bonnet peppers, including seeds

½ Spanish onion

1 bunch scallions, root ends cut off

1 bunch fresh thyme (discard the stems; use the leaves)

3 garlic cloves

3 tbsp. fresh ginger

2 tbsp. ground allspice (pimento)

1 ½ tbsp. brown sugar

3 tbsp. kosher salt

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

¼ tsp. garlic powder

½ cup soy sauce

In a blender or food processor, combine the Scotch bonnet peppers, onion, scallions, thyme, garlic, fresh ginger, allspice, thyme, cinnamon and salt; process to a coarse paste. With the machine on, add the soy sauce. Keep the marinade in the refrigerator; it will last up to 6 months. Marinate meat overnight for best results.

 

When can I call MYSELF CHEF

How does someone become a chef?

Does a culinary degree mean that you have the right to call yourself CHEF? In America, the path to becoming a chef and having that title acknowledged by your peers can be as confusing as asking for directions. Everyone knows where you want to go, but can they be clear and concise. Simply put, depending on the source of advice, each answer will differ; all will claim their way is the only true way to achieve your goal. Truth is, there is no industry standard; or governing body that conclusively decides who can wear the title of chef and who cannot.

Medical students do not share a cook’s frustration.

Their path is as sure as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. In chronological order, attend medical school for at least eight years; graduate, find a hospital, do your internship, complete that, and then presto you can legally call yourself “Dr. so and so.”

If becoming a medical doctor is not your thing. 

Spend eight years of study and research in a university. Write a thesis relative to your major, have said thesis accredited by a group of your peers, and the right to the title “Dr. so and so,” is yours.

I once made the mistake of sending such a person an email using his first name without the prefix. He was not pleased and sent a terse response with the appropriate titles that should be used when addressing him.

So, how does someone in culinary earn the title of chef?

How long do you have to slave as a line cook – then sous chef –  before being able to earn that promotion to executive chef? I think the answer centers around the word earned.

Someone does not get the title of executive chef, they earn it.

There are many paths, but industry standards generally agree that the two most common ways are through accreditation and by rising through the ranks.

The American Culinary Federation (ACF), offers culinary professionals the opportunity to certify themselves as an executive chef. Information about the services and membership can be found on their website acfchefs.org. In simpler words, if you pass the requirement stipulated by the federation, you can put the title of chef on your jacket. Sounds simple, and it is, you need to work for at least three years in a supervisory role, such as sous chef. You must have at least a high school diploma. As a part of the process, you need to take a written exam of one hundred multiple choice questions and pass with a grade of 70% or higher. You must then take a practical exam that demonstrates competency with basic cooking technique and sanitation practices. Pass these and you have earned the title.  

Others will disagree and state that becoming a chef is not as simple as passing a test.

The journey towards earning that title begins with years of experience cooking in different kitchens. To be valid, to be able to say you paid your dues, at least one year should be spent in each location. A true chef works their way up through the ranks.  Many chefs started out as dishwashers before even having the privilege of peeling a potato.  A chef’s role involves management skills. If you cannot calculate your own food cost, cost a menu or read and understand a profit & loss statement, you are a pretender to the throne.

Shuna Lydon, pastry chef and food blogger says that “It’s no secret that cooks/chefs do not work 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week over a consecutive 5 day period. This example, in fact, would be called Part Time by most in the industry. The running joke at The French Laundry was that one day off was a weekend, and 2, vacation. For years I heard that in order to take an actual vacation from a cooking job, one must quit altogether, as paid vacations are a delusional fantasy for most of us in the field.” This path is the most common for American chefs and requires, dedication, passion and diligence. To read more interesting stories from her website visit eggbeater/typepad.com.

In trying to answer my own question

 I found that anyone can call themselves a chef. Anyone can wear that title, good or bad, indifferent or passionate. But only a few can assume the title without trading their integrity.

A chef should be able to motivate and teach their cooks. A chef should be able to run their operation a business. A chef should be passionate about what they put on a plate. It takes years of training to learn the necessary skills to run a kitchen. Question is do you have what it takes?

What Our Hands Know

A cooks’ true value is measured by what our hands know

It is a gift

As precious as an oyster sweeping the tongue with ocean tide

As pure as a childs’ smile

As familiar as milk and cookies

Our hands respect ingredients

Ripe avocado, lime green skin, butter interior

Summer tomatoes as honest as grace at a family gathering.

We speak to food with our hands, we ask questions

Tap on a watermelon

Kneading dough to develop gluten

The doneness of a steak

Our hands suffer and bruise, calluses grow, fingertips lose feeling, new scars overlap old scars

We train our hands to ignore blisters, tolerate latex gloves, muli-task

Like a chefs toque, heat and flame is constant

But our hands are not afraid

Because cooks must – sear, blanch, grill, bake, create

Our hands – a cooks hands-  practice craft

Our hands….. make

Our hands….. form

Our hands… create

We cook

Unraveling the Octopus

Shrouded in its chameleon like cloak, the octopus remains an enigma, a ninja of the seas, a silent assassin that stalks prey with an array of weaponry that can be used for attack or defense. Specialized skin cells change color as well as refract light, which allows an octopus to camouflage itself among rocky crevices on the ocean floor or flash neon signals to warn predators to stay away or risk attack. This similarity to the ninja is personified by an octopus’s ability to confound predators by squirting black ink into the face of attackers as it disappears to safety. Eight powerful tentacles lined with hundreds of suction cups as well as a razor sharp beak is silent death that wraps unsuspecting prey in a vice like grip as its hooked beak tears them apart. In appearance, it’s bloated balloon like head with eight trailing tentacles that undulates in a stealth sinuous motion that gives the appearance of an unsavory creature more suited for scary bedtime stories than food for the hungry gourmet.

The octopus, whose ancestors can be traced as far back as 200 million years, belongs to the cephalopod family and can be found in warm and temperate climates throughout the world. There are over two hundred and eighty nine species of this marine animal which range in color and size from the tiny “octopus wolfi” which is a mere one and a half centimeters to the giant pacific octopus which can weigh as much as six hundred pounds and have an arm span of thirty feet.

Ancient Norwegian sea lore as far back as the sixteenth century is replete with tales of a giant monster of the deep called the “Kraken” that attacked sea faring vessel, splintering the wooden boats asunder with murderous tentacles, dragging the ship and it’s sailors to the depths of the ocean to be swallowed whole. The 2006 Disney movie Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest cast its main villain, Davie Jones, as a hideously deformed creature, a Frankenstein of the sea, pieced together from human and shellfish parts with a face studded with barnacles and octopus tentacles. For good measure, the monstrously huge and evil sea creature depicted in the movie as a devourer of ships aptly named the “Kraken” reincarnated the octopus from evil sea creature of the sixteenth century, to evil monster of the twenty-first century. Content to hide in the murky depths of the ocean floor, surrounded by mystique of an American populace weaned on the make believe world that is cinema, the octopus remains consigned to restaurant menus as a curious delicacy; because truth be told, no one wants to eat a monster.

Luckily, our counterparts across the Atlantic had no such qualms about plucking the octopus from its rocky home and dropping them into stewpots, grilling them over hot coals or just eating them raw. Octopus has been a staple food throughout the Mediterranean and Asia for centuries; appearing in Spain as “pulpo a la gallega,” –  octopus that has been boiled in water for at least twenty minutes, cut into pieces, sprinkled with salt, ‘pimenton’ and olive oil, traditionally this dish is served with boiled potatoes or bread. The Portuguese prepare “polvo guisado,” which is an octopus stew using red wine, as the braising liquid.  The Japanese who are fanatical about eating anything that swim, crawl or float  in the ocean, (the average Japanese consumes about 132 pounds of seafood each year), prepare and consume octopus in several different ways. One popular preparation, is to serve the octopus sashimi style, – which is raw octopus, sliced paper thin and served with soy sauce and wasabi.

All of these dishes could be duplicated quite easily by the adventurous home cook, but for one major stumbling block. According to Mark Bittman in his article titled Octopus Demystified, “reigning wisdom is that the octopus is so tough that extraordinary measures must be taken to tenderize it.” A novice attempting to cook octopus for the first time, may to their dismay, discover an unpalatable blob that has the appearance of a boiled shoe and the mouth feel and texture of twice chewed bubblegum. Once again, the octopus has shrouded itself with an elusive veil that evokes fear and misunderstanding, a shadowy netherworld, shared by its mysterious alter ego, the ninja.

This cephalopods mystique has become culinary folklore, with each ethnic cuisine devising their own unique way of cooking an octopus to achieve maximum tenderness and flavor. Italians stand firmly behind their belief of adding a few wine corks to the stewpot when cooking octopus. A Greek cook will tell you pulverize it against rocks. In Spain the octopus has to be held by the head and ceremoniously dipped in boiling water three times, and then cooked in a copper pot. The Japanese like to rub it with salt and knead it with grated daikon root similar to the fastidious massaging received by their famed waygu cattle. Others hold claim to the belief that octopus caught from one region will be more flavorful and tender than another.

Harold McGee a noted food scientist decided to apply the cold logic of science in determining the best way to cook an octopus. He wrote about his findings in the March 5th issue of the New York Times in an article called “To Cook an Octopus: Forget the Cork, add Science.” In his attempt to debunk the traditional methods used by generations of cooks to tenderize octopus he cooked octopus in a variety of ways using quantitative measures to record the results. His efforts proved futile, and once again the octopus was able to defeat a mighty foe and keep alive its mystique. Americans may never be able to popularize the Octopus on its shores despite the widespread belief that this eight-tentacled creature is a potent aphrodesiac. This may bode well for the octopus who may never have to suffer the scourge of overfishing or the degeneration of a specie through commercialization – think of salmon. With luck the octopus will remain as it should; a legendary creature of the deep, delicious to those who can appreciate it, and mysterious to the rest of us.

Mastering Technique Builds Character

Learn to hold a knife; it is the most important hand tool in the professional kitchen. Respect the food you cook, time and care was spent to give you the best ingredients. Remember; use the earth’s bounty to bring joy to your customer by seasoning it well. Move in your work environment with confidence and precision, a confused mind becomes mediocre in output. Love your profession, without passion the world becomes black and white, without substance and meaning.

Jaques Pepin was one of the first French chefs to stress the importance of learning basic cooking skills. He felt so strongly about it, that he wrote two ground breaking cooking books La Technique in 1976 and La Methode in 1979. These two books are a must have for young cooks who are serious about improving their cooking skills. To learn more about his contribution to the world of the culinary arts visit his website at jaquespepin.com

Culinary students are expected to graduate at the end of their program with a basic grasp of cooking and managerial skills. The question is, are the lessons learned in the classroom enough to make you a good cook? The answer is no, skills learned in the classroom must be tempered by real world experience.

 Students need to look beyond the physical demands of the culinary labs, cutting onions, carrots and celery for mirepoix or creaming butter and sugar for a pound cake. The fact that we are using recipes to make good food is irrelevant, what is more important is our understanding of why we do the things we do.

Mastering technique, means that you have made a commitment to work harder, turn up to class on time, respect the food you work with and ultimately grow beyond the scope of your limitations to bring  joy to your customers.

A Woman’s Place in the Kitchen

“Only men have the technique, discipline and passion that makes cooking consistently an art”.

Ferdinand Point

Women have a hard time working on equal footing with men in a professional kitchen. Line cooks  shudder at the thought of working the pantry station and justifiably so – that’s a woman’s station, safe, away from the heat, away from all the action. Like it or not , “the back of the house” is still an old men’s club ,where women are traditionally hired to work primarily in the pastry kitchen or in garde manger.

 Am I lying ?

 Have I upset you ?

I ‘ve worked in enough kitchens and seen it myself. Ask yourself this question. Have you ever worked the hot line with a female line cook?  Better  yet, have you ever stopped for a moment to watch as she puts pan to flame in the middle of the 7:30 dinner rush.

Women cook differently from their male counterparts.

The motions are not the same –  the rhythm is subtle, less aggressive in cadence and tempo. Almost intuitively, women tend to be more fluid in cooking style. It’s graceful, the moves are more orchestrated,  their is a connection from the pan hits the flame that remains until the plate hits the pass.

  Men are polar opposites

They cuss the stove, jiggle the handles, bang pots, grab plates, as if by sheer will – the beurre blanc will reduce faster, the halibut will sear more evenly… rush, push, rush…

Honestly,  I have a deep respect for my female counterparts.  Being a cook is not easy. Cooking professionally is not easy. To do it, and do it well, takes years of dedication and physical toil. Cooks work with sharp instruments, boiling liquids, extreme heat and extreme cold. It is presumptuous of men to think that women  are unable to withstand the the rigors of working a hot line. And even more so, to promote based on gender instead of talent, attitude and the dogged determination to work hard.

Some of the best chefs that I have worked for are women.

staff


Some of the toughest , hardest hitting, pan slinging cooks I’ve had the pleasure to work beside are women. The dynamic of the modern kitchen is changing, championed in part by chefs like Alice Waters ( widely credited for defining California’s cuisine), Cat Cora ( Iron Chef) , Cristeta Comerford ( first female executive chef at the White House), Clare Smyth (Head Chef at the three Michelin starred Restaurant Gordon Ramsay). The classic idea of a “chef ” as male is changing. The army and the professional kitchen share many similarities. Like the military, a  kitchen’s culture and traditions have  evolved to encompass a more liberal point of view and move forward with changes in our habits and tastes.However, unlike dance it’s forced to change with our habits and tastes. As such, “a woman’s place in the kitchen” is no longer barred because of male chauvinism. We stand shoulder to shoulder, prep together, work together, laugh together and most importantly share our passion for craft.

 

Confessions of a Gourmet

Given that food nourished me since birth
I still enjoy the milk of mother earth
Eartquakes and poprocks are similar
They tremble and shake in a way familiar
Succulent dew drops before the rising sun
Cotton candy melts, paints my tongue

I still enjoy the milk of mother earth
Sweet corn and things, honey glaze on buffalo wings

Now I crave beyond description of basic things
Foie gras, truffles, waygu, caviar
To eat these I will pay any price
And when I am old the sun sets
The evening comes, memories reflect
Yes I did it, look back in life, no regrets

written by Jomo Morris & Karolle Speid