guest post for bu gastronomy blog

the gastronomy program that i’m hoping to graduate from at the end of this year does a fantastic job of working to keep the students working together in our small, food-obsessed community. besides having regular events for the students, friends and family, the gastronomy mla program also has its own blog, featuring posts from students, professors, and graduates from the program.

i’ve been lucky enough to write for this blog before, and i invite you to check out my latest post on some of the beginner’s tricks for food styling and photography. the post includes plenty of links to some of my favorite resources, including blogs, websites, and some great books.

something else pretty wonderful – i’ve been offered a graduate assistantship for this fall, which hopefully means i’ll be doing more work for the gastronomy blog in the future. woohoo!



the big cook-off

well, it’s over.

last night was stressful, exhilarating, surprising, and a bit terrifying. all the planning, making schedules, researching recipes, practicing dishes on the weekends…it all culminated last night in our big, final cook-off. and while everything didn’t turn out exactly as i’d planned, it’s a real relief to have it over and done with.

the idea for this final was that it would be an educational version of chopped – we got a list of three ingredients on monday night, and on
tuesday we had to prepare a three course meal using the items. i really lucked out, because i was hoping to do ceviche and a taco, and our mystery ingredients turned out to be shrimp, raspberries and chicken – absolutely perfect for my fantasy menu. it was important to me to try and balance dishes that we’d done in class with recipes i’d prepared on my own, so that i could work in my comfort zone (namely, mexican food) but prove that i’d grown in the class. armed with empty plates, a stack of recipes and a very optimistic schedule for how to prepare my meal, i set up my knives, put on my chef coat, and took a few deep, cleansing breaths.

the kitchen was a madhouse. as soon as we got the “go” signal, everybody started running – grabbing equipment, prepping stations, trying to find the perfect set of spices. the first few minutes, i was ridiculously calm – i just stuck to my schedule, followed my recipes, and tried not to think too much. but after a little bit, my brain jumped into high gear and i had trouble focusing. it was a little scary, after all. but after three and a half hours of careful cooking, i served all three courses, with varying levels of success. i brought my camera in hopes of getting shots of each course before i served it, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. i did, however, sneak in a few shots at the end, while the judges were assessing all three courses together.

the appetizer – i prepared ceviche, using shrimp along with lots of onions, cilantro, jalapeno peppers, and of course, fresh lime juice. alongside it, i made flour tortillas for my main course, but cut some into chips and grilled them a bit longer for tostadas. i also made fresh salsa, a simple recipe of chopped tomatoes, garlic, onions, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime juice, and served it on the side in a little dish. i put a bit too much food on the plate, and my ceviche really could’ve used another 20 minutes marinating, but it came out all right.

the entree – soft tacos, stuffed with creamy chicken with spicy greens, and topped with a little more fresh salsa. i served two side dishes with this guy, mexican rice (this is not the recipe i used, but it’s similar) and a simple grilled corn salad with grilled jalapenos, chopped after grilling and sauteed quickly in oil. this came out really well – the tortillas were soft and pliable, the chicken was creamy and tender, with a kick of spice, and the side dishes had just enough heat to compliment the tacos without overwhelming them. i think that this was my best course.

and finally, the dessert – raspberry margarita granita, which was a real problem. granita is supposed to be separated crystals of ice, flavored with whatever you want and offering serious refreshment in a crunchy, cold dessert. i’d made this several times at home, fiddling with the recipe until i had it how i liked it, but it always took forever to froze. i placed a little too much confidence in our kitchen’s blast freezer, hoping that it would freeze faster…but it didn’t. i put this guy in first, around 5:40, and by 8:00 it was still completely liquid. bad news. i was stumped – the appetizer course had to go out at 8:00, the entree at 8:30, and the dessert at 9:00, which didn’t leave me a lot of time to come up with and assemble a brand new dessert. in a bit of a panic, i threw together a simple, non-alcoholic granita, blended it with some ice, and threw it in the freezer. miraculously, it was at least partially frozen by the time i had to serve it, so i tossed it in a salt-rimmed margarita glass, topped it with tequila, and brought it out to the judges. not my best work, but better than not serving a dessert at all…and we got to eat the boozy one in the kitchen afterwards.

i am really going to miss this class, but it’s hard not to really anticipate a break – i haven’t had time off from classes since january, since even my spring break had to have make-up classes from some of our snow days. i’m beyond exhausted. time to wander around with my camera, write more, get to some reading, and start seriously working on my thesis.

jacques pepin’s eggs jeanette

one of the books we were required to read for our cooking class this week is jacques pepin’s memoir the apprentice: my life in the kitchen. if you didn’t know, pepin worked with julia child to set up boston university’s gastronomy program, and he acted as an instructor for many classes before i started. i unfortunately haven’t gotten to meet him – though he did make a brief appearance in my cheese class semester, snagging a few bites of camembert and trying to steal a bottle of wine – but this book gave a delightful perspective on his culinary experiences throughout his amazing life. the man has had an incredible life.

of course, every chapter of the book ends with a delicious recipe from a different point in his life. many of from restaurants he’s worked in, or from specific regions he lived in, but the first recipe in the book is one of his mother’s. as soon as i read it, i just had to make this so that i could snack on it while i read the rest of the book.

absolutely worth it. these eggs are awesome. i know, i just posted about eggs, but these are an essential. they’re like deviled eggs, but better. and trust me, i love me a good deviled egg.

do yourself a favor and read this book. i’m going to try to make more of these recipes, but if you can’t do anything else, at least make these eggs as soon as possible, and thank jacques pepin for being completely amazing.

les oeufs jeanette – from jacques pepin’s the apprentice

6 jumbo eggs (preferably organic)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 to 3 tablespoons whole milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (preferably peanut oil)

for the dressing:
2 to 3 tablespoons leftover egg stuffing (from above)
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon water
dash of salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons virgin olive oil
crunchy french bread

put the eggs in a small saucepan, and cover with boiling water. bring to a very gentle boil, and let boil for 9 to 10 minutes. drain off the water and shake the eggs in the saucepan to crack the shells. (this will help in the removal of the shells later on). fill the saucepan with cold water and ice, and let the eggs cool for 15 minutes.

shell the eggs under cold, running water and split them lengthwise. remove the yolks carefully, put them in a bowl. add the garlic, parsley, milk, salt and pepper. crush with a fork to create a coarse paste. spoon the mixture back into the hollows of the egg whites, reserving 2 to 3 tablespoons of the filling to use in the sauce.

heat the vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet and place the eggs stuffed side down. cook over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the eggs are beautifully browned on the stuffed side. remove, and arrange stuffed side up on a platter.

for the dressing, mix all of the dressing ingredients in a small bowl with a whisk or a spoon until well combined. coat the warm eggs with the dressing and serve lukewarm with crunchy french bread as a first course or main course for lunch.

halfway through culinary classes

i originally found the gastronomy mla program while searching for a culinary school nearby that i could enroll in. i have no ambitions of owning my own restaurant or working as a professional chef, but i’ve always loved food and the program seemed like a perfect combination of practical and academic work. plus, they had this great “crash course” in culinary school, letting me get a quick introduction to the world of professional cooking and baking.

or so i thought.

photo by mike kostyo

this class is serious. don’t get me wrong, i don’t mind hard work, but it’s a lot of stuff packed into a short 6-week period. almost 24 full hours of video lectures, 6-8 books that we were given in each class, 4 comparisons of historical recipes to modern versions, 2 book critique papers, a daily journal as well as two final summary journal papers, daily readings, a short research paper on a particular dish, final projects, plus cooking and baking for about 4 hours every day in class. plus, i really should be remaking all of these recipes over the weekend to practice, because my cooking final is basically like the food network show chopped – we get a list of three ingredients, and have to use them while we cook a three course meal for a panel of judges. no help, no items from home, no problem – should be a blast, if my hands will stop shaking.

class itself is definitely the best part of the whole thing – both our cooking and baking instructors, as well as our assistant, are completely wonderful. cooking class is fast-paced, chopping and peeling, throwing goodies in the pan, tasting spoons everywhere, never enough salt, plating and eating 6 dishes a night. if i don’t have at least 3 pans on the stovetop at once, plus items on the counter or cooling in the freezer, i’m probably doing something wrong. baking is the opposite, completely zen and surreal, gently whisking egg whites, folding in creams and almonds, coating sweet confections with powdered sugar and carefully kneading dough until it’s smooth. we make multiple components per dish, measuring and fussing until goodies are perfect, playing with dishes and seeing what the ingredients do. i learn so much in both classes, and i love having two such different styles and environments for each discipline.

but…i’m tired. and a little sore. and sometimes, like last night, i get a little cranky when my stupid poached pears won’t get tender enough, or the red wine reduction won’t reduce, or everyone gathers at our station while we’re quickly trying to plate because they want to see how food is being styled. the people in my class are amazing, but i’m one of those super-possessive-of-the-kitchen weirdos that wants to do everything herself. i don’t want a sous chef, or someone to set the table, or anybody anywhere near the food until it’s done. i’m usually a fairly easygoing person, but i get weird in the kitchen. i want my space, i’ll do it myself, just leave me alone. i’m not proud of it, but there it is – yet another fatal flaw.

so the pears…actually tasted great in the end. a little firmer than others, but with an absolutely gorgeous color, a bit of a bite (which i prefer), and still a lingering flavor of fresh pear underneath the sweet red wine syrup glaze, with just a touch of lemon.

just don’t ask me to make them again.

the culinary classes begin

the madness has started. tuesday was my first cooking class, followed by baking class on wednesday. and let me just say: these classes are going to be insane amounts of work, but i’ve already learned more about food than i thought possible in three classes.

it’s amazing how just having someone with more experience talk you through a basic recipe teaches you. i knew i was lacking in certain areas – namely, my knife skills are just embarrassing – but trying to do something in front of a professional, and having them coach you through the correct methods, is just an incredible way to learn. i’ve always said that my learning style was kinesthetic, but this class just reinforced that. i love to read and write, and i’m fine with attending lectures, but i really do learn best by just getting my hands dirty and trying things out until i get them right. that’s probably why i was a theatre major – i like to play with things and just figure them out, rather than studying them in a purely academic environment and understanding the “why” of everything.

best of all, we have a few papers to write and lots of reading, but our real homework is to practice…meaning that every weekend, i’m going to remake some of my favorite dishes from class for my hungry, ironman-training husband. in class, i’ve already made crepes, applesauce, french onion soup, gazpacho, graham crackers, sables, and almond biscotti – and tonight is sauces. some of these dishes definitely deserve to be recreated and played with at home.

in the meantime, check out my talented friend mike’s blog for daily posts and photographs about each day’s class – he’s taking both cooking and baking courses as well, and is using his blog for the daily journal that we all have to keep for class. and look for upcoming posts with recipes from these courses over the next few weeks – i need all the practice i can get.

the international conference of food styling and photography

this past weekend, professionals across the food industry – chefs, photographers, stylists, creative directors, nutritionists, students, teachers, you name it – gathered at boston university for the third bi-annual international conference of food styling and photography. and let me tell you, this conference was intense. every moment was packed with presentations, photos, techniques, business advice, self-promotion tips, lighting and composition advice…even the breaks involved everyone scrambling for a cup of coffee, asking presenters questions, and trying to get someone your business card, hoping they remember you when they get home.

i attended all four days of the conference, and it was totally worth the time, energy and money that i had to sacrifice to do it. i learned so, so much about the industry – though a lot of it as information on what to stop doing, or start doing – and i feel like i have a better understanding of different careers that exist in the world of food and visual media.

each of the sessions focused on a different element of the food styling and photography industry, letting participants hear from all different perspectives. friday started with “essentials of teamwork,” showing how stylists and photographers work together to create the perfect shot, and giving more insight to each of their roles. the morning was spent with the amazing delores custer, who demonstrated how to style and control difficult foods like pizza, ice cream, foamy beer, and how to create the perfect dollop of whipped cream. in the afternoon, we were able to watch photographers deborah jones, jeffrey kauck and viktor budnik work with food stylists lisa golden schroeder, nir adar and karen tully to create shots of cheese for an imagined company. we got to observe their styles and techniques, ask questions, and they even tethered their cameras to computer programs so that we could see the photos they were taking while they worked. deborah and lisa also let us see the differences between various settings, like iso and aperture, so that we could see how these subtle changes affect the overall look of the photo.

saturday and sunday were the main parts of the conference, and had the largest groups of people attending. saturday was particularly packed with
sessions, with the morning looking at both communication and upcoming trends. nanci doonan dixon and noel barnhurst spoke about communicating with clients and creative heads effectively, and antoinette bruno and leslie harrington gave insight into upcoming trends – new food styles and plating techniques, as well as colors and textures that will become more popular over the next year or two. after lunch, we heard from david ledsinger and sarah fletcher, gaining understanding on art directors and what they need from photographers and stylists before shooting, as well as during post-production. afterwards ilene bezahler and michael piazza from edible boston magazine spoke about their publication with john carafoli, highlighting grassroots organizations and local foods.

sunday put a focus on multimedia and creativity, exploring different ways to expand personal businesses and add new opportunities for growth. jamie tiampo discussed high end video techniques and new multimedia, and clark dever explained how to harness the power of social media to your advantage. kate baldwin showed the audience how to copyright photographs, writing pieces and blogs, and explained why it’s important to protect works and images. the afternoon featured a great presentation on collaboration and creativity with clare ferguson and jeff kauck, revealing how photographers and creative directors work together. after the presentation, participants finished up the main part of the conference by networking, talking with experienced stylists and photographers, as well as presenters to gain more knowledge and ask questions.

the last day was about a topic close to my heart – food blogging. jeremy zilar ofthe new york times kicked it off by discussing elements of a successful food blog, giving tips for design elements and strategies for keeping things clean and simple. steve adams and lara ferroni did a big presentation on how to take effective photos, and gave tons of information on how to shoot and edit, which software programs work well, and how to make blog photos great. they also did a full demonstration, taking photos in front of us and editing them, as well as showing how shooting tethered can make a big difference when learning photography and editing skills. after the break, the afternoon was spent with james scherzi, diane cu, todd porter and jeremy zilar looking at incorporating video and multimedia into food blogs. they discussed equipment, editing tools, and making the transition from still photography to shooting high quality videos. storytelling is crucial to this process, as well as not losing sight of the client’s needs and representing them well.

needless to say, i filled a notebook with sketches and scribbles. i still have so much to learn, but this conference gave me some of the tools i need to improve my writing, photography, food styling, blogging, and my ability to start my own business if i decide to. i met some truly incredible people, and got to hear from some of the industry’s leaders.

here’s hoping that over the next few months, i’ll really be able to implement some of the things that i’ve learned in my photography, and here on this blog.

p.s. i’ve gotten your emails and texts – i have tons of notes, and i will be typing them up over the long weekend. they’ll be posted attached to this blog as pdf files, once i figure out how to do that! i’ll send out tweets as they go up – sorry for the delay, but i want to make sure they’re clear to those that couldn’t attend the conference themselves. thanks so much for your patience!

icfsp – friday, day one
icfsp – saturday, day two
icfsp – sunday, day three
icfsp – monday, day four