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Sunday, February 20, 2011




The first cut
I’m suffering just a little bit while I’m writing this as I had a mishap in the kitchen Monday morning in my Pantry and Breakfast class.  Okay so I’m not really suffering that much but this story bears telling as all culinary students will, more than likely, experience my buffoonery sooner or later.

It all started when only 3 out of 9 students showed up for class.  John and I always show up early about 5:30 am; we started to prepare our portion of the service and didn’t think too much about attendance as we got swept up in our tasks becoming oblivious to time.  I just happened to walk by the sign-in sheet and saw that Chef Comstock had written under our names in red and rather large letters “YOU ARE LATE”.  I thought this move to be bold as he is calling out the rest of the students and I’m sure they already know they're late.

Regardless, 10 minutes went by and Melissa showed up.  I thought to myself great, everyone should be getting here soon….then 20 minutes went by and it became quite clear that we were only going to have 3 students for class and we had to get all the food for service prepped for the entire college that morning.  Needless to say, we kicked it into overdrive and that’s where my carelessness came into play.

I was in charge of getting the omelet station ready and was just finishing up with my last garnish item, cutting the olives.  Some of the olives had a mind of their own and wanted to run all over the cutting board and I grabbed the wayward ones bringing them back to my chef’s knife only a bit too fast and I sliced through my thumb that had found its way in the path of the blade.

The whole experience felt a bit surreal as though it was just a silly daydream.  I’m watching my thumb edge ever closer to my knife as if it were summoned there by the accident police.  Then I could only watch, helplessly, as I gaze at the end of my digit oozing blood down my wrist and then forearm. I almost knew it was going to happen before it did…not sure how or why my mind was working this way but it was like I did it to myself on purpose.  I know this is preposterous as I don’t really fancy cutting myself because I’m not a big fan of pain.

Oh well, it happened and that’s that right?  A few days later I ran into a student that was absent that day.  He’d heard about the lack of support and told me he felt no responsibility to the class and if he wanted to beg off for whatever reason then that’s what he’ll do.  I asked him if he was serious about becoming a chef and if classes and learning were important to him.  He immediately became defensive stating that I just don’t understand and he rambled on that we shouldn’t have to cook for the school’s breakfast program.  “We’re not getting paid like employees so we shouldn’t be expected to act like them right?” he shot back.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing but I left it alone and walked to my next class.  Yeah folks it’s a crazy, wonderful, strange and beautiful world.  I wouldn’t have it any other way!

 The three Mark’s –
I had a good friend from my engineering days come to Indy for a visit last week and we met for dinner.  He had been here before on business and we met then as well but this time he brought along a business associate.  I’m always eager to meet new people and welcomed the added company.  I need to mention that my friend’s name is Mark and his friend’s name is also Mark.  So there are three Mark’s at the same table for dinner so we just kind of pointed at one another while talking.

My friend’s friend Mark learned of my background during conversation and started asking me a bunch of culinary questions.  At first I was somewhat flattered but he just wouldn’t stop.  He’s one of those folks that fancy them self a foodie and a homespun chef and was trying to one up me; if you will.  I wasn’t deterred realizing my friend was sitting just to my left and I wanted to put on a show of gratification because he’d traveled so far to visit with me.

I seemingly answered all of Mark’s questions regarding food when our meals arrived and he started in with the questions regarding meat because he ordered a steak.  Luckily, I’m in a class called Meat Fabrication and was able to quench his thirst for meaty knowledge.  Okay now I’m wondering if there’s going to be a round three to this evening’s quiz show?  Yes, yes there was and it was focused on desserts.  He knew of my baking and pastry class I had last semester and just couldn’t help himself with all his questions.

Being a gracious friend to my buddy; I knew I had to survive this onslaught of curiosity and did so seemingly with pleasure (not really).  I have to admit that it did take away from my visit with my pal and put a pall on the actual enjoyment we should be having. 

Hey folks, when you meet a musician, actor, writer, chef, etc; please don’t go on and on about what they do or make incessant queries.  If you must have knowledge, please take baby steps in acquiring the information.

I absolutely love what I’m doing and can’t wait to become a chef in a real kitchen.  Along the way there are always pitfalls that cause a bit of heartburn and they’re really just minor annoyances.  My annoyances didn’t kill me so I must be stronger right?

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

GoSparky!: Opportunities

GoSparky!: Opportunities: "SPARKY’S BLOG2-14-11 Opportunities ACFI attended the monthly meeting of the ACF (American Culinary Federation) at Woodstock Country Club i..."

Sunday, February 13, 2011




I attended the monthly meeting of the ACF (American Culinary Federation) at Woodstock Country Club in Indianapolis, IN.  I joined the ACF in October of 2010 and have nothing but wonderful things to say about this organization.  We meet once a month in a different location each time with relevance to all things culinary. 

The schedule usually starts out with a student’s session whereas we have a guest speaker talk about their process, product or any other item having to do with the food service industry.  We then have a brief period to mingle until dinner is served.  After dinner we have a brief overview of what the guest speaker had to say to the students and then it’s on to the business meeting.  We discuss a myriad of topics concerning the Federation, expansion, officer elections, local businesses, etc. 

My first meeting was in the restaurant Barcelona which is a tapas bar.  Chef Duran owner/chef was one of the most gracious folks I had met since coming to Indianapolis.  Our guest speakers were a lamb farmer and a butcher teaching us all the different primals/cuts of lamb.  The information was fantastic and the dinner was even better.

This month’s meeting was in grand style because the Woodstock Country Club is opulent and fancy.  I felt as if royalty would walk in at any time.  Our guest speaker was a chap working in the foodservice business selling duck as well as associated products.  Did you know duck is only second in lean meats to its larger cousin the turkey?  I tasted duck drummys for the first time and they were quite yummy.

This organization also looks out for their own.  I just happened to casually mention that I might be looking for some part-time work and I had an offer the next day.  Membership has its privileges.  I highly recommend anyone in the business to join our humble federation and reap it’s rewards.

It’s been a few days now and I can’t stop thinking about my Friday Meat Fabrication class.  I was lying in bed the morning after waking up and wondering how I could have made my recipes and dishes better.  I’m getting ahead of myself, you see we were given a curve ball in class this week as Chef Spicer told us that we would be cooking all the fabrication that we had performed the week prior.  Last week was all about fowl.  Each student broke down/fabricated 4 chickens and 1 duck and turkey accordingly.  This came easy for some and proved to be impossible for others.  We were graded on how much meat was left on the carcass as well as the precision of our cuts.  If it looked like someone “happy-whacked” their bird then chef would take points off.

I thoroughly enjoyed breaking down the birds and was able to help out some fellow students having some problems until chef gave me the “stink-eye”.  This meant that chef wanted the kids to learn on their own and I was to take a “hands-off” posture and step away.  I really do like helping out the kids when they ask but also understand mistakes are the best way to teach a craft.

Chef explained that our class on this day would be all about cooking our frozen products from the previous session.  We were to sauté a duck breast and airline chicken breast.  An airline chicken breast is a breast with the first wing left on with the wing drummy bone “Frenched”.  The reason the wing is left on is to make the dish look bigger and “Frenching” the bone adds a bit of sophistication. 

The catch to the poultry session is that there will be no recipes given out for us to follow.  Our assignment was to include the sautéed breasts, a rice pilaf, a vegetable side dish and a sauce.  Students started going after their books for recipes and chef put the kibosh on that straight away.  My mind began to race immediately as to what I might prepare and then realized I’d better look in the walk-in cooler and dry storage to see what was available to cook.  I found some fennel, red peppers, onions and such and decided to make what I call an Ivy Tech. version of ratatouille.  I knew I couldn’t make just any normal rice pilaf so I looked in the liquor cabinet and came across a nice Bordeaux and decided to make a mushroom and wine infused rice dish to accompany my duck breast. 

Last but not least was the sauce to accompany my rice and duck.  I decided to stay with one of the blond sauces even though I put a red wine in my rice; I determined to make a béchamel sauce with mushrooms to complement the pilaf.  Just when I was putting the finishing touches on my dish, chef exclaimed to the class that he was changing things up a bit and stated that we were to make a mango salsa.  Darn, this really puts a damper on my sauce because it doesn’t really fit it with the bright flavors of the salsa so I put it aside and went with just the salsa, ratatouille, rice pilaf and duck breast.  See my dish below.

I was feeling pretty good with my decisions and after grading knew I had another dish to prepare and determined to use my mushroom béchamel sauce so I pan seared my chicken and put it in the oven to finish cooking, meanwhile, I mashed up some potatoes and used the béchamel as the liquid and flavoring agent for them.  I wanted the sauce to bring everything together so I came up with a Marsala veloute' and drenched the potatoes and chicken with that and it was a hit with chef.

It’s very daunting to come up with dishes without the aid of a recipe.  I now know how the Iron Chefs on the Food Network feel when they’re looking at their “Secret” ingredient.  I was somewhat calm and serene throughout this class and kind of surprised myself.  Usually, I’d be frantic and working up a sweat but instead realized this doesn’t really work and mistakes are made when rushing around a kitchen.  This class opportunity gave me a much needed boost of confidence that I may be on to something with this culinary thing.

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My Week at School


My Week at School

Let’s first start this blog in my Meat Fabrication class which is really butchery.  We also cook the cuts of meat that we fabricate into delicious dishes that we share with other classes as I stated previously.  Last Friday’s class was all about sausage.  We finally got around to stuffing the seasoned pork meat into pig casings.  Just so we’re all on the same page pig casings are the actual intestines from the animal and in some instances butchers also use lamb casings.

We had Kielbasa, spicy Italian, Tuscan and mild Italian mixes that we prepared into large links and Chef Spicer had us grill and sauté them into wonderful meals buffet style.  This particular feast was extraordinary in the fact that all the students from neighboring classes were oooing and ahhhhing about the meat/sausage.  There are simply some dishes that resonate within all of us because of a childhood memory or even a positive experience from just a month ago.  Sausage seems to be one of those dishes/foods that we can all enjoy tremendously with the same appreciation level.

I too, fall into the sausage-lover’s category because of my father and grandfather.  My grandfather Okolovitch was 100% Russian and his parents brought their food history with them from Russia when they immigrated to the United States.  I am the lucky recipient of that history as they would teach me very early charcuterie skills at the tender age of 8 and from there-on I was very appreciative of what a butcher and sausage maker can bring to the table.  I was also a very lucky young man to have parents and grandparents that would take the time to teach us kids the “Old World” skills and knowledge that gave an entire country sustenance.

We next move on to Pantry and Breakfast class where we were involved in a food competition of sorts as a field trip.  This particular event was held at the Ritz Charles here in Indianapolis/Carmel which is a banquet hall that facilitates weddings and Bar Mitzvahs as well as other special events.  The wonderful thing about this event is that it is sponsored each year by St. Vincent’s Hospital and they specialize in cardiac care.  The chef competitor’s dishes must be heart healthy requiring proper levels of unsaturated fats, sugars, sodium, carbohydrates, etc.

Our class was involved because our chef instructor Ralph Comstock is a legend throughout the state of Indiana and a highly sought after judge for such events.  While Chef Comstock was at the judges table we, his minions, were busy at work setting up tables, serving food, clearing plates and keeping time for the chef competitors.  It was a wonderful learning experience from the fact that we were able to meet professional chefs and speak with them.  A few of my fellow students were trying to glean as much information about nutrition from a ten minute conversation as they possibly could.  I took time to bond with Chef Comstock and also talk to each chef individually – there were 12 in all.  The chefs were from all walks of life such as students from Ivy Tech, local restaurants, nursing homes and the Ritz Charles sent two of their own chefs to represent their establishment.  Everything looked delicious and beautiful.  Cheri Herman Daniels – the First Lady of Indiana was one of the judge’s involved giving credibility to the importance and prestige of the event.

Yesterday’s nutrition class was wonderful because of the information we learned and more importantly from whom we learned it.  Chef DeWitt of the Indianapolis Colts came to our class as a guest speaker to talk about his experiences with the organization and his background.  A lot of folks in these parts know all about Second Helpings but what they don’t know is how their culinary program has impacted the community of Indianapolis.  Chef DeWitt is a graduate of Second Helping’s program and spoke glowingly about his experiences there.

Chef DeWitt regaled us with stories concerning nutritional needs by the players.  He states that the menu is pretty strict but varied – chicken and fish are focused foods on the buffet and chef offers many different ways they are prepared.  His core philosophy is to offer items that will first provide the Colts with the proper energy level to perform on the field and then with the proper nutrition and protein to provide growth in the weight room and last but, certainly, not least is to give players the building blocks to recover from their injuries in an efficient and natural way.

Sounds like chef has his work cut out for him -- he would only tell us things that players will allow him to say such as:  Dwight Freeney won’t eat off the buffet table because he has a personal trainer and nutritionist that states he eat Bison for his protein needs.  Dwight feels that this meat source gives him the leanest most concentrated form of protein to help him with his game.  Conversely, Peyton Manning conducts himself like any ordinary person eating various items off the buffet table as do all the other players.

I’m always poking myself to see if I’m going to wake up from this dream I’m experiencing as a culinary student at Ivy Tech.  The level of professionalism, curriculum and instructors is very high and consider myself extremely lucky to a part of this educational system.  I can’t wait for my next class remembering I never felt that way with my first stint in college 26 years ago.

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

Monday, February 7, 2011


My post for today is as follows:

The following video link is for a project/presentation I had to do
for my Regional Foods class. I had to choose a region and mine
ended up being the Pacific Northwest.

I decided to go with a tongue-in-cheek news broadcast with related
news, weather and features pertaining to the area. The title KPNW-Video
can be found on dragontape.com




Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Not Your Typical Organization


Not Your Typical Organization

For those of you who don’t live in Indianapolis there is an organization here called Second Helpings.  This is a charitable organization that rescues food from various establishments such as grocery stores, restaurants as well as private donations.

This food is then prepared for group homes, nurseries, shelters, community outreach programs, etc. known as partners to Second Helpings.  Every week day a flood of volunteer’s show up every morning at about 8:00am to wash, cut, assemble, season and cook food for these partners.  Right around 9:00am more volunteers show up to load this food into delivery vehicles who then take them to these partners of Second Helpings.  The place seems to run itself but, in reality, it takes a lot of hard work on the part of the permanent staff and they do a fabulous job.

 My participation started with a conversation I had with a lovely woman at my church during the passing of the peace right in the middle of the service.  We continued our conversation during coffee hour, her name is Priscilla and I was telling her my background and that a lot of folks had helped me when I was laid off and that I was looking for a way to give back.  Priscilla mentioned that she had volunteered at Second Helpings in the past and recommended I investigate this particular charity.  “Besides” she said “it’ll get you exposed to the city and the charitable and culinary community”.

She was right, I now volunteer on Thursdays helping out in the kitchen and on Fridays as a driver delivering food with my sister Cristal.  It’s tremendously rewarding and I’m making new friends.  This is the type of an organization I would be interested in starting in another city or state after graduation from culinary school.  I’m not sure I’ll stay in Indiana but you never know?

Second Helpings also provides culinary training free of charge for deserving students who have fallen on hard times.  This training is recognized by the North American Accreditation Association.  This recognition allows Second Helpings to align themselves with Ivy Tech Community College’s culinary program.  The class, which lasts 10 weeks, provides the students’ completion in a prerequisite course called “Basic Food Theory”.  Students can choose to enter Ivy Tech’s culinary program or get a job within the industry after course completion.  It’s a wonderful endeavor and I’m proud to be able to help.

Of course things happen along the way to make our work a little more exciting.  One day just before the snow started to drop late in the fall season, I noticed a new partner on our Friday delivery list.  It was nestled in the middle of our route and wouldn’t add too much time to our driving so I paid little heed to the addition.

Since I’m not real familiar with the streets of Indy, I decided to use my little GPS navigator to find our new partners address.  As we’re driving along Cristal and I notice the area is becoming a bit run down and undesirable.  We pull up to the new delivery and notice it is a large residence turned into what we thought to be a group home.  It was painted bluish-green probably 10-15 years ago.  The front porch was crooked and an uneasy feeling started to settle deep in my stomach.

I realized making the delivery to the front of the house would be dangerous because of the high volume of traffic.  Cristal pointed out an alley-way in the back.  We quickly swing the van around to the alley and pulled into the driveway at the rear of the home.  We saw one car parked to the left side of the house and that was all…there were cement steps leading to a lone red door, again, these steps were crooked and lacked hand rails for support.  This concerned me as the steps were icy and I knew I’d have my hands full of food while walking up them.

Cristal and I had questioned one another regarding the red door.  “Is that it?” she asked.  I said “There’s only one way to find out”.  I approached the red door with a certain amount of trepidation and wonderment as to what may lie inside.  Will there be a man wearing the skin of dead people like in the movie “Silence of the Lambs”?  What if there is green slime or worse yet, blood oozing from the walls like “The Amityville Horror”.  Oh well here goes.  I take my gloves off while approaching the red door.  It felt cold on my knuckles and I could doubly feel the sting of knocking perhaps signaling the pain and impending doom that awaits us just beyond the threshold.

I knock and knock again, there is no answer.  I knock one more time as the door slowly swings open from the impact of my hand - I then enter the door which is unlocked and yell out “Second Helpings – is anyone here?”  I see that there are no lights on in the house making the scene eerie.  It’s overcast outside which lends to the murky mood inside.  At this moment all I want to do is leave.  My sister nudges me and points to a chair with a head barely showing near the top.  I ask this person if they can help us only to receive steely silence in return.  Hmmmm…..I look behind us to check for zombies that may be quietly and slowly surrounding us – nothing there.  I hear the low din of voices and once again announce our presence only to see a faint flickering of light dancing on the walls, it was the TV.  I turn to Cristal and all she could do was shrug her shoulders and shake her head.  It’s time to scram which we did.  We left the food on the counter of the kitchen and slowly and quietly stepped to the door with purpose.  

 I was totally creeped out and to this day my sister and I refer to our new stop as the “creepy place”.  Since then, we have returned every week and have been greeted properly by the care staff of one very polite woman in her mid to late 30’s.  She graciously greets us at the door and thanks us every week by giving us blessings and calling us angels.  I like her a lot and am sorry we had a mysterious experience within her establishment.  Oh well, it makes for a good story eh?

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)