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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)

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