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Thursday, January 19, 2012


I’m pretty excited to be writing this blog as I’m barreling down the highway towards Louisville, KY.  I used to live there and I hear they have since garnered enough importance to attract a Hard Rock Cafe®.  I collect their classic t-shirts from cities I’ve visited or have lived in around the world and within the United States.  After this brief sojourn, I will be heading to my final destination which is Charleston, SC for a culinary externship.

Now that I have my t-shirt in tow, I’m headed straight towards my destination and the excitement is palpable within the confines of my little Jeep.  I’m not one to engage in vocal congress as I’m not able to carry a tune in a bucket but I was singing my heart out to R.E.S.P.E.C.T. by Aretha Franklin on the radio with ardent fervor. 

I’m about to start my real education; I’m not suggesting that the time spent in Ivy Tech’s class rooms and kitchens in Indianapolis was a waste of my time but let’s face it….there’s a reason they call it the real world.  To veteran and skilled chefs, I’m a complete novice even though I’ll be a culinary school graduate soon.  The difference with me is that I have age and wisdom on my side and have a certain expectation of the trenches that I must endure before I even get a hint or smell of what I signed on for and that is to cook for people and relish in their enjoyment of a wonderfully cooked meal.

I have the fantastic privilege of externing under Chef Craig Deihl & Co. at Cypress restaurant in Charleston, SC.  In the culinary world an externship is actually an internship with a few letters rearranged, not sure why but that’s the way it is.  He’s an incredibly gifted chef with the persona of a loving husband and father.  Some of the first words that came out of his mouth were in regards to his wife and daughter.  This gave me keen insight to the type of man that I would be working for over the next 3 months.

My first day was almost exactly how I thought it would be with the obligatory paperwork that made me feel like I was buying a house all over again.  I was then swiftly scurried off to the kitchen where I delved into a task oriented atmosphere with one chore after another.  Somehow I really enjoyed peeling and chopping parsnips, onions and carrots.  Next up was portioning out bread dough for hamburger buns and then cryo-vacking (vacuum packaging) chef’s homemade mortadella.  

One of my many work stations

Meanwhile, my next task was still brewing in the corner of the kitchen and I would get my first insight as to why Craig Deihl is an extraordinary chef.  Demi-glace is a stock/broth/brown sauce mixture that has been carefully and patiently reduced down to concentrate the flavors.  This process must be a passion bordering on having a love affair with food due to its arduous process.  This concoction is rich and unctuous and can make cardboard taste good.  Chef Deihl has figured out how to make this process a bit less laborious and onerous as he cuts the time (saving money) of the reduction (saving product) by incorporating very cheap beef Achilles into the mixture.

There are two things that I can see Chef Deihl being very concerned with and that is the quality of his food (first and foremost) and the efficiency with which it is prepared.  Now I’m not talking about just doing things faster but rather doing them smarter and by using the Achilles of beef….the collagen in these tendons helps to thicken the demi-glace using less time and saving all that sauce that normally evaporates into the air during the reduction process and this all saves a lot of money.

Bob and John stuffing the casings for Bratwurst

Yes, the crew at Cypress restaurant here in Charleston, South Carolina are not only innovative but highly competent businessmen and women, a very savvy group indeed.  The techniques and level of cooking being performed in Chef Deihl’s kitchen is a cornucopia of “thinking outside of the box” and I’m the recipient of such wonderful and newfangled knowledge.

Chef Deihl being interviewed by one of many interested media organizations

Saving and using every bit of a product is essential to the everyday happenings at Cypress.  One example is the beef fat that is normally lost or thrown away by most establishments.  Here it is rendered and used as a 50/50 mixture with butter and finely chopped herbs and garlic.  This mixture is then whipped using a whisk fixture on a large mixer to incorporate air and impart a “lighter” texture that spreads very well and yields an airy texture in your mouth that better captures the flavor profile that is intended for a true fine dining experience.  This spread is used in a myriad of ways in the kitchen ensuring a short shelf-life.

Another passion of chef’s zeal for protein is that of the charcuterie arts - primarily that of sausages, cured meats and delicacies such as the most wonderful beef tartare I’ve ever eaten.  Cypress has a meat locker on the second floor that is a climate controlled (temp, humidity and circulation) wonderment of all things protein.  This is where items are kept for one week or one year or even more depending on the needs of what’s being cured at that time.  Yes, time is often spoken of in derogatory terms but to the skilled charcuterist, it is his friend and results in buttery, creamy flavors and textures that you would never think a slice of meat could ever realize.

Finished Bratwurst sausages ready for the smoker

There are many components to the kitchen and this kitchen is no exception.  You’ve heard the expression that “no man is an island” this holds true at Cypress as Chef Deihl has surrounded himself with accomplished chefs alike….meet Bob Cook or as he calls himself on his facebook page “Fermentologist at Cypress”.  This man can make a mean pickle!!  I’m not a fan of the sweet pickle but Chef Bob has an uncanny way to bring out every flavor that is put into his brine and some of these flavors explode in your mouth upon the very first bite and others slowly culminate on the back of the tongue providing you with an extremely satisfying and delicious experience that triggers the sweet, salty & sour palate of the taste buds.

He’s not limited to just the preservation of cucumbers either as he also makes sauerkraut, brined garnishes of all kinds and even has a batch of fish sauce fermenting on the roof of the restaurant.  I really like Chef Bob as he takes the time to patiently explain a new or faster way for me to do things….things that I’ve never seen in culinary school.  I’m learning from a very diverse group of highly proficient professional chefs who are consummate culinarians in international flavor profiles as well as styles, technique and methods.  I’m fortunate to be interning at such a place with great people.

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

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