Food reads: Is cooking school worth it?

I have been fantasizing about going to culinary school for a while now and I don’t mean any cooking school in the United States, but the renowned Le Cordon Blue in Paris. Just like Julia Child. Who wouldn’t want that kind of relationship with food? I want romance, I want adventure. I certainly have met people who have gone to culinary school and cringe when I tell them that I’d love to follow in their tracks. “It’s not easy,” they say. It’s a lot of work, the teaching chefs are usually jerks and it’s becoming harder to find a well-paying job even after potential employers see the shiny diploma. That’s a major buzz kill.

Ah, beautiful Paris…. {Image}

Apparently, they are absolutely right. According to this TIME article, culinary schools now charge up to $30,000 a year and most students struggle to find work other than line cooking. More than 800 current and former students are involved in a class action suit against Le Cordon Blue in Pasadena, California, for… basically selling false hope.

So, I ask you, are cooking schools worth it? The article even takes it a step further.

Are creative careers like cooking, fashion design and even journalism best learned by going to school or by getting your foot in the door and training on the job?

That’s a very  interesting question since I did go to journalism school. Could have I learned my skills on the job? Probably, but it’s the finessing of those skills that I learned in J-school; it’s the opportunity to learn about new media and dipping my feet into print, TV and radio journalism. I do admit that with food, however, the argument is a bit different. The newly minted cult of celebrity chefs has made going to school almost obsolete: If you have a computer, a camcorder and at least some cooking skills (well, not really… Food Network has a show called Worst Cooks in America), you are good to go. Maybe we should go back to working hard and doing things the right way. Just a thought.

Food reads: Slate’s take on best food show on TV (and I agree)

There is so much trash food TV around these days that it has become almost impossible to pick the freshest programs from the stale and boring ones.

Jennifer Reese writes in Slate that the best food show on TV is America’s Test Kitchen—by the staff of Cooks Illustrated magazine—on PBS. Yes! Hands down the most informative, creative and well-made food show around. Not that I would ever call myself an expert, but I happen to live in a city that got hammered with foot over foot of snow for two years in a row and what did I do for hours during those wintery weekends? I was glued to the TV. We couldn’t drive anywhere and I resorted to spending my waking hours salivating over meals I would probably never going to be able to make. And that’s the problem. As Reese states in the article,

If you’ve ever turned on the Food Network or Cooking Channel, you know that cooking shows circa 2011 are as much circus acts as culinary tutorials. Just about every Food Network star has a shtick, often accompanied by a signature hair style. Paula Deen is the zany Georgia matron with the silver mane. Guy Fieri: frat boy with the Rod Stewart mop. Anne Burrell: saucy chef with the Phyllis Diller shag.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Nowadays, food shows concentrate more on how good you will look in your friends’ eyes by cooking elaborate meals rather than actually learning why garlic works better than onions in a risotto (well, that’s actually a preference of mine, but I’d like to think that it’s true!), or that fresh ingredients are ALWAYS a better choice than canned or processed ones. Ehm, ever heard of Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade? Take this Wild Mushroom Dip recipe: a package of dry wild mushrooms, a can of condensed mushroom soup, a package of cream cheese and a few other things. Really? I wouldn’t get near this so-called dip.

And then there is Giada De Laurentiis. I like her, I really do, it’s just  that when she overemphasizes and over-pronounces every Italian word, I want to duck my head in the sand. But there is no denying that her recipes are approachable and very Italian. Paula Deen is a pleasure to watch (I really, really love her), but not for her food….have you seen the amount of butter she adds to all her recipes? Insane. I feel I gain weight just watching her doing her magic in the kitchen.

TV is tough work, I am sure, but if we want to inform and educate people, we should look for good, sound, healthy recipes to share with the public and not promote unhealthy shortcuts. We are all busy, I get it, but a homemade pizza dough takes 15 minutes. I promise.

So, do yourself a favor and watch  America’s Test Kitchen on PBS.

Lessons from Julia Child

We have a bit of Julia Child in all of us. What I love most about Mrs. Child is her fervent humor (witty and pointed). While I was reading My Life in France, her book with Alex Prud’Homme, I began thinking about my own food related memories and heritage. I grew up in a family of excellent and inventive cooks—mom is a champ baker (her crostata is to die for) and dad is an unafraid alchemist, mixing ingredients and revising recipes without a hint of anxiety. I have only recently rediscovered the sheer pleasure in making a meal from start to finish. Pity. In college, I relied on Ramen instant noodles, processed, really-bad-for me, so-called food. Sure, I’d add in the ever-present pasta dish. Sad. It was only when I began cooking for two that I realized I needed to get over myself and learn how to cook properly. Hence, my infatuation with Julia.

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Interestingly enough, Julia Child is not well-known in Italy. I actually never heard of her before moving to the United States some 10 years ago. Is the never-ending feud/rivalry between Italy and France to blame? Not sure, but I am disappointed to have met Mrs. Child so late in the game.

I am a romantic at heart and I found the book melancholic, but exciting at the same time. From Julia and Paul’s arrival to Paris in the Blue Flash, their oversize, very American Buick, to their farewell to France many years later, I was transported back in time. Reality seemed to stop, at least for me. I have been to Paris before (it is my favorite place on earth), but I would give anything to go back and see it through Julia Child’s eyes; to navigate the streets of the city of lights with her, a braccetto, cheerfully stopping at our favorite butcher to pick up the ingredients for the glorious Boeuf Bourguignon.

Needless to say, I ordered Mastering the Art of French Cooking. After dreaming about Julia’s life and kitchen in their first grandiose apartment in Paris, I was hooked. The recipes’ butter content is something I will need some time and training adapting to…but I will try anything once. I’ve always wanted to master the art of brioche making and now I have my chance. No more excuses. Until next time, Bon Appetit! (Image)


Here’s to a happy and cool weekend…with watermelon!

It’s Friday and you know what that means, right? The weekend is knocking at my doors! Problem is, it’s 107 degrees outside (but it feels like 115) and who in their right mind would want to move from the couch? Not me. Yet, I’ll brave the heat and drag my overheated body to the farmers market tomorrow morning. Don’t worry, there is a purpose to my madness: I will be looking for my one and only remedy for summer heat: watermelon, anguria in Italian.

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With 92% water and 6% sugar, watermelon not only is my go-to fruit of the summer, it also is the only food I can stomach when the weather is as hot as it is today. Bonus points: Watermelon contains large amounts of beta carotene (let’s get tanning!). I don’t have a proven scientific method for choosing the right fruit, but what I usually do is tap it once and if it sounds a bit hollow, it usually means it’s ripe, juicy and ready to go. The best way to eat it? Cut it in small cubes, sprinkle a bit of lime juice and refrigerate. Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

What is your favorite watermelon recipe? I’d love to hear from you!

Happy weekend, everyone. Stay cool!

Potatoes don’t keep you slim. I’m doomed!

Image: The Washington Post

It turns out, potatoes are bad if you want to keep a Slim Jim figure. Deep inside the busy neurons in my brain, I’ve always known—good things typically harm you in some way….like a pair of succulent Christian Louboutin: bad for feet (have you seen those heels?) and worse for your wallet—but hell, they are delicious!

Rob Stein writes in the Washington Post that a study done at Harvard followed participants in intervals of four years and observed their diet and weight change over time.

Within each period, the subjects gained an average of 3.35 pounds. Every additional daily serving of potatoes pushed up the scale by more than a pound every four years. As expected, the type of potato, however, was important. Every order of french fries put on 3.35 pounds; a snack of potato chips added 1.69. But even each helping of boiled, baked or mashed potatoes contributed a little more than a half-pound.

Yikes. I consume a disproportionate amount of potatoes (as I am writing this, I am shamefully eating a mediocre cheesy potato soup)… chips, fries, broiled, baked, smashed, roasted, oven roasted, on the grill…you name it, I’ve tried it. But it doesn’t end here:

Many people might also be surprised that every extra serving of refined grains, such as white bread, added 0.39 pounds — almost as much as indulging in some sweets or desserts.

Ah! What am I going to do? My entire regimen is based on bread-y things. Have you ever gone to an Italian restaurant where they do not serve bread? Thought so. I love bread, I really do. I can eat a whole baguette in one sitting, by myself.

At last, the good news. Yogurt, it turns out, has actually helped people lose weight or keep it off. Sucks for me because I am slightly lactose intolerant, but never despair! Next on the “good” list is nuts. Those I actually adore, so from now on, I am going to snack on trail mixes, something I used to do and have, some for obscure reason, stopped doing cold turkey.

So, since I am known to occasionally dive into processed food heaven, I hereby challenge myself to diversify my intake of fruits and veggies and minimize that of potatoes. And bread, although the latter is a much bigger deal.

Food Reads: I’ve got some reading to do

I have been in a food coma for some time—the food book kind of coma. I obsessively check the latest arrivals at the local used book stores (Daedalus and Read it Again Sam) for a possible addition to my wordy arsenal. I’ve got eight books waiting for me and one that I am currently thoroughly enjoying: Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia, My Year of Cooking Dangerously: An honest and raunchy account of life between Julia Child-derived meals. Right up my alley. Love it.

So, I’ve got some reading to do and in no particular order:

-Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food

Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life by New York Times food writer Kim Severson

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (who, by the way, will be in Charlottesville in October with none other than Eric Ripert)

Ruth Reichl‘s Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples

The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace

Best Food Writing 2009

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipe from Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg (of Orangette, one of the best blogs around!)

Phew! That is is for now.Or maybe not. Any books I should add to this list?

New York Magazine gives thumbs up to Peter Chang’s China Grill

{Image: New York Magazine}

Peter Chang’s China Grill (which has won over my taste buds not once, but twice) has finally made headlines, big, thick headlines in one of the most important cities for foodies: NYC. Grub Street of New York Magazine has named the local restaurant among “Food Treks Worth Taking This Summer.”

May I recommend the braised short ribs? Or the shallots bubble pancakes? You won’t be sorry. I promise.

After this accolade, the disappearing chef may just stick around for a while.