Are pastry chefs born or are they created?
From the very beginning of culinary school, perhaps, even that first day of “Skills” with Chef Kennedy, I knew I was destined for pastry and chocolate.
However, one of my favorite classes that tested my curiosity was not one of baking. It was the study of the cold kitchen – Garde Manger- and it was truly a hoot! The odd and indefinable Chef Lewan was my chef instructor and every class period was an, um, adventure – to be sure! There was quite a bit of research and writing for that class and he and I went back-and-forth as to the value of a semi-colon; I loved them and he hated them!
I remember the very moment I drew the line in the flour as to which side I was on; sweet not savory. It was the week of… “Sausage” and these are excerpts from the research and terminology paper required for that week…
Surviving Sausage Making – Confessions of a Closet Pastry Chef
“ People who love sausage and people who believe in justice should never watch either of them being made!” ~Otto Bismark
Dear Chef Lewan,
I love sausage! Really Chef, I do…and I also believe in justice. So if you believe me to have not met all the criteria you set forth for this paper and choose to give me a less than desirable grade, I would understand, for that may well be justice.
This is, in fact, the wurst paper I have written in some time. Somehow, through all this thick opinion, I need to convince you Chef, that I did all the research that you required of me! I apologize for the sloppiness of this soliloquy – it is one long hank of disjointed thoughts with entirely too many run-on sentences. I hope that I am not being un-weasend-able and that you will understand that I just needed to journal this out before I move on to canapés.
Confession! For years now, I have heard about this chasm that exists between bakers and cooks. I always questioned it and I never really believed it; I always thought it came down to a matter of preference. I always considered myself to be both a baker and a cook, maybe with a slight strength towards baking. However, this sausage research has put me over the edge. I am a baker!!! I’ll admit it. Ahhhhgh! I’m a baker!!!
I feel as if I have been farced into a corner and I need to come out fighting! Please, give me a cannoli shell to stuff, some pate au choux to bake into an éclair and pipe full of some ethereal pastry cream or, sweet raviolis stuffed with mascarpone, I’d gladly pump chocolate truffles full of ganache all day long and well into the night, but please, dear Chef! Don’t make me stuff a hog’s bladder with its own flesh and fat, or with the flesh and fat of some other animal!
I think that it is just the stuffing of fat and meat into the intestines, bladders and stomachs that gets to me! It is the law of nature that fat and meat should be flowing in and out of these things, not forcefully pumping them full and then twisting and tying them off at both ends with bubble knots?
I had no problem what-so-ever skinning that chicken, a few short weeks back. I ground up its meat and re-filled it back into its own skin to make what became a beautiful and colorful roulade, especially with the chemise of steamed spinach and roasted red peppers. I enjoyed that process ever-so-much! I’m looking forward to making terrines, pates and pates en croute. I’ve had both rillettes and my share of duck confits where those luscious meats were preserved in their own fat – love ‘em! They are true examples of a little taste of heaven on this humble planet. One of my secrets to my (maybe legacy) fried chicken is that I fry it an oil that is part schmaltz to flavor it up a bit.
I love a good brat with a natural casing that pops when you bite into it. I love bresaola (stuffed in beef bung) with a little drizzle of lemon juice, e.v.o. and shaved Stravecchio Parmagiano – an opera within the confines of my mouth!
I don’t believe my complex has anything to do with some aversion I might have to offal, indeed, I have no issues with offal. I don’t feel offal is awful, at all! I also find the beautiful webbing of caul fat is a natural wonder, indeed. Heck, as a kid, I cleaned chicken gizzards for part of a summer and I turned out okay (also, a matter of opinion, I suppose).
So what is my problem, dear Chef Lewan? I mean, really, is a sausage stuffer all that different than a hand held cookie press – they both have nozzles and pistons and removable cylinders, my Guru of Garde Manger? I love the science of the whole concept of sausage making – the science and art combination is what I enjoy about baking! I can see the art in terrines, color sheets, roulades and the like, but, I just can’t see it stuffed into a hank of sheep’s intestine… am I blind? Is my normally open mind clouded by tunnel vision through convoluted chitterlings?
Perhaps, this is bringing up some suppressed childhood memory for me. Maybe, this week is proving to be some sort of therapy for me, I don’t know, but, in my opinion this sausage business just isn’t pretty! Don’t get me wrong, I have eaten my share of sausage! For goodness sake, both my parents were from South Carolina and I grew up on “Jimmy Dean” and grits.
I knew my father secretly dreamed of one day making his own sausage. I remember when he became so excited to outfit our family bakery with a shiny new Kitchen-aid mixer, not because this tool would make our lives easier, but because it had the potential to grind and stuff sausages, if he were only to buy the correct attachments!
In order for me to be able to write anything, and I love to write, I have to feel something about the subject, some sort of passion. All week long I have been trying to have words flow from me about sausage. The cheese paper was easy! I could write volumes more about cheese, but this sausage thing was a struggle for me. The more I researched it, the bigger my writer’s block became! My head felt like the hopper of a sausage grinder, the funnel extension down to the blades was plugged up with a big ol’ hunk of frozen fat-back. I tried to find a tamper to get this information flowing, but just thinking about all this created a large bubble knot in my throat and made me want to go poach myself in a hot sanitizing shower.
Enough! Enough! Please give me some chocolate to console myself with! Make this quarter come to an end quicker and please, please, please, catapult me two Labs down the hall into Chef Winter’s Bakeshop!…
Perhaps, the inspiration of this post is a new product we are carrying – Olympic Provisions Chocolate Salamis. Not to worry – these Italian inspired cylindrical treats are made to look like charcuterie, but are anything but:
Salame De Chocolat– Italian style chocolate ganache with candied orange peel, nuts, and Oregon grappa
Salchichon De Chocolat– Spanish style chocolate ganache with a hint of smoke and spice, candied grapefruit, nuts and Sherry
Saucisson Au–Chocolat French style dark chocolate ganache with a hint of warm baking spices, nuts, candied ginger, and red wine
Thanks for letting me share, my Lovelies!