Just survived five-day Boot Camp at the CIA.

To all, but especially to Tarragon, CarlaCooks, and Pegeen, who wrote to wish me luck, I did it!

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28 Comments

Pegeen May 29, 2014
Cooking on a sailboat is a mighty fine idea, though. (Just don't watch that disaster of a Robert Redford movie. He didn't have better things to do with his time?)
 
boulangere May 28, 2014
What is your goal now?
 
bugbitten May 29, 2014
Gee, boulangere, I thought Barbara Walters and probing questions like yours had just retired! Of course, the goal remains to take a half-year smoking cessation program--aboard Oceania Marina--around the world one way, do a Uey, then back again—touching every port on Earth, in the owner’s suite, and it’s tax deductible.

No, no, no…what I mean to say is that I’m now into poaching fish and fowl in a big way. At CIA I got to open an oven, lift the parchment lids from two poaching pans and test for doneness in my snapper while crouching alongside a founder of Le Bernardin. I have to bring that experience (and the notes) home to the ones I cook for. Thanks for the cool question, Babawawa.

 
Pegeen May 28, 2014
Thanks, bugbitten. It's a lot of fun get an insider look. So yes, I see that onions are on the pesticides "dirty dozen" list and so are honeydews: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/list.php
 
bugbitten May 29, 2014
Dear Pegeen, ever had a lemon wedge in your iced tea and wondered if it was washed?
 
ChefJune May 27, 2014
Congratulations! Sounds like you really enjoyed the challenges the Boot Camp provided. Did your experiences make you more or less interested in cooking as a profession? FWIW, most of the participants on Food52 are not chefs, so calling them that is not appropriate nor necessary. We are all home cooks here. :)
 
bugbitten May 27, 2014
Since I'm quite happily retired, I never looked at the experience as a possible return to work, but anyone contemplating a career would surely appreciate this short course.
 
Pegeen May 26, 2014
Meant to ask: I'm perplexed about the onion contamination thing. How would cutting an onion in half be any more of a contaminant than paring off the the peel with a paring knife, horizontally or vertically? So much to know, so unwilling to pay tuition. :-)
 
bugbitten May 27, 2014
Hi, Peg. I did go to the local diner almost every day, but that was for a late breakfast/early lunch before class. Every night we, the assistants and Chef would eat what we had prepared, buffet style along with some nice wines. On the Wednesday we all ate lunch at Bocuse, the premier campus restaurant. The food was excellent, but the students doing the service have a lot to learn.

The onion thing was about not using the same blade to cut both the peel and the product. So you would cut a bit away from the stem end, then peel back the skin and trim the hairs away from the root. Then you would clean your knife and board with a solution available at your station. Only then would you go to work on the onion itself. There were a lot of cautions, including the shocking news that that honeydew rind is out to kill you!
 
SKK May 26, 2014
Congratulations! Love this about you! Thank you for sharing your vulnerability around this experience. Someday I too may go for this.
 
bugbitten May 26, 2014
Wow. It’s humbling to see that the responses here are from folks I’ve learned so much from, lurking around 52 for the last few years, as I have. I also think that all the good and right questions have been asked, but that my answers are only of a sound-bite size and needing a better effort from me.

I haven’t said anything about the classroom work. Every day included a ninety-minute lecture about the various cooking methods and techniques that we would employ in making that evening’s dishes. We studied poaching, then we poached. We studied roasting and roasted.

Taken together the classroom work adds up to a very good treatise on cooking, with a French bias, as you would expect. Each of us students had a ring binder with all the classroom lessons printed out and room for notes next to the power point frames. I’m just going back over this now.

After classroom, the schedule called for a break of fifteen minutes, but that never happened. Too busy—aprons on and three hours to make dinner in a kitchen as alien as a flying saucer’s. Too bad, because I never got a second daily chance to commune under the smokers’ gazebo with the real school community. I would get there early, before classroom began, and those kids were great to talk to—all unsure of anything in the future, but all excited to be asked how I could work Durum wheat into my market basket menu for Friday.

The school days began late, classroom at 1:00 (in uniform), dinner up and served at 6:45, back to the motel by 9, an hour to catch the news, phone home, regret the day’s screw-ups and crash.

Up on achy legs at seven, decaf, smoke, banana, decaf, smoke, homework, and break down recipes. Repeat.
 
SKK May 26, 2014
Congratulations! Love this about you! Thank you for sharing your vulnerability around this experience. Someday I too may go for this.
 
Pegeen May 25, 2014
p.s. I've gotten a little teary at your mention of paring toward oneself. My grandmother was a professional chef - one of the first women to be trained at Dione Lucas's school in NYC. She also pared in, not out, and that's how she taught me. I find it offers a lot more control.
 
Pegeen May 25, 2014
Awesome! I was wondering how it had gone. I really want you to write a column about it.

A question: what did you do at night? Did someone cook dinner for you guys or did you have to cook your own? Or did you all just collapse and go to a diner? :-)

I'm so glad you had a good time.
 
Tarragon May 21, 2014
Bugbitten, it sounds great! In general, would you say that this is more of an advanced home cooking course or a kindergarten level commercial cooking course? Regardless, I'm so glad it was a good experience and I'm still jealous!
 
bugbitten May 21, 2014
Thanks, guys. It really didn't try to relate to home cooking at all. It was an accelerated version of what the matriculated students take. At one point I was tossing some fennel with oil on a sheet pan before roasting it. Chef shouted over, "Do that in a bowl--it's more efficient!" What home cook would mess up an extra bowl and consider it efficient?
 
Bevi May 21, 2014
Well done! I look forward to following this thread. Congrats on your effort!
 
CarlaCooks May 21, 2014
How exciting! Thanks for keeping us in mind :) I'm a bit scare for my upcoming class... mostly worried that I'll be the worst/least educated cook in the group. It's interesting that you made a dish you didn't think had much flavor (the pork loin). What are one or two techniques you picked up that you'll take back with you into the home kitchen?
 
bugbitten May 21, 2014
Hi! I had to bite the bullet and start working the paring knife toward myself, which I find scary. We weren't permitted to cut an onion in half in order to peel it, because of possible contamination from the peel (ugh). Also had to wear gloves when working with anything that would not be cooked, so I chopped up a few floppy glove-ends along with the tomatoes. On the other hand, making a parchment lid for poaching worked very well and was easy to do. Making gnocchi was a first, also.

Don't worry about your education going in...some in the class were there thinking it was more of a social occasion. The CIA has published a book--written by someone who took the course--but it's not available in the campus store. Search "Culinary Boot Camp" on Amazon to find it.
 
rt21 May 20, 2014
Sounds magnificent .!!!!
Would live to hear some of the dishes and sauces you made
 
bugbitten May 21, 2014
I made some of the sauces we all have made, chef. Made a compote--a chutney with no acid. I made a pork loin, but never again, due to lack of flavor in that cut.
 
bugbitten May 21, 2014
We made dishes that I would never think to make. I made okra and my wife hates it.
 
bugbitten May 28, 2014
Sorry, rt21, I'm thinking I did not answer you well in my fist attempts. In truth the real answer is too big. Eleven students made over a hundred dishes in four days, and in just three hours each day. We made rice at least nine ways. None of the recipes was particularly complicated, but all demanded a degree of total concentration--like having quints, I imagine.
 
Diana B. May 20, 2014
Sounds like a fabulous experience, a lifetime milestone for a dedicated cook -- congratulations!
 
bugbitten May 20, 2014
Thanks chef. In addition I've grown accustomed to the blue/white tattersall pants as a leisure-lifestyle choice. I flaunted them all around my motel.
 
Trena H. May 20, 2014
Welcome back bugbitten! It sounds like you had a wonderful time at the CIA boot camp. What a wonderful gift to give yourself. Please share some of your favorite experiences and some of the surprises.
 
bugbitten May 20, 2014
Hi Trena, my humble answer is that the experience was nothing but surprises. While I started out slowly, I found that I had my own particular skill set to offer my team. For instance, I was able to work up the menu based on a market basket assignment, on the final day.

I goofed up a lot, on simple things. By the last day it was clear that a lot of us had hit a wall. I'd do it again though.
 
bugbitten May 20, 2014
The chef/instructor was Dominick Cerrone, he of Le Bernardin (!). I was lucky to be doing the poached snapper Veracruz with his guidance. The transition from home kitchen to pro kitchen was tough (Where's my little strainer when I need it?). Our team of four prepared roughly twenty-five dishes and sauces over four days. All the teams ate what we cooked, and it was all good. It was quite a workout, and I needed my chiropractor when I got home.
It all hasn't settled in yet, but I'll be happy to field questions about the experience...
 
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