Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Chef Apprentice blog

I've added a new blog to my daily reading list, one that's worth reading. The blog is found at the Sacramento Bee website.

The Chef Apprentice chronicles "self-taught cook" Stuart Leavenworth's internship at Oliveto, an upscale Italian restaurant in Oakland, "known ... for its traditional Italian dishes made from local, seasonal products with the clarity of a great kitchen."

"I plan to profile the chefs and employees at Oliveto and the farmers who supply the restaurant," said Leavenworth in the paper's Food and Wine Section blog Wednesday.

Leavenworth will note his "trials and errors" over the next six months. He promises to record his experience as he applies skills he mastered at home to the restaurant world.

I'm certain we'll see a few painful lesions. His first -- one that almost ended his internship -- came as Leavenworth jammed the short tip of an unfamiliar paring knife into his left thumb.

The accident happened as he practiced "turning" a potato, a technique new to Leavenworth. To turn a potato, the cook makes a series of cuts with a special paring knife to simultaneously trim and shape the potato into the shape of a barrel or football.

Then there'll be occasions where Leavenworth, a novice to the fast-paced world of restaurant cooking, will bring his culinary skill to the plate.

Quick thinking by Leavenworth saved a pricey lamb dish at the restaurant. Of course, he's the one who almost sent the braised lamb with "an intensely flavored sauce" into the garbage in the first place.

Leavenworth sprinkled too much salt on the meat as he seared the lamb in a large fry pan. Once he pulled the braise from the oven, the chef tasted the stock and declared, "Too salty."

"If the stock was slightly salty now, it would be way to salty once reduced," observed Leavenworth.

This is where the "self-taught" part of being a cook comes in to play. Leavenworth understood the basic principle of culinary reductions. And he knew to save the dish meant he'd have to "take out some of the stock, and add something to reduce the salt."

Leavenworth suggested wine, while the chef said cream would do the trick. The chef added both and a dish was saved.

"This is going to be a wild and unpredictable journey," said Leavenworth. "I hope you'll join me, five days a week."

It's nice to read a blog where the author writes with the style and technique of a journalist, but has the heart of a cook. Leavenworth's passion for his second craft clearly comes through.

Join me as I read The Chef Apprentice each day. The time stamp on the blog indicates that he'll write most entries late at night, long after the Italian eatery has closed for the day.

If this week's entries are an indicator of his future writing, his passion for cooking and his new experience in a restaurant kitchen, will come through.

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