Friday, August 19, 2011

Apprenticing at the Black Hoof

There's a reason (or a few) why my blogging has practically ceased over the past little while. It's because it's summer and I've been busy staging at the Black Hoof with chef Grant van Gameren. Throughout the summer, I've really understood alot more about what there is to know about restaurants and what it takes to cook, work and own a restaurant. It is tough business - a really tough one. At times, I've questioned why I want to be a chef. I came to the conclusion that in the restaurant business it's all about being passionate about your work - cooking, making people happy with food. Those who don't have that burning passion will quickly burn out.

At the Black Hoof, my understanding of cooking and creating dishes has changed in ways. You really need to criticize yourself and everything. Why things work, why they don't, how they work together and how it can be improved. A dish can take many trials to perfect, but in the end it's how the chef critisizes themself that will define the destiny of the dish. You can instantly put something good on the menu. Or you can try again to make it great, then excellent, then perfect. That drive is what really defines a chef.

At the Hoof, I've learned about charcuterie - preserving meat through salt - and expanded my knowledge on cooking. I've learned a bit about making prosciutto, different salamis, sausages and dry-cured foods. I learned about fermentation and pickling and sous vide.

One of the things I enjoyed most was cooking a 3-course meal for Grant van Gameren. It was a great experience to have him critique some dishes that I cooked for him - things he liked and things him didn't.

It looked much nicer in reality...

First Course - Grilled Niagara Peach, Compressed Radish, Pickled Shallots, Thai basil puree and Nasturtium.
This was his favourite dish and he said it would go on the menu! He liked the bright flavours and balance of all the ingredients the sweet-charred complexity of tree-ripen peaches with the acidity of pickled shallots and pepperiness of radish and nasturtium. The thai basil puree didn't go that great...I barely had any so I had to add too much water when pureeing then thicken with xanthan gum because it was too thin.

Second Course: Licorice marinated Beef heart, Blackberries, Arugula Confit and fried Olives.
His second favourite. The heart was "cooked nicely" though slightly over for his palette. The plating was "beautiful" on the first two courses, however the dish didn't really come together. The licorice I should have incorporated in a different way, through maybe fennel or a fennel pollen crust. The blackberries made into a glaze and the olives I should have fried more...

Last Course: Carbonated Raspberries, Rosehip Ice Cream, Whipped Yogourt, Honey Braised Pistachios and Lavender Gel
This was his least favourite. The florality with the rosehip and lavender he found unappetizing. The ice cream, to strong, as well as the lavender gel. The berries got seeds stuck in his teeth and the pistachios had a chewy texture, in his opinion. I was confident with this dish, however I think I forgot that flavours should balance and these went towards flowery, whereas something tart or bitter could have changed the balance. The lavender too pungent, to the point of bitterness and the fluidity of the whipped yogourt in combination with the rosehips made this dish not very enjoyable.

In the end, I think I could have done much better with different dishes had I had more time to develop them especially the dessert. However, he was impressed with my execution and plating. It's awesome that the peach dish made it to the menu! Now that my stage at the Black Hoof is over I am grateful for the experience and opportunity that the apprenticeship provided me with!