Hey Family and Friends!
|St. John's College - Oxford|
During my undergraduate years, I was blessed with the opportunities to study abroad. One such session was the chance to study at Regents College in London. Another was an amazing experience living and studying at Oxford… specifically at St John’s. During my time abroad, I fell in love with Europe. In my heart, I knew that I was being lead to return… but in what capacity? Over an Easter brunch feast during my Junior year of college, I remember one particular conversation with my father. I was slightly discouraged as to my future… while I enjoyed my major, I knew that the desire to return to Europe was growing stronger with each passing day. But how in the world would I return? Under what circumstances could I justify and solidify a move to Europe? My dad suggested culinary school. If I was going to learn how to cook… then why not learn from the best? Let’s face it, the French own the culinary arts. They have the flavors, plating, and every aspect of cooking down to an art. Perfection. Upon said suggestion, I immaturely rolled my eyes and said, “Dad… do I look like Martha Stewart?” (Now mind you, this was coming from a girl who had been an athlete from the time she was three and still wore glitter in her 20’s. I know, sweet life, sb).
|Tour Eiffel - PARIS|
But the seed of culinary school began to sprout in my mind. As I began to entertain the idea, firm roots became established and my mind was made up. Although never having set foot in a kitchen in my life (well, aside from consuming the amazing organic-home cooked meals from my amazing mother on a daily basis), I sent my application to Le Cordon Bleu, Paris. In my mind, I knew that it made no sense for them to accept a “girly-jock” from Ohio who had zero cooking experience. However, if it was meant to be, then they would give me a chance and accept me into the school.
Based on my prior successes in both the classroom, as well as athletic fields/dance stages/swimming pools, I was accepted. Au revoir, USA. Two weeks after graduating from college, I left my family, friends and country behind… and moved to Paris, France to learn how to cook. I know, this is the stuff of which movies are made…
From day one I fell in love with the culinary arts. Cuisine and pastry encompass everything that I adore… creativity, artwork (on the plate), delicious flavors, hard work, an adrenaline rush (during a difficult lunch/dinner service)… I worked diligently to adsorb as much knowledge and experience as possible while studying at LCB, and then applied the same work ethic in the work arena. I had the privilege of remaining in Paris after graduation from Le Cordon Bleu and working at two of the most exclusive restaurants in the world… Hotel de Crillon and Hotel Le Meurice. Talk about a Baptism by Fire… I began as a stagiaire (essentially an intern) – which included even scrubbing the floors at both establishments (I did cuisine a t Le Meurice and pastry at Crillon). I quickly ascended the ranks, having proven myself with the delegated assignments. The culinary world is a male-dominated, stress-filled, perfection-driven, and physically/mentally exhausting profession that involves hours beyond measure. I loved it. I was able to express my creativity in learning the true art of plating, as well as developing flavors that were beyond tastes that I had ever experienced.
Per necessity of keeping this simple and sweet, I shall share one experience with y’all which sky-rocketed my confidence in the kitchen. When working at Crillon, I was given the opportunity to cook shrimp for the first time... and said shrimp was actually going to be served to the clientele at the restaurant!! I remember shaking as I peeled the exoskeleton away from the jumbo shrimp. I sharpened my knife, then carefully cut the back of the shrimp open in order to devein the unwanted waste. I was probably moving less than 1mph, but being inexperienced, I did not want to mess up!
As I turned away from my work station, I knew that I had to face my greatest fear… cooking the shrimp… dun, dun, dunnnnn!
Ohmygosh, sb. Could you be more dramatic?? Good grief.
|Hotel de Crillon|
In all fairness, I had never cooked for clientele before. And to be working at a restaurant that has 3-Michelin stars, as well as charges… well, let’s put it this way… if you have to ask the price, you already cannot afford it. Be that as it may, I proceeded with my shrimp.
After deveining the shrimp (note – in the US, shrimp can often be purchased already cleaned and deveined) I lightly sprinkled the translucent bodies with salt and Herbs de Provence. Herbs de Provence is one of my favorite seasonings… a mix of dried savory, fennel, basil, thyme and lavender flowers from the Provence of France. The delicious mixture can often be purchased at any local grocery store in the “spices” section. In addition to the savory, mild herbs, I also lightly dusted the shrimp with cayenne pepper. Some like it hot.
One secret to cooking any type of protein… it is essential to allow the oil/butter to heat to the appropriate temperature before sautéing said produce. After adding enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the bottom of the sauté pan, I wait until the EVOO actually produced smoke (just a little!) to place the shrimp on the fire. It is known as the “smoking point.” If the oil temperature is not warm enough, then the piece of protein will not develop a nice “crust/color” on each side of the skin. What occurs is that the protein actually boils in the oil, as opposed to sautéing (literally means, “to jump”) on the heat.
|Raw Shrimp (left)|
Cooked Shrimp (right)
Shrimp cooks quickly… about 1 minute per side (depending on the size of the shrimp). One key to determining if the shrimp is cooked is the color. An uncooked shrimp is translucent grey (typically). When cooked, the shrimp transforms into a light pink/white… no longer translucent or rubbery. The first time that I cooked shrimp for clients in Paris, I simply sautéed the fish on the stove top with olive oil:
5 Large Shrimp – deveined and cleaned
1 Tbsp Salt
1 Tbsp Herbs de Provence
1 tsp Cayenne Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – enough to coat the bottom of the sauté pan (thin layer)
I love to add shrimp to salads in order to enjoy both fresh vegetables/fruit, as well as adequate protein in my diet:
5 large cooked shrimp
Blueberries, Strawberries, Raspberries, Mandarin Oranges
Pomegranate and blueberry vinaigrette (purchased at Whole Foods) – any dressing is optional, but I love the fruity vinaigrette with the fruit in the salad.
Parmesan cheese – optional
Roasted almonds - optional
1) Toss all ingredients together and add as much fruit as desired. Any dressing can be used, but I love the fruity vinaigrette with the fruit in the salad. When in a restaurant, order the dressing on the side, in order to prevent your salad from drowning. Ordering a salad that is drenched in dressing defeats the purpose of healthy eating.
2) Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and roasted almonds if desired… and enjoy!
I also have made Spinach Galette with mushrooms, tomatoes, swiss cheese and shallots... shrimp and fig-basalmic vinaigrette:
3 c. Fresh Organic Spinach
3 Cherry Tomatoes – cut in ½
1 oz. Swiss Cheese – dice
1 Medium Portabella mushroom – clean with a dry paper towel (to remove grit) and dice into small cubes
½ shallot – minced fine
2 tsp Salt
1 tsp garlic - minced
1 tsp Cayenne pepper
2 tsp Italian dried herbs
1 sheet of puff pastry (frozen section of the supermarket)
½ c. Balsamic Vinegar
1 Fig – chop into fine pieces
3 Cooked Shrimp
3 Cooked Shrimp
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Defrost the frozen puff pastry by leaving on the clean counter at room temperature for about 10-15 minutes. Cut desired shapes into the puff pastry, then place puff pastry onto parchment paper on a baking sheet. Allow to bake until golden brown and “puffed.” (about 10-15 minutes) Convection oven is the best method to bake the puff pastry, but no problem if a regular oven is the only option.
2) “Sweat” the minced shallots in olive oil. To “sweat” means to cook the shallots until they are no longer crunchy. The shallots will become tender and translucent when fully cooked. When fully cooked, add minced mushrooms, salt, cayenne pepper, dried Italian herbs and garlic. Mushrooms will cook quickly – finished when tender to the bite (try a piece in order to ensure fully cooked!
3) Toss spinach into the sauté pan and allow to wilt. Remove from heat and add the cherry tomatoes and diced Swiss cheese.
4) In a separate sauce pan, add the Balsamic Vinegar and chopped fig. Turn the heat onto high and allow the Vinegar to reduce (or evaporate). The fig will permeate the Balsamic Vinegar and allow the aroma of the fig to shine. Remove from the heat after the vinegar has reached a consistency similar to molasses.
5) Plating – Drizzle the Fig Balsamic reduction on the plate in a decorative manner. Place mixed greens (tossed in desired dressing) atop design. Add puff pastry, then top puff pastry with Spinach Gallette mixture. Place shrimp around/atop and top off with micro-greens/edible flowers/gold leaf (but of course).
So coming to a close, it has been years since first cooking shrimp for the first time… yet, I still remember the excitement that reverberated through my body when my final plated dish was served to the clients at Crillon. I called mom and dad as soon as I was finished (which, due to the time difference, was in the middle of the night in Arizona… my apologies!) I know… the, “mom, dad… I just cooked shrimp that was actually served to the clientele!” seems trivial… but to me, it sky-rocketed my confidence.
In the kitchen, confidence is key. As with any relationship in life, it takes time to build confidence and trust – in yourself and with others. It takes years to build trust, yet seconds to destroy. Experience in the kitchen allows confidence to grow. With a solid foundation, that confidence may be shaken at times, but never fully destroyed.
Fall seven times. Stand up eight.
Love from DALLAS, y’all,