Just as millions of families treasure sitting down to dinner in the evenings – unruly toddlers and obstreperous teenagers notwithstanding – restaurant families also value the chance to eat together before the onrush of customers.
So too in GrowGood’s Culinary Training Program, which began in January to prepare students for food service jobs. Every Thursday, the class and the teachers stop working to gather around a table to talk about their work and about themselves as they eat the food they have made.
Many restaurants have family meals. Often, someone who works in the kitchen makes food for the employees. Family meal can be a simple pasta, or a dish that a worker misses from childhood. Or, it can be something a chef is trying out.
At the GrowGood, family dinner is the work of the students on Thursdays. “We make large batches of things all week. On Thursday we can make smaller batches and concentrate on plating and garnish,” says the instructor, April Ventura.
The meal is also a chance to talk through the week. “At the end of the week, they have accomplished so much. It’s time to sit and celebrate what they’ve done,” Ventura says.
On this particular Thursday, the subject was eggs. Dinner would be a variation on eggs Benedict.
Early on in class, Ventura has the students look at the dough for English muffins. The students had made the dough on Tuesday, dusted it with cornmeal and stored it in the refrigerator on two large metal pans.
The dough was still a little cold so hadn’t yet risen as far as everyone wanted it to. “It will start to proof a little as it warms up,” Ventura says.
Meantime, they would work on eggs. On the classroom white board the temperatures at which eggs behave in different ways were written; at 155 degrees, for example, the whites are opaque but soft.
First, Ventura had them observe the difference in appearance between a supermarket egg cracked into a dish and a fresh egg from GrowGood farm, just across the street. The latter had a much richer colored yolk and a less runny white.
Then they scrambled eggs – softly and gently. Add salt, or other seasonings, as the eggs are being whisked and those flavors will be incorporated, not just on the surface. Don’t whisk enough and you’ll see bits of white once the eggs are cooked. Stir too little and the curds will be large.
They learn that everything matters – the eggs, the temperature of the pan, additional ingredients, the whisking, the stirring.
When student Gregg Fattori turns his eggs out onto a plate, Ventura says, “That’s really nice. You got those smaller curds.”
Then poached eggs – a style student Sadier Hernandez had never tasted – and omelets and clarified butter for making Hollandaise sauce to top the eggs. And braised greens.
Using a big white bin of chard from GrowGood farm, the students prepared greens for braising. Hernandez, handsome and smiling in a way that suggested humility, chops carefully, rocking his chef’s knife back and forth on the leaves apparently hunching his shoulders less than he once did, and Ventura jokes, “It’s getting better, my shoulder doesn’t hurt anymore when you cut.”
“I cut with my full body,” he says, laughing.
The students are surprised when Ventura tells them that English muffins are cooked stovetop, not in the oven. They are cut like biscuits, in circles, working to keep the sides as puffed as possible and to waste as little dough as possible.
Hernandez has this down: He was a biscuit cutter for a while at a Carl’s Jr.
Fattori, a former food and beverage supervisor at the Bicycle Casino, plans to find a similar job after the culinary course. Hernandez, who has worked at a commercial bakery in Texas, is open to any job, he says. Both men are veterans of the U.S. Army.
By late afternoon, all the parts are in place: The greens are spooned onto English muffin halves, topped with poached eggs, Hollandaise and fresh GrowGood herbs for garnish. Plates go outside to a picnic table, and everyone tastes, relaxes and considers their work before the start of cleanup.
GrowGood’s Culinary Program began in January, with support from The Salvation Army, and can enroll up to eight students in each 12-week session.
by Mary MacVean