Last week was week 4 of my internship at Dirt Candy, and things keep getting better and better. First of all, everyone is friendly, patient, and nice to be around (the same cannot be said of other restaurant experiences I’ve had, or many kitchens in general. Just read Anthony Bourdain and you’ll hear all about it). Danielle keeps on making killer family meals, shows me how to do new tasks, and still manages to plough through her own long list of prep. Amanda, the owner and chef, never ceases to entertain with her pointed humour. And her food is delicious. Emily, the line chef who comes in in the afternoons for the evening’s service, is a riot. The externs from the Natural Gourmet School are awesome. It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding and I’m picking up a lot of skills along the way.
Last week, in addition to doing the regular jalapeños and onions for the hush puppies, rolling falafel balls, and chopping watermelon radish for the sorbet, I got to make maple butter and celery pesto. The maple butter was really fun – lots of butter, a big mixer, and a couple other things I can’t talk about. But I’m sure you can imagine.
The celery pesto was a little more tricky. Usually you would think, “oh, pesto, not a big deal.” But this batch, at least, was not cooperating. The leaves from the Chinese celery that week were particularly tough, so they probably could have used a bit longer to blanch. Which, to make a long story short, in an effort to try to break down the fibrous leaves, I made a sort of savoury almond butter with celery leaves, garlic, olive oil, and salt instead of pesto. Don’t get me wrong, it was absolutely delicious; but it was unsuitable for the celery salad of which it is a part. I was pretty bummed cause I wanted to get it right. But there is always a silver lining – I got to take it home. I’ve been enjoying it all week.
Amanda also showed me how to brunoise a bell pepper. This was exciting. Brunoise is generally agreed to be one of the more difficult knife techniques to master. It involves a julienne and then cutting those strips into tiny little cubes, probably around two millimetres. A cut that involves going relatively slowly, lots of time and focus, and a (hopefully) beautiful result? Sounds like my kind of activity.
We make a brunoise mix of four different colours of bell peppers for the garnish for the bell pepper soup (which I haven’t had yet, but will have to try soon). The peppers, however, get a lot of special treatment before we even julienne them. We end and core them, cut them into manageable strips, and then skin them on both sides to remove the bumpy, cell-like interior, and the waxy outer surface, both of which are undesirable textures for our purposes. We are going for an even texture, Amanda told me, even proportions, good colouring. I love that attention to detail.
She had me start on the yellow peppers because those and the orange ones have thicker flesh than the red and green, and are therefore easier for beginners. It was a strange mix of exciting and tedious, triumphant and quotidian. My first pepper took me around forty-five minutes to complete, I’d say. And it was far from a perfect brunoise. But I really enjoyed it, and I’m excited to do it more (if Amanda lets me, that is).
If you enjoying geeking out on culinary terms like I do, check out the wikipedia page on knife cut terminology.
For family, Danielle made this awesomely flavourful one-pot wonder with cauliflower, peppers, peas, and tofu, with lots of seasonings and a comforting mexican flavour profile, served over rice. I snagged some cucumber cores and a quart container of a fruit smoothie she made too and settled down for a seated respite and a bowl of yummy food.