Culinary School: Week 2 Recap

With each week that goes by, I'm loving my courses more and more. I certainly started my courses with a decent amount of culinary knowledge but I love the fact that there is so much more for me to learn. My classes are in the afternoon and evenings so when most people are winding down from their long day, I'm soaking up tons of culinary info in the lecture portion of my course. When I'm in my kitchen lab, it's so much fun to apply the things I've learned in the classroom. Seriously, this is the most fun I've had going to school ever! This week in my virtual kitchen classroom, I was completely engrossed in the topics covered. What many people may think as dry topics, I was happily absorbing all the information I could . Read on to see what I learned this week in my nutrition and culinary principles courses...

Nutrition - This week, I learned quite a bit about food labels. I've been reading food labels for quite some time now and thought I had a good grasp of what it says and what things mean. However in class, I learned how to read and interpret information from a Nutrition Facts Label. Some key notes:
  • All food labels must contain the name of the product, the net contents or net weight, the name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor, a list of ingredients using common names in order of predominance by weight, and nutrition information.
  • Daily Values are nutrient standards used on food labels to allow nutrient comparisons among foods.
  • Any nutrient claim on food labels must comply with Food & Drug Administration regulations and definitions.
  • Health claims state certain foods or components of foods may reduce the risk of disease or health-related condition. Health claims may be ranks A, B, C, or D and must be approved by the FDA.
  • Qualified health claims (which are always ranked B, C, or D) require a disclaimer or other qualifying language to ensure that they do not mislead consumers.
In addition to food labels, I also learned about dietary recommendations and food guidelines. There are currently nine dietary guidelines:
  1. Adequate nutrients with Kcalorie needs
  2. Weight Management
  3. Physical Activity
  4. Food Groups to Encourage
  5. Fats
  6. Carbohydrates
  7. Sodium & Potassium
  8. Alcoholic Beverages
  9. Food Safety
These nine guidelines are updated every five years by a joint advisory committee of the U.S. Department of agriculture and the Department of Health & Human Services. The guidelines provide sound advice to help people make food choices for a healthy, active life and reflect a consensus of the most current scientific and medical knowledge. I've also learned the recommended ways to implement each dietary guideline.

Another big topic in my nutrition course this week is the MyPyramid. The original Food Guide Pyramid was developed in 1992 as an educational tool to help Americans select healthful diets. You may recall seeing this pyramid in the past...

The new MyPyramid was developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and replaced the original Food Guide Pyramid. MyPyramid translates the principles of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines and other nutritional standards to assist consumers in making healthier food and physical activity choices.
MyPyramid illustrates a number of principles:
  1. One size doesn't fit all. MyPyramid symbolizes a personalized approach to healthy eating and physical activity. Check out to get an estimate of what kcalorie level is best for you on the basis of your age, gender, and activity level.
  2. Activity. Activity is represented by the steps and the person climbing them, as a reminder of the importance of daily physical activity.
  3. Moderation. Moderation is represented by the narrowing of each food group from bottom to top. The wider base stands for foods with little or no solid fats or added sugars.
  4. Proportionality. Proportionality is shown by the different widths of the food group bands. The widths suggest how much food a person should choose from each group.
  5. Variety. Variety is symbolized by the six color bands representing the five food groups of the Pyramid plus oils.
  6. Gradual improvement. Gradual improvement is encouraged by the slogan "Steps to a Healthier You."
An important note: The portion sizes in MyPyramid do not always match the serving sizes found on food labels. This is the case because the purpose of MyPyramid is not the same as the purpose of nutrition labeling.

Homework: Lots of studying for my Nutrition class since my first quiz is this coming Wednesday. I also have a worksheet due that covers what we've learned the past 2 weeks.

Culinary Principles 1 - This week, we covered menu and recipes. In a nutshell, I learned about the different types and styles of menus, the purpose of standardized recipes, how to convert recipe yield amounts and the need for cost controls in any food service operation.

Professional chefs not only need to know the basics of cooking applications, but also know the business in food services. This means knowing what products cost and how to control and maintain food costs. It also means understanding how accurate measurements, portion control and proper food handling directly affect the food service operation's bottom line. But even before knowing the details of the food service business, there's one document that determines everything... the menu.

The menu is the 'soul' of the operation because it dictates and is the basis of a business's purchasing, production, sales, cost accounting, labor management, kitchen layout and equipment selection. Once a business determines a menu, everything else can be tailored accordingly. Speaking of menus, there are currently 5 types of menus:
  • Static or fixed menus - these are menus where all patrons are offered the same foods every day. An example of a static or fixed menu is the menu a McDonald's restaurants.
  • Cycle menus - these are menus that are developed for a set period; and at the end of that period the menu repeats itself. Sometimes these menus are written on a seasonal basis, with a new menu for each season to take advantage of product availability. An example of a cycle menu is an elementary school lunch menu.
  • Market menus - these menus are based on product availability during a specific period and its written to use foods when they are in peak season or readily available. As a result, these menus are often changed daily. These menus are increasingly popular with chefs because they challenge the chef's ingenuity in using fresh, seasonal products.
  • Hybrid menus - these menus combines a static menu with a cycle menu or a market menu of specials. An example of a hybrid menu is a seasonal offering of the McRib sandwich at McDonald's restaurant in addition to their static menu.
  • California menus - these menus are typically found in 24-hour restaurants. California menus are where all three meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) are available all day and are listed on the same menu.
  • Degustation menus - these menus allow the consumer to try a large number of chef's creations in smaller portions. These menus also tend to cost 20-25% more than an average meal.
Regardless of what kind of menu is offered at a food establishment, the menu can offer consumers an opportunity to purchase their selections a la carte, semi a la carte, table d'hote or some combination of the three:
  • A la carte - Every food and beverage item is priced and ordered separately.
  • Semi a la carte - with this popular menu style, some food items (particularly appetizers and desserts) are priced and ordered separately, while the entree is accompanied by and priced to include other items, such as a salad, starch or vegetable.
  • Table d'hote or prix fixe - this menu offers a complete meal at a set price. The term table d'hote is French for "host's table" and is derived from the innkeeper's practice of seating all guests at a large communal table and serving them all the same meal.) A table d'hote meal can range from very elegant to a diner's blue-plate special. A prix fixe menu may offer choices at a fixed price, whereas a table d'hote menu usually offers no choice.
Now a menu is much more than choosing foods to serve. There's quite a few considerations chefs have in creating menus. These considerations include:
  • Balance & Variety - Balancing a menu means providing enough variety and contrast so that the meal holds interest from the first course to the last, as well as developing a feeling for which foods complement each other.
  • Flavors, Textures & Appearance - It's best to not repeat foods with the same or similar tastes and textures. Good menus will serve food with a variety of colors and shapes. As for flavors, pairing foods accordingly will also improve a menu (ie: tart with fat, sweet with sour, etc)
  • Kitchen Capabilities & Availability of Foods - When creating a menu, a chef has to think about what equipment will be used to prepare the dishes. Equipment limits are especially important. A chef should know the capacities of the kitchen equipment and plan accordingly. It's best to have dishes prepared using various equipment and share the workload. If all the menu dishes need to use the stove, the other equipment in the kitchen would be sitting useless, which is a waste of time, energy and money. Having a menu that can be prepared with an even workload among employees and can be done throughout the day in steps would be an effective use of time and resources. Lastly, these days, chefs are looking to use foods in season and take advantage of foods that are local.
Now that we learned a great deal about menus and what's involved in creating and implementing them, the second part of my culinary principles lecture class was devoted to recipes. Once a menu is created, standardized recipes should be prepared for each item. A standardized recipe is one that will produce a known quality and quantity of food for a specific operation. It specifies (1) the type and amount of each ingredient, (2) the preparation and cooking procedures and (3) the yield and portion size. These recipes are a set of instructions describing the way a particular establishment prepares a particular dish for it's own cooks, using it's own equipment and for it's own patrons. This is why restaurant recipes will never taste exactly the same if you make it at home and why restaurants who have the same menu item will result in 2 different recipes.

In class we learned how to look a standardized recipes which are different from recipes found online and shared among friends and family. Standardized recipes are used to control production.
  • There's control quality where recipes are detailed and specific, and ensures that the product is the same every time it is made and served, no matter who cooks. An example is how a hamburger at McDonald's will taste exactly the same if you purchase it from two different McDonald's restaurants.
  • There's also control quantity where the recipes indicate precise quantities for every ingredient and how they are to be measured. The recipes also indicate exact yield and portion sizes, and how the portions are to be measured and served.
Measuring was another hot topic in class. Careful measurement of ingredients is one of the most important parts of food production. It maintains a consistent quality each time a recipe is prepared and served, and is important for cost control. There are 2 types of measurement - ingredient measurement and portion measurement or portion control.
  • Measuring by weight is the most accurate method of measuring. It's used for most solid ingredients and accurate scales are necessary, as well as to tare them out before use. AP (As Purchased) weight is the weight of the item as purchased, before any trimming is done. EP (Edible Portion) weight is the weight after all inedible parts are trimmed off.
  • Measuring by volume is used for liquids. It's important that solid ingredients should not be measured by volume! Dry ingredients may be measured by volume when speed is more important than accuracy.
  • Measuring by count is used when units are fairly standard (ie: eggs, packages of gelatin, etc) or when serving portions are determined by a number of units (1 baked potato, 6 pieces of fried shrimp, etc)
  • Portion control in preparation begins with the measuring of ingredients. If it's not done correctly, then the recipe yield is thrown off.
  • Portion control in serving ensures that the correct amount of an item is served. Portioning can be done by count, weight, volume, even division or standard fill, a form of volume measure.
Once we learned all about measuring and the units of measure, we learned how to accurately convert a recipe by total yield and portion sizes.

Converting Total Yield - The yield is the total amount of a product made from a recipe and is also the amount of a particular food item remaining after cleaning and processing. Suppose you have a recipe that makes 12 portions and you want to make 48 portions instead. To convert the total yield of a recipe, you'll need to divide the desired (new) yield amount (which is 48) by the recipe's (old) yield amount (which is 12) to obtain the conversion factor (48/12 = 4). Once you have that answer or the conversion factor, you'll need to multiply each of the ingredient quantities by the conversion factor to obtain the new quantity (so multiply the ingredients by 4). The key point in using this formula and calculation is that all weights need to be in ounces and volumes in fluid ounces.

Converting Portion sizes
- Sometimes we need to change the size of the portions as well as the number of portions. To do this, you'll need to calculate the total yield of the recipe. Determine the total yield of the existing recipe by multiplying the number of portions by the portion size:
Original portions x Portion size = Total yield (old)
The next step is to determine the total yield by multiplying the new number of portions by the new portion size:
Desired portion x Desired portion size = Total yield (new)

Obtain the conversion factor as described earlier:
New total yield / Old total yield = Conversion factor

Then multiply each ingredient by the conversion factor:
Old quantity x Conversion factor = New quantity

We spent quite a bit of time converting recipes for new yields and portion sizes by applying these formulas to various word problems. I thought it was great to do and it's something that gets easier over time. Now the fun part... kitchen lab!

In the kitchen, Chef S went over the importance of measuring using proper tools and techniques. After his demonstration, he let us loose in the kitchen to prepare a handful of recipes. The class formed pairs last week and together, the pair of students team up to work on a recipe together. My partner and I were assigned to make Braised Celery. The original recipe yielded 12 servings however Chef S asked that we convert the recipe to yield 8 servings. After calculating the conversion, we got our ingredients together for our mise en place...

The recipe starts by trimming the outer ribs from celery heads, leaving only the tender hearts. The heads were trimmed to 6 inch lengths while the root was trimmed slightly, leaving the head together and cut lengthwise into quarters.

Next, onions and garlic were sauteed in butter and oil until tender...
The celery quarters were added to the pan to saute...

Thyme, basil, white wine and chicken stock were then added to the pan and brought to a boil....

We reduced the heat to a simmer, covered and braised the celery in the oven at 400 degrees until tender, approximately 35-40 minutes. When done, we removed the celery from the pan. The remaining cooking liquid was reduced on the stovetop until it thickened, leaving a gorgeous caramelized garlic and onion mixture...

We adjusted the seasonings and returned the celery to the pan to reheat. Then we plated the dish by placing a bed of the caramelized garlic and onion mixture on the bottom of our serving dish, topped with the braised celery and garnished with more caramelized garlic & onion.

Here are the dishes my fellow classmates prepared...

Fire Roasted Green Bell Pepper & Green Beans

Oven Roasted Potatoes

Spicy Maple Carrots

Corn O'Brien

Spicy Braised Celery

Cinnamon Ginger Honey Carrots

Fire Roasted Red Bell Pepper & Green Beans

And a Cherry Pecan Coffee Cake for dessert...

Homework: For this class, I have a hospitality industry report where I'm to write about a specific hospitality career of my choice. I also have questions to answer for chapter 3 on Menus & Recipes.

So that was quite a bit of info learned this week between the two classes I'm currently taking. Stay tuned for what I learned in the coming week with my week 3 recap!


  1. can you do this until forever?! i truly love this post. i want to read more of this. and thank you very much for being very patient in this very long post i enjoyed every bit of it. although it was sort of information overload.

    now im thinking of taking culinary now!

  2. Thanks for all the info! I found the bit about weighing dry ingredients interesting, I never quite understood why Americans and Brits do it differently, but I guess its for speed and convenience. Leave it to Americans to go for convenience over accuracy!

    I've had to get used to weighing everything since British recipes are in metric weights and volumes, not in ounces and cups. Once I got my kitchen scale I had a hard time measuring out things like flour or sugar because I didn't know how to "eyeball it" and adjust from there. I've gotten much better at it now and I'm amazed at my ability to guesstimate weights of different ingredients and make small adjustments. I also had to remember to adjust the amount of eggs used in American recipes, for some reason eggs here are tiny and a recipe that calls for two eggs I have to use 3 and it can take a bit of guess work to figure out how many eggs I'll need and it can make or break a recipe.

    Good job, the braised celery looks great. Thats the part of the celery I usually throw away, maybe from now on I'll save it and prepare it that way.

  3. That celery looks fantastic! I love hearing your recap of class - so jealous that you are in culinary school.

  4. I LOVE that you are going to culinary school. I want to go as well, but will have to wait for at least a year. No matter what I will make it happen.

  5. Hi dear! I like it that you join the Culinary School. I thinks this is a great passion. Thanks.
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