Tag Archives: culinary school

Diamond Chef Prelims Set for March 6 at PTC

19 Feb
Chef Dan Capello, Executive Chef of Chenal Country Club, competing in last year's Diamond Chef preliminaries.

Chef Dan Capello, Executive Chef of Chenal Country Club, competing in last year’s Diamond Chef preliminaries. Capello won last year’s final and will compete against this year’s preliminary winner. Photo courtesy of Pulaski Tech.

UPDATE 3/5/14: Specific competitor heat times announced here.

What better setting for this year’s Diamond Chef preliminaries than a shiny new culinary school, right?

The annual Diamond Chef competition is a fundraiser for the Pulaski Technical College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute, taking place in two phases. The preliminary competition, taking place at the school on Thursday, March 6, culls the field of several talented local chefs (see graphic below) down to one competitor, using an elimination-style setup. Each heat features a mystery basket of ingredients that both chefs in that round must use.

Then later in the spring, at a ticketed event at the Statehouse Convention Center, the finalist goes mano-a-mano (or woman-o, if one had entered) on-stage against the previous year’s winner, Chef Dan Capello of Chenal Country Club, while the audience enjoys a multi-course meal. In the final, a single secret ingredient is revealed that must be used in each of at least three courses.

This year marks the preliminary event’s move to the institute’s new building, which opened to students last fall. The preliminary had been held at the former Peabody Hotel in years past.

If you’ve never been to the preliminary competition, it’s a great time to jump in. As opposed to the final, this event is free, and this year it will include some complimentary hors d’oerves and beverages from 5 – 8 p.m. (Thanks, sponsors!) You can drop in anytime between 2 and 8 p.m. to watch the action.

Diamond Chef Arkansas Preliminary Competition
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Pulaski Technical College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute
13000 Interstate 30, Little Rock
Drop in 2 – 8 p.m. (hors d’oerves and beverages 5 – 8 p.m.)

Prelim eblast FINAL


Looking Back at Culinary School: A Story Best Told in Time

2 Oct

Tickets from Food IV service on a different night. Mine were messier.

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote this post, other than a little fiddling I did today. I wrote it after a particularly sharp disagreement with one of my chef instructors at culinary school.

The original title, simply, “A Story Best Told in Time,” alluded to the fact that I couldn’t even write details about what happened yet. In the perennial words of Little Critter, I was so mad. Today, I’m over it, so I will.

In Food Production IV, a final-level class in which we did fine-dining service every Friday night, we took turns on different stations. It was my second time doing table service. Before this class, I’d never waited tables, ever. The first time I did in class, it was ugly, but it worked out.

This second time, not so much.

I got table numbers backwards. I got orders out of order. The chef was already in a rare mood that month or so, and my bumbling didn’t set very well at all. “These are big mistakes,” he bellowed from the kitchen as I ran back and forth.

However, things started to get better after drinks and appetizers went down. As I jogged from the kitchen to the dining room, I started to think to myself, “I could do this. This isn’t so bad.”

Then things got weird.

Appetizer dishes started coming out that we didn’t order, even after I had corrected all my bumbling. A runner brought a strange-looking version of the amuse bouche (pre-appetizer bite) to me. “Chef said you needed a vegetarian amuse,” she said. Not only did I not, but we weren’t even on that course anymore. What?

The entree plates were taking forever. Things were crazy in the kitchen, as they often were, but we all seemed to be a little off kilter this evening.

Finally, I saw a runner jog a tray into the dining room. She didn’t signal that it was for my table, as is custom, and she sat it near the other server, so I kept refilling drinks and waiting on my tables as other entrees came out.

Twenty minutes later or so, I came to the excruciating realization that the tray, still sitting out, was for one of my tables. A VIP one.

I’ve never had that kind of butt-chewing from a chef.

And honestly, I deserved it. I didn’t think so at the time, because the runner is supposed to tell me that it’s mine. But a good server would know what dishes were still needed, what table they belonged to, and whether or not they’d arrived yet from the kitchen.

It is with this year-later mea culpa that I understand even more deeply what culinary education is all about. We’re all pretty decent cooks, or we wouldn’t be there. It’s about taking what we may not be so good at and stretching us, making us leaders.


When I started this real-time writing adventure with Pulaski Technical College’s Arkansas Culinary School, I wondered how all that would work out. From the beginning, the administration was aware of my project. Sometimes, my instructors knew that I was writing about their classes, and other times, they didn’t. In my last semester, I got nearly weekly reports from the culinary school office of another instructor who loved my summary of a class, and who may or may not have even known I had been writing similar stories for the past two years.

Before I started school, several friends in the industry recommended I read The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman. Similar to myself, Ruhlman started out as a writer, and he went to the Culinary Institute of America to write about the process of becoming a chef. In fact, while we both went to school out of a passion for the culinary arts, he seemed to go as more of an emic research project.

Ruhlman’s thought process through the voyage from writer to chef is a fascinating one. And through this voyage, he was challenged physically, mentally and emotionally, often by way of conflict. His story of interaction with one chef instructor, Michael Pardus, was way more explosive than anything I ever experienced.

Today, Ruhlman and Pardus are close friends. They get together at one house or the other and just cook, experiment, and talk. Theirs is a fiery story that just couldn’t be told as it was happening, but with the comfort and insight of time.

I hope for this kind of relationship someday with my chef instructors. Chefs are often a passionate lot, and we did occasionally butt heads. But in the end, that passion is exactly what makes what we do so special.

Hey guys: Cooking party at my house, in a year or two. I’ll bring the Humble Pie.

Country Captain Chicken: My Last Final, Ever (With Recipe for Blanch, Shock and Awe Asparagus)

15 May

With some degree of anticlimactic huzzah, I recently made this, my last dish at Pulaski Technical College Arkansas Culinary School.

The humor was not lost on me that it was Country Captain Chicken, a sort of earthy, southern meal, to end two and a half years of mostly fine-dining training. I imagine this was because chicken is easily purchased and quickly used, things critical to a college kitchen trying to close up shop for the summer.

My last class just happened to be American Regional Cuisine, which I have really enjoyed this semester. The class was supposed to be taught by my PITA Food 4 instructor (who, incidentally, I now adore). But, due to a scheduling issue, the class was taught by a new instructor, Matthew Cooper of Lulav. No, not that guy, a new one. I imagine this one knows how to make sushi. 

We did our written and practical final on the same day, which doesn’t always happen. The test had 70 questions. I was the first to turn it in, which always makes me a little nervous… overconfident much? Not really. I only missed three.

We didn’t know what we’d be making for our practical final until just before entering the kitchen. The class was divided and assigned one of two dishes, the Country Captain and a clam chowder. I was glad I got the chicken.

I really relished my last time in the kitchen as a student. For this final, we worked individually, which I enjoy, although I’m also known for often forceful leadership of a group activity. (That’s a phlegmatic/choleric personality mix, for those who are into that sort of thing.)

I finished. It was awesome. Then I realized I forgot to add the raisins, so I scraped off the sauce, fixed the error, and re-finished. Even more awesome.

Not ever being one to leave well enough alone, I asked Chef Cooper if he would mind a bit of liberty taken with the sides. He said that would be fine, with the sides only. So, rather than sautéing the recommended side of asparagus, I broke protocol and used my favorite technique: blanch, shock and awe. (I’m seriously going to make that into a T-shirt.) See recipe below.

The chef dug the food. I got an A.

I had a moment as I walked out the back door, toward the loading dock and trash area that was near my car. Never again will I have the opportunity to learn, play, experiment and grow that I’ve had here. Never again will I be surrounded by such culinary genius, all the time. Never again will I be with this particular group of students, of all ages and talents, who have become some of my best friends.

Here’s to whatever comes next.


Blanch, Shock and Awe Asparagus 
4 servings

  • 20 stalks asparagus, woody ends trimmed/snapped off
  • Olive oil
  • 1 Lemon, zested, halved
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper, fresh ground

Prepare a bowl of ice water while you bring a pot of salted water to boil. Heat a grill or grill pan to high heat.

Blanch the asparagus in salted water for 10-15 seconds, or just until the color becomes a bright green. Immediately plunge asparagus in the ice water for a few seconds to stop the cooking process. Don’t leave it there too long, but remove and dry thoroughly on paper towels.

Drizzle olive oil lightly over the asparagus and rub with your hands to thoroughly coat. Season with salt and pepper, then grill for 5-10 minutes or until the asparagus acquires grill marks and the desired level of charring, if you like.

Remove asparagus from the grill and place in a shallow container. Squeeze one half of the lemon over the asparagus, then sprinkle with the zest. Serve to astounded and awed guests.



The End (of School) is Near!

1 May

For real, folks.

I’ve been so busy with the Food Blogger Bake Sale that it hasn’t really sunk in. Tomorrow, I’ll take my last final in culinary school, for American Regional Cuisine, and then I’m done.

Last night, I stayed up late writing out the last of the recipe cards that I’ve managed to lose over the course of the semester — why, oh why did I not use a bound deck of cards?!? — as we’ll need them for our practical exam. The chef will assign us each one entree from the semester to prepare, and boy howdy, we’d better have that card with us. We’re also supposed to make sides that go appropriately with the dish.

I still need to study for the written exam. Yes, it’s tomorrow, as well. I study best at the last minute. Get off me.

The last few weeks, lots of great opportunities have cropped up, mostly short-term projects. I like those. In fact, I’m thinking of putting on my business card, “Culinary Mercenary.” Need help developing a menu item? Some extra hands in the kitchen for a couple days? Covering for your line cook who needs a vacay? Give me a call.

I have no illusions that I know it all. In fact, Pulaski Technical College Arkansas Culinary School was just the beginning of my education. I have some plans for a project that will give me some hands-on experience at a variety of places.

Stay tuned, because you’ll be invited along for the ride.

P.S. We raised $979 for Share Our Strength on Saturday! But, it’s just short of last year’s total of $1040, and I wanna beat it. So, please (pretty please?) click here and donate $5 or $10 to help us out. It’s for the kids, y’all!

Sad Babies, Blood Loss, and a One-Egg Mayo

12 Sep

That was probably the weirdest title I’ve ever written. Anyway.

My four year old boy was a little clingy last week. Every morning, except Fridays, he has to get dressed and go somewhere. I know there are lots of working families out there for whom this is the norm, but he’s just not used to it. Thursday, he started whining, “I just want you to stay home wif me and cuddle and watch cartoons. I want you to go get doughnut holes wif me.”

Now, Thursdays are usually open-ish for me, until I go to Food Production 4 at 3 p.m. But he goes to Mother’s Day Out at our church, and I had planned to go to school for a while and do some early mise so we wouldn’t be so slammed this week.

I made him get dressed and go, although it hurt me a little. He was happy when he got there, and I promised him a special day just for us on Friday, including doughnuts.

I managed to spend a little over an hour at the school before class, gathering stuff for that night. It did help having a big hotel pan full of our mise before class officially started at 3 p.m. By 2:30, most of the students were there and we were busily getting things ready.

This week I was on cold pantry again, and I was in charge, with a new partner to show the ropes. Things were going well, until… the caesar.

I made a fairly elaborate caesar dressing from scratch, and at near the last step, it was ruined by a rotten egg. I’ve already spent waaaay to much time on this. I remade it and carried it to the chef, tasting spoon in hand, for his approval.

He didn’t like the texture. “Make a one-egg mayo and mix this into it.”

Really? From scratch. I don’t have time.

I snuck around the kitchen, which also serves the school’s cafe, looking for some ready-made mayo. When I’d spent way too much time looking, I finally found some…only to find the chef standing there. Make the mayo, he said.

I confessed that I couldn’t remember exactly how to do it. He disappeared, and then returned with a printed recipe. I made the mayo.

And I was not.happy.about.it.

I grumbled while I whisked. My arm ached. I’m out of time. I’d been allowed to use a blender or mixer in the previous class where we made mayo because of my fibromyalgia. There was none to be found in today’s kitchen. Grrrr.

I finished the mayo (with a little final whisking help from my partner, while I poured the oil) and mixed it with the dressing. It was lovely, and the mayo gave it a delicious eggy richness that a prepared version would not have provided.

Dang him for being right.

A little later, my partner and I were slicing apples for two different vinaigrettes. The recipe called for fine brunoise, or 1/16″ cubes. We struggled to cut out enough from our apples, many of which were at least partly spoiled.

The chef came by. “Not fine enough,” he said, showing us how he wanted them — actually much finer than 1/16″. We started over.

“I want demo plates in 15 minutes,” the chef boomed to the whole kitchen.

The chef came by a few minutes later, as we struggled. Still not fine enough. Throw it out and start over.

At this point, I was pretty hacked off.

Honestly, I thought. Isn’t there a point where you just get the dish out? But I knew the answer: In fine dining, not really. We started over and got the apples done, and finished out our dressings.

Somehow, with the help of the night’s sous chef (who took over our parmesan tuilles) and the fry station (who took over the amuse bouche), we got everything ready.

Then, I nearly cut off the tip of my finger with a peeler.

I noticed, just before service, that we still didn’t have the parmesan shavings we needed for the caesar salad. I grabbed by beloved Oxo peeler and handed it toward my partner for him to do the shavings.

What happened next, I’m not exactly sure. It was some sort of reflex action, to flick the blade with my other hand. Maybe I was checking that there wasn’t a protective cover still on it, as often happens with the student peelers that come in our kits. Maybe I was seeing if the blade was facing the right direction, since they sometimes get flipped. Whatever it was, it was subconscious, and it was really stupid.

So, moments before our guests were being seated, my finger is gushing blood, and I’m hopping around with equal amounts of horror and anger.

A well-heeled fellow student escorted me to the chef’s office, where he whipped out the chef’s first aid kit and doctored me up. Two bandages and two gloves later, I convinced the chef that I was fine for service.

The chef made me sit with my hands over my head for a moment, but my arms ached. I wanted to prove myself. I was (fairly) certain the bleeding had stopped, or at least slowed down enough that I was good to go. We’ll check it again after service to see if I need stitches.

We got our plates out that night, and they looked great. We somehow pulled it off.

And my finger, although painful, seemed to be holding together enough that it wouldn’t need professional attention. I convinced the chef that there was no need for an incident report. Enough drama already.

The next day, I took my son out for a much-deserved doughnut at Krispy Kreme. As we watched the magic behind the glass production wall, I thought about things like food safety, doughnut recipes and the role of the busy manager there.

Then I turned back to my little boy, and we enjoyed a treat together — a much-deserved reward for us both.

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Stupid computers and Twice-Baked Potato Bites

10 Sep

Finished potato-y goodness, minus some paprika and parm we sprinkled on at the end.

I wrote a long, satisfying blog post yesterday, forgot to hit “save,” and left the computer in a hurry. Turns out autosave only works if you’ve manually saved at least once.


I told the long version of this week’s restaurant service at school, most notably when I nearly cut off the end of my left index finger with a peeler. Typing this is extremely difficult. I hope you’re feeling the love through my efforts here.

I suppose I’ll try to rewrite it, because it was actually quite good. Dangit. So I’ll just give you a brief rundown of what we did in another class this week.

In banquets and catering, we had a long (looong) discussion on the business end of starting a catering business: insurance, taxes, and pricing to make a profit. If you’ve ever priced an event and nearly fell out at the cost, I now know it’s with good reason. In our book’s example, the caterer had to build about $1300 into every job just to cover overhead. Wow.

At least now we know how to actually make money and not blow it on the light bill (and rent, and salaries) we forgot to work in.

A fellow student pipes the yummy potato mixture back into the baked shells.

Afterward, we went into the kitchen to make some appetizers for an event the school was catering. My group made the most awesome tiny, twice-baked potatoes. We were given some leeway on how to flavor the filling, so my friend Deborah and I came up with chives, goat cheese and a splash of worchestershire. Oh, and a buncha butter. And salt and pepper, of course. Turned out great.

I started to type a recipe, and quickly found I have no idea how to quantify it. But basically, you get size “B” red potatoes (the smallish ones), cut off the ends, and cut the whole thing in half. With the larger (from the middle) side up, scoop out some potato with a melon baller or teaspoon. Oil and season the “shells,” and bake at 325 for about 40 minutes, or until they’re browned and done all the way through.

Meanwhile, boil all the scooped out potato in some salted water, and when it’s tender, drain, reserving some of the water. Put in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and some butter, and mix until smooth. Now the fun part: mix in cheese, herbs, whatever you want. If the mixture is dry, pour back in some of the starchy water.

Put the resulting yummy goodness in a piping bag and pipe into the shells. (Or, you could just use a spoon if you want.) Top with paprika and shredded cheese if you like. We froze them at this point for later use, but you can go ahead and brown them in the oven some more and serve.

These were yummay! I’m starting to think it may not be so horrible to cater an event. The idea horrified me before. These little bits of deliciousness were inspiring.

What kind of little goodies have you made for formal events? Ever cater anything? Let me know your thoughts.

Pulaski Tech Prepares for New $15M Culinary Facility

23 Aug

Chef Todd Gold, Director of Programs at Pulaski Technical College Arkansas Culinary School, answers questions after Monday's student orientation.

As part of the school’s stated vision to “make Arkansas a culinary destination,” Pulaski Technical College Arkansas Culinary School Director of Programs Todd Gold announced plans on Monday for a new, $12.5 – 15 million facility for the program, estimated to be completed in about two years.

The announcement was made at an orientation for students of the culinary program, which included an introduction to the program’s staff and a review of uniform and other policies. (Students: Watch for a separate post detailing the orientation.)

The program is currently at full capacity, with 350 students currently attending hands-on classes and about 150 taking general education classes, waiting for the culinary classes to become available. Culinary classes are currently taught at Pulaski Tech’s north and south campuses, although headquartered at the latter.

Gold said the new facility will include teaching kitchens specifically designed for stocks, soups and sauces; baking; and meat and seafood (butchery). The meat and seafood kitchen will be held at 40 degrees, “like a huge walk-in [refrigerator],” Gold said, so carcasses may be safely held and broken down from a larger size.

A new wine studies center will include stadium seating and special features at each seat to assist the learner in viewing and evaluating different types of wine.

All details about the new facility are still considered preliminary, since the bond issue to pay for the project won’t happen until next month. But plans have been swift for months now, with the process to choose an architect currently underway.

“We received 21 proposals from architects,” Gold said, “and they will be reviewed by a committee to choose the top four. These will do oral presentations, and we should be able to select one by mid-October.”

The new facility is planned to be about 40,000 square feet and two stories tall, and will be located on the north side of the parking lot for the current Pulaski Tech South building on Interstate 30, near Bryant. The school’s truck driving education program will be moved from this space to another location.

“This will be state-of-the-art,” Gold said. “I would put it up against any other culinary education facility.”

Happy Hollandaise

1 Jan

Happy New Year! I resolve to issue you even more of my just-completed semester at Pulaski Technical College Arkansas Culinary School.

Not to whine (much), but the *only* B I got this semester was in Stocks, Soups and Sauces. Coulda been on the President’s List again!

It was a close one, but in all fairness, my own fault. Or at least my sickly body’s fault. I had a bad health week somewhere in there and missed a lab. And you just DON’T miss labs in culinary school. So coming out with a B wasn’t too bad.

I did well on all the, er, stocks, soups and sauces we made, but there was one sauce that gave me fits…hollandaise. My crampy muscles just couldn’t hold up to all that whisking, and it broke every time I made it. Come to find out, hollandaise was part of our final. Awesome.

But somehow, I was in the groove that day, and my last hollandaise for the class turned out to be my very best. A little delirious at the end of a tough semester, I sang “Happy Hollandaise” the whole class time, to the shagrin of my fellow students.

Here’s photos of that and the other lovelies I made for our practical (lab) final in that class.

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Choy: Learn It All, But Chase Your Passion

2 Nov

Chef Sam Choy serving his Hawaiian Tuna Poke.

Learn basic knife skills and don’t quit, even if you’re the dishwasher, said chef and television personality Sam Choy during this morning’s appearance on the Pulaski Technical College’s LR-South campus.

Choy demonstrated two dishes and various knife skills during the demonstration, while sharing insights for students of the college’s Arkansas Culinary School.

Choy noted that many accomplished chefs have minimal knife skills or may not know how to break down a chicken or pig, and as students we now have the opportunity to learn these things.

In a later interview, Choy added that culinary students should take advantage of their time in school to experience as much as possible, and at the same time find an area of focus.

“You’re trying to balance school with the rest of your life, and some things may fall through the cracks,” he said. “But try to do as much as you can, and at the same time focus on what grabs your interest. Then you’ve found your focus, what you like to do.”

He also encouraged small famers and growers in Arkansas to cooperate with chefs in bringing local foods to the restaurant table.

“Farmers are no different than any other profession, in that they want to make sure change will be profitable for them,” Choy said. “But slowly they will start turning [toward growing for restaurant use]. The most important thing is growing food to be enjoyed on the table.”

Choy has appeared on Ready…Set…Cook! and Iron Chef America on Food Network, and will soon debut a show called What’s for Dinner? on the Oprah Winfrey Network. The new show will feature surprise visits to homes in which he creates a meal based on what he finds in the kitchen.

The dishes Choy demonstrated were poke, or Hawaiian dishes of various diced ingredients.

Sam Choy’s Hawaiian Salmon Poke

  • 2 lb. Alaskan wild salmon, large diced
  • 1/2 c. Soy sauce
  • 2 T Sesame oil
  • Medium white onion, diced
  • Medium cucumber, diced
  • 2 Scallions, sliced
  • 2 Avocado, diced

Mix ingredients well and serve cold.

What’s Cooking in Food Production II

29 Aug

Wow…that’s all I had to say after the first day of production (actually cooking in the kitchens) in Food Production II. I so thought I was prepared, and I so…wasn’t.

First, I stayed up late the night before and reviewed what we’d be cooking the next day. Sauteed chicken with salsify and herb sauce, wilted spinach and spaghetti squash (later substituted to carrots). So I printed out the menu, wrote out all my mise en place, listed what equipment I’d need to gather, and figured out in what order I’d need to do things. I found a similar recipe in our textbook and attempted to copy it, but my printer wouldn’t comply. So I went to bed, knowing I had things a few steps ahead. It’s all in my notebook.

Fast forward, next morning in class, 8:30 a.m.

I realize I’ve brought the wrong notebook.

Egads, it’s elementary school all over again!!! Thankfully, the instructor went through everything anyway, and I was able to remember much of what I had written before. No problem.

She assigns me and another student as “food stewards,” which means we are to gather food product for everyone instead of each student running around (like we did last semester) looking for stuff. No problem. We take a break after the lecture and before setting up, and I cut it short so I can get a jump on setting up my station.

Oh crap moment #2: I realize I’ve brought my baking kit rather than my knife kit. They look EXACTLY the same. Sigh. (I managed to keep this from my instructor the whole time, but I guess she knows now, huh?) I managed to borrow a knife from a friend and keep moving.

Then, although I thought I was doing well and working ahead, I fall behind gathering the food for everyone. And as we begin production, I realize we had forgotten a few things. Sheesh. NOT. On. My. Game.

I oversalted, undercooked, and generally felt like a screwup the whole time. I forgot to add aromatics to the fond before deglazing with liquids. And it’s funny…I looked back at my blog post from almost exactly a year prior, where I am teaching this exact same technique. I KNOW this stuff. I just forgot!

But I managed to get my dish done, and besides a little too much salt, all other offenses were fixed. A few minutes in the oven went a long way with my chicken, which turned out quite well. The instructor, while tasting my dish, was talking with another instructor at that moment. She reached over and smacked my arm while nodding to her colleague about the conversation at hand…a silent gesture that told me it turned out OK after all. She did say I should sauce half-way down the chicken, so both the protein and the sauce are identifiable. Good sauce. A little too much salt.


I’ll go over the actual recipe another day this week, when I make it at home for the family. It’s quite easy, and the sauce is sooooo delicious.

And I’m sure I’ll do better the second time around!