Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Swimming Around the Island of Manhattan AND Professional Cheffing? CKCA Chef Instructor Barbara Rich Can Do it All!

Chef Barbara Rich, an instructor in CKCA’s Summer Cooking Intensive Program, is a dynamic, seasoned teacher and mentor. She is committed to helping her students learn correct and creative techniques for using ingredients in harmonious ways.

We sat down with Chef Rich to hear how she developed into the professional chef she is today. We learned more about her passion for contributing to the culinary world through teaching and molding high quality chefs.

What is your earliest food memory? 
In St. Louis as a child I was always helping in the kitchen. As soon as I got into high school I started working in the kitchen of a gourmet “take-out” shop.  I guess that’s where it all started!

Do you have a formal culinary education?  
I trained at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. My goal was to gain a thorough understanding of proper cooking techniques, a non-negotiable requirement for being a successful chef.

What has been your path to success as a professional chef and highly respected instructor?
I’ve navigated the twists and turns of the food industry and was able to learn from every culinary position that I’ve had. When I worked at a high-end restaurant, the executive chef trained me to be quick, organized, efficient and consistent. At my jobs in cafés, restaurants and even as an executive chef, I butchered and filleted all the chickens and fish myself! Although my experience in a professional kitchen has been invaluable, I’ve enjoyed the transition to being a chef-instructor.

What do you enjoy about being a chef instructor?
I’m really loving the culinary teaching world and encourage others to consider it.  If you have good communications skills, experience in the kitchen and technical know-how, it is really rewarding to educate the chefs of tomorrow. You need to understand your craft and have the capability to communicate your food knowledge to students so they understand ingredients and cooking techniques. It takes a lot of mental energy, but it so rewarding to watch students develop into competent and talented professionals.

Right now I’m enjoying teaching at CKCA and The Natural Gourmet Institute, both professionally and recreationally. I was recently named Director of Career Services at the The Natural Gourmet Institute! I’m so happy that I get to do it all!

What do you see currently trending in the food world? 
I know it's not cooking, but juicing is going off the charts! I’m even teaching a class on it with a focus on using living foods and detoxification in juicing.…Who would have thought?

Do you have favorite cookbooks or culinary reads? 
"The Joy of Cooking" by Irma S. Rombauer. Also, believe it or not, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child. It's a classic! You’ll also find me reading "Cooks Illustrated," a great read.

How about celebrity chefs?  Do you have any favorites?
Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner, chef/co-owner of Wallsé in New York City and Chef Jody Williams, Author of “Buvette: The Pleasure of GoodFood,” a new cookbook that just came out.

What kitchen tools are your favorites?
Easy: My lemon juicer, my Microplane zester and a cast iron pan, which holds heat beautifully and is truly the best pan to use for browning.

Who is your mentor?
Bill Cardwell, who taught me how the chemistry of food works and how to respect food characteristics for the best outcome.

Also, I am really inspired by Judy Rogers of the Zuni Café, where I worked. She taught me the importance of being meticulous. I’m just in awe of her – she really taught me how to treat food and to respect its seasonality as well.

What ingredient / food do you find challenging to make?
Torrone, which is a delicious confection made of honey sugar and egg whites. We use it to make meringues, but I rarely get it quite the way I want. I always get advice from my colleague, CKCA Pastry Chef Ellen Sternau.

If you weren't cooking what would you do for a living?
My best answer is to talk about my passion for athletics and yes, you need to be in good shape to work as a serious chef. 

I’m going to be swimming around the island of Manhattan this fall at the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim!  Honestly, it’s just like cooking. There is always a “finish line” in the kitchen. 

Also, both pursuits require you to keep up your endurance so you can produce a quality end product. The race is going to be 120 miles over 6 days!

What is your best advice for culinary students and new grads?
Be prepared for a full experience that requires your mental, physical and intellectual energy and attention. Be willing to put in the time to develop your skills in different areas and different kitchens. Commit to doing whatever it takes to be successful – it is truly worth it in the end!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Chef Carla Contreras, More Than Just a "Chopped" TV Competition Finalist

Is it truly possible for a professionally trained chef to be skilled, humorous, dynamic, likable AND highly respected by her students? The answer is yes! Chef Carla Contreras of The Red Clog Kitchen is one of CKCA's newest instructors teaching our sold out Summer Cooking Intensive program in Manhattan and our students are raving!

Starting Out...
Chef Contreras started her career in the food world busing tables for a caterer at the age of 17. When she dropped a tray of dishes at a wedding, Contreras' clumsiness took a fortuitous turn and she was reassigned to the kitchen to work the line. She does admit however, that her parents greatly contributed to her interest in cooking. They encouraged her as a child to write family grocery lists for her mom's delicious Italian recipes. As a young adult, Contreras went on to work at country clubs, cafes and as a prep and line cook. She then decided to supplement her kitchen experience with a more formal education.

Her Culinary Background...
Chef Contreras' resume is an amalgam of degrees, certifications, training, personal cheffing and teaching. She has a bachelor's degree from Johnson & Wales, a master's in food management from NYU and is certified as a holistic health counselor. This summer in addition to teaching at CKCA, Chef Contreras is also working as an instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education teaching their green market cooking class. She enjoys taking her students to the farmers' market and teaching them how to select and cook farm fresh produce. If that is not enough to keep her busy, she also prides herself on providing one-on-one cooking classes in clients' homes. She calls one of her favorite sessions, "The Pantry Re-do."


Her Passions...
Many days you can find Chef Contreras at the Union Square Farmers Market buying produce and speaking with vendors. She enjoys taking her students to the farmers' market and teaching them how to select local and seasonal ingredients. According to Contreras, "Food and cooking can be spiritual if you use seasonal ingredients and align yourself with the flavors, colors and the many gifts that nature has to offer." One of Chef Contreras' favorite meals to prepare and indulge in is her version of matzo ball soup, homemade Pomodoro Sauce (which she calls her penicillin) over zucchini shavings, instead of pasta, with beef or turkey meatballs.

Celebrity Chefdom...

Chef Contreras' outgoing personality and life experiences have made her the perfect candidate for reality TV show competitions. She became a finalist on the ever-popular show “Chopped” on the Food Network. Contreras also competed on "CYAO," an HLN cooking show, which challenges chefs to transform unhealthy dishes into nutritious meals. She thoroughly enjoyed both of these experiences, feeling that live TV made her more confident and a better communicator as an instructor.

In Her Spare Time...
Chef Contreras is involved with Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (CCAP), a program for underserved public high school students dedicated to igniting a passion for culinary arts in teens.  She continues to mentor participants with many of them receiving scholarships to professional culinary arts programs as a result.

Chef Contreras at CKCA...
At CKCA, we are thoroughly enjoying Chef Contreras' refreshing, healthful approach to cooking and her incredible recipes.  We look forward to seeing her infamous red clogs in our teaching kitchens again in future classes.

FLASH QUESTIONS for Chef Contreras!

One challenging food to prepare: 
Poached eggs in a Ramekin (she’s mastered it now).

Favorite cookbook: 
"Plenty" by Yotam Olenghi.

Her Mentor: 
Eric Pellezzari formerly of The Art Institute in NYC, for his total dedication to technique.

Her favorite recipes: 
Marriage Proposal Chicken (always a great story) and Roasted Cauliflower Soup.

Most useful kitchen tool(s): 
A chef's knife, parchment paper and a Mircroplane zester

Favorite TV cooking show: 
Mind of a Chef (PBS)

Best advise for culinary arts students: 
Read, read, read!  Read every day about culinary arts... a magazine, the New York Times, or articles on leadership in the kitchen. It makes you better at what you do.
Be sure to take classes after your training is complete and work in a variety of kitchens.  All of these experiences will build your confidence and skills.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chef Spotlight: Ellen Sternau, CKCA Instructor, Creates Pastry Magic!

Chef Ellen Sternau has a “no fear” approach to pastry. Using her natural artistic ability and passion for the pastry arts, she is able to craft daring desserts that are both eye-catching and delicious. Over the past four years, CKCA has had the privilege of having Chef Sternau share her knowledge and excitement for the pastry arts with our students. Chef Sternau will be with us this summer teaching classes in both Brooklyn and Manhattan including our cake and cookie decorating classes, our hugely popular French Macaron class, a two week Baking Boot Camp and our Teen Baking Camp.

Chef Sternau’s passion for baking began at a young age - she always loved getting “kitchen-dirty".  She began hosting cooking parties for her buddies at age eight, and by age ten, she made her first attempt at a lemon meringue pie. It didn’t take her long to realize that her future would be filled with icing and cookie cutters, not a “9 to 5” job in a cubicle.
Chef Sternau is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, where she studied both culinary and pastry arts. She chose to pursue pastry arts, which allowed her to work creatively. On her way up the pastry ladder, Ellen spent time as a line cook, worked in a custom bakeshop and waited tables at a pastry shop. Her hard work paid off when she was hired to be the assistant pastry chef at Acqua, a four star California restaurant. While there she was fully immersed in the art of chocolate, cake & pastry decoration and learned to make flawless, flavorful batters and sauces. She ultimately became their Master Pastry Chef, creating menus and desserts while also managing the staff.

Chef Sternau adopted her whimsical approach to baking from Franny Jacobs, an inspirational force and mentor. Jacobs believed that being fast, fun and creative in the kitchen is the key to excelling in pastry arts. Chef Sternau took this motto to heart when she created the world renowned chocolate “Brooklyn Bridge Dessert” while working as pastry chef at the River Cafe, a Michelin starred restaurant and fine dining institution famous for it’s sweeping views of the bridge and the city across from it. The dessert was such a hit that Ellen was paid to continue piping each chocolate bridge by hand even after she left her position as pastry chef!

These days, when she isn’t constructing chocolate bridges, catering weddings, decorating cakes or teaching classes she manages her full-time job as a wife and mother. If her plate wasn’t full enough, Ellen also has a second career as a personal trainer. Some of her first clients were actually the owners of a bakery where she worked as a consultant! When they saw that she could create beautiful, delicious pastries while still managing to stay fit, they had to know the secret. Chef Sternau was happy to share.

Favorite Kitchen Tools: 
Offset Spatula. Handy for everything, small and large, a Microplane Fine Zester and any good rubber spatula.

Favorite Cookbook:
"How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman, a New York Times food columnist and natural food movement enthusiast.  

Favorite Celebrity Chef:  
Jamie Oliver. He is fun, down-to-earth and makes delicious food. Also, Giada De Laurentiis and Ina Garten.

Advice for CKCA Grads Starting Out:   
If you’re not having fun working on a project, stop and start over. Its just food! Enjoy what you’re doing and don’t forget that messing up is part of learning. 

Food Advice For All:
Use really high-quality, non-processed ingredients. Learn to read labels, your desserts will taste better.

Be sure to check out the below classes taught by Chef Sternau!