Thanksgiving Turkey Gravy

Chef Ray Dawson, Director of Culinary Operations, shares his recipe for Turkey Gravy.

Yield: 2 quarts

1.89L turkey stock
Turkey neck, cut into small pieces
Turkey giblets, except liver
Canola oil
1 onion cut into mirepoix
2 carrots cut into mirepoix
3 stalks of celery cut into mirepoix
1tbsp AP flour
Bouquet garni (a few thyme, bay leaves and peppercorns)
Kosher Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2tbsp butter

1. In a large saucepan place some canola oil and put over a medium high flame. When the oil is hot add the turkey neck and giblets. Brown the neck and giblets well.
2. Add 1tbsp butter and 1 tbsp flour to a pan over medium heat. Mix well to make a roux. Add most of your turkey stock, leaving a little extra on the side to adjust the consistency of your gravy. Once your stock is thickened, remove from heat and set aside.
3. Once your giblets are browned, add the onions, carrots and celery and brown well.
4. Add the thickened turkey stock and bring to a simmer. Skim the top of the gravy and maintain at a simmer. Add the bouquet garni.
5. Simmer the gravy for 45 minutes, skimming as needed.
6. Strain the gravy to remove all solids and place back into the saucepan. Adjust the seasoning with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
7. Monte au beurre with the butter: Take saucepan off the heat and add cold cubed butter. Stir to incorporate. Serve with turkey and enjoy!

Happy Holidays from the International Culinary Center!

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Thanksgiving Cornbread Sausage Stuffing

Chef Ray Dawson, Director of Culinary Operations, shares his recipe for Cornbread Sausage Stuffing.

Yield: 12 Servings

1 large onion, ciseler
4 ribs celery, small dice
3 medium carrots, small dice
4 cloves garlic
1lb sweet Italian sausage meat, casings removed
10 cups stale cornbread, cut into ½” cubes
3 -4 cups chicken stock
10 sage leaves chiffonade
¼ bu thyme leaves roughly chopped
Kosher Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
2tbsp butter

1. Preheat an oven to 375˚F.
2. Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil over medium high flame. When the oil is hot add the sausage meat and break up into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Sauté the meat until it begins to turn golden brown.
3. Add the onions, celery, carrots and garlic to the pan and sauté the vegetables until tender and very aromatic.
4. Add the cornbread and mix everything well.
5. In small increments begin to add the chicken stock until the desired consistency is achieved. For a looser stuffing add more stock for a dryer stuffing add less.
6. Season the stuffing to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Fold in the sage and thyme leaves.
7. Place the stuffing in an oven proof casserole dish and dot the top with the butter. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown and crispy on top and the sides are bubbling.
8. Garnish the top with additional sage chiffonade.

Happy Holidays from the International Culinary Center!

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Thanksgiving Honey Roasted Turkey

Chef Ray Dawson, Director of Culinary Operations, shares his recipe for Honey-Roasted Turkey

Apple Cider Brine
Yield: 2 Gallons

1/2 Gal. Apple Cider
1 1/2 Gal. Water
1 Lb Kosher Salt
8 Oz. Sugar
4 Cinnamon Sticks
2tbsp Black Peppercorns
4 Bay Leaves
6 Points Star Anise

1. In a large pot, combine all ingredients.

2. Bring the mixture to a simmer to ensure that all of the salt and sugar are dissolved. Do not let it boil and reduce or it will be too salty.

3. Immediately cool the brine to below 41˚F. Do not submerge item to brine into a warm brine solution.

4. Place item in brine and brine according to the size. Large items require longer brining time and small items require less time

Honey Roasted Turkey

1 Brined Whole Turkey, Air Dried
2 Granny Smith Apples, Cut in Quarters
1 Pear, Cut in Quarters
1 Orange, Cut in Quarters
2 Shallots, Peeled and Cut in Quarters
8 Cloves Garlic, Peeled and Crushed
4 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Smoked Paprika
Butcher Twine
3lbs Mirepoix of Onion, Carrot and Celery, roughly diced
2 Cups Butter
2 Cups Honey

1. Preheat an oven to 375˚F.
2. Remove the wishbone from the turkey.
3. Season lightly the inside of the bird. Stuff the turkey with as much of the apple, pear, orange, garlic, shallot and thyme as will fit inside the bird.
4. Season the turkey lightly with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and the smoked paprika. Rub the seasoning and olive oil all over the bird. Be sure to get into all areas under the wings and legs. Truss the turkey with the butcher twine.
5. Place the mirepoix in a roasting pan and place the turkey on top of the mirepoix. Alternatively, a rack can be used instead of the mirepoix. The turkey should not be in direct contact with the pan or it may burn on the bottom.
6. Place the turkey in the oven and roast for an hour at 375˚F. Lower the oven to 350˚F and roast. While Turkey is in the oven, place butter and honey in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer to combine and use to lightly baste the turkey throughout the cooking process.
7. Roast the turkey until a meat thermometer placed in the thickest part reads 165˚F. 18-20 minutes per pound is a good guideline.
8. Let the turkey rest for at least 30 minutes covered loosely with foil before carving.

Happy Holidays from the International Culinary Center!

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Thanksgiving Pumpkin Cheesecake

Thanksgiving Pumpkin Cheesecake recipe by Deniece Vella, 2013 Professional Culinary Arts graduate.

Credit: Love Food and Thought

Pumpkin Cheesecake
Makes one 10-inch cheesecake


  • 100 g crushed graham crackers
  • 80 g quick cooking oats
  • 45 g chopped pecans
  • 35 g sugar
  • 113 g unsalted butter, melted


  • 2 lbs. cream cheese
  • 300 g sugar
  • 15 oz. can of pumpkin
  • 16 g cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 90 g sour cream
  • 150 g heavy cream

Maple whipped cream
Pecans, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 325F.
2. Combine the graham crackers, oats, pecans, sugar, and butter in a bowl. Press this mixture into the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan. Place the pan in the freezer for 15-20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, for the filling, combine the cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-low speed until fluffy. Add the pumpkin and continue mixing until combined.
4. Using your spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the cornstarch and cinnamon. Mix on low speed until combined.
5. While mixing, add the vanilla and eggs 1 at a time.
6. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the sour scream and heavy cream. Mix until well combined.
7. Pour this mixture into the crust. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
8. Cool the cheesecake to room temperature. Refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 2 hours.
9. Serve cold with maple whipped cream and pecans.

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ICC’s Onion Tart made by Pastry student Mark Franczyk of Outside of the Bread Box.

Blog by Outside of the Bread Box 
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So what are you bringing for Thanksgiving Dinner?

You mean aside from my charmingly sarcastic personality and an insatiable appetite? Um, how does an Onion Tart sound?

Earlier this week I received a special request for a pastry that started with onions. And while the classic French Culinary tradition rarely begins anywhere else, pastry chefs are usually more comfortable starting with a few pounds of butter and a dozen eggs.

But I immediately thought of a Rustic Onion Tart, one of the litany of tarts introduced in the early days of the pastry program at The International Culinary Center. It is very straight forward and easily customized to suit the season and personal tastes.

This version highlights blue cheese and cranberries, which seemed appropriate for the week of Thanksgiving.

Baked Tart 1 - 680 (11-23-14)

Thanksgiving Onion Tart:

Recipe Note: There are three distinct components to this dish – the Pate Brisee (crust), the Caramelized Onions and the Cranberries.

Start by mixing the dough for the crust, as it needs to rest for at least 30 minutes before it is rolled. You can even make the dough a day or two in advance.

While the dough chills, you can prepare the Caramelized Onions and the Cranberries. Once you have both on the stove, they require minimal attention, so there’s no reason you can’t prepare both at the same time. However, both the Caramelized Onions and the Cranberries should cooled before the tart is assembled.

This is definitely one of those recipes that is easily scalable. Why make one tart when it’s almost no extra work to make two? Hell, let’s just eat Onion Tart for Thanksgiving this year!

Yield: One 9″ Tart

Pate Brisee, chilled: 1/2 Recipe (see below)
Onions, thinly sliced: 500g (approximately 2x medium)
Blue Cheese, crumbled: 50g
Pecans, chopped: 25g
Dried Cranberries: 50g
Orange, zested and juiced: 1x medium
Salt: to taste
Seasonal Spices: to taste (e.g. cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, allspice)
Olive Oil: for finishing

A note on ingredients:
Homemade Pate Brisee will make for the best crust, but any savory pie crust will do (yes, that’s permission to buy frozen).
Blue Cheese is a personal favorite, but Goat Cheese, Brie or Gruyere would also work well.
The Pecans can also be easily substituted. Walnuts, Hazelnuts and Pine Nuts would all bring something unique.

Tart Mise En Place - 680 (11-23-14)


1. Prepare the Crust: Roll the previously made Pate Brisee Dough into a circle that is approximately 1/8″ thick. The circle should be roughly 9″ in diameter. Do not worry about rough edges; those will be fixed later. Gently transfer the crust to a parchment lined sheet pan, wrap the dough and place it back in the refrigerator to rest for 30 minutes.

Rolled Dough - 680 (11-23-14)

2. Prepare the Caramelized Onions: Cut the onions in half from root to stem. Slice the onions as thinly as possible (try for 1/8″ thick). Caramelize the onions in a medium saute pan over low heat with a small amount of butter, olive oil and salt (you can also add seasonal spices to taste, such as cinnamon and nutmeg).

Using a wooden spoon, stir occasionally. The onions will slowly sweat, releasing moisture, and turn translucent. The caramelization process, done correctly, should take up to 30 minutes. When fully caramelized, spread the onions in a thin layer on a sheet pan to cool.

Chef’s note: Avoid the temptation to increase the heat to speed up the caramelization process. You will likely burn the onions, not caramelize them. Truly caramelized onions have a flavor that develops over time and cannot be rushed.

Onions for Caramelization - 680 (11-23-14)

Caramelized Onions - 680 (11-23-14)

3. Prepare the Cranberries: Once the Onions are on the stove, place the cranberries in a small saute pan over low heat with the orange zest and juice. Heat the Cranberries and the juice until the juice begins to simmer and evaporates. You are looking to slightly rehydrate and soften the Cranberries, not cook them. Remove the Cranberries from the heat, and set them aside to cool.

Tart Ingredients - 680 (11-23-14)

4. Once the Onions and Cranberries are prepared and cooled, remove the crust from the refrigerator. Cover the crust with an even layer of the Caramelized Onions, leaving 1/2″ uncovered at the edge of the crust. You can use an 8″ tart ring to gauge the size.

Assembly - Onions - 680 (11-23-14)

5. Scatter the Pecans across the layer of Caramelized Onion.

Chef’s note: The nuts can be toasted beforehand to further develop flavor; however, watch them closely. Nuts go from toasted to burned very quickly.

Assembly - Pecans - 680 (11-23-14)

6. Scatter the Cranberries over the Caramelized Onions and Pecans, continuing to leave a 1/2″ edge uncovered

Assembly - Cranberries - 680 (11-23-14)

7. Finish the tart by sprinkling the top with the Blue Cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chef’s note: By placing other ingredients on top of the layer of Pecans, you are protecting the fat-rich nuts from burning.

Assembly - Cheese - 680 (11-23-14)

8. Trim the edge of the tart into a circle. Lightly egg wash the 1/2″ border and then roll it inward towards the center of the tart creating a rim. Decorate the rim as desired. Easy designs include impressions made with a fork or knife, or crimped edges made by pinching the dough with your fingers.

Assembly - Forming Rim - 680 (11-23-14)

9. Bake the Onion Tart on a parchment-lined sheet pan at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 25-30 minutes, rotating after 15 minutes of baking. The edge of the crust should be golden brown in color. Check the bottom of the tart by lifting it with an offset spatula. The bottom of the crust should be dry and matte in appearance. If it is oily, bake the tart for a few more minutes.

Storage: This tart should be served the day it is prepared and can be held at room temperature.

Another Version – A Tomato and Pine Nut Onion Tart

Onion Tart with Tomato - 680 (11-23-14)

Pate Brisee (Flaky Pastry Dough):

A Pate Brisee is a flaky, butter laden dough that makes for a perfect crust in both sweet and savory dishes.

The ingredients are about as simple as they come: Flour, butter and water (and maybe a dash of salt and sugar, if you’re feeling crazy).

Yield: About 450g – enough dough for two 8″/9″ tarts

Cake Flour, sifted – 250g (2 Cups)
Butter, cold and cubed: 125g (slightly more than 0.5 Cup / 1 Stick)
Water, ice cold: 63g (0.25 Cup)
Sugar: 0.5 tsp
Salt: 0.5 tsp

A note on ingredients:
If you do not have Cake Flour (which you should!), you can use All Purpose Flour. For every cup of flour used, replace 2 Tbls of the flour with 2 Tbls of corn starch. This will approximate the lower protein content of Cake Flour, which produces a more tender product. Just make sure you mix and sift the corn starch and flour well before using.


1. Combine the sifted flour with the sugar and salt. Place the flour on a clean, dry surface. Distribute the cold, cubed butter over the flour.

2. “Sablage” the dough: using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the pieces of butter are pea-sized and the overall mixture has a coarse, sandy appearance. Work quickly, as you do not want the butter to melt.

Chef’s note: If the butter is too soft, the flour will absorb the water content and gluten will begin to form. This will make for an undesirable final texture. Place the entire mixture into the refrigerator for 30 minutes before continuing if necessary.

2. Form the butter and flour mixture into a well. Pour a couple of tablespoons of the cold water into the center of the well. Using just your fingertips, gently mix some of the flour into the water until you form a loose ball (or more accurately, a shaggy lump) of dough. Place that ball off to the side and continue the process until all of the dough has been formed. You may not need all of the water. It is better to use less water than more.

Chef’s note: When adding the water, the goal is to just enough moisture so that the flour can hold together around the solid pieces of butter.

3. To finish the Pate Brisee, take walnut-sized pieces of dough and, using the palm of your hand, smear them along the work surface to create a homogeneous mix (“Fraisage”). Scrape all of the dough together into a ball. Portion the dough as necessary (approximately 250g is appropriate for an 8″/9″ tart) and wrap each portion tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes before using.

Chef’s note: The refrigeration period serves several purposes. It allows the butter, which is likely soft at this point, to resolidify. It also gives the flour time to hydrate, more evenly distributing the moisture throughout the dough. And it gives the undesirable gluten bonds time to relax.

Follow Mark on Outside of the Bread Box 
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Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

A great Thanksgiving recipe by 2013 Culinary grad Shikha Sharma.


Serves: 5 Cups aprox.


  • 3-4lbs Butternut Squash, cut lengthwise
  • 2 Cups Onions, Chopped (1 Medium Onion)
  • 1 Cup Carrots, Chopped (1.5 Carrots)
  • 1 Cup Celery, Chopped (2 Medium Celery Stalks)
  • 1 Cup Tart Apple, Peeled, Cored and Chopped (I used 1 Medium Granny Smith)
  • Salt & Freshly ground Black Pepper
  • Coconut Oil Spray
  • 2 T Coconut Oil
  • 2 T Water
  • 4 Cups of Water
  • Crème fraîche (optional)


Step 1: Bake the Squash

Take a spoon with a sharp edge and scrape out all the seeds from the squash.
Spray some oil on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Also spray the squash both on the flesh and skin. Add 2 T of water around the baking sheet.
Sprinkle some salt and pepper and bake at 350 F in the oven for 40minutes or until it’s tender.

Step 2: Meanwhile cook the veggies

Grab a soup pot and add 2 T Coconut oil. Add onions, carrots, celery, and apple. Season with some salt and pepper and combine everything. Place a parchment lid on top and cook for about 20-30minutes on low heat. (See above video on how to make one).

Step 3: Final Step

When the squash is cool to touch, scrape out all the flesh and place it in a bowl or directly into the soup pot with the veggies.
After the squash is in the soup add 4 cups of water and combine everything. Bring it to a gentle boil and simmer for 10minutes.
Carefully blend everything in a blender until smooth or to desired texture. Pour the soup back in to the pot and simmer for few minutes. Check seasoning and serve hot!

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Noma: A Look Inside the World’s Best Restaurant

ICC President Erik Murnighan details his experience at Noma.

I feel exceedingly privileged to have had the opportunity to attend MAD4. But that privilege was surpassed when I learned that I also had an opportunity to have dinner at Noma, the best restaurant in the world, in my humble opinion. In this case, my opinion is shared by many, considering Noma has been ranked best restaurant in the world by San Pellegrino four of the last five years (it finished second in 2013 but is back on top this year).

MAD4, curated by Rene Redzepi and Alex Atala, asked the question, “What is Cooking?” and created an insightful forum for chefs to demonstrate thought leadership on many global food issues. Inspiring speeches from Ron Finley, Chris Cosentino, Albert Adria, and many others were the backbone of this epic event. Much of the event is documented at; all is worth watching and reading.

But Noma…WOW is the only way to describe it. Photos and details about individual dishes at Noma are well documented so I’ll start with something that’s not: the fermentation lab.

Lars Williams, (FCI/ICC culinary grad 2006; Outstanding Alumni winner 2014) is the head of research and development for Noma. His job is beyond fascinating and he gave me an inside look. He was very proud of the fermentation lab that they had just built and completed only three weeks before my arrival. I’m an amateur fermenter – longtime homebrewer, maker of homemade vinegar and lactic acid fermented ungodly hot sauces, etc. – so this is of particular interest to me. The lab consists of five “rooms” – one is a control center with some vinegar making production and some heavy equipment, including a centrifuge. I learned more about vinegar making in 10 minutes than I’ve managed to learn making my own vinegar over the past decade. Time to put ethyl alcohol on my shopping list (Everclear should do it). The other four rooms are smaller and temperature controlled. We spent a few minutes in the warm room (close to a sauna but not quite) with the meat garums, aka fermenting meat. Fish sauce is a good example of a garum, but Noma makes several from cloven-hoofed creatures. The beef garum is made from off-cuts that have been combined with seaweed. Apparently that gets the right kind of action going so that many months later the precious liquid can be used to make oils and cure other things (like the cured egg yolk on the menu). Another room had mushrooms fermenting in cryobags (similar to my hot pepper mash method, albeit temperature controlled).

The amount of things fermenting and/or being purposefully inoculated with molds was astonishing. This is where ingredients are transformed, using ancient techniques, to create new ingredients in a modern setting. This process, which apparently has a high failure rate in the R&D phase, is what puts Noma in another gastronomic universe. There are no gimmicks here but there is plenty of deep thought and attention to every detail. Noma is as ingredient-focused as it gets. This is no mystery. But how the ingredients are prepared, and in many ways transformed, is beyond innovative.

Something that really struck me was how Lars described “luxury items” at Noma. He told me about a pea that was served in the spring as one of the first dishes. Every customer got one pea. Each pea took twelve man-hours to prepare! Although Noma does serve some caviar, the luxury in the items is in the preparation, not in the cost of the raw ingredient. There are no cheap tricks; no wow factor based on a splurge ingredient. Luxury boils down to technique. Creativity, yes, but lots and lots of precise technique.

My philosophy on cooking is simple. I often utter the following, as an equation:
Great ingredients + great technique + just a bit of creativity (not too much) = great cuisine.

The cuisine at Noma breaks my mold a bit on the creativity part. It’s more than just a bit and definitely not restrained. But I loved every gram of it and it all worked in a perfect harmony with the ingredients it accented. I’m ready to go back for another season.

Erik Murnighan is President of the International Culinary Center.

From basic knife skills through every station on the line, ICC’s trademark Culinary Arts course—created under the guidance of Deans Jacques Pepin, Andre Soltner and Alain Sailhac—provides hands-on, real-world knowledge for you to succeed in a culinary career in just six to nine months. 

Spaghetti Squash Pizza

A Fall-inspired recipe by 2013 Culinary grad Shikha Sharma.



For the pizza crust

  • 3-4lbs of Spaghetti Squash, cut into two pieces
  • 2 T Water
  • 1.5 T Oregano
  • 1 L Egg
  • ½ Cup Skim Mozzarella Cheese
  • Coconut Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt & Fresh ground pepper as per taste

For the pizza sauce

  • ½ Cup Medium Onion, finely chopped
  • 3 Large Tomatoes, Pureed – with the skin on
  • 2 T Garlic
  • 2 T Dried Oregano
  • 2 T Fresh Basil leaves, finely chopped
  • Salt & Fresh ground pepper as per taste
  • 2 T Coconut Oil


For the pizza crust

  1. Scrape out the seeds with a spoon.
  2. Brush or spray oil on the sheet pan and also the inside of the squash.
  3. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  4. Add 2 T of water around the sheet pan.
  5. Bake at 350 F for about 40 minutes or until it is tender.
  6. Meanwhile prepare the pizza sauce.
  7. Once the squash is cool to touch, scrape out all the flesh with a spoon into a bowl. Then place it in a cheesecloth and squeeze out as much moisture as you can.
  8. Grab a medium bowl; add salt & pepper, oregano, egg, and mozzarella cheese. Gently combine and knead, scraping the sides of the bowl as you go along.
  9. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray or brush some oil. Next, flatten out the pizza base with the palm of your hand and smooth out the surface with an off set spatula.
  10. Bake at 350 F for about 20minutes, flipping after 10 minutes. It will be sticky therefore, scrape gently making sure not to break the crust.

For the pizza sauce

  1. Grab a medium pan; add oil, onion and garlic. Sauté until onions become translucent then add salt and oregano.
  2. Next, add tomatoes and cook everything on medium to low heat for about 30-40 minutes or until the moisture has evaporated.
  3. Add fresh basil leaves, pepper and mix everything and set-aside until ready to use.
  • Notes: Top pizza with your favorite toppings, I used onions and kale.

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The Level 3 Midterm: Battle of the Nicoise Salads

Professional Culinary Arts student Danielle Marullo on the Level 3 Midterm.

Follow Danielle at Got Room For More

If you tuned into my last article, you read about the trials and tribulations of Level 3 which I referred to as the “hungry games,” or “culinary boot camp.” Just two short weeks ago I was anxiously anticipating the Level 3 Midterm, where our skills and nerves would be put to the test. If you are wondering how it went well here is my “post game” recap:

It’s 5:45pm and all 22 of us enter the Level 3 classroom nervously clenching our knife bags and fussing with our uniforms to make sure everything is in place. First things first, we pick a letter/number out of a hat (or bain-marie) which indicates the time in which we will be presenting our dishes. Now this moment is crucial because if you pick, lets say D7, you will have at least 20-30 more minutes to execute your dishes than the person that is D1. I quickly and aggressively pull out a number as if I am removing an old Band-Aid that is stuck to my skin. My voice decrescendos as I say out loud “C!…2…” This means I am the second group out of seven to present and one of the people with the least amount of time to cook, fabulous. The white board at the front of the room indicates which recipes each number will be making. For my class, the two possible combinations of recipes were, Barramundi Americaine/Apple Tart or Nicoise Salad/Grand Mere Chicken. Considering I have a strong pastry background, I prayed that I would get the opportunity to wow the judges with my beautiful apple tart, but that’s not the way life works. My fate lies in a bowl of raw chicken and vegetables. Focus Danielle, let’s do this!

The first part of the midterm is a comprehensive written exam. We must write down the ingredients, measurements and procedure for one of the 16-20 recipes we cooked in Level 3. No we do not choose which recipe we want to use, the chef chooses and it is noted on the exam. The recipe portion of the exam is followed by a few multiple choice and short answer questions, and then it is note taking time. We have 4-5 minutes to jot down any notes that may be helpful when making our recipes, since textbooks cannot be out during the practical exam. I frantically wrote down as many details about the recipes as I could remember, barely forming each letter on the page from all the adrenaline pumping through my body. When the five minutes was up it was time to pull out my knives and get cookin’.

When it comes to timing, I have never had a problem in the kitchen. In fact, I am usually one of the first ones done with my dishes in class each week. For some reason this day felt different. The clock seemed to be ticking double time, how was I going to finish these dishes!? I remained calm, I gathered my mise en place and began to execute the Nicoise Salad. Now if you have never made a Nicoise Salad, you are probably thinking, how could a salad be so stressful, she got the easy one…no you are very wrong! The hard part about a Nicoise Salad is that there are so many different components and all of them are prepared differently. You have the butter lettuce which must be washed and torn into pieces by hand; red potatoes that need to be boiled, peeled and cut into wedges; eggs that need to be hard boiled, peeled and cut into wedges; haricot verts that are blanched and cut into equal lengths; bell peppers that are peeled and cut into a nice julienne; olives that have to be finely chopped; tomatoes that are blanched, peeled and cut into petal shapes; parsley that needs to be washed and finely chopped; a vinaigrette that needs to be made and infused with garlic; and finally, tuna and anchovies that need to be drained and dressed properly. This is a composed salad, which means that each one of these ingredients also must be dressed and seasoned with salt and pepper separately and then arranged on the plate one by one.

Everything was going smoothly, most of my salad ingredients were cooked and ready in individual bowls in the fridge waiting for me to assemble them except for the eggs and potatoes, which were still cooking. I test the potatoes, and they are still hard! I swear these potatoes take very little time normally but of course today they decide to take double the time. I throw them back into some water and attempt to cook them some more. I take the eggs out of the boiling water and shock them in ice. I start to peel them and realize that the shells are sticking to the egg white, causing me to somewhat mutilate a few of my eggs. Now I am starting to breathe heavily, I have about 20 minutes before I present the salad to the judges and I have eggs that don’t peel. I take a deep breath and peel them as carefully as I could, damaging about half of my eggs along the way. I run and grab my cold plates that I had stuck in the freezer to ensure my salad stays crisp and fresh on the plate. I put on gloves so the proctor walking around sees that I am following proper protocol. I have four minutes left, I am dressing each ingredient separately and placing them on the four dishes. My hands are shaking so hard that half of the chopped olives are ending up on the ground instead of the plate. The chef proctor yells, “A2, B2, C2 it is time for you to present!” Now every minute you are late your grade drops, so I quickly grab my serving tray and walk across the hall to the judging table, praying that all my ingredients made it to the plate. I place my tray of four salads in front of the judges and leave the room. I did it, I finished the salad. The presentation was not my finest, it was mediocre at best in my mind, but I knew the taste was just right. No time to relax, you re forgetting that I still have another dish to finish and present.

While making the salad, I was simultaneously dressing a whole chicken, searing it in a pan, finishing it in the oven, starting a chicken au jus, making bacon lardons, and cleaning and sautéing mushrooms. I was in decent shape, or was I? I still had 12 cocotte potatoes to make which is basically whittling potatoes into a 7-sided bullet shape using a paring knife. I start to cocotte the potatoes, hands shaking and scraps of potato plopping into the bowl of water in front of me. The proctor begins to hover; she is watching my every move. I quickly try to straighten up my area around me and when attempting the throw some onion peels into the garbage beside me, I accidentally throw the silver bowl in the trash with it. I look up at the proctor like a deer in headlights, smile and nervously say, “I totally just threw that bowl out.” She looks at me and says nothing…nothing. I chuckled nervously while ripping the bowl out of the trash, bring it to the dish pit while kicking myself along the way, wash my hands in shame and then get back to work. Okay, it is just one little hiccup, my chicken looks gorgeous and is resting beside me and my cocotte potatoes are some of my best. I blanch the potatoes, sauté them and then roast them in the oven until they are perfectly crisp. My au jus is reduced, perfectly seasoned and strained into a pan staying warm on the stove. I have roughly 30 minutes left and I haven’t touched the pearl onions! The pearl onions we are used to using are usually about ¾ of an inch in diameter, but today they were microscopic. These pearl onions were the smallest I had ever seen! They were the size of an M&M and when I peeled them there was virtually nothing left. I did by best and cooked them glacer à brun (to a dark caramel color) and set them aside. With 15 minutes left I cut up my chicken and flash the pieces in the oven to get warm along with the entrée plates. 8 minutes on the clock and I begin to plate. I am careful to plate one piece of white meat with one piece of dark meat on each plate, one bone in and one bone out. I place 3 onions, 3 lardons, 3 potatoes and 3 mushrooms on each plate. I gradually pour a hot stream of au jus over the chicken and finish the dish with a sprinkle of parsley.

chicken midterm

I walk the dish over to the judges right on time, wearing just as much chicken au jus as I am serving. It was a stressful evening, but it was over. I begin to do a play-by-play of the evening in my head over and over, unsure about what the outcome would be. Did I feel it was by best work? No… but I felt proud of myself for finishing two difficult dishes under such extreme pressure. Once everyone was done presenting their dishes we were called into the judging room one by one to hear their feedback.

The judge who critiqued me started with, “How do you think you did?” I told him I thought my presentation was lack luster knowing my abilities and that I could have done better overall, but I felt the seasoning and flavors were pretty spot on. He smiled and said to me, “I think you are being hard on yourself, I thought your Nicoise Salad was the best one in terms of flavor and seasoning, and I thought your chicken dish was one of the two that I felt were done extremely well.” Wow, maybe I was a little too hard on myself. Hearing those words coming out of this gentleman’s mouth felt like someone saying, “You just won a million dollars.” I was immediately overcome with a feeling of accomplishment and self worth. It reassured me that this is where I belong, I was on the right track to becoming the Chef I always dreamed of being. Here I come Level 4!

To learn more about Danielle’s class, click here: Professional Culinary Arts
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Watch a short video of our Level 3 Midterm to see what it’s like for yourself!

Halloween Cupcakes by Love Food and Thought

A Halloween-inspired recipe by Deniece Vella, 2013 Professional Culinary Arts Graduate

Credit: Love Food and Thought

As the former owner of a cupcake company, I love making festive cupcakes around any holiday. All you need is good food coloring and a stash of disposable piping bags and you can have a blast decorating your cupcakes.

Halloween Cupcakes

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Green food coloring
  • 12 chocolate cupcakes
  • 1 cup crushed chocolate cookies
  • 12 Candy tombstones or fondant decorations
  • 12 Candy corn pumpkins, optional
  • 12 Gummy worms

1. Add the butter to the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip until fluffy, about 1 minute.

2. Next, add the sugar and salt. Start the mixer on low speed to incorporate the sugar. Once combined, whip on medium-high speed for 3-4 minutes.

3. Using your spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and whip for 1 more minute.

4. Prepare a pastry bag with a plain tip. Add 3⁄4 of the frosting. Pipe frosting onto each cupcake and reserve remaining frosting.

5. Dip the cupcakes into the chocolate cookie crumbs.

6. Next, color the remaining frosting green with a few drops of green food coloring. Add the frosting to a pastry bag prepared with a small grass tip. Pipe grass onto the top each cupcake.

7. Add a candy tombstone or a fondant decoration, candy pumpkin, and gummy worm to each graveyard cupcake.

8. Enjoy & Happy Halloween!


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