Welcome to Garde Manger.

Yesterday was my first day of my very LAST class of culinary school.  Only 8 more days – so weird!!  Also weird is the class that I am taking – it is called Garde Manger, and it is an entire class focused on the “preparation and presentation of cold foods.”  After 14 classes focused on hot cooking, we now turn our attention to the cold methods of food preparation – salads, pâtés, canapés, pickling, curing, brining, and smoking meats. 


This class is going to be particularly challenging for me because of all of the classes I’ve taken (excluding meat cutting!), this is probably the most meat-centered curriculum.  I told my chef that I was a vegetarian yesterday, and that despite not eating the product, I was hoping to learn and experience as much as possible.  We’ll see how it goes…  (Warning:  LOTS of meat carcass photos to come!  Not for the vegetarian faint of heart!)

These first couple of days are a buildup to day 4, when a lot of prep work will start to come together and we’ll see some final products.  But for now, we’re still in the prep phase.  I started my day by making a pickling solution…

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With our solution prepared, we chopped up some zucchini and yellow squash that we simmered in the solution for 5 minutes.  The result was this lovely yellow mixture…

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Which we sealed into a large food service bag with the super cool Cryovac machine…

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The next thing we had to do was fabricate our various meats for our brining solutions (which my teammates had prepared!).  We started with chicken…

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Now I have seen chicken broken down about ten different ways since I started school.  In fact I took an entire course in my first term called Skills of Meatcutting – where ALL we did was work in a meat freezer for 9 days, learning how to break down different types of animals.  But this was the first time I had seen someone skin a chicken whole.

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Each group of 3 teammates had to skin and break down one chicken, but MY group was in charge of making an extra batch of smoked chicken, so we had to break down FIVE chickens instead of one.  This meant that each of us needed to pitch in and get to butchering, so believe it or not, I spent the majority of my morning cutting chickens apart:/  As much as I find the process completely disturbing, I’m actually pretty good at it.

No more chicken pictures since my hands were covered in salmonella, but when I was finished Chef Campbell did a demo on how to break down a duck.  It was basically just like doing a much bigger chicken…

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But the meat was a much darker red than I was expecting.

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We also learned how to properly use the Cryovac machine.  I want one of these at my house!  Here, let me show you…

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We started with our leftover chicken parts separated into various bags – legs, thighs, and breasts.

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We added enough brining solution to “make it float” – which also promoted a lot of yelling out “make it rain!”  College is fun.  :)

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Set the bag down into the machine and flatten the top half of the bag along the metal bar inside, free of any wrinkles or bumps…

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Then close the lid and watch it go!  It gives you a perfectly vacuum-sealed pack in about 10 seconds – so cool!

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Since I’m on a roll with meat carcasses, I’ll just keep going.  The next item we talked about was foie gras…

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When I was in Classical French class, Chef Tiess actually showed a video documenting the horrific conditions and methods used for force-feeding ducks to produce foie gras.  Chef Campbell commented that the particular video we had seen was slightly one-sided and that it was backed by PETA.  I pointed out that whether it was one-sided or not, video is video, and the horrific things happening on camera were really happening

He showed us a side by side comparison of a foie gras liver next to the regular duck liver from the duck he had just broken down.  I couldn’t believe just how much bigger the foie gras liver was – scary!

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Two of these giant foie gras lobes were deveined…

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And then wrapped in cheesecloth to be brined tomorrow.  My classmates like to taunt me with gross meat parts! 

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Once all my butchering was over, I was pretty much done for the day.  This class goes by really sloooooooooowly, since we don’t very many assignments each day.  Since I was finished early, I thought I would give you guys a tour of my new classroom! 

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Instead of the usual back wall of ovens and stovetops, this is what the back wall of Garde Manger looks like…

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Just one little oven and range, which barely gets used.  Next to that is a cool SMOKER – it smells soooo good when you open the door!  Like a backyard bbq.  :)

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Because the purpose of this class is to keep food COLD, each work station has its own refrigerator underneath the table, which is really convenient.

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We also have our own icemaker – the only lab in the entire school to have one!  Next to the icemaker is the Cryovac machine, which you know how to use now.

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Tomorrow we’ll be making some sort of forced meat sausages, so before we left, we watched a demo on how to grind the meat down to various stages and thicknesses.

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The thickest setting (which made an awful popping noise as it came out the holes!).

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The medium setting, called “country style” – usually used for things like pastrami and ground beef.

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And the thinnest setting, used for when you need a smooth preparation of meat, as we will tomorrow. 

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Before we left, the meat mixture needed to be mixed up with a binding agent called panada – a mixture of starch softened with liquid and eggs.  When the gooey mixture came out of the machine, my classmates scattered to find other jobs, and somehow yours truly ended up being the meat mixer…

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Even Chef Campbell walked by and commented, “How did the vegetarian end up with the nastiest job?” 

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I’ve had readers ask how I feel about preparing meat before, and the truth is I really don’t mind it.  As long as I’m not forced to eat it, I have no problem with preparing it as a part of my curriculum.&
#160; I recognize that other people make the choice to eat meat, and in order to be a good chef I need to know the basics of preparing as many different types of food as possible.  But my goal is to eventually work in a meat-free environment, and hopefully show people that a plant-based cuisine is just as delicious and satisfying – and a lot healthier in the long run!

Now I’m back home in my meat free zone, contemplating what to make for dinner.  Casey is up at school taking one of his final exams, and I’m hoping to have something ready by the time he gets home.  Better get to work!


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