The SAIT Culinary Boot Camp was a four day intensive class intended to give you the experience of working in a commercial kitchen. They made it clear that only home chef’s with a significant base of cooking knowledge should attend. In general, I think everyone had a pretty good foundation. There was one Jamaican lady who mentioned that she was unfamiliar with many of the herbs and seasonings that we used, which I think caused her some issues, but I’m sure she learned a lot and got plenty of bang for her buck!
The class of 11 was broken into 3 teams – 2 of 4 people and 1 of 3 people. Each day we rotated through the stations – one team worked on appetizers for the day, another team made entrees, and the other made desserts. Running at the same time was a baking boot camp; we ate the desserts our boot camp made at lunch but enjoyed the baking boot camps desserts for supper. We served them our meals throughout the program and took home our desserts after dinner.
I was really happy with my team – we all got along and we all had some good skills in the kitchen! Mind you, we also all had a lot of questions for Chef Michael, but we always sorted things out. Sometimes, you just never know who you’re going to be paired with, so when it works out, you gotta be grateful 🙂
Day 1 Lunch
On Day 1, my team was assigned to entrees – the pork tenderloin and potato salad.
The scallop ceviche was the first dish we got to taste from the students in the class. It set the standards pretty high – I thought their plating was beautiful. I thought the ceviche was good but not amazing. I think I’d rather have pan-seared scallops, but the ceviche would be an awesome option to serve large groups of people since it’s cold. The sweet potato crisps were really good. I never did get to personally use the deep fryer, but it seemed pretty easy!
I was responsible for cooking the pork. I seasoned it, pan seared it, then worked with someone else to coat it in a honey mustard blend and a herbed bread crumb mixture. First of all, I learned that when the Chef says to put a thin coating of the honey mustard on – that’s what you should do. My teammate slathered it on and all that did was cause the bread crumb mixture to goop up and it became a horrible mess. We made the herbed bread crumb mix using fresh white bread – we cut the crust off and put the fresh bread into a food processor with the herbs until the whole mixture was a brilliant green. This photo is of Chef Michael cutting my pork for service. I was so stressed that it would be over or under done! That being said, it was a bit overdone, but at least it was still somewhat pink. I need a giant knife like the one Chef Michael used to cut the meat…
The warm potato salad was really tasty and the sauce that was served with the pork was to die for. Literally, it was the best sauce I’ve ever had served with any meat. It was made with a veal demi glace base and a bottle of red wine and it was reduced for a long time to bring out an amazing depth of flavour. I have come to learn that the base of a sauce is super important – they make all their own stocks at SAIT – chicken, veal, lamb, beef, vegetable. When you need some, you just go to the cooler with a bowl and ladle out as much as you need. So awesome!
Dessert was super tasty. Any kind of chocolate mousse is a win for me!
Day 1 Dinner
Since were were responsible for entrees on Day 1 we also had to prep for the beef short ribs for the next day. They were seasoned, pan seared, slow cooked for a bit in a sauce, and then vacuum sealed and placed in the sous vide overnight. There was so much beef!
I was in charge of the side for dinner – kale stuffed with a Moroccan quinoa blend. This was an interesting experience! First, I had to cook the quinoa then season it with the Moroccan spices and raisins. Then I blanched the kale. SAIT had awesome quality produce in the cooler, so it was nice to work with good looking veggies and herbs all the time. Once the kale was blanched and cooled in an ice bath I had to figure out how to stuff the leaves. A simple roll seemed the best way (cutting off the stem end). They were rolled in saran wrap (like rolling sushi), tied on both ends and my work was done! I think they were popped in a steamer for a few minutes to heat them back up just before serving, but honestly I’m not sure!
The smoked shrimp were really nice. They were brined and then smoked using a technique that I didn’t get to see at all. I think they did it on the stove top? This was one of those times when we had hoped to learn what the other teams were doing. The cheese crisp was delicious!
Our team made the duck breast dish. I was not at all involved in making the duck or the sauce. I was too busy with the stuffed kale and then at the end of the prep I worked with a team member to cut and grill the cauliflower. The cauliflower was oiled, seasoned and grilled then finished in the oven just before service. It was super tasty and I actually grilled cauliflower at home on the BBQ the other day, influenced by what we did here. For service I was responsible for putting the butternut squash puree on the plate. My first attempt of the splatter and spread got me a funny look from Chef Michael so I improved pretty quickly! I’ve learned that creative plating is something I do not have the aptitude for.
The deconstructed strawberry shortcake made by the cooking boot camp group was super tasty, but I thought the trend of ‘deconstructed’ meals was over… The baking boot camp also made us some super tasty cookies. I did happen to eat a few 🙂
Day 2 Lunch
On Day 2 my team was responsible for the desserts. The photo below was taken from our dessert station, at the back of the kitchen. There were technically 6 stations in the kitchen. We used 3 of them, and there was another Chef from SAIT who was using one to prepare for his Master Chef certification. He’s since received the certification – 1 of only 3 chef’s in Canada who are actually Master Chef’s!
Again, I didn’t see how the quail was prepared by the other team – other than to see them stuffing little pieces of poultry with raisins and rolling them up in plastic wrap and tin foil. I definitely preferred the grilled quail over the stuffed ones.
Since our team didn’t have a whole lot to do for our lunch dessert I was pulled in to help stuff the sole. It was kind of messy, but I’m happy I got to do it because I’ve since made a stuffed halibut on my own at home, using the same rolling and wrapping technique. In short, we laid out the sole filet on a piece of plastic wrap, spread the scallop mouse on it (yum!) and rolled it using plastic wrap (again, like sushi), tying the ends to keep it all tight and together. That’s where my help ended, but I was told they poked holes in the plastic wrap and poached the sole in a seasoned poaching liquid. It was super tasty!
Our team made the apple tart tatin with homemade ice cream. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to see how the ice cream was made… it would have been nice to give something a shot I’d never done before. Sadly the ice cream melted pretty quickly during service. This was probably our most stressful preparation! We didn’t realize at the start that the individual pies would be turned upside down for service so there was confusion from the start. In the end, they turned out okay, but somehow the oven got turned off so we had to crank it up to try to get the individual pies to cook in time for service!
Day 2 Dinner
The homemade butternut squash ravioli served with sage brown butter sauce was to die for. I’d had Chef Michael’s sage brown butter sauce recipe once before when I took the pasta making class at the downtown campus and it’s something I’d be perfectly happy drinking out of a jar. Seriously!
The entree for dinner was the sous vide boneless beef ribs that our team had prepped the day before, served with a gremolata and pan fried polenta. I was so full I had to bring home a big chunk of that meat.
I can’t remember exactly what the dessert boot camp made us for dessert but it was delicious! Light and refreshing – I love homemade ice cream 🙂
Day 3 – Lunch
Starting on day 3 we had better direction from the Chef Michael in terms of the recipes. We had found some of the recipes confusing – some only had ingredients but not instructions, some didn’t give direction on how to cut vegetables (which would depend on how you want to plate it), and we always had to adjust the recipes for the amount of people we were serving. We were also provided more heads up when the Chef was going to show a team a certain technique – a great opportunity for the entire class to learn how to do something instead of just one team.
On day 3 our team was responsible for the lunch appetizer. We made crab cakes, slaw and pickled veggies. Rob had to cut a lot of lemons!
I worked with another team member to make the crab cabs. The crab was canned, but way better than the crab that you can buy in the tubs at Costco. I would like to know where I can purchase the stuff myself! Again, with the crab cakes we used fresh white bread with the crust cut off. Chef Michael said that if you use fresh bread crumbs instead of the typical dried crumbs, the crab cakes will stay moist since the crumbs themselves won’t absorb a bunch of the moisture. A couple of the gas stoves in the kitchen were well-used and needed some maintenance – they needed a match to light and they went out often. When frying the crab cakes it was really quite frustrating!
The rabbit entree was pretty good. I didn’t get to see much of the prep though. The roasted potato was super tasty, having been cooked in a broth. I personally like how I do my brussels sprouts better than this way.
The dessert team made a creme caramel that was just okay, and the pear was poached in the sous vide. It was underdone and crispy, but I’m glad their team got to experience a different technique. It would have worked had they cut the pear smaller and left it in longer.
Day 3 Dinner
Dinner on day 3 was awesome – our team made the tuna poke and seared tuna. Given the price of tuna, the two of us who were working on the tuna were scared to screw it up! I chopped up the tuna for the poke while someone else made the marinade. We didn’t marinate the tuna until an hour or so before service so that the fish didn’t take on all the color or the marinade. We drained the sauce from the poke then used a mold to keep the poke in a neat pile on the plate. I think this was my favourite dish of the whole program.
We used two different types of tuna for these dishes – one was yellow fin but I can’t remember the other kind – perhaps albacore? They definitely had a different texture. The other tuna was crusted in black and pink peppercorns and pan seared evenly around the edges. I wasn’t a fan of all that coarse, crunchy pepper – it stuck in my teeth.
This was my favourite plate that our team prepared – it was good looking and tasted great. The little crispy things were won ton wrappers seasoned with (I think) cumin, curry and salt and then deep fried. They were so tasty!
The entree was beef wellington with foi gras spread between the top of the beef and the top crust. I don’t recall ever having foi gras in beef wellington but Chef Michael said this is the traditional way. Again, much of this meal got taken home as leftovers because I was so full!
The dessert boot camp made these awesome jelly fruit candies. I know they have a name, but I can’t recall it. They were so good! Very fruity and not too sweet. Yum!
The molten chocolate cake with a caramel sauce was to die for. Sooooo good! My favourite dessert of the program!
Day 4 Lunch
Day 4 lunch was an appy of salmon multiple ways – salmon tartar, smoked salmon and salmon rolled with cream cheese in thinly sliced cucumber. The cucumber roll was an addition by one of the students. The waffle cut potato chips were awesome. I quite liked the smoked salmon – it was cured for a couple days covered in a mixture of salt and sugar, which was then scraped off prior to a hot smoke in a Bradley smoker.
My team made this stuffed chicken. It was chicken stuffed with chicken! I put chicken breasts in the food processor, minced them up really good and mixed in cream, cheese, herbs and seasoning. We then put the raw chicken mix in a piping bag, slit holes in the chicken breast with bone, and squirted the filling into each chicken breast through the slit. We pan seared the outsides of the chicken then finished them in the oven. Served with a vegetable ratatouille and a grilled mushroom and au jus.
The dessert boot camp made us a champagne gelatine dessert topped with fresh raspberries and candy floss. They said that making the candy floss was so messy – there were sugar strands everywhere!
Day 4 Black Box Dinner
Dinner on the 4th day was our own creation. Using our personal knowledge and experience, and anything we’d learned in the boot camp this week, we were given fresh oysters and bell peppers to use in our appetizer. We were shown how to shuck the oysters, and it was neat to get the opportunity to try my hand at it! Some people chose only to serve oysters, but I had brought some baking dishes from home just in case I wanted to do something interesting. I used my individual tart pans with removable bases to bake individual quiches using the bell peppers.
I made a very simple mignonette with red wine vinegar, shallots and salt and pepper. I sprinkled the oysters with finely chopped, pan seared pancetta and chives. I used puff pastry to make my quiches – it was not ideal, since the tart pans were fairly shallow and I had to keep poking the puff pastry to release the air and I had to squish it down quite a bit so that there would be room for the egg mixture! In the egg mixture I included sautéed leeks, red bell peppers and pancetta with a dash of cream. It turned out quite nice and I was happy with my presentation.
For the entree we were given lamb and eggplant to use. It turned out almost all the eggplants were brown inside so most of us used zuchini instead. I marinated my lamb and my zucchini, each in something a little bit different, then grilled them. The rice pilaf was the best I’ve ever made – I’m guessing because I used the housemade chicken stock. It was so moist and flavourful!
The dessert boot camp made us our last dessert – some creamy stuff and fruit mousse. Mmmmm….
They also made truffles!
All in all, this was a memorable experience. I’m not sure it was worth $1450 but we sure did a lot of stuff! I cut a lot of things, seared a lot of things, rolled a lot of things and ate a tonne of deliciously prepared food! The quality of the ingredients was excellent, and there was no shortage of tasty food. Wines were served with each course at dinner and they were perfectly paired – I was quite impressed. The experience of working in a commercial kitchen was pretty neat, as was the thought process of plating creatively – something I’ve struggled with and continue to struggle with. One thing that really became clear to me was the fact that every little thing on the plate takes a lot of thought and time to prepare – each little dollop of sauce or smear of puree is another process. Making something in a restaurant that will be used in a lot of dishes is one thing, but making something at home for just 2 or 4 plates is another. I now appreciate all that goes into high end restaurant dishes.