Thursday, May 28, 2009

My upcoming Certified Executive Chef (CEC) test

Wow, been a little while since I posted last. I apologize to the one viewer that reads my blog for not having new and exciting material to get you through your week :)

So, as a few of you may already know, I am a Certified Chef de Cuisine. I earned that certification back in 2007 after gathering a list of work related experience points and just plain busting my ass for years to gather enough experience to become what the American Culinary Federation (ACF) deems as "certified".

If you ask me, it's a money making scam facilitated by a few ornery retired chefs running the food world, but I digress. (personal rant about to start, wait for it, wait for it...GO!!!) See, not only do you have to work upwards of 60-80 hours a week, 12-16 hours a day, endure hours and hours of heat, stress and the scum of the earth, get screamed at by the Gordan Ramsey's of the world, catch a VD once in a while, become an alcoholic (or at least be able to hold your weight in stolen liquor), screw a few bar tenders and waitresses, cut and burn yourself a few hundred times, fall a few hundred times, work countless holidays and weekends away from family and friends, get criticized by your peers and all the other bull shit that comes with the food service industry, then there's yet more!

You do all that, THEN, you have to prove it by getting your old bosses that most likely wouldn't piss on you if you were on fire, to sign a paper stating that they put up with your crap for "X amount" of time, copy all those pieces of worthless paper you spent God knows how much time and money earning (serv-safe, GED, COLLEGE DEGREE!!, etc., etc.), take a written test that is full of trick questions about shit that never happens in a real kitchen, cook a multi course meal with all your heart and soul just to have it picked over, sneered at and ridiculed by people that, if the tables were turned, would make the same food you did (maybe smaller, lol).

After ALL THAT! Yes, THERE'S MORE!!! They make you pay for it! WTF!? Check this out; over $100.00 for the food you need, the gas it takes to drive 4 hours out of town because the town you live in is 20 years behind a proper culinary city (in my truck at 17 MPG, that's a lot of loot, 150 bucks or so), hotel stay (another 100 bucks), about $100.00 to take the ridiculous cooking test and about $100.00 to take the even more ridiculous and unrealistic written test in a closet at a testing center hidden at a regional airport on 15 year old computers next to a guy taking a plumbers exam. Grand total to become a "Certified Chef de Cuisine" or "CCC", about $550.00!!! That's two car payments for most people! We do this to make note of our personal achievements, so people will notice us for our hard work, maybe pay us more, maybe get that "dream job" before the "young and hungry" culinary graduate gets it for a few grand a year less. We do it for the pride of the business, to prove our love for it and to get a sense of achievement. But, most people don't even understand what the "de" means or how to spell quiseen! ;) Most people wonder why we have those three little letters after our names on our chef coats, the often asked "what's CCC mean" rings through kitchens all over the world, surly. (rant complete, thanks for reading!)

But, aside from all that crap they make us go through, all the hours and money we spend getting ready and completing the tests, all the hours and time away from a social life, when you see your name on that fancy piece of paper, when people look forward to eating the food you spent years perfecting, all that crap is WELL worth it. Going for those certifications keeps us focused on the ultimate goal, to be the best chef they ever had and pass it on to others. Kinda funny how that works. We collect, earn, burn and create just to give it all back to the next generation. Full circle stuff at it's finest.

I write all that to tell you this; I'm doing it all AGAIN!! MWAHAHAHAAA!! "CHEF BRADLEY, YOU MUST BE CRAZY!!!", well, perhaps, but this upcoming certification has been in my sights long before my current one. I've wanted those three letters, "CEC" by my name since I saw them on the jacket of the first chef I ever worked for over 15 years ago. The three letters that define a good chef from a great one (in most cases), the ones that stand for "Certified Executive Chef", see, more people KNOW what that means and that feels well worth it in the end. Employers know what that means too and are willing to pay accordingly. And, before you get your panties in a wad, its NOT all about the money, its about making a living and there's more to a living than just a paycheck. But, if I can get more, should I turn it down? HELL NO!!! :)

Here are a few pictures I took of my practice cooking practical earlier this week. The real test is on June 19th. The requirements are listed as well. Enjoy...


  • 1 each 10 ounce Salmon filet
  • 2 each 1.25 pound live Maine Lobster
  • 2 each Whole chickens, 2.5 – 3.5 pounds each (fabricate to your menus specifications during the exam)
  • 2 ounces smoked bacon
  • 1 pound fresh spinach
  • 2 heads Boston lettuce
  • 1 piece Belgian endive
  • 1 pound Carrots
  • 3 each Russet or Yukon potatoes
  • 2 each Globe Artichokes
  • 2 each Bartlett pears or Granny Smith apples
  • 1 pint Grape Tomatoes

The three courses shall include:

  • Fish course (including both seafood items): appetizer size
  • Salad course (tossed, with extra dressing served on the side): as part of a 3 course meal
  • Main course (with two or more accompanying vegetables and starch): approximately 6-7 ounces protein

    The three courses shall include:
  • 4 classical vegetable cuts (i.e. Julienne, Tournee, Brunoise, Alumette, Small dice, Paysanne, and Batonette)

  • 4 different cooking methods must be shown (i.e., fry, broil, sauté, roast, boil, poach, steam or grill)

  • Appropriate vegetable and starch accompaniment for the main course (may bring in additional ingredients and prepare them for plate accompaniments) prepared and presented during the exam.

  • An emulsified vinaigrette (ingredients must be brought in)

  • 2 different sauces using different methods (i.e., roux based, reduction, or butter)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My new (re) found faith...

I know some of you may be uncomfortable with the topic of faith and/ or religion. I know I used to be. When the topic came up at all, I always cringed a little or walked out of the room thinking that was all crap, or say some smart remark. If there were a TV show or radio commercial even hinting about religious views, the channel would be changed post-haste! My brother and sisters share those same views today.

Growing up, religion was an odd subject to me. I was a bit confused. My family, well, my mother mostly, was, and still is to the best of my knowledge, a believer in the Jehovah's Witnesses. We would go to the "Kingdom Hall" on Wednesday nights (Sundays too, I think) so my mom could share in her faith and we (kids) would pray that it would end soon, lol. The only things I remember really liking about those days were playing with a couple buddies that were always there no matter what. We'd check out the pretty girls and play with some sort of new found toy of sorts, that sorta thing. I remember the bibles being green, that they believed Christ was crucified on a stake and there were no holidays as they were considered pagan. As a matter of fact, breathing was considered pagan if I remember correctly! (kidding)

My dad, on the other hand, was and still is in search of Him. As far back as I could remember, there would be Jerry Falwell yelling about "faggots", Jimmy Swaggart crying about needing more money and Jim (with his HUGE glasses) and Tami Fae (with her clown make-up) Baker playing on TV. I faintly remember Pat Robertson and the 700 Club too. Gospel music would be playing in the car and he'd fall asleep to it (and most likely still does) every night to the radio by his head. Throughout all that and all those years, I don't ever remember my dad settling down into one church or denomination for very long. He still searches to this day for a sect or denomination that will fill his spiritual needs.

I'm not bashing my parents in any way. As a matter of fact, I owe my life to both of them (literally, lol). I always knew and believed that there was a God and there was a devil. They taught me that, for sure. We didn't celebrate any holidays for religious purposes, which kinda sucked, but over all, we were raised pretty well. Ask either of my siblings that and you might get a different answer, but this is MY blog :P, lol.

I wrote all that to tell you this: about 13 years ago, I went through a change in my life. A change that was way over due. My partying and shenanigans started getting out of hand. I was drinking and drugging so much that no one, including my best friends and family, wanted to be around me. I had to get some help and gave up all that to make a new beginning. I found God shortly after that at a Billy Graham crusade here in Charlotte. I witnessed things that night that would shake your boots! It would take me too long to explain all the things I saw, but I promise, it was God showing me that he loved me and wanted great things for me. Looking back to that night, I knew I would be ok. He had great plans for me as long as I followed and sought after Him.

After that night, I ran to anyone that would listen, told them of my new found faith. Told them how great God is and what he can do FOR YOU! I was excited to say the least. As a matter of fact, people were getting annoyed at the new "JUMPED UP WITH JESUS" Bradley. I sensed that but didn't care. But, as the saying goes, the brightest flame burns the fastest, and it never stuck. I burned out with it and just stopped searching, stopped praying as much, or at all. About 8 months ago, I wasn't seeking Him at all anymore and it was all about me again. To stay mentally and physically sober, there must be a higher power in my life. I never TRULY stopped believing, I just got lazy and complacent. Stopped going to church, stopped asking for guidance and so on. It's a lonely place, believe me.

So, fast forward to 8 months ago. A good friend told me he was going to go to church that Sunday. For some reason, I got excited and asked him if I could join him. He said, "Of course", and it was great! We went together for a few weeks. I dragged my poor wife to one service and she hated it. Partly because the church was a 5500+ member cathedral with jumbo-trons and concert sized PA systems and partly because I hadn't invited her sooner. I kinda pissed her off about just going with my buddy alone. (I know, I know, shut up, lol).

So, she suggested we try this church near our house. Pretty large to this small towns standards, but a 1/4 the size of that soccer stadium I was going to before, and 30 minutes closer of a drive, which is always nice with my gas hog of a truck! That was this past December and we've been going ever since.

I'm really excited about this. We go together as a married couple, we've met people our age. I'm praying again, seeking Him again and comfortable. I was baptized about a month ago in front of a few hundred people and it was AWESOME!!! The pastor is cool too. I witness miracles and hear His messages all the time. About 10 days ago, I got a new job as a direct result of prayer and the church. We went forward and asked for help with this situation. Many people prayed for me to find something, very powerful. So, I find out about a chefs job at a country club near my house (very rare situation). The position was filled but I was asked to come work for them anyway at a lesser rate. I was angry and hurt that they would even consider asking someone of my skill level and greatness to work for that little! (wow, I thought I was something, lol). After being humbled by our pastors messages and not being so arrogant for a change, I took the job, planning to take the next best thing as soon as it came! Well, apparently they were planning to get rid of the chef anyway and needed someone in place before they did so. Here I was thinking that they didn't see how great I was when they actually wanted me there in the first place! They chose me and I am SO GRATEFUL! I was offered the job about a week later and started this past Friday as the official chef. Wow, 37 years old and God gave me a country club kitchen to run. AWESOME!

Going to church, getting baptized and seeking God again has been, and will be, an awesome ride. We hope to be blessed with a healthy and happy child soon. We are excited to see His plans for us! I just have to get out of the way and let Him do what He does!

Now, I'm not a bible thumper, far from it, I just have a new found purpose and I get to share this journey with my wife and new friends, how cool is that!

See, I'm convinced that if my parents hadn't taught me the difference between Heaven and Hell in there own ways, I would be a really lost soul right now, so thanks folks :)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Niman Ranch Tasting at Blue Restaurant in Uptown Charlotte

Wow! The one word that sums this event up. My buddy and sales rep Phil Wolf from Buckhead Beef Atlanta, Niman Ranch and Blue Restaurant in Uptown Charlotte hosted a tasting this afternoon. They were offering samples of a few of the things that are offered by Niman Ranch. From prime rib to pork loin and tongue to lamb kabobs, just awesome. A farmer/ owner was there as well as a few sales people.

Chef Gene Briggs and his crew put on one heck of a spread. The service was pretty amazing too!

Along with the food and amazing ambiance, I bumped into a few old friends in the business that I hadn't seen in ages. The chef and a few of the crew from the Charlotte City Club, the chef from Red Rocks and a couple guys from Zink as well as a few folks from the local Westin Hotel were there among others. Was nice to see them all.

At the end, they gave us a couple packs of bacon to sample. I'm looking forward to seeing how it matches up to my own recipe using Grateful Growers Farms pork belly. Guess I'll just have to fry some up :)

Heres the menu, pretty sweet.

Station #1 Chicken

1. Roasted chicken salad with herbs, grapes and marcona almonds
2. Fricasee with a morel cream

Station #2 Lamb

1. Mousakka
2. Lamb noisette wellington(wrapped in caul fat) with a morel mushroom sauce
3. Crisp braised lamb tongue and warm potato salad

Station #3 Beef

1. Grilled outside skirt steak and pepperonata salad with goat cheese boursion and a tangerine viniagrette
2. Braised short ribs over creamy Anson Mill grits flavored with Bellavitano cheese

Station #4

1. Moroccan Braised Belly-with diced spring vegetables, crushed almonds, chickpeas, and harissa
2. 10 Bone Rack sliced over chorizo potatoes with Romesco
3. Pinchos Morunos Spanish grilled marinated pork kabobs

Station #5

1. Mini Rueben Sliders
2. Skirt Steak taco with fresh guacamole
3. Heirloom tomato and Niman Ranch bacon BLT salad
4. Keftedes- Greek pork meatballs on pita

Great Times at the Ryan Wedding

Old friends of mine and just got married after a pretty long engagement. When the topic of food came up, Mike told me he was going to get it from the local grocery store. "They sell cheese platters", he said. Being as Mike JUST graduated from one the best and most recognized culinary schools in the world and me hating store bought cheese platters, I offered to do the food as their wedding gift. Nothing too fancy, but everything was delicious, if I do say so myself :)

Fruit and cheese platter (artisnal cheeses, not pre-cubed swiss and pepperjack), tandoori chicken drummettes with apple compote, smoked salmon platter with condiments, you know, typical wedding food. Everyone raved and Mike and Erin were very grateful. They're old friends, it's the least I could do.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

My two weeks with the temp agency

During these past few months, as with most of us, times have been tough. Money's tight, gas prices go up and bills keep coming in no matter how much we wish them away.

Well, to lessen this blow and to meet my obligations as a husband and father, I decided to pick up a few hours at a local temp agency. To sum up my experiences, you could say it was both fun and humbling. Just when you think you hate your job, try not having enough money coming in to make the mortgage. Scary stuff.

My first gig was at a new lodge in the area. This place is unbelievably gorgeous. The food is awesome and the crew is very professional. My kinda place. They were having their grand opening bash with multiple stations and rooms full of food. They even had a room designated to dessert with two 6 foot chocolate fountains and tons of store bought chocolate truffles.

When I first walked in, I was treated a little like someone who smelled bad or something, lol. A chef that was helping out pointed towards a pot of boiling water and asked me if I knew how to cook ravioli. In my head, I wanted to answer with a smart ass remark, but, being the professional that I try to be, I refrained and just answered with a simple, "Yes". After spending the next 30 minutes boiling agnolotti (not ravioli, dude) and having this self proclaimed sous chef prodigy come by and taste and poke and prod at a couple dozen, asking me if I thought they were done enough, I was finally done.

But, after they realized I wasn't their average crack head temp worker, they eased up a little and the rest of the night went extremely well. I manned the Risotto de Fungi station where I warmed risotto and dried chantrelle mushrooms with chicken stock and pecarino in front of about 300 of Charlotte's most impressionable people, laughing my ass off with the guy working next to me on a salad station. I love being around people and making them feel special, it was a blast.

I have to say though, I've worked in some amazing places where there are people that specialize in setting up stations to look like cities or wal-marts or whatever. I've been to buffets where you feel like you're surrounded by a city of ice statues and wedding cakes, but I've never seen anything more ingenious than some of the things the chefs were pulling off there that night. They had an "around the world" theme going. This is not unusual or unique, but the way they pulled it off was insane and just awesome. There was a tropical bar with incredible fruit carvings and crazy drinks, a Brazilian grill station where they were grilling steaks, sausages and chicken right on these huge griddles like you'd see on the streets of South America. The only thing missing were the mules and wild chickens running around!

They had an Asian Wok station. A long row of about 15 woks, each filled with a different Asian street food. I was not able to get any pics of that to my dismay, but I promise, it was impressive.

I could go one a while longer, but I'd bore you. It was just impressive. I hope to be able to use a few of those ideas in the future. I was concerned, however, about the ingredients that were used throughout this gala. On one extreme, they flew in hand-made marshmallows from California for the chocolate fountain, the agnolotti I just mentioned were hand made and flown in from Texas, they had prosciutto's, Parmesans, dried cured beef and so on that would make most Italians cry with happiness! Hand made sausages and dry ages meats. Yea, my kinda grub. But then...the other extreme. They were sauteing their pre-sliced onions in WHIRL for fuck sakes! Serving rock hard out of season melons, using grocery store bread and opening cans for some easily sourced items. It didn't make any sense to me. I was concerned about their inconsistency. It put off a bad vibe for me. It's almost like they were trying to impress someone but didn't want to impress them TOO much. Shit, I'm sure they had their reasons, but that's not something I nor most of my colleagues would have done, I'm sure.

Well, enough of that. Overall, I would definitely work for them. They seem like a bunch of great people and hard workers, which is what its all about in the end, in most cases.

So, moving on to job number 2. Well, if I say to you that I went from one extreme to the other, I would be understating more to you than someone saying rotten potatoes "kinda smell". Now, I don't mean any disrespect to anyone that works at this place, not at all. I met some of the nicest and down to earth, humbled and non arrogant people I have EVER and most likely WILL ever meet in my life! But, first of all, I had to get up at 3:30 am to arrive by 5:00 am each morning. I don't know how they do it. A few of them get there at 3:30am! YIKES! Then, they made me dress up like the bastard son of a clown and a nurse, lol. Hair nets, lab coats, gloves, sanitation is #1! Cool. I like that.

The food...well..., the only time I used a knife was to cut open freezer bags and box tops. Wait, I take that back, I had to use a knife another time to lob (yes "lob", this knife was like the equivalent of the safety-scissors-you-give-to-the-special-kid-in-3rd-grade-dull!) frozen bread sticks in half so they would fit into the serving try (with this asshole corporate chef making remarks about why it's taking me so long to cut bread while he walks around with a clip board, lol, wow, what a dick). Sorry, had to mention that. He was trying to be funny, but with 2 hours sleep and no coffee in site, I wasn't feeling very jovial, lol.

Instead of listing my duties, I'll just list the things we worked with: enough canned pudding to drown a camel (they even had an air powered can opener, they MUST open a lot of cans!), fully cooked heat-n-serve fried chicken, fully cooked heat-n-serve grilled chicken breast with, we think, are painted on grill marks, fully cooked "meat"loaf, powdered gravy mix, frozen corn, carrots and/ or green beans in rotation, canned marinara sauce, 35 pound tubs of pre-made tuna and chicken salads, thaw and serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and so on and so forth. After this week, whirl and pre-sliced onions were forgivable.

Like I said, I'm not knocking anyone personally (except that corporate "chef"), but this is what our children in public schools are being fed. This is what our grand parents in government subsidised nursing homes are being forced to eat. Sad.

I'm sure they have their reasons and anyone might and would justify that crap if you asked them, I'm just blown away by that. Crazy thing is, I worked for that same company under a different sector that catered to the private school "richy-riches" of the world and they bragged about how "scratch made" everything was and how processed food was a big "no-no" and that "WE" don't allow frozen anything and canned ecetera to be used because its not wholesome! That they have professional chefs on staff and they don't need can openers or fryers because everything is painstakingly created with love, blah blah. So, apparently, you (or your parents) have to be doctors in order for you to get a true healthy meal, but if you're anywhere near the poverty level, you get to eat processed BS while you learn your ABCs and before you die of old age.

My family grew up with not a lot of money. What extra money we did have, my dad usually drank, lol. But, no matter what, my family fed us awesome food. I guess my point is, you don't need a lot of money to make healthy scratch-made food without additives and crap in it, you just need skill and a little passion. Laziness is not the way of the future. Its not always about pinching pennies so the big corporate dudes can drive a new BMW every 6 months and brag about their mistresses over goose and crans and Cubans. Ah, you get my point. Being on both sides of the coin showed me a new way to look at things and given me even more reason to cook well and teach others to do it for themselves too.

Shit, go to a farmers market and go make your kids some hand made pizzas. Costs less then 2 slices of pizza from your local pie shop and your kids will never forget it. Kids love to play with dough. So what if you have to have the maid stay late to clean up the mess, its OK!

Anyway, here are some pictures, thanks for reading this far! :)

Brazilian Grille

Funny Ass Salad Guy!

Risotto Station

Angelotti Pasta Station

Jeesh, Whirl and olive oil blend, have MERCY!!!

Canteen with the Cambro's ready to go and feed our kids and the elderly.

The food line.

This sweet woman, hard worker and tired. I loved her. She made getting there at 5am almost enjoyable. I mean that.

Wow, now THAT'S some niller puddin'! See the air-powered can opener? WOW!

The crew, now those hair nets are HOT!