The workshop class gathers before lunch to critique and evaluate the morning's work.
Above: Lars Kronmark leads a walking tour of the extensive Greystone herb gardens. Nancy Larson experiments with Asian spices; sandwiches prepared in one of numerous class exercises; and Team 1 works on an after-class project. Below: Tyrone Wilkens tests Lemon Grass Soup.
Above (across): Another production critique session; David Green and Richard Wade Allen work on a spring roll presentation; salmon poached in lemon grass garlic broth; Lars demonstrating a slicing technique; careful attention to "mise en place."
(Across): Lars demonstrates wok cookery; the daily communal lunch lets everyone sample each other's work; FM editor John Lawn with Garlicky Mushroom-Tofu Turnovers; Team 2 designing a production flow plan for class presentation; and a quick toast to celebrate workshop's conclusion on Friday afternoon.
The fragrance in the air is intense, familiar and at first hard to identify. I recognize it suddenly—the lush hedges bordering the stone steps I'm climbing aren't yews at all, but cultivated rosemary.
Ahead and above me is the towering en-trance to the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone campus. It thrusts up from the side of Route 29, halfway between the town of St. Helena and Calistoga at the north end of Napa Valley. Originally built as a Christian Brothers winery, Greystone was built into the steep face of the hills that border the west side of the highway. To the east lie thousands of acres of Napa vineyards that fill the flat valley floor.
It's a cool Sunday evening at the end of July. I'm here to participate in a Culinary Enhance-mentWorkshop, an educational program that the National Association of College and University Food Services has offered to production managers among its membership since 1999.
I spoke with University of Missouri's Julaine Kiehn, the NACUFS education chair, before I made the decision to come. The program was originally the brainstorm of Stan-ford's Shirley Everett and UC-Santa Barbara's Mike DeRousse, she said. "They felt NACUFS wasn't doing enough to develop culinary values among its members' production managers and dining supervisors," she explained.
"It's not geared to those who already have culinary degrees—it was designed for those who don't have culinary training," she said. "We want to raise their competence and confidence in supervising those who do have that training. The goal is to increase the appreciation they have for how quality food is produced and what authentic culinary values really are."
Now, more than a dozen classes later, the workshop has become a tradition in its own right, with an intense, week-long curriculum refined and customized just for this purpose.
In effect, it's for people just like me, I think. I've covered the foodservice industry for almost 20 years, but my training was as a journal-ist and manager, not as a culinary professional. This will be good for me...
The reception warms up quickly. There are 18 NACUFS attendees besides myself and we are mingling with a group that includes Lars Kronmark, our instructor; NACUFS' president, Sharon Coulson, who's driven up from UC-Davis; and Jodi Smith, NACUFS' marketing manager. There are also some executives from Basic American Foods, which has sponsored the Culinary Enhancement Workshop since its inception.
Everything is low-key. I strike up a conversation with Andy Tully, Basic's director of foodservice marketing. He is a big supporter of what the program looks to achieve.
"Some of the people here are fairly new to their jobs," he says. "Others have been supervisors or managers for a long time. What's interesting is that they have the same high level of enthusiasm. It tells me this is a program that really meets a need.
"Colleges are right on the front lines," he adds. "They're a big part of our customer base and also represent the next generation of B&I customers. They know what it's like to compete with foodservice from the commercial world. And to do that, foodservice managers need to see culinary production as much more than just an assembly line."
A spoon is struck against a wine glass and as the sound spreads out in the evening air, everyone quiets down. Lars introduces himself and welcomes us all to the school. "We will work hard in the next few days," he says. "But we will enjoy ourselves as we learn. Welcome to Greystone."
There's a quick tour of the facilities and then the group troops back to the restaurant for a fine meal together. It's been a long day of travel for everyone and we're looking forward to a good night's sleep. Class begins early in the morning....
The morning begins at 6:30 with a continental breakfast in the 3rd Floor Teaching Kitchen. At 6:50 we move down a hall to a classroom—you learn quickly here that class (and everything else) keeps to a tight timetable.
Lars begins with the class objectives. We will learn to assess and address critical control points in the food preparation process with staff. We will learn to manage resources. We will come to understand and respect the characteristics of good food, menu planning and presentation. And we'll learn to apply management principles and best practices to achieve higher standards.
Lars tells us about himself. He was originally from Denmark, apprenticed as a cook while a young man, then worked in restaurants and clubs in Switzerland and Copenhagen, eventually coming to the U.S. in 1980. He taught at another culinary school but joined the staff at Greystone when the CIA opened it in 1995.
Each day will be like this, he says. A lecture for 90 minutes, a quick break, then three hours of hands-on production. We will work in small teams with our own assignments, then assemble as a group to critique and evaluate our work and its presentation. That will become lunch. Afterwards, we will evaluate it further, for taste, texture and profile.
There will be demonstrations, assigned readings and homework. Small groups will meet after class to solve assigned production problems and prepare class presentations of the solutions. We will be tired by late afternoon, but if we manage our time well, there are nearby olive oil producers and wineries we can visit at the end of the day.
Lars begins with (who else?) Auguste Escoffier. "He created the professional kitchen brigade as we know it today." There are other historical highlights, but we move quickly to contemporary food trends, the world flavors of Asia and Latin America, North America and the Mediterranean. How tastes and preparation techniques have changed in the U.S. since the 1950s. The influence of James Beard, of Paul Bocuse and Alice Waters, of Paul Prudhomme and Charlie Trotter, of Wolfgang Puck and Barbara Tropp, of many more. The impact it has had on college dining and the expectations of today's customers.
Chefs once saw classic French cuisine as the gold standard; today there are other standards as well. We discuss organic and natural ingredients, fresh production, tasting menus, artisan techniques. Convenience ingredients have an important role in the commercial kitchen and we talk about their role in volume production.
Everyone takes notes, the minutes fly by. At 9:15, Lars quickly reviews the assigned recipes in our workbook. He has been calling on all of us throughout the morning and it seems he has been evaluating us along the way. Within minutes, he has named us to six teams, each of them balanced for the experience its members bring to the group.
The recipes—easier ones this first day, we are told—are assigned. And moments later, I am peeling and coring artichokes and slicing bok choy and other ingredients to make Fritto Misto of Seasonal Vegetables with a Spiced Orange Mayonnaise.
My hands are used to typing, not to knife work, and the artichokes challenge me. They thistle petals are tough and thorny, resistant to my knife, and the hairy chokes are hard to remove. As I struggle, my mind wanders.
I think back to an artichoke harvest tour I went to in Castroville years ago. To the story that monks brought this rough-hewn vegetable from Italy to California. To the Greek legend of Cynarus, the beautiful, earth-born mistress of Zeus who joined him on Mount Olympus and whom he later transformed into the artichoke because of her unyielding desire to return to earth.
My teammates interrupt my reverie, reminding me that I am falling behind schedule. All of our assignments are to be completed and on display for review at 11:45. I need to focus on the task at hand.
Meanwhile, Lars is walking back and forth among the kitchen stations, observing our work and moving from team to team.
"Chef," he will say. "That is not the best way. Instead, like this!" taking the knife and demonstrating a grip or a slice.
His use of the very word, Chef, seems to imbue it with a meaning its has not had for me before. To my ears it has been a simple job title up to now. For him it is an address of great respect, pronounced with a certain tone of voice.
He says, "Chef—try this," but also means, "Pay attention.Watch your technique. Everything in its place. Seek excellence at all times."
I begin to see that in another life Lars could easily have been a Zen master, walking among rows of meditating students just as he now walks the aisles of the training kitchen. Instead of the knife he might have wielded a staff, striking students when their minds wandered, with a similar message: "Sit up straight. Be mindful. Still those thoughts. Pay attention!"
It is 11:30 and I am hustling to finish deep frying my appetizers and plate and garnish them for display. I make the deadline just in time, setting my creation down along with the others of our team in the assigned place on the central review table.
With six teams and many recipes to execute, we have laid out an impressive bounty before us. The others have finished right up against the wire, just as I have, and we all looking pretty pleased. Lars begins to inspect our work, tasting a bit here and there, poking...
Follow the NACUFS class through the remainder of the week on the blog posted on FM's Web site: http://www.food-management.com/blog