One Year and Counting

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It’s official I have been out and about in the culinary real world for ONE whole year. Time has flown by (seriously, what day is it?!) But exactly one year ago I took my final cook tech exam at the Natural Gourmet Institute before being sent on my way into this insane, intense, passionate, terrifying yet rewarding industry. ‘Post-grad’ life has been one for the books as I go through waves of inspiration and self-doubt trying to establish myself as a cook.    

 

Can’t Take the Heat

Working in a kitchen is nothing yet everything I expected. Through popular media the life of a professional cook is glorified as a passion driven career where you do what you love every day and take pride in your final product. Sprinkled with the horrific examples of the angry chefs and injuries that cooks subject themselves too every day.

Now, I was a culinary school graduate with no idea what to do next. Keep cooking? Find a ‘normal job’ in marketing? I was lost. I convinced myself I could make it as a cook. I knew how to poach an egg, braise vegetables, make bread and break down a chicken. I could do anything, right?

Wrong.

My first externship after school was 3 weeks of realizing I was not cut out for the job. I worked Garde Manger (salad and cold appetizer station) at Cookshop, a farmers-market driven restaurant serving amazing American fare. I had never worked in a restaurant and had no clue what I was doing. I was lucky the chef even let me on his line! Day one, I learned how to read tickets… yes, I really knew NOTHING. I was there to assist the cook who ran the station. I helped prepare ingredients, pick herbs and watch and learn the rhythm of making hundreds of salads while plating beef tartar, shuck oysters and pipe filling for deviled eggs. Needless to say, the first week was an overwhelming disaster. Luckily the team at Cookshop was so helpful and supportive. I am sure I caused more trouble than help but they always smiled and moved on to the next order. By the end of my three weeks I was shucking oysters (with minimal injury) and making salads without being ‘sent back’ by chef.

To be completely honest I thought my time in a kitchen was going to be over after my externship. I thought there was no way I could run my own station. I just wasn’t good enough. But with a little advice and a huge push I decided to give it another go and work at Cookshop’s sister restaurant Vic’s.

Fast forward, I have now been at Vic’s for just under one year! To say there was a learning curve would be a massive understatement. I showed up with a nervous and bruised ego, to run the garde manger station on my own (luckily, no oysters). The beginning was rough, riddled with tears, burns and a little yelling every now and then. Everyday was a blow to the ego, a “what the F*** am I doing here kind of a day.” But yet again, the team had my back. Everyone was eager to help and encouraged me to keep going.

Then it started to fall into place. Shifts became less hectic, I could set up my station in time without running out of prep, I could plate desserts and salads at the same time. I was feeling confident, until BAM I was promoted to the next station… hot appetizers. Stuck in the middle of the open kitchen so every diner could watch me under pressure. There was a lot of, ‘the vegetables are under salted,’ ‘the carrots aren’t hot,’ ‘there’s no shine,’ ‘the vegetables look dry,’ ‘Emily, I missing 6 corns, 3 carrots and a farinata!’… aka a flash back to my first month. But if there is one thing I have learned through this processes is that if you keep your head down, try your hardest and build a sense of confidence you can get through the push.

Now, I have moved onto my 3rd station… I can’t believe it. I still stumble over tickets and cause a mess of the kitchen but I am learning. Every day I put in my best effort, try to understand the ins and outs of the kitchen, soaking up any information given to me. That is a part of the rewarding side of the job that leaves you yearning for more, if you push yourself hard enough you can achieve radical results.

Long story short, popular media hasn’t quite nailed it. They forget to portray the crazy hours, never seeing your friends that live outside of the restaurant, holidays in the kitchen and constant self-doubt. They leave out the family you build when everyone is pushed to their limits, the power of a team and the intoxicating feeling of getting through a rough night. And they forget the strength of the people you work with, who work 21 hours in a day to make ends meet without ever complaining. It’s not easy, not always fun but there is something that makes it worth it.

 

In Other News

Through the ups and downs of my year in the kitchen I have considered quitting, looked for completely different jobs and thrown myself into new hobbies in order to alleviate the pain of everyday kitchen life. Which has left my posts and inspiration for The Fresh Slice non-existent the past few months. (Oops.)

In my social media absence, I did add a few new exciting projects to the books. I completed the second level of sommelier classes at the International Wine Center. Wine has always been a place of interest for me, especially in its connection with food. I was thirsty to know more, expand my understanding and verbiage of international wines and how to accurately pair them with food. Knowing next to nothing walking through the door, except that I love Savion Blanc, the next 9 weeks were whirlwind of information and tastings of amazing wines. The class was incredible. It provided a broad spectrum into the wine world, explored new grape varieties, trends in the market and of course food pairings. Now, I am not on the path of Master Sommelier (yet) but I am excited to share some of my findings with you in future posts.

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Lastly, I have taken on a new side hustle with This Pie is Nuts. A local gluten free, vegan and paleo company making individual pies and granola. The company was created by the amazing Diana Pappas who has single handedly grown the business for the past 2 years. All of our products are entirely out of the nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Basically, the most nutritious pie out there. With new and exciting plans in the future we are working to build This Pie is Nuts into something big. Keep an eye out, or take a bite and order online.

So woop there it is, the whole crazy, exciting, intimidating and wild year is over but one thing has remained the same… food is still the passion of my life. From cookbook lined shelves to restaurant hopping through NYC I am still hungry and I can’t wait to see what I can bring to you this year.

As the great once said, “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interest in it.”- Julia Child.

 

  

The Fresh Challenge : Hemp

For this month's Fresh Challenge sit back, grab a spot on the couch and pack a bowl... of HEMP seeds! 

Hemp is a all around plant- based power house of nutrients that can be added to smoothies, salads, baked goods and well... just about anything! 

Protein Hit - Hemp hearts contain 10 grams of protein per 3 tablespoon serving. The protein found in hemp is a complete protein and easily digestible! 

Fiber Fire - Add more fire to your belly. These little seeds are full of fiber to aid your gut health and digestion. The standard diet is lacking in this nutrient as we chips in snacks instead of fruits and vegetables, but hemp can help swing the pendulum in a better direction. 

Omega-3 Good-Good - Protect your heart and improve your brain function with a daily dose of Omega- 3 fatty acids. Adding omega- 3's to your day helps reduce inflammation, reduce your risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels. 

The best part about this challenge? Hemp is easy to find anywhere these days from raw hemp hearts to milks you can take the challenge out of this Fresh Challenge. Just in case you need more direction when the munchies kick in, here are a few of my blazin picks. 

 

 

 

Monthly Myth Buster

Vegan Misconceptions: Part 2

It’s time to knock out another Vegan Misconception that has been a point of controversy for far too long. This month’s myth buster we are breaking down the building blocks of life and finding out the truth about protein.

#3 “You can’t get enough protein being vegan.”

It is hard to imagine that without the daily scrambled eggs in the morning, grilled chicken salad or fillet of salmon for dinner that you can still obtain the necessary portion of protein. It’s true, animal protein provides our body with complete proteins that are necessary for daily functionality. However, it is possible to obtain equivalent complete proteins on a vegan diet (and without relying on processed “fake” meats). Plant-based proteins are readily available in whole food sources such as nuts, beans, legumes, vegetables and seeds - all of which contain healthy fats and soluble fiber that aid the digestion of nutrients.

Without going too science, lets get a quick overview of this essential macronutrient. Protein is a powerful building block in our body that does more than give us toned muscles. Protein has 4 main functions in our body:

  • Antibody production and formation
  • Act as a catalyst for enzymes to facilitate chemical responses in the body
  • The production of hormones
  • Build and repair muscle tissue

Once sufficient quantities of protein have been absorbed for these 4 processes it is stored as fat to be used as energy in times of starvation. Yep, our bodies actually turn protein into fat! Ugh. 

SO how much protein do you need to consume daily to avoid having it turn into fat storage?!

If you are a strict calorie counter, you can use the model that only 10% - 15% of your daily calorie consumption should be from protein. Since our calories consumption varies day to day, a more standard calculation for the average adult is : Your Weight in Kg x 0.8 = Daily Protein Needs. 

For example a 150 lb adult: 150 lb / 2.2 = 68.2 Kg

68.2 Kg x 0.8 = 54.4 g of protein per day

*If you are pregnant, sick or healing from an injury you may need to increase your daily protein to 1 or 1.2 times your weight in Kg.

Now that you know how much protein you actually need on average, below is a list of the top 10 plant-based protein sources and cooking tips.

1.    Tempeh – 21g per serving

Tempeh is a fermented soybean patty that contains a rich nutty flavor. Tempeh is made by mixing fermenting soybeans with a grain (usually barley) and forming it into a 16 oz block. Soy gets a bad rap these days due to GMO farming and its natural hormones, but soybeans are the most complete plant-based protein available. When purchasing soybean products look for organic or sustainable products. Traditional tempeh is not gluten free because it is fermented with grain, however many companies have come out with gluten free options for those with gluten sensitivities. Tempeh contains many health supportive nutrients, such as B12, manganese and fiber. Not to mention it is easy to use when cooking and tastes delicious. I love LightLife can be be marinated, grilled, sautéed or baked.

2.    Tofu – 10g per serving

Tofu is a processed form of soybeans, which have been made into a soy milk and curdled and strained in order to form a block. Silken tofu or firm tofu, which has a high water content, is great to use in smoothies, sauces or vegan cheeses. Extra firm tofu is best used for cooking as it can be marinated, grilled, fried or baked. Here’s a tip for how to pack the most flavor into your tofu:press it for at least 30 minutes before marinating so that it absorbs more of the marinade flavor.

3.    Natto – 16g per serving

You either love it or hate it, this traditional Chinese dish is made of fermented soybeans that maintains a slimy texture and potent flavor. The dish is high in nutrients such as vitamin K, E and nattokinase, an enzyme which prevents blood clots. It is a popular breakfast dish mixed with mustard and soy sauce.

4.    Seitan – 20g per serving

Seitan is a pure form of wheat gluten, so if you are celiac or gluten intolerant stay FAR away! Seitan is made by kneading water and flour to wash away the starches leaving only the gluten protein structure. Seitan is then cooked in a seasoned broth providing an umami flavor. Many people are sensitive to the texture or seitan, however, as far as texture is concerned it is very  similar to meat. Similar to the other plant proteins, seitan can be cooked many ways. Upton's Naturals is one of my favorite seitan brands, it is great in stews, marinated or grilled.

5.    Lentils – 18g per serving

Lentils are the legume that just keep giving. They are high in protein, high in fiber and virtually fat free. Lentils are a very versatile ingredient that can be mashed into patties, loaves, added to salads, soups or stews. Lentils add a rich texture and rounded flavor to any dish. There are three main types of lentils; red, green and brown. All are delicious on their own but certain types are best for various dishes. For example, red lentils become very mushy and pliable when cooked so they are great to use as a binder when making veggie burgers or lentil loafs. Green lentils are the most versatile as they are still pliable enough to be a binder but they can also maintain a good structure for salads. Brown lentils hold their shape the most making them great for salads and soups.

6.    Beans – approximately 7g per serving

Beans can be transformed into hummus, dips, soups or veggie burgers and more -  the possibilities are endless. Beans are an adaptable and nutrient rich plant based protein. There are many types of beans, which provide various textures and nutrients. The beans that pack the most ‘bang for your buck’ are black beans, garbanzo beans, aduki beans, pinto and kidney beans. Containing more than 7 grams of protein per ½ cup serving, these varieties are a powerful addition to salads, stews and dips. Although beans are a great source of protein they are not a complete protein. Therefore, it’s important to serve beans with a form of grains to be digested as a complete protein (which explains why beans and rice are a staple meal in many cultures).

7.    Nuts

Nuts are probably the first plant-based protein people think of and are usually a staple in a vegan diet due to their versatility. They can be served crunchy, creamy, meaty or roasted. Nuts pack a punch of protein, fiber, fat, vitamins and minerals that are necessary in our diets. Not all are created equal though - almonds, pistachios, cashews and walnuts are the most beneficial nuts. They contain the highest ratio of protein and nutrients to fat. Nuts are a great addition to salads, desserts or as a snack on their own. But if you wanted to get a bit more creative you can use nuts in nut-milks, cheeses, cream sauces or pie crusts!

8.    Seeds

Like nuts, seeds are packed with healthy fats, nutrients and protein. Chia, hemp, flax, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds may be small, but they are a nutrient dense addition to any meal. Sprinkle them onto salads, oatmeal, smoothies or mix into your trail mix to get an extra boost for the day.

9.    Protein Powders

With the ‘on the go’ consumer looking for a quick fix that is both filling and nutrient dense, protein powders are a great option. But with all of the brands available it is important to read the ingredients and understand the product’s protein source. Most important thing for vegans to look out for is whey as it is a bi-product of cow’s milk. Therefore, you will want to find a protein powder that lists soy, pea, hemp and/or grain proteins in the ingredients. Due to the probability that soy protein contains GMO’s and is extremely processed in order to get it into a powder form, I personally prefer hemp or pea protein based mixes. They contain less protein than their soy and whey counterparts but are minimally processed and easier to digest. Brands I like are Vega Protein and Amazing Grass.

10. Faux Meat

Due to the increase of vegetarian, vegan or health conscious consumers many companies have created their own “faux” meats in order to provide familiar flavors, textures and appearances to traditional meats. While many of these faux meats are delicious, they should be consumed in moderation as they are still highly processed. It is best to stick to whole food forms of protein for your dietary needs, but companies such as Beyond Meat, Field Roast and Gardein offer great meat substitutions to satisfy every craving.