Top chefs in training

Culinary students test `user-friendly' recipes

January 05, 2007|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN REPORTER

With the unmistakable aromas of curry, ginger and other spices lingering in the air, Andrea Ulrich followed the lamb stew recipe word-for-word, careful not to miss a step.

But she skipped a critical part of the cooking process: tasting the finished product.

"It smells good," the 16-year-old junior at Eastern Technical High in Essex said as she stirred the mix of spices, some of which she has never used. "But I can't even try it because I'm allergic to cinnamon."

About two dozen juniors from the school's culinary program finished their work yesterday as the official testers of recipes destined to be included in a 250-page cookbook that is to be distributed in the United States and internationally.

The students' mission was to make sure the instructions are user-friendly for the average cook before the book is published this spring.

Proceeds from the sale of the cookbook are expected to be donated to a national organization, but the book's representatives declined yesterday to name its beneficiary until contribution plans are complete.

Students have spent two weeks sampling the recipes - all of which were donated by culinary experts such as Baltimore-native Steven Raichlen, host of the Barbecue University TV show on PBS, and Suvir Saran, world-renowned for his Indian dishes.

In addition to tasting the recipes to see whether more or less of any ingredient might improve the taste, the students honed their skills at "plating," or arranging the food on plates before having them photographed for the book.

"The kids are getting a fabulous experience," said Jeffrey Spear, a spokesman who is working with Microplane, a company that makes cooking products and is sponsoring the publication of the cookbook. "They're getting exposure to new ingredients, cooking techniques and even some basic knife skills."

"They're learning the importance of carefully following the recipe," he said. "A lot of times, they don't take the time to read the recipe and visualize the final dish. We're teaching them mise en place, everything in its place. Then they can see how it all comes together."

The students are also seeing that the culinary industry offers many opportunities including food styling and photography, Spear said.

In their quest to find recipe shortcomings, such as a missing item from the ingredient list, the culinary students handled ingredients many had never seen or touched, such as caviar and truffles that sell for $600 a pound.

"We're used to baking cookies and making lunches for teachers," said 16-year-old Zack Ulrich, a junior. "We're not used to doing gourmet. It's fun what we're getting to learn. It's a different experience."

Bette Mullins, the school's culinary arts director, said the program's budget generally doesn't afford such extravagant ingredients. She relished the chance, she said, to introduce her students to something they likely wouldn't experience until entering the food industry as professionals.

"This is a real-life experience for them," Mullins said.

Andrea Ulrich, who is Zack's cousin, said the lamb stew recipe was easy to follow and wasn't missing any ingredients or steps. But a scallop dish stumped her when the recipe called for an ingredient not on the list. The recipe's creator will update the recipe before it is published, she said.

Andrew Schmitz, a 16-year-old junior, said a carrot-and-ginger soup recipe that he tried yielded a bland liquid that didn't look appetizing.

"I suggested it needed more salt and more ingredients, something with texture," he said.

A group of students working on a recipe called the "citizen cake," a salad that included beets and horseradish, scribbled a note to ask the recipe writer whether the Granny Smith apple should be grated with or without its skin.

LaDeana Litchfield, director of workplace development for the Maryland Hospitality Education Foundation, said these were the types of questions and suggestions that the cookbook's creators need.

"Sometimes a chef knows what's in his head but forgets to put it in the recipe," said Litchfield, who works with culinary programs at schools across the state. She helped select Eastern Tech in part because of its advanced kitchen and the program's exemplary reputation.

Zack Ulrich, who works at his father's catering business, said he plans to get a copy of the cookbook.

"I actually did this, and it is going to be in a book that everyone is going to get to see," he said. "And it went to a good cause."

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