Week 1 – Day 1

February 4, 2008

Color is flavor.

Chard

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Week 1 – Day 2

February 4, 2008

Flavor is round.

Flavor

Week 1 – Day 3

February 4, 2008

I think my belly is round.

Round Belly

Week 2 – Pastry

February 4, 2008

Pastry

Pastry

Barely 21, I had a “yellow Corvette” adventure. As summer dusk settled upon the central piazza in Sulmona, Italy, an utterly machismo, brand-spanking new, canary yellow, convertible Corvette came to abrupt halt near my friends and me. The man offered one of us a ride. I stood up. Finally, this was my chance to befriend a true Mafioso. Yes. I left my friends and the swarm of ragazzi playing soccer on the cobblestones and got in the car. We sped off. The wind rustled my hair. This man was a Sicilian, even more Mafioso. Yes. The city melted away. We drove through the countryside, smelling of hay. I looked up at the stars, and realized with dread, I might have just done the stupidest thing in my life. Who was this man? Not only could I not understand a word of his Sicilian dialect, but he was a very large Sicilian. Fifteen minutes turned into thirty. I did not enjoy going 100 miles an hour anymore. We pulled into a very dark factory-ish warehouse. Oh shit. Ohhhhhhhh shit. He gestured for me to go in. Okay. By then I surrendered myself to this situation. I followed him into this building. He turned on the lights. The space was enormous, filled with shiny stainless steel tables and equipment. On a shelf was some Sambucca. He offered me some. Dear God yes, the bottle please. While I poured Sambucca down my throat, the Sicilian left my side to open a large walk-in refrigerator, and pulled out an enormous cake box. He came towards me, raised the lid, and inside was the most dazzling array of pastries. I was in a pastry factory. He offered me some. I was tasting angels. Is there a patron saint of pastry? If so, that is my saint. We got into the yellow Corvette, and raced back to town, to share this box of goodness with my friends. Those little tarts would be the best desserts of my life.

When I sat at the table in the Chef Studio and slid the velvet of this beautiful custard across my tongue, I thought of those “yellow corvette” tarts. That is the first time that this recollection, this connection has ever happened. I think the patron saint of pastry has visited once again . . .

– Blake

Week 3 – Dicing

February 4, 2008

The Dice

Dicing

We made an apple soup today. It was divine. My job was to prepare 5 cups of apples for this soup. Though the apples were to eventually be pureed, I wanted my 1/4-inch dice to be perfect. I watched my knife slide through crisp strips of apple, and that was all I knew for a moment. That was all I had to know. For that moment.

I walk into the Studio, and my bills, my work, the stale crumbs of life cannot come in. The Studio is a magic world. The luxury of school. But this is a school that smells and tastes good. And there is wine (to boot!). I like to leave the room for a few minutes so that when I walk back in, this steamy wave of cooking aromas hit with renewed freshness. Those that know me, know that I am in 6 hours of sensory heaven each day. Bliss.

– Blake

Week 4 – The Ingredient

February 4, 2008

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The Ingredient

Simplicity is inherently complex, and vice versa. The fewer the distractions, the more reliant one is upon the integrity of execution. The genius of modesty.

The Crown Prince is the ingredient. Whether that be a turnip, onion or fois gras, it is held aloft and given the seat of honor. I love how, in class, the scope is narrowed and a three-ingredient custard is beautiful. Taste and texture tell the story, and in one bite the simplicity stops you dead in your tracks. We are learning how to shepherd taste.

I relate to the ingredient. For some reason, Robert’s food and teaching runs parallel to my philosophy that I’ve always had about my jewelry. I form ornament from glass. It is the same material that beer bottles are made of. It is a turnip. Though when executed with love and integrity, it becomes the Crown Prince. I don’t want my glass beads to look like anything other than glass. Color and shape tell the story, just like taste and texture.

The ingredient will never go out of style. It can’t. It is impossible. I pray that my jewelry will run the same course as Robert’s food and transcend the frivolity of fashion, and just be what it is – glass held aloft. An ingredient made beautiful.

– Blake

A Slideshow of Photos

February 4, 2008

Below are photos that I took during the course. Enjoy!

– Blake

Many Meals. Photo: Blake Van Roekel

The Little Black Dress of Cooking

When I first talked to Robert about his school, he very aptly described his teachings as an alphabet, a foundation to cooking. I like the word ‘alphabet’, because of the weeks that have passed, I feel like a whole new vocabulary, a methodology, has been imbued upon my classmates and myself. But the word ‘foundation’ makes me think of cement, The Prudential, or wearing boots that are too heavy. Rather, I like to think of Robert’s food as the Little Black Dress of Cooking.

You see, the Little Black Dress is the one article of clothing that transcends time and trends. It has been revisited and refined repeatedly, and will continue to be, just like food. Yet with thousands of interpretations, when you see the Little Black Dress tailored just right, you know. Your eye can feel the fabric, and the exquisite lines of the dress allow the woman to exude an air of seduction, because she knows her dress is it.

Robert’s food is it. There is no question. It is clean and captivating. What I am learning is the classic silhouette of food done right, and done with delicious vibrancy. See, the woman wearing The Little Black Dress of this metaphor also has on heels. And the soles of her heels are bright, bright red – a surprise and a fancy coupled with tradition . . . that has most certainly been improved upon. It is beautiful.

– Blake

Week 6 – My Hands

February 4, 2008

My Hand. Photo: Blake Van Roekel

My Hands

Some women shield their hands from the elements. They wear gloves at night, smothering their smooth skin with oilments to soothe and diminish the signposts of rigor, work or age. For some reason, I have always been the opposite. I want to land in my grave with hands that proudly show the world that I have used them, and created with them. Like the scars on my body, they tell of who I am, of my life and stories.

This year, for the first time, I saw the weathered skin of summers spent outdoors reflected across the back of my hands. While driving I stretch them over my steering wheel. Which grip stretches the skin the most, hiding these new wrinkles? Hmmmm. For years I had tight calluses from griping heavy handles of wheelbarrows, shovels, and trowels. My skin was stained with earth. I thought it was cool. I didn’t like black fingernails, but I cut them close. Then they grew soft with being inside and working on computers. I was not proud of them anymore, but I got to wear nice clothes and work sheltered from the winter, away from the Oregon sleet. Once I began making jewelry, my nails were scraped and worked down to jagged smithereens, and the tools and torches caused cuts, scrapes and occasionally burns. My fingertips grew tough. Now I wonder about the bleachwater, hot dishwater, knives, oven-hot pots, flames on the stove. I am only in a class, but what blisters, cuts, and wear and tear will make their mark? How will the kitchen shape my hands? As I wipe my hands for the millionth time on my apron towel, I wonder. And I think it probably will be cool.

– Blake

On the Food of Venice

“There is life after fried onion rings.”

– Robert Reynolds

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