The Book is Done! (And for sale…)

Introducing “Beyond the Red Sauce.” A labor of love that is finally complete. And of course that means your long-awaiting chance to order this culinary masterpiece is also at an end. Go on over to my site, and order yourself (and all your friends, family members and people you hardly know) a copy today!


Looking down with the pride of a new father, I hold my first cookbook.

For those of you coming by for the first time, this book is based on the concept of Italian Cooking, but I used no tomatoes. The question I most commonly receive is, “why did you do that?” And the reason is not because I don’t like tomatoes – just look at the logo at the top – but rather because I was tired of everything that is considered “Italian” to just be smothered in red sauce.

There’s so much more to Italian cooking, and that’s what this book is all about!


Burger King’s “Italian Chicken Sandwich”. Chicken, bread, cheese, red sauce. Just like they make back in the motherland.

For those of you that have been with this blog for the long haul (over 6 years now) you know all about this. So for you all, the story is about how I finally received my order of books.

I was worried that they would not get here on time, since I have a signing event up in Bedford, PA this weekend at LIFeSTYLE, the shop where I give monthly cooking classes. So I placed an order for the books, some to be delivered quickly, and some to come slower, just to make sure I had some for the event this weekend.


Another picture of the cover because it’s so darn pretty!

Well two days ago, two boxes showed up at my door. 64 books. A nice start, but not the whole order for sure. So I checked the next day with UPS to track my shipment, and there it was – ALL the remaining boxes were on the truck for delivery… Could my house hold them all?

5:30 rolled around, and still no books. I had to leave for class, and I told Susan to come on home to wait for them. She was working late, and came home at 7:30. No books.

8:45, and I receive a text – “The books are here!” Fantastic! 16 more boxes now crowd my living room. The poor UPS guy. He’s inundated with Cyber Monday deliveries, and still has to unload a crap ton of books for me so I can send them back out to you all.

Susan gave him a bottle of ginger ale to help him along. Isn’t she the sweetest?…

But that doesn’t change the fact – I have a LOT of books in my house, and I want you to have them instead! Place your orders, and let’s make this happen!

Thanks to all of you for your amazing support in my writing of this book! I couldn’t have done it without you.

Chef Matt

I Have Proof!

The physical proof of my cookbook arrived today. This has been a source of serious consternation for me since I have spent much of the last weeks emailing my designers furiously asking them to please put a move on things to keep up with the deadline I gave them a few months back. The last I had heard from them was that they had ordered the proof copy to be printed, and would soon mail it out – sometime within the next five business days.


I don’t think I’ve actually shared the final cover with you all yet. Here it is.

That was last Friday. With the Thanksgiving weekend coming up, which would have surely been another delay, I was doubting that the December 4th deadline that I gave them was going to be met.

But while I was sitting in front of my TV (it’s a day off for me) I heard a strange “bump” come from my front door. I was expecting my dad to come by sometime today, so I figured it was him, but then I saw an unfamiliar man walking away from my house. He wasn’t wearing a mailman uniform… had I just been egged?…

Surely the candy I gave out on Halloween wasn’t that bad…

Anyway, of course this was the Amazon delivery of the proof of my cookbook. I was so excited I forgot where I kept my knives so I could open the package. (A chef forgetting where he keeps his knives. Tragic.) I ripped open the seal, and pulled out my very first copy of my book.

Here it was. In my hands. The book I had been writing for well over a year, and it was actually a real thing. Sure, I don’t want to take away from all the parents of the world, but to some small degree, I get it now. Here is something that existed in theory for so long, and now it was finally there. Real. Tangible. Present. In my hands. It’s a truly miraculous feeling.

Now of course, I have to read the darn thing to make sure it’s good to go to print. And of course, I have no idea what I’m going to do if it’s not…

Chef Matt

P.S. Please stay tuned – I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to start ordering copies of your own sometime next week!

Cooking Without the Sinks

The life of a culinary instructor is much different than that of a chef. We show up, prep ingredients and cook. We write recipes and compile menus for special events. But the cooking we do is in carefully controlled situations and environments, and the stress level is usually significantly reduced from the hectic world a chef usually has to live in every day.

So it was almost with an unbridled excitement that I discovered yesterday when walking into my classroom at Sur La Table yesterday that the sinks were not working in the room. The only working sink was in the men’s room down the hall. How can I prep, let alone run, a class for 15 people coming in less than 2 hours without the use of a sink?


A GIS of “clogged sink” comes up with some unsavory images, so enjoy this picture of a kitty sleeping in a sink.

This is exactly the kind of challenging, thinking on my feet kind of obstacle to my job that I still find myself missing in the day-to-day work of being a culinary instructor.

I hopped into action, and started storing water from the sinks in pots. (It’s not that the water wasn’t running, it’s that we couldn’t send any down the drains…) There were basins for hand washing, some for pot washing, and some for use in food. As the students started arriving, I started sending them to the men’s room right away so that everyone’s hands would be clean in time for the class to start. By the time the class was rolling, it was as if we worked like this every day.

And once the plumber was fixing the drains thanks to the staff at Sur La Table’s great behind-the-scenes efforts, we were already running so smoothly, it was as if there was no extra benefit to the fact that we now had working sinks! It was smooth as could be.

Sure, there was a pile of dishes at the end of the class that we were still tackling, but this is another thing that culinary instructors have in common with chefs:

We hire people to do the dishes for us. :)

Chef Matt

P.S. The recipes were really great from the class, but the dessert, my Chocolate Almond Baklava, was really awesome! So I’m going to share that recipe with you here:

Chocolate-Almond Baklava

Yield: Serves 8

Ingredients:
Syrup:
⅓ cup sugar
⅓ cup honey
⅓ cup water
½ tsp vanilla extract
1-2 Tbsp Amaretto or Frangelico liqueur
Pastry:
½ cup slivered almonds – toasted lightly
2 oz bittersweet chocolate – coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp sugar
5 pods cardamom – seeds removed, pod shells discarded
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Equipment 3 kitchen towels – one damp, two dry
7 sheets phyllo dough – defrosted
5 Tbsp unsalted butter – melted

Method:
- To make the syrup, combine the sugar, honey and water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved, then remove the pan from the heat and cool to room temperature.
- Once the mixture has cooled, stir in vanilla and liqueur to taste. Place in fridge to chill while making baklava.
- To make the pastry, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325°F.
- Line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with a large piece of aluminum foil, pressing into corners, and making sure there is some foil coming out of the pan.
- Combine the nuts, chocolate, sugar and cardamom seeds in a food processor. Pulse (30 to 35 times) until the nuts and chocolate are finely chopped and are about the same size. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cinnamon.
- Lay the damp towel flat on a work surface. Lay the two dry towels on top of the damp towel.
- Stack the sheets of phyllo on a work surface and cut them in half crosswise, making 14 half-sheets. Stack the two halves together. Place the phyllo between the two dry kitchen towels.
- Working with one sheet of phyllo at a time and starting with a lengthwise edge, fold over 2 inches of the sheet and fit it into the bottom of the prepared loaf pan (trim as needed if the sheets do not fit). Brush it lightly with melted butter. Repeat the folding with 4 more sheets, brushing the top of each folded sheet with butter before you layer it in the loaf pan.
- Sprinkle half of the nut mixture over the top sheet.
- Add four more sheets of phyllo, brushing each with butter as you go.
- Sprinkle the remaining nut mixture over the top sheet.
- Add five more folded sheets, brushing the top of each one with butter as you go.
- Use a sharp knife to make three cuts across the width of the phyllo, cutting through just the top layers and spacing the cuts evenly. Make one cut down the length of the phyllo, resulting in 8 rectangular shapes.
- Bake baklava for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown.
- Drizzle all of the chilled syrup evenly over the hot baklava.
- Use a sharp knife to deepen the earlier cut lines, slicing all the way through the layers. Cover the baklava and let it stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour, or up to 4 hours, so the syrup soaks through the layers.
- To serve, use the foil to pull the baklava from the loaf pan to a work surface.
- Use a thin metal spatula to transfer the pieces to a serving platter or individual plates.
- Pour any accumulated syrup in the bottom of the pan or foil over the pieces of baklava. Cut each piece diagonally in half if desired and serve.

Indexing the Cookbook: From “A – Apple” to “Z….” ummm… “Zapple”?

Editing is mainly done, and that’s a big part of why I haven’t been writing as of late here to the blog. Sure, my wedding was a big part of why I’ve been absent as well, (it was wonderful) but with respect to the work I’ve been doing at the computer, it’s been all editing, all the time as of late.

It’s an interesting experience editing a book that you’ve written – if only for the fact that you feel you are looking over the same text over and over, and you can’t imagine there could possibly be another mistake. And yet, the moment you find one, it’s like the breaching of a dam – everything suddenly comes flooding in, and all you can see are mistakes.


Stupid text! Be more right!

And this is when you find yourself in a pit of despair. You can’t believe you missed all those errors the first 200 times you went through the book. I of course respond to this with the utmost civility and maturity. I would usually walk away and ignore the book for about 3 days each time this happened. I don’t know – maybe thinking I was teaching it a lesson by ignoring it.

But cooler heads prevailed, and I found myself tackling the massive collections of issues my text presented to me, and have whipped it into a shape that I feel would not embarrassing to me were I to actually attempt to sell it to the masses. (Always the kind of ringing endorsement you want to hear from an author about his latest work…)

So now I’m confronted with the task of indexing the book, since we know what page everything is going to appear on. At first, this seems like a simple enough task. List all the recipes, and place them in alphabetical order, and then tell people what page they’re on in the text. But who opens a book, and looks in the index for “Fenneled Fingerling Potatoes” or “Cozze di Mare”? Obviously, I have to figure out what the readers would likely be looking up as ingredients in the book, and then finding the recipes that have those ingredients, and then determining if that recipe is worthy of being listed under that category.


Parsley!

For example – in my “Tuscan Roasted Chicken with Lemon and Rosemary,” obviously this would be listed under “Chicken,” “Lemons,” and “Rosemary.” But in the recipe, I also use carrots (among other things) as the base on which the chicken roasts in the pan. Should I therefore also list this recipe under “Carrots?” I don’t think so, but if I were to use an auto-indexing program, it of course would do that for me.

And so ingredient by ingredient, I have to go through the text and determine if each recipe is worthy of listing as I go. All I can hope is that I don’t leave anything important out.

And that I do it right the first time so I don’t have to give it the dreaded silent treatment as well…

Chef Matt

The Waiting is the Hardest Part…

So the book is off with the designers now.

This is a new experience for me of course, so I have let my baby go off to the designers. It was really hard to hit the send button to let it go. It felt like something so final – so definitive to finally say, “Yes, this is a perfect set of my recipes.”


Example of good cookbook cover design.

But by the same token, there was still much to figure out. I told them I had an Acknowledgements section as well I wanted to include, and they told me I should re-submit the manuscript with that attached. Then they asked about interior images which I had added on, and I said I could tell them where I wanted them. No no, I should re-submit the manuscript with the image notations in there. All in all, my “final” submission of the manuscript probably happened 4 or 5 times.


It’s good to be living in this electronic age, where mulligans are so easy to come by. :)


Example of hideous cookbook cover design.

So now with the manuscript and cover photos in their capable hands, I needed to talk to them about my design visions. While on the one part, I knew what photos I wanted to use, on the other hand, I have no idea what the background colors, or font sizes, or margin spacings should be. I’ve never done this! I really don’t know what’s appropriate!

I just know if I say something along the lines of, “Yes use 11pt fonts,” then I know they are handcuffed into using that size, and that size only. And I don’t know if that’s the right size until I see the book layout itself. I want to give the designers room to do what they feel is right, but by the same token, I can’t give them free reign with my baby, can I?…

Simply put, I trust them, and I don’t at the same time. All I know is, I should have some comps delivered to me sometime next week. That is when I’ll know how we’re doing as far as interior and cover design go. But in the meantime, all I can do is wait and hope that we come up with something great.

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill, or is this a legitimate concern on my part?

Chef Matt

Artwork for the Book

Well it has indeed been a while since I posted here, but only because I’ve been swamped with both cooking classes as well as the final editing stages of the book. It’s amazing how much work it takes to run through a cookbook, and finally releasing the manuscript to the designer is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do so far. As I mentioned before, it’s that element of saying, “Yes, this is the final way I want my recipe to read,” that just terrifies me. What if I find out later that 1/2 cup of cream is better than 1/3 cup? Oh the embarrassment!

But today, let’s talk about artwork for the book. I can’t have this thing have no images and be covered in a plain brown wrapper. It has to have some “shelf appeal” as it were. So first things first, I had a great photographer, who is a friend of my lovely fiance, come over and take some shots of me cooking. I just basically made a large dinner from the book, and he photographed me as I did it. And as the courses came out, he took the beauty shots. I’ve included some of those below.


Orecchiette with Mushroom Cream Sauce – I think this might be the cover – not sure…

Another shot of the orecchiette – could also be the cover…

This will definitely be the shot of me as the “author’s photo”.

Roasted red pepper bruschetta. So pretty!

Wardrobe change! Working some great squid ink pasta from the pan.

Back in the red, and pouring out some balsamic vinegar on my homemade Italian sausages with sauteed kale.

Linguine alle Vongole. What some of you would call spaghetti with white clam sauce…

The photographer of all the photos above is Darren Santos, and he’s amazing. If you need a professional photographer for anything, contact me, and I’ll get you in touch with him. He’s awesome!

Next up is the artwork for inside the book. I can’t do color photos as this is my first book, and well, I’m on a budget. So I think some nice decorative art scattered throughout the book can look very nice. The problem is finding a style I like, and that has enough representatives of the kind of stuff I’m looking for. In short, I don’t want it to look like clip art.

So many different styles to choose from!

I love that last style, but there just aren’t enough images that work for my book…

So going blind looking at the screen for images I can use is what I’m up to. So I decided to take a break from that to write something else on my computer… Hmmmm…

Maybe I need to lie down in a dark room for a while…

Chef Matt

Delicious? Yes. Nutritious for Breakfast? Hmmm….

As a proud Italian, I am of course a proponent of the wonderful chocolate spread Nutella.


They’ve unfortunately yet to come out with “bathtub sized” jars…

This stuff is just great. I’m a Facebook fan of it (along with 10.8 million other people.) It is one of the greatest tasting spreads for bread and Graham Crackers. Hazelnuts are one of my favorite flavors to combine with chocolate – right behind raspberries.

My love affair with Nutella goes way back to when my mom would take business trips to Europe, and she’d return with jars of this wonderful sauce that it was so hard to come by in the US. Needless to say, those jars would not last long once they were in my house. The day I realized I could buy Nutella at my local grocery store is a day that is still etched upon my memory as one of the happiest days of my life.

I have been a champion of this spread for as long as I can remember. But recently, I started seeing this commercial on TV:

OK, so you’re having trouble getting your kids to eat breakfast. No worries, I’m with you, Ms. Hard-Working Mom. Spreading chocolate all over everything certainly would help to get your kids to eat breakfast. I’m not arguing that point. Spreading Nutella on anything pretty much makes it better. But as the healthy option/solution to your children breakfast time woes?…

Let’s review. It’s made from “hazelnuts, skim milk and a hint of cocoa,” according to the ad. So let’s go to the nutrition label and the ingredient list, as pulled from the Nutella Website:


Ingredients: sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skim milk, reduced minerals whey (milk), lecithin as emulsifier (soy), vanillin: an artificial flavor.

Number 1 ingredient: Sugar. I mean, we can be glad it’s not HF Corn Syrup I guess…. Number 2 ingredient, Palm oil. Again, probably good it’s not Crisco, but still. The top two ingredients in this spread are sugar and fat. Then we get to the ingredients listed in the ad, but (surprise surprise!) skim milk comes up after the “hint of cocoa.”


“Kids! Eat a few bowls of this, and you’ll be screaming at your kitchen table just like me!”

Nutritionally, Nutella is in the doghouse as well. In a mere 2 Tbsp of the spread (a good serving size to judge by) we have 11g of fat, and 21g of sugar. No vitamins or minerals to speak of, and a hint of protein from the hazelnuts and skim milk. By comparison, a small bowl of Cocoa Puffs has 1g of fat, 13g of sugar and half the calories. (And I don’t see General Mills running ads where Sonny is proclaiming it to be the healthy option for your kids.)

Nutella is trying to pass along the nutrition by saying you should spread it on whole wheat waffles, and drink a glass of milk with it as well, which indeed would up the nutrition value of the breakfast, but that’s like trying to say “Eat whatever you want, so long as you take a multivitamin as well…”

Nutella, I love you. I really do. You’re the best chocolate spread out there. You really are. But please, stop trying to convince moms that it’s a good idea to give their kids chocolate sauce for breakfast. This nation is fat enough as is. Say what you mean, and be what you are. You’re meant to make things sweet, chocolately and delicious.

You’re NOT part of this balanced breakfast.

Chef Matt

P.S. Nutella Crepes are about one of the best things known to mankind as well…

Grilling Ribs, Grilling Corn. You Can Do It!


Our hero, hard at work over the hot grill. Thank God for Gin & Tonics!

It’s the time of year when we need to fire up the grill and enjoy some great outdoor cooking!

It seems like that’s what all of my classes are this time of year at any rate… This month, at Sur La Table alone, I’ll be teaching 6 courses on the topic of grilling! And what better way to make sure I know what I’m talking about, than by honing up my skills at a grilling cook-out with friends?

The menu was quite simple – we wanted ribs and corn – both of which are specialties of mine on the grill. But before we get there, let me share with you a few grilling basics.

First and foremost – you must keep your grill CLEAN! I’m really serious about this. Nobody gets out of one of my grilling classes without being a stickler for a clean grill grate. The reason for this is simple: I don’t want to eat whatever has been sitting out on the grill – stuck on there in the hot sun for who-knows-how-long – when I’m eating my ribs! Scrape down your grill before you cook and after you cook. 2 cleanings for every 1 time you put food on the grill. No exceptions.


MMMM…. ribs.

The next trick is that your grill should be set up as a two-zone fire almost every time you cook. That means if you have a charcoal grill, you would push most of the coals to one side, or if you have a gas grill, you’d turn some burners way up, while others would only be at about half-temperature. The reason for this is, we want to sear the food at first when it goes on, but then move it to the less hot zone to finish cooking slowly – without burning the outside of the food. For example, in this photo, you can see, the ribs, with beautiful grill marks, are finishing up on the cooler side, while the corn is just getting started on the hot side.

And that brings us to two of the things that people seem to have the most trouble grilling: Ribs and Corn.

First off, ribs. Ribs tend to overcook on the grill because of the large number of bones in there keeping the meat raw in the middle while burnt on the outside. My way of getting around this is to steam the ribs before putting them on the grill. Put the ribs on a roasting rack in a roasting pan with a few cups of apple cider in the bottom, and cover with foil. Steam them for about 20-30 minutes, and then take them out. Rub in your favorite BBQ rub lightly, and then grill, meat side down on the hot side of the grill to give yourself some nice grill marks. Flip them, and move them to the cool side, and put on more rub and/or BBQ sauce. The grilling time will be about 15 minutes total, which is great, as that is about the time other things take too.


If you don’t think your corn should look like this coming off the grill, don’t bother grilling it. Yum!

As for grilling corn, I’ve seen a lot of techniques and I’ve tried them all. Corn should br grilled with the husk, but not in it. Pull back the husk, and tie it off with one of the inner leaves of the husk. Soak the cobs in water for about an hour, and then place them on the grill with the cobs on the hot side, and the husks pointed towards the cool side. Close the lid, and cook until you start getting some lovely caramelization on the side that’s down. Turn, and repeat until the corn has this nice browning all over. (It’s good to have a spray bottle of water on hand should the husks flare up…)

So there you have it! Awesome ribs, and perfect corn! Get out there and enjoy the summer while you can, and enjoy the fruits of your grilling labor. Me, I’m off to teach more people how to do exactly this, and the best part of all – I get them to do the grilling for me!

Love my job!

Chef Matt

P.S. Here are some more photos from my cookout with my friends Michelle and Brendan. Brendan was nice enough to take all these photos for me.


Michelle (left), my fiance, Susan, and myself sitting down to an awesome grilled meal!


Brendan’s contribution: Grilled tomatoes. Fresh with basil and oregano from his herb garden, these were really great!


The meal finished, with only one rib left, I enjoy the company of the lovely Susan as always!

Making a Perfect Gin & Tonic

Spring has arrived once again in the DC area, and it’s time for me to re-post a great blog post from before about how to make the perfect Gin & Tonic. This post was lost to the ether when I migrated my blog over, so alas, my initial writing of this post will never be recalled. But I did save all the photos that went along with this step-by-step procedure for making this great drink, so I can pretty much re-create it for you.

This recipe I learned from a weatherman in Anchorage, AK. He made the most fabulous Gin & Tonics I’d ever had, and he was nice enough to teach me the recipe at a party – which he left in the middle of to do the weather report for a local network affiliate.

What is most impressive about this recipe there is so much more to it all than just “Gin” and “Tonic.” I had always just poured the two over ice and called it a day. But oh no, there are layers to this drink, and when you get it right, it’s something truly magical.


What you’ll need: Gin, Tonic, Lime, a glass with Ice filled 2/3 of the way up and a spoon. This comes to the first point – the Gin is Tanqueray. Bombay Sapphire is nice too, but Tanq really is the best. (This is a completely unsolicited and uncompensated plug on my part.)

The first step actually has nothing to do with gin or tonic, but rather you take a wedge of lime, and squeeze it over the ice cubes. Then drop the lime into the glass on top of the ice.

Pour the gin into the glass, and I like to aim for the lime so as to get the flavors mixing from the get-go. Fill the glass just under halfway. Note, this is not making a mixture that is 50-50 gin and tonic. The ice in the glass is there to take up the space in the glass for the gin, which we add first. At most, this makes the mixture in a 1:2 ratio of gin:tonic.

Not surprisingly, the next step is to add tonic. Basically fill the glass the rest of the way with tonic. I like Schweppes, but I have yet to try any of the higher quinine tonic waters in my recipe. It was a suggestion from my friend Jacob at Liquidity Preference, and I’m sorry to say I’ve still not gotten around to it. But I will report back when I do!

Just like James Bond, we don’t want to stir the gin. Take your spoon, and push the lime wedge – which of course should be floating near the top – down to the bottom of the glass, and then “muddle” it slightly at the bottom of the glass. This action of pushing the lime to the bottom is all that is needed to stir this drink. Nothing else. Remove spoon and set aside for when you have a second glass.

That’s all there is to it people! Enjoy yourself a glass of this amazing drink, and arguably my favorite summertime drink for the patio. Of course there’s always margaritas, but please, don’t make me choose…

Chef Matt

Learning Sushi

People always ask me when I’m finishing up a class, “Do you only teach (the subject of the class just ending)?” I inform them that my repertoire is actually much more vast than just the one class they have taken, and they should check out my classes page on my website to see more of what I teach. “However,” I warn them, “there are two things I don’t teach. Sushi and Cake Decorating.”

And I have a specific reason why I don’t teach those. Cake decorating I simply don’t teach because I hate it. I know lots of other people who love it, and want to learn it, and I have no problem with that. I don’t do it because I simply don’t like it. But I’ll be happy to get you in touch with an instructor who can teach you that if that’s what you want to learn.


Some day I’ll be able to do this…

But my lack of sushi classes stems not from a hatred of sushi making, but rather on a gross level of ignorance on my part. I simply don’t know how to make it! I took one day of sushi lessons in culinary school that I don’t think taught me much, and that was about 6 years ago. In the time since then, I think I’ve made sushi exactly zero times. Simply put, I want to teach sushi to people but I have to learn it myself first.

To that end, I recently took my first sushi making class at Hikaru Sushi in Arlington, VA. It was a small class of seven, and I was the first to arrive. I told them that I was a chef, and the instructor was instantly interested in why I, as a chef, was coming to his class. I informed him of my ignorance on the subject, and he took that in with a great smile. It is so rare to hear chefs admit ignorance on any cooking subject. I think he found this refreshing.

The class was a hands on class that covered how to cook the rice, and shape our very first rolls of sushi. We did the ever-popular (in the US) California rolls. I was excited to learn this of only because they are so popular, and because I figured I was getting the advanced lesson in making rice-on-the-outside sushi.


Learning how to cut the vegetables to the proper length and place them on the rolls.

“Not so,” our teacher told us. “The rice on the outside is the beginner sushi. The ones with the seaweed (nori) on the outside are the advanced ones.” He confessed it took him about two years of working on them to get the just right. We asked him to demo one for us, and in mere seconds he had a perfect avocado roll done. It was amazing, but we could all see how that was indeed more challenging.

But the real challenge of the class came when it leaked out that I was a chef. Everyone else there was in the same boat as my students usually are: people who love food and want to learn a little something more. But the pressure was on me when I came up alone to make my first-ever rolls. My fellow students all hushed to see how the chef would do. I tried to explain that I really didn’t know what I was doing any more than they did, but I could tell my protestations were falling on deaf ears.

So with great concentration, I began spreading the rice on my first sheet of nori. Nope, pushed too hard, and I mashed the rice. Sigh. So I worked on my second sheet, and it came out fine. Now came the rolling. Would I be able to turn out a nice, round roll? Would all the years of training in my fingers working gently with food pay off?

I went through the steps, flipping the bamboo rolling sheet as he had shown us and as all of the students had done before me. It reminded me of a magic trick where the magician puts his hands under a sheet, does a little something you can’t see, and then voila - the sheet is removed to see something wondrous you didn’t expect. Under my sheet of bamboo, my first sushi roll was taking shape, obscured from both my view, and from that of the class. I held my breath as the moment of truth arrived. I lifted the sheet and hoped I wouldn’t embarrass myself….


My very first California Roll. It was delicious!

The roll was perfectly round and even. My fellow students applauded. Whew – I didn’t make a total fool of myself! I repeated the process with my second roll, and it too was a success. The chef made a joke that the next time he had a party, he’d contact me. I joked back with him that so long as it was a California Roll-only party, maybe I could help. :)

And that’s how chefs do their continuing education. We have to stay on top of things, and keep learning new things as well. I probably take about 1 class every 3 months to learn new things and see how others teach people how to cook. It’s all about staying on top of my game so I can bring the best classes and best cooking tricks to you.

But I’m still not quite ready to teach you sushi just yet…

Chef Matt