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

⅓ cup sugar
⅓ cup honey
⅓ cup water
½ tsp vanilla extract
1-2 Tbsp Amaretto or Frangelico liqueur
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

– 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.

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