By Jackie Ourman

 

As our culinary arts class continues to meet at ICE, we’ve gotten our groove and fallen into a comfortable routine. Mise en place is always first. I love the sound of knives cutting through produce, hitting the boards as we prep. I know there are some people who feel a sense of serenity when they organize and clean. That has never been me—but give me a knife and allow me to chop, dice and slice? Zen…so long as I don’t cut any fingers!

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In addition to knife skills, in our first module, we worked on meat fabrication and preparing stocks. These skills are essential for chefs to learn and provided me with a strong base of knowledge and connection to the food I prepare. For our practical exam, we put many of these skills to work by making a cream of broccoli soup (mine was gluten-free, of course) and medium dice two potatoes. Medium dice may just be the bane of my existence, but I made it through, and was feeling ready for Mod 2.

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In the second section of the culinary arts program, we focused on different cooking methods including sautéing, pan frying, deep frying and braising. After reviewing all of the recipes we were going to make on our pan frying and deep frying days, I was disappointed to see that I would not be able to taste anything. There was a ton of flour, breadcrumbs and even beer-batter (double-gluten!) in almost every preparation. Combine that with a lot of people in the kitchen at the same time and you pretty much have a recipe celiac cross-contamination disaster.

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But, in fact, it was the exact opposite. I brought in my gluten-free flour blend, breadcrumbs, panko and beer. Chef Ted Siegel, our instructor, allowed me to work with those ingredients and even set up a special fry station for me. How awesome is that? Besides being so accommodating, he is an amazing chef and I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to learn the craft from him.

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Hands down, my favorite recipe from that week of classes was the Pan-fried Crab Cakes with Avocado Sauce. Using Aleias gluten-free Italian seasoned breadcrumbs and panko yielded an absolutely delicious crab cake. Chef Ted complimented the end flavor and texture, as did many of my classmates. Here is the recipe. You should definitely try it out!

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By Jackie Ourman

 

The first module in the Culinary Arts program at ICE takes you through all of the basics of vegetable, herb and cheese identification, fabricating meats and seafood, and making stocks. We then moved on to learn the five “mother sauces”; béchamel, velouté, espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato sauce. These five are the basis of all classical sauces and each serves as the head of it’s own family of secondary sauces, which are used in many contemporary cuisines.

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Considering a major ingredient in most of these sauces is a “roux” (a thickening agent made from equal parts fat and wheat flour), this gluten-free culinary student found herself in a bit of a pickle! I could have brought in my own flours to work with, but initially, I wanted to learn how the sauces were supposed to look, feel and function. To achieve this, I decided to work with regular flour, sacrificing one of the most important senses for a cook: taste.

 

There was not a single thing I could taste before presenting my final product to our Chef Instructor to decide how well I executed the recipe. Can you imagine? We are trained to taste everything, to determine how it is seasoned and when it is ready. I was presenting sauces for judgment and approval without any sense of their flavor.

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I had to rely on my general sense of seasoning proportions and ask my fellow students to give me their opinions. For one out of the four sauces I made, another student said I should add more salt. Other than that, I actually didn’t adjust any of them—yet, Chef Sam approved of all of them. Yes! I did it! Although, I still have no idea how they tasted and am not exactly sure how I did relative to my own palette. Isn’t that crazy?

 

Since then, I’ve experimented a bit. I’ve learned some gluten-free flour blends don’t work well for roux, while others, initially, seem like they do not thicken enough, but then thicken a lot more after sitting for a bit. Through trial and error I’ve been able to make some great sauces using gluten-free roux or thickening slurries (made of equal parts of cornstarch or arrowroot and liquid). I even made this delicious gluten-free macaroni and cheese using béchamel as the base and turning it into a mornay sauce.

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My fellow classmates were a tremendous help in terms of understanding how my sauces tasted and compared with the traditional recipes. Through my gluten-free experiments, they have since learned of allergy-friendly substitutions they can use for their future customers. With the prevalence of celiac disease and gluten intolerance on the rise, it’s this kind of collaborative learning that helps us all move forward and become stronger chefs.

 

Jackie Ourman is a current ICE Culinary Arts student, food lover and mom of three managing celiac disease and multiple food allergies. For more of her delicious gluten-free and allergy-friendly recipes, visit her blog, Celiac and Allergy Friendly Epicurean (C.A.F.E). You can also find her on TwitterFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest