Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Beginner Class at McAllen Culinary Academy

When Jimi first approached the idea of me taking classes at a culinary school during my stay here, I thought it was a good idea, but assumed it probably wouldn’t be fun. I knew I would learn a lot, but I’m no chef and would barely even call myself a cook. Baking, I can do, but cooking is something that I’ve never gotten much satisfaction from.
The class proved to be informative and loads of fun, as you will see. When I’m not smiling in the photos, I may look like I’m frowning and disgruntled, but I assure you I wasn’t. I was in deep (very deep) concentration. Lesson learned that our facial expressions don’t always reflect the emotions we feel and that we should smile more.


Our first class was on salads. I’ve already post some photos, but we’ll recap. We made several salads including our dressings from scratch. We first learned the basics of holding and using a proper chef’s knife. We learned about what tools we need and the use and care for a cutting board.
We chopped onion, bell peppers, tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, garlic, watermelon and more...all correctly.
The salads we prepared (and ate at the end of class) were a belgian endive and mange-tout salad with red wine vinaigrette dressing, classy pico, rainbow bell pepper salad with mustard dressing and watermelon tomato salad.

This is what we worked with.

 Intently paying attention.

 Let the chopping begin.

 Munching and tasting is encouraged.

 When chopped correctly this is all that's left of the onion and your eyes won't burn.

Cutting tomatoes and the art of cutting away the snot (not a technical term).

 In seconds we have fresh minced garlic.

 Serious Chef Marcel teaching. He's so good at it.

The proper way to cut a bell pepper.

Presentation time.

Washing hands frequently is a must due to constant handling of the food.

Mmmm Mmmm Good.

The table was set and we were ready to eat.

 We had a full class with ten students.


We prepared three delicious soups from scratch in the second class. Simply amazing how these turned out and how easy they were. Using the skills we learned in the previous class, we chopped all of our ingredients and made French onion soup (which I also made in my hotel room), roasted tomato soup and zucchini cream soup.
The tomato soup was made with the contents of the tomatoes and a little added water – I was simply intrigued at the simplicity and the taste.

Watching the cutting process.

Learning to cut zucchini.

Cutting the snot out of the tomatoes.

Waiting my turn.

The baguette sliced and ready for the oven.

Cooking the onions for the french onion soup.

Filling the bowls with tomato soup.

French onion soup before it goes into the broiler.

All three soups finished and ready to eat.

Bon Appetite.


Seafood was the topic for the third class. This is the class I was most interested in. We fileted and prepared mahi-mahi, pan grilled salmon, sautéed red snapper, sautéed trout fillets and seafood pasta with clams, mussels, shrimp and scallions.

We had so much food left over, I took a goody box home. I was in heaven on earth.

This is how to keep your knives sharp.

Removing the skin in one clean sweep.

It's all in the way you hold the knife.

The skin can be baked to make chips.

Fillets - there's a right way and wrong way to make a cut.

We cooked four trays of fish.

On the grill.


We cooked two kinds of shell fish.

The smell was incredible.

If you don't like fish, this class isn't for you.


The shell fish was made with pasta and vegetables.


In the fourth class we cut and grilled a 2 inch thick rib-eye steak, chicken breast fillets and pork tenderloin filets (prepared two different ways), as well as grilled asparagus, mushrooms and french green beans.
The pork tenderloin started out as the same cut, however, when cooked in two different manners using the exact same seasonings the taste was quite different in the end. Simply amazing.

Picking up a pork tenderloin.

Enormous steaks.

Time to cut.

 Learning how to cut a chicken breast clean.

I got to grill the steak. Nice!

It's requires to dance a little jig in this step...we all had to do it.

Draining the beans

Just a couple of things to go with our meats.

This is the chicken served in a sauce. Unfortunately we weren't privy to the sauce recipe.

Plating the pork tenderloin.


Love this trick - a requirement for many dishes.


The stuff on top is the fat cut off the steak. When grilled, it made a bacon like addition.

Table set for our feast

Again, this was my class.


The final class was the sweetest with delicious and delightful deserts. We made crepes, nepoleons, pastry cream, sabayon and a suzette sauce. Timing was a little more critical with the pastries. Chef Marcel raced from one corner of the kitchen to the other trying to keep everyone in check. Some of the dishes had to be stirred or cooked with exactly the right timimg. Too little or too long would produce ruining results.

In the end everything was perfect (at least in our eyes).

A unique way to cut an orange.

In this class we worked in groups rather than individually.

A bit of orange peel.

My team mate got it in one sweep.

We always had fun.

Reading direction to my team mate.

A LOT of hand whipping.

Here goes that flaming trick again.

Waiting to dump the next ingredient

We each made one of our own plates.

This is the result.

Next is cooking the crepes. Swirl the pan to get an even coverage. As soon as you see a hint of discoloration (brown), flip.

The crepes were folded in quarters and sat in the orange sauce.

I did nearly all the folding.

There were a lot of them.

Ice cream, fruit and custard.

We are ready for the sweets.

And we all graduated the beginner class.