Thursday, December 23, 2010

What about Focus?

View from my writing nook at the bookstore today

For a few minutes I had been able to block out all of the sounds going on around me and focus my attention to this keyboard and the task at hand.  I had an idea about what I wanted to write about.  A concept that seemed clever and witty.  Something that would make my readers think, maybe even challenge them to look at their own experience and find out something new about themselves.  I started the first paragraph out by asking a question. Then the second sentence ended with the same mark.  After five sentences into my bright idea I began to realize that I had no clue about the subject matter I was meaning to describe.  The series of questions I had just typed left me feeling a little clueless and lost.


I had been so excited to write today.  I had great anticipation of this opportunity to chill out at the bookstore in town and concoct a story that would fit in to all of my other published narratives.  Quickly my focus began to dwindle, and my five senses reopened to receive all of the temporary information floating all around me.  Here is what those senses captured in the brief moment they were allowed:

-I could smell a sweet mix of my cherry blossom body spray along with the pungent acidity of the coffee brewing at the barista station downstairs.

-I could hear cashier drawers ringing, salvation army bells ringing, jingle bells ringing on the shoes of a kid who just trounced on by a minute ago.

-I could see now that the lighting in this place is a quite intense.  It makes me want to shut my eyes now that I am paying attention to it.   These fluoresent contraptions that hang above... while providing an adequate source for my sight I much prefer the softer glow of a lamp or the fireplace.  I will have to keep that in mind for later writing journey's.

-At this moment I am not really tasting anything.  Strange as it sounds, not even the lingering traces of the 2 hour old coffee I just sipped seemed to have any staying power.  This is probably a good thing since nobody likes stale coffee breathe anyways.

-I still feel the aches of the yoga class I took four  days ago, stretching out my legs from time to time seems to help.  My forehead has a slight prickly feeling from the 100% acrylic woven hat I am wearing- wait not wool?  What in the heck is acrylic?

 It is very interesting to pay such close attention to the senses like that for a few moments.  It is amazing to me how much is going on all the time around us and how our minds are able to process so many different sensory inputs and messages all at once.  How wonderful if our minds are healthy enough, that we can go about all the details of our days and be able to sort out and hold onto whatever is most important to us.  We make short term and long term memories with each and every thing we do all day long, every day, whether we realize it or not.  That is really cool!

So I kind of went off on a tangent this time- not quite sure how that happened but hopefully I will be able to get back to the original writing I started and answer those questions.  Most likely I will decide to completely start over with subject matter that isn't puzzling.  Either way I am glad for anytime I ever get to mix and match these words within me.

To me, writing is a lot like my cooking.  So many times I sit down and have no idea what I will write about- I open up my mind like the fridge and try to get a handle on an idea, a starting ingredient.  Then I look for some other supporting statements, flavor enhancing components to come up with my main composition/entree.  This is the way I work best actually.  I like the challenge of reaching inside for elements that make sense when put together with complimentary items or ideas.  Its how I can discover and push the boundaries of my creativity.  Maybe every story, or every cooking creation doesn't always turn out perfect but each one is the practice towards making future ones even better.  Practice makes perfect- or at least produces refined products of our adoring attention to details.  When I am working on my writing or my cooking, I am working on my art.  The ability to have time to do these things is something I am most thankful for.  Thank you to those of you who I am able to share it with!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Many Layers- Some of the moments and memories that make up my foundations as a Chef.


I am quite comfortable relating food to life and the situations that most of us have been familiar with at some point in our existance.  My whole life I have always been intrigued with food and its importance to our survival.  Food's purpose is to sustain us.  It give us the energy or fuel needed on a cellular,even emotional level to miraculously come together as a living being.  Without food, starvation is the result, we wilt, dry up and eventually would stop functioning.  That is the simple truth of the matter as grave as it may sound.  In the spirit of my optimism though I tend not to think about it that way EVER.... instead I just know that I need food to live- good food- and I've learned to choose quality over quantity- and in the quest for nothing but the best I have learned that I am ultimately in control of whatever I decide to eat.  There are many layers to my reasonings for what I choose to create in the kitchen, for what i choose to eat and prepare for others.  Just like the layers to other parts of my life, how I have gotten to where i am at this moment, my work to be recognized as a chef, it all began with a passion for the simple need for sustenance.

In the beginning of my life I was always concerned about getting "enough food."  That statement in no way should reflect the fact that there was not enough food for me.  It has more to do with being a kid who is not in control very often of what's for dinner.   The whole point of eating a meal for me at that age was to get full.  My Mom and everyone else that created meals for me at that age- minus the school kitchen (1980's processed school food was nothing like the local, fresh options my kids have nowadays) made food that I loved to eat.  I was known as the bottomless pit, the kid with a hollow leg, always having seconds or thirds was not uncommon.  Thankfully my metabolism kept up with this type of consumption.  I was a kid with a healthy appetite and always thankful for my Mom's attention to home cooked meals.  Trips to Burger King were few and far between, always perceived as a treat if anything.  As a child of the 80's I loved Jello Pudding pops, and my mouth watered at the Franken Berry and Fruit Loops Cereal commercials but I also had an early affection for my Mom's garden full of green beans, carrots and peppers.  Food Marketers may have had an ability to tempt me with their processed and industrialized creations but my love affair for fresh food started early in life thankfully- the core to my love of all food and my culinary curiosities- this which would guide me as I grew up and gained more control of my food choices and decisions to learn as much as possible about food.

The next distinctive layer developed from my my very first job at a locally owned ice cream shop called Wares Brothers Frosty Treat.  This was the location for my first opportunities to explore creating without rules with ice cream as my medium.  Typically there were recipes to follow and guidelines for sizing and flavor combinations for customers- continuity being the key.  The best part of my job happened at the end of the day.   This is why:  It was the beginning of my practice in thinking outside the box.  Coming up with new flavor combinations for flurry's and ice cream sundae's.  Questioning what would happened if I did this or that, taste testing everything, sharing my favorites with friends and family was happiness for me.  At the same time I was trying some cooking adventures at home too.  Some of these explorations were not as fruitful since my palate was fledgling at best, and my ability to identify the basic elements of cooking ingredients was based on nothing yet.  This meant I didn't even know what vegetable shortening was when at one time I decided to make chocolate chip cookies for my airforce enlisted boyfriend to send in the mail.  Since my younger sister had some experience in making buttermilk waffles in the kitchen I called her for some advice... the conversation went like this: "Hey Jen, I am making some cookies and the recipe calls for vegetable shortening- where would I find that in this kitchen- what is it?"  The two of us both threw out our guesses and then by process of elimination, still with no basis for our reasoning we made our decision between the two we had narrowed it down to.  Jen's logic coming from: "I use it to make waffles and they always turn out really good.  They are baked just like the cookies, just in a waffle iron.  It has to be that!"  I didn't disagree...  One hour later my dough- while looking a little shinier than usual to me was ushered into the tempered oven upon its baking sheet... 10 minutes later I heard an odd   sizzling sound coming from the oven and was that smoke too?  I guess the choice to use Wesson "Vegetable Oil" is not the same as "Vegetable Shortening" and now my well intended treat was frying in the oven.  They came out initially tasting like potato chip cookies but after a day they were as hard as rocks!  This lesson was followed by no-bake cookies that never hardened, and finally just buying the betty crocker package of brownie mix, which never got baked because I ate all the batter raw- gross I know- I am sorry.

Since my origins in cooking and creating on my own started with an innocent disregard for elementary rules and an inability to follow the recipe I obviously had a long way to go.  Unfortunately during this time I also never took the time to watch my mom in the kitchen- a woman who clearly knew what she was doing and she was even willing to guide me.  My teenage pride and "know it all" brattiness kept me from an initial fast track to learning about food preparation beyond ice cream sundaes, ham and cheese sandwiches and kraft macaroni and cheese out of the box.  Yet my food loving all along the way continued to grow.  In my journey I would soon  move beyond all this, but not without some early grocery store adventures in buying countless boxes of hamburger helper, bags of Rice-a-Roni and cans upon cans of Campbells condensed soup.  Thankful for my early foundations from home, just on the horizon was the planting of my own bountiful veggie gardens, and a leap into learning about the vital importance of nutrition and then ultimately discovering how to maintain a balanced diet for myself and my future family.

The Following List... A Timeline Sampling of my next decade of LAYERS:

Thanks to Internet- a multitude of websites to teach me about cooking and nutrition
Thanks to Libraries- a place to discover any and all cooking resources
Thanks to Mom-  she always bought me a yearly subscription to Cooking Light magazine and invited me to help with dinner
Thanks to Tod- for telling me that he was tired of eating Tuna Noodle casserole- even though I did a nice job with it.
Thanks to Lauren and Riley- my amazing babies who I realized early on were my sole responsibility when it came to creating their foodie foundations.  They ultimately are the reason I became so passionate about food origins, getting involved in local agriculture and avoiding manufactured food products as much as possible.
Thanks to Secondary Education- my initial completion of prerequisites to obtaining a degree as a dietitian and the earned knowledge beyond just the food. Physchology and Chemistry classes really give me a whole new perspective!
Thanks to NMC- Extended Education classes for my first culinary class experience and later the ability to Sous Chef along side the most talented chefs in my hometown.

Thanks to a fearless step in a different direction than originally planned- I finally heard the calling of my heart and the chose the true path I was meant to take... for every single time someone told me they were going to culinary school, every time I passed Great Lakes Culinary Institute, every time I spent 12 hours in my kitchen creating and cooking and  wishing I could just got to culinary school...  Finally... I DID!

Fully Immersed in a Culinary Education now- my experiences up until this point have helped me be as successful as I can be in my journey to becoming recognized as a chef.  I am so close to graduation now.  Having learned so much, in such a short amount of time- understanding that practice is what will eventually land me at the top of my profession hopefully and keep me there too.  I have only just begun to scratch the surface but looking back on the stories of my experience- the layers of my own topography I can say with confidence that I am realizing my purpose here on earth now and how I can use my culinary craft to impact and help others the way I have always dreamed.  I do feel overwhelmed at times with all that I am learning between school, work, and home but I never let that discourage me.  Instead I see the challenges as the only way for me to grow and mature.  Throughout my layers is a support system too- of family and friends who along the way have encouraged me, even by using their taste buds and giving me the thumbs up or down that helps me make sure I am on the right track.

I still don't follow the rules- or recipes for that matter- I can get away with that a little easier now since I have Chemistry 1 and 2 under my belt, countless hours of practice practice practice, and an untamed curiosity that has led me to have spent enough time concocting and learning what flavors work well together- and what ones don't.

I can't say for sure what layer will come next...  All I know is that when it involves my passion for food it will have my full attention and my hope to continue building my foundations even stronger within my culinary abilities.   All I want is to be able to continue to share the bounty of sustenance with family, friends and others- All that comes from a practiced and attentive aptitude for wanting to create delicious food.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Garnishing: Less is More

Would you like to know one of the most important discoveries I have learned during my adventures in culinary education?  

I should preface this revelation by saying that ultimately I believe the beauty of being a passionate contributor to the stadium of culinary artistry means that we start by understanding this: if there are rules of any kind to this craft, we must obey the proven regulations that apply to the integrity of flavors.  Said another way, the number one rule of fantastically prepared food depends on the ability to appeal successfully to the sensation of taste.  Yet anyone that has ever prepared or eaten food of any kind or type will agree that looks and first impressions are equally important- if anything to get the patron to agree to take a first bite from the plate!

I have been taught that an important and expected component to the majority of the dishes I have prepared has been an appropriate garnish in the final plate presentation.  This is the final definitive compliment to all the creativity, skill and consideration that has been put into the main components of the plate.  The key word being compliment.  The last thing you want is for your garnish to outshine all the hard work and skill you put into creating the main entree.  This discovery became very apparent to me over the course of the first couple of dishes I prepared during my first weeks of my culinary internship.  Heavy handfuls of parsley, generous sprinklings or diced red pepper and one too many blades of chive draped over breakfast entrees and platters of appetizers were my rookie attempts at decorating the plate.  Extreme embelishment or an adornment without careful consideration defeats the truest definition and purpose of a garnish.  Simply stated, in the beginning my plates had way too much garnish.  The purpose of the garnish is to add flavor and decoration, yes, but if too much is present it overpowers the more important parts of the plate.  In the necessary instance of using a garnish I have been taught "less is always more."

 Over garnishing happens.  Sometimes without even realizing it we pile too much on without using more careful consideration and imaginative envisioning of the final plate up or outcome.  We slice and dice and choose all different varieties of shapes and sizes and colors to trim the plate.  All the while thinking only about enhancement we lose the main course at some point and may be left with nothing but a plate of garnish.  If only you had taken a step back for a second and really looked at what you have.  It is OK to have some or even a lot of white space around the central object.  Balancing out colors can be achieved with only a pinch.  FLavor components can spark with the smallest hint of a complimentary spice or seasoning.  Keeping it simple really is the solution... K.I.S.S.  "Keep It Simple Silly!

A very similiar connection to all of this can be made if you compare the dinner plate to your life.  The main entree becomes the things of your life that are most important to you.  The accompaniments like side veggie and starch, sauces and garnish all become the things that you add to your life to compliment the most important and central part of your life's "plate".  Maybe this is where the saying "my plate is too full" came from?  If you let the garnishing additions outshine the  most important parts of your life's "plate" it probably will feel too full and overwhelming to consume.  What you present to the world from your plate becomes confusing and people all of a sudden don't know what to expect from you or what is important about who you are.  So before you decide to add new components to your plate carefully consider if they will be complimentary to who you are or not.  Will it help you shine or leave you feeling bogged down and overshadow the most important parts of who you are.  Accent your life's "plate" with only the best and forego the rest.

Clean, Simple, and with Emphasis on the Most Important Main Parts equals one attractive and appealing presentation.  Your garnishes are meant to accent, never to ever take the spotlight.  If you can remember that, it will help you to measure twice and apply once, successfully!  Your food will look fantastic on the plate.  Your priorities on your life's "plate" will be better organized and more satisfying.  Overall you will impress your patron's, draw them in and if you have successfully balanced the rest of your masterpiece you will leave them enchanted and talking about your plate and you for years to come!

Whoa Parsley!!
Over Garnished in my opinion :)           

Ahhhh, this is more pleasing to me and simple.  Love those edible flowers!


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Week Eight- Reaching the End of My Intern Experience and the Start of Wonderful New Adventures

Internship- Black Star Farms
Stephanie Sheffer
Week 8

From the first moment I walked in the back door of the Inn, dressed for success in my school chef coat, my little black hat and pig tails I had a knowing that this experience would be phenomenal.  I might not have realized initially in the beginning that its impact would leave such a large impression on me, in how I am learning so much about myself, but I knew it would be more than a job.  This opportunity to grow, practice and learn in such an outstanding setting… its beautiful on the property of Black Star Farms- truly- and I feel like I have so many opportunities in front of me now because of my time here.

This journey as an intern, my metamorphosis into a true employee has taught me so much about the culinary profession.  Seeing the veteran performances of my supervisors and the way they so confidently carry out their duties inspires me to want to learn as much as I possibly can.  I want to know it all, right now.  I want to pick up my chefs knife and know that it is apart of me- together we create, we design, and we carry out the responsibilities that have been handed to us.  I want to raise the bar every day and go for heights that seem impossible to everyone but me.  My senses are confident that with the right amount of focus, I can accomplish all of my dreams.  I have seen my identity revealed in the thankfulness of the people that surround me… now even more importantly from my family and friends – both historical and new.  Once again it is their support and love that has brought me to this point.

In the kitchen this week we are busy with events, weddings, the daily details of delivering amazing breakfasts and dreaming of what we can do to make this business, our kitchen an even stronger presence in the culinary world.   We want to make this place a desirable destination to obtain memorable meal experiences, heart-warming food adventures, tastefully powerful encounters with the very food we need to eat to live.  More than ever I want to be apart of something like this.  I want to believe that this is the beginning of the next big thing.  With measured consent for my time and energies- my family still needs to be first always- I want to invest my passions for food with everyone I possibly can.  I want to share what I know.  I want to contribute my happy go lucky spirit to the success of preparing beautiful food and unforgettably delightful taste indulgences.

Roasted Vegetable Breakfast Egg Roulade with Basil Creme Fraiche

If this destination will allow me, I hope to contribute helpful suggestions and impressive concepts that fit their mission.  I still have so much to learn, and I am humbled by the enormous task of taking on each and every challenge that is presented to me.  My experience as an intern has taught me so much about being a professional, more than I ever dreamed it could.  I have so much clarity now and my passions for the food have matured and found a stronger, louder voice. 

I truly cannot wait to return to school this next month to share my new excitement.  I am charged up!!  I want to continue to be challenged.  I am secure in knowing that my support system is stronger than ever. (Thank you family and friends, you know who you are and I adore that you never stopped believing in me- ever)

I have an intense amount of respect for the opportunity that has been given to me to learn and grow during my internship at Black Star Farms.  I am looking forward to seeing the guests who already have made their reservations to return and asked me if I will be there still.  I am excited for my new friendships at school and work and how I we will encourage each other on our new and expanding life paths. 

This week:

-I received my very own chef’s coats that have the Black Star logos on them this week.  This is huge to me!  I love them and I am so proud to wear these uniforms.  I think they look pretty darn nice on me too! 

-A flurry of guests have come up to me after their breakfasts and thanked me for such a lovely experience.  This is almost overwhelming but it means so much to me!

-My article in GT Women came out this month too- I have been published!!!  Goals becoming reality. 

-My writing is taking on a whole new presence in my life- helping me realize more about myself than I could ever fathom before. 

Is this all because I was an intern?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  The depth of this experience has definitely changed me though.  I have conviction now, and I see my purpose and myself even more clearly than I ever used to. 

I am thankful.  

I feel blessed.  

The hope and beauty revealed in a Black Star Sunrise

I have so much more to do, to work on, to learn still, but I am confident that the impact I leave on this world will be special.  Will you join me on this journey?  Lets eat some amazing food together and enjoy life to the fullest.  Being an intern has been an amazing experience for me!
Thank you Black Star Farms, Chef Jonathan Dayton, and the farm family that exists there for accepting me into this opportunity.

 Thank you Great Lakes Culinary Institute for making this internship such an important part of our learning experience.

Thank you most especially to my husband Tod, Lauren, Riley, Mom, Dad, all my special friends, the newest to the lifetime ones, and my enormous family- you have been behind me all the way and I can feel your support and love!

Week Seven- Realizing the Parts of my Real Purpose in my Work and Passions

This is Me!

Internship- Black Star Farms
Stephanie Sheffer
Week 7

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of my attitude on life.  Attitude, to me, is more than the facts.  It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do.  It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.  It will make or break a company... a church.... a home.  The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.  We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.  I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.  And so it is with you... we are in charge of our Attitudes." -Quote from Charles Swindoll

That pretty much says it all in what I have learned this week as I progress in my internship at Blackstar Farms.  The pace is starting to pick up here and it requires me to be ever present and committed to meeting and exceeding the expectations that have been placed before me.  I feel so thankful to have found a place that addresses so many of the aspects of life that I love.  This place has given me a chance to put into practice a skill that goes beyond the cooking.  It gives me the opportunity to share my joy and happiness while providing a sustenance that is special and helpful and required for all people to have the energy to live.  I heavily realize now it is not just about the food that I am dealing with.

The beauty of what the property of BlackStar Farms has to offer is we make connections with the people that come here to visit, during their stay and experience.  We take time to assure that what we are delivering in our services is special, and unique.  This all became so clear to me with the first wedding party that we hosted of the summer.  Every detail that we had been put in care of for this group was met with a specific commitment to quality.  Seeing the time and effort that Chef Jon put into preparing the menus and how he planned our carrying out the production responsibilities was very impressive to me.  Seeing how Jill- our Event Coordinator put in long days and countless attentions to detail to make sure they felt special was equally impressive.  The owner Don Coe shows up for breakfast each morning to engage with the guests.  He is interested in their stories while sharing much of the wonder and excitement that has made this property what it is.  His commitment to being present at the Inn in this way is truly exceptional- it brings our teamwork level up to the highest notch.

So the mother of the bride came down to our kitchen on their first mornings stay at 5:30am.  She found me busy in my tasks already, preparing the breakfast that would start out their highly planned out day.  I would be the one developing and serving the meal that would provide the nourishment they would need to have a great start to this special day.  Realizing this fact was a major seismic shift in the way I would approach my job from here on out.  Her and I shared a beautiful conversation about being mothers, and wedding days, and about discovering what we are passionate about.  We had never met before that, but we made a connection that morning as I chopped and stirred the elements of their breakfast. 

This is not the first time I have conversed with our guests and felt this way.  I am feeling that they see me, and my gifts, and how they fit very rightly into my pursuits.  I understand that every one of us is searching for our purpose in life. Mine is being revealed to me every time I receive these kinds of affirmations.  Thankfully I have known this even before I came to Blackstar through the blessings of my family and friends- but in this journey for me in my internship I am ever more confident that I am living my purpose.

This week of my internship was full of many rewarding recognitions of my hard work and positive attitude.  To be successful as a chef, or any professional for that matter I have learned that it is so much more about my attitude than the final product of my work.  My creations will always be successful when I show up with my optimism that believes whatever I set my mind to I can achieve.

Week Six- Bringing it All Together

Internship- Black Star Farms
Stephanie Sheffer
Week 6

Warmth from a purposeful sun is radiating into our piece of this earth.  The calculated plans and the measured amount of time and effort that has been put forth into the slice of soil I call home is beginning to show a reward for our labors.  Our brood of seedling babies in the garden are bursting forth, shaking particles of dirt from their appendages and announcing their presence.  They will produce their thankfulness for our love and attentions very soon now.  We are prepared to foster them through their infancy until they have reached their successful potential.  Our commitment is declared and realized because together we will all appreciate the health and spiritual wealth that will arise from this natural partnership. 

Our garden rows ready to go

My garden at home is alive and so is the farm life at Blackstar farms.  We are using all kinds of products from Nine Bean Rows now- the CSA owned by Nick and Jen Welty that is affiliated with the property.  Just this week I made a dinner salad for our TAUCK group that had a foundation of greens from Nick and Jen.  The breads that we use for breakfast and dinners are also exclusively from Nine Bean Rows too. By the way- it’s the most beautiful bread- We are so proud to support each other with our products on the farm- the brick oven bread is truly phenomenal!   
Some of the breads from Nine Bean Rows- YUM!

This is just another component of my work at Blackstar that is so special.  Even the animals that are on the farm, all the new babies that have arrived recently are an important component to our commitment as an agricultural destination.  (We just got new babies on our farm too)  Once again I will say that I love how Blackstar is a well-rounded destination and especially that it is a food lover’s dream come true!  To be apart of it all is really exciting to me.

Our baby chicks

This week I learned that letting the food simply shine is soooooo important.  I tend to want to over garnish everything.  People don’t want a plate of garnish though- they want to see the beauty of their food- the garnish is supposed to only help highlight that.  Chef Jon has very patiently helped me work on this skill- it obviously takes a lot of practice, restraint and trust to know and sense that there is already enough there on the plate.   Even when it doesn’t seem like enough to me.  I have watched the ease at which this plating element can be achieved and I am determined to master it too! 

Cucumber radish stack with Fromage Blanc and Chive blossom garnish

 I am excited to think that maybe I will be able to contribute some of my own garden produce to my work at Blackstar someday soon.   I will continue to nurture our garden’s success and will love how this is a way to contribute something special from my family to the place I am so eager to be apart of.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Internship Week 5- Its Go Time Now

Asparagus wrapped in Prosciutto platter for a catering

Internship- Black Star Farms
Stephanie Sheffer
Week 5

Lets get down to business friends!  Caterings, Dinners, Breakfast and Baking….  Rolling right along and learning, learning all the way through each day I am at the Inn and apart of the farm.  The components of my work are transforming and my responsibilities are increasing now.  The Inn is starting to get very busy.  With the new month ahead of us, this requires me to be extremely focused and attentive to completing the tasks that are expected of me to be completed.

The event space that is apart of the Inn is a large room called Arcturos.  This room used to be the site for an indoor pool in the house before it was transformed into the Inn.  It is a beautiful room with pillars, sweeping fabric swatches that span the room above.  It has doorways on either side that open to courtyards and intimate deck systems that can be used for wedding sites and gatherings for groups during events in the summer months.  One of the first events that I was apart of in use of this space was a catering for a group of 40.  It was an appetizer set-up with various food components both hot and cold.  Chef Jon had already prepared a menu that was accepted by the group and gave me certain components to work on to prepare the spread.  I was even able to be apart of the final table set-up.  I enjoyed the ability to show some of my creativity in this.  Overall the event was successful and all of the food VANISHED!  What an amazing feeling to have been apart of providing such a pleasing presentation.
I helped complete the little Leelanau Cheese fromage blanc filled cherry tomatoes on the plate.  The first of many many of these little tomato appetizers.  They are so yummy though- the effort in them is worth it!

Putting together the lamb skewers plate for the same event with hummus

I loved the variety of this plate and the special attention to preparing the terrines- it makes me excited for what I will learn in my Garde Manger class this fall when i go back to school, and the experience that i learned this summer that will add to my success in class.

I am working on my knife skills and attention to detail and continuity.  I have noticed that sometimes I let quality suffer slightly for my hurriedness when I feel like I might get behind.  The fact that I realize this right now I believe will be apart of my future success.  I am dedicated to excellence and want to be aware of any ways that I can grow and expand my talent.  My supervisors are very patient with me and not afraid to point out what is expected, while also telling me what they are happy about too.  Between the Inn Keepers, owner, and executive chef there is an open line of communication to me about what they expect.  I believe in the culinary profession this is just as important as the food aspects of the job.  We are in a service business and it is important that we are all on the same page.  When the Inn guests and event attendants express their happiness with our product it is an affirmation that we are on the right track.  The opportunity to practice this in the field has been an aspect of my internship I am extremely grateful for.

Preparing for Storms

There is a storm rolling in tonight.  The flicker and flash of natural torment in the skies acts like caution lights begging for attention.  This is a scene that is nothing new to this terrain.  This landscape has rocked and rolled, accepted and denied the harsh reality of these momentary visitations.  The soil all too well recognizes the tempest outbursts of  course sensations that easily pour from the heavens.  Possibly sweet relief can come from this storm, growth, fruit, nourishment...  Conversely panoramas can wash out, the environment could transform into something new, something that can no longer sustain the utopia that was once expected.  Either way change is inevitable- tomorrow's sunrise will highlight the alterations.  Excepting the amendments that have been made to the soil and learning to labor the revolution into something unique and wonderful again is always a promising prospect with the right amount of optimism and treatment.

I sat outside as the clouds came over the sky like a closing curtain tonight.  The horizon's backdrop lights fading, and the delicate dashes of heaven's irrigation kissing my cheeks and forearms.  In front of me I admired my gracious garden and all its abundance.  I had just called on and tucked in our hens in the coop moments before, flip flops on my feet and a velvety glass of merlot in my hand as I made my rounds.  A little untraditional in my approach to this chore- maybe- but this is how I have always been.  This is the reality of my quirkiness and unusual interpretation of personal methods.  My style can be surprising even to myself sometimes but I want to think that I don't believe in all the man made rules.  Who says it has to be only one way, always.  OK, maybe the exception could be with chemistry- the finite particles and their policies of arrangement under certain elements of earth, wind and fire.  A bread will burn if the oven temperatures are too fierce, this is true.  A bread can also yield golden taste pleasures when affectionately prepared and tempered with love and care.

I am preparing for my final year of schooling.  I am recognizing very curiously what I like about who I am becoming.  It doesn't matter if I have the classification of chef in front of my name or not- the fact is that I know I love food. I love everything about it- creating with it is my art, my outlet of expression next to my writing anyhow.  The two together feel like an unstoppable force.  My pursuits will be successful, I am confident of this.  I get it now, I understand that I have to be unafraid of unknowns and that my creations will be satisfying when I trust that I know what I can do.  I am still and will always be learning...  I may not be sure of when the next rainstorm will arrive, but I know that if I stay optimistic and hopeful, the way that I am- I will continue to grow and mature and become the person I was meant to be.

Week 4- Becoming A Part of the Team

Internship- Black Star Farms
Stephanie Sheffer
Week 4

It has been one month since I started at Blackstar and I am starting to feel like I am a real part of the team.  It is nice to be getting to know my co-workers and understanding the expectations of my position in the team even better.  I made breakfast and hospitality appetizers all on my own five days this week with little or no issues. Chef Jon would check in with me and lend suggestions when I asked for help with ideas for things like garnishes or plate presentation. 

-"Chicken in a Corn Field"- as named by my 8 year old Lauren- Its a wedge of cornbread on top of Asparagus Lattice and then topped with a fried egg and cheese sauce.

This was also the first week that we started serving a group on Sunday evenings called “TAUCK.”  This is a travel group that comes every Sunday evening for a prix fix meal that consists of a salad course, entrée and dessert along with a glass of Blackstar winery’s wine.  The first group was a little on the smaller side, only 24, but it was a good size for me to learn the ropes on.  I worked mostly on helping prep ahead and then plating.  I was told that the group has the potential to be as many as 48 people.  We offer these dinners every Sunday all the way until the end of October.

Veggie Bundles tied with green onion

-Chef Jon putting entree plates together for TAUCK dinner

I also spent more time at the Café this weekend too helping with serving, bussing tables and more baking too.  I think I like baking in the Inn kitchen better than the kitchen at the Café but it was still good to experience working there too.  I feel like it was good for me to practice my serving skills too since this is such an important part to the food service industry and the overall dining experience of the guests we cook for.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Week 3- The Heart of A Baker is Realized

Me and my cocoa- Oh the things I can make with this!

Internship- Black Star Farms
Steph Sheffer
Week 3

This week it is all about the baking!

I love this new characteristic of my job.  One important aspect of both the Inn and the Hearth and Vine Cafe is the fresh baked goods that we offer.  I am not allowed to do anything in the yeasted breads category, including laminated dough’s since Jen does these types of breads in the Brick Oven for Nine Bean Rows on a daily basis and we use her products.  I am allowed to make cookies, brownies, coffee cakes, quick breads and muffins of all kinds, and my most favorites, Macaroons! 

My beautiful Baked goods!

cookies ready and set out for hospitality for our guests

I am turning into the go-to girl for most of these items and I am having a lot of fun with it.  I even got to make some special requests when the Sysco order was put in this week for certain items that would help me put out even more delicious products.  I am learning to fit in my baking tasks with my responsibilities that are growing with Breakfast.  Chef Jon has given me a key now so I am taking over doing breakfasts more frequently.  My first solo breakfast without supervision was this week, twice!

Strawberry Waffles Stack with Pork sausage

Spinach quiche with Tomato Chutney, Bacon and Goat cheese

I also found out that I got a raise too!  Apparently it is the fastest one ever, though I just think they wanted to make sure I was a good fit before paying me the higher rate.  Either way I am thrilled.  How wonderful to be paid for doing everything that I love.  I am realizing very quickly that my dreams are becoming a reality and that becoming a chef is truly the right choice for me.  I can see so many outlets for me to pursue through Blackstar farms and beyond that I sometimes don’t know where to begin.  For now I will stay focused, since I still have a lot to learn and Blackstar is turning out to be a great foundation for my hopeful future success in this industry.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Week Two- Internship Experiences Galore at Black Star Farms

Revold Road Sunrise on my way into work 

Internship- Black Star Farms
Steph Sheffer
Week 2

I spent an entire evening researching what I could do for my very first breakfast at the Inn.  Once I came up with a plan and a recipe to work off from, I ok’d it with the chef the day before and then I experimented it on the family at home. 
My test run plate at home the night before

I decided to make a crustless quiche since I would be cooking for a smaller group that morning.  The Inn can accommodate up to 20 guests at a time, this particular morning we would be serving 6 guests.  I used ramekins to cook my quiches that had to be done in the oven inside a water bath.  At home when I practiced I found a few things that didn’t work quite right or needed to be changed.  This was good for when I recreated them for my first breakfast because they came out really nice.  
There are a lot of things I would do differently now- but for a first try this was alright :)

Most breakfasts at the Inn are expected to have a starch, meat of some kind, vegetable, sauce and a garnish.  There is a little bit of room for changing this up, in the case of a sweet breakfast like waffles you may omit the veggies or you could be creative and put your veggies in the waffles!  So for my first breakfast I made “A crustless roasted vegetable quiche with a Red House White and Crimson tomato sauce, finished with Raclette cheese.  I garnished it with a fresh chive and rested the quiche on top of some wilted spinach too!  I had two guests hug me after the finished breakfast that morning and one couple even clapped in applause.  It felt good to have accomplished my first breakfast at the Inn so successfully.

Another aspect that is required when you work at the Inn is to create appetizer plates for “Hospitality.”  This is the reception that the guests can attend when they first arrive that offers wine tasting and a few appetizers to celebrate their arrival.  For the second week I am put in charge of creating some of the appetizers.  Chef Jon helps me with a few ideas that have worked in the past, but gives me some room to come up with my own too.  One of my first appetizers I created was asparagus wrapped in prociutto and then baked in the oven with a Parmesan garnish.  They turned out really nice!

I also had an opportunity to shadow Chef Paul this week at the Hearth and Vine.  This was a really great experience as well.  Chef Paul cooks an entire meal for their patrons out of a  wood-fired brick oven!  They can only accommodate up to 20- 25 reservations at the Café, which does a lunch menu of pizzas, salads and sandwiches in the daytime and then transitions to the more formal dining restaurant in the evening.  I helped prep a lot of the elements of dinner that afternoon while also having the chance to create a few pizzas and learn how to use the brick oven.  I had a great time and was completely enthralled with the talent of Chef Paul, as he would create up to four entrees at a time in the brick oven that evening.  He was like a one-man band, completing five different tasks at a time to complete each entrée.  Every single patron that night was gushing with compliments. 
Chef Paul in action- cooking with the brick oven- very cool!

-The brick oven with dinner being created inside

One of the plated dinners that evening

I am starting to see why I love culinary so much.  There is a specific artistry that each chef applies to his or her craft.  I love how we are creating not only great food, but touching all the emotions and senses that are required to make our food memorable.  At Blackstar the culinary staff is contributing to a very satisfying experience for all their guests and patrons.  Every person that I have seen experience a meal here, leaves with such satisfied smiles and gushing with compliments.  I love it here!  

Monday, July 26, 2010

The FoodLover was an Intern :)

I have decided that it would be fun to share with you my weekly logs for the internship I just completed at Black Star Farms.  It is a requirement to complete 300 hours of experience in order to graduate and within 10 weeks I have finally and successfully completed this task.  For the next ten days I will post each weeks story- the synopsis that i had to send to my instructor.  I hope you enjoy- it was really fun for me to go back and read these now that i have been at Blackstar for almost three months.  So many amazing and wonderful things have happened since I started my journey there and I can't wait to see what happens next!  I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to be doing what I love everyday- A foodlover's dream come true!

Internship- Black Star Farms
Steph Sheffer
Week 1

-Early morning scene outside kitchen door at the Inn in Late April

The sound of a rooster crowing is my very first indication that I have arrived at my dream job destination.  An “Agricultural Destination” is the branding slogan that Black Star Farms uses and I can’t think of any better way to describe it myself.  There are so many different venues on the Black Star Farms property that lend to the overall success of fulfilling this slogan.  I would like to start with the Inn where I will begin my culinary discoveries and learning process for the internship requirement that has brought me to this extraordinary and dream fulfilling employment opportunity.
For the first week at Blackstar I spent the majority of my time at the Inn learning and shadowing the process of creating Breakfast for the guests.  Immediately I am aware that this is going to be a very unique chance to exercise not only my culinary skills that I have gained from school this past year, but I will also be calling upon my decade of experience as a homemaker and the many times I have experienced opening my fridge and coming up with a meal based on what is there.  The pantry is stocked, don’t get me wrong, and the coolers and refrigerators have many different things to work with, but the only thing that is a constant is the egg.  That is because the farm has over 100 egg laying chickens and ducks to rely on.  This is a good thing since eggs are a classic when it comes to preparing breakfast.

On my first day the chef I am training with sent me out to the side of the shed to cut chives as part of the garnish for the breakfast entrees.  He also had me prepare the breakfast bar that daily consists of fresh fruit, homemade granola, vanilla bean yogurt and a variety of breakfast sweet breads and bread from the brick oven bakery that is another aspect of the farm.  I learned that the majority of the breakfast meats we use are also a product of some of the animals that are raised on the farm too.   The most profound thing I realized though is that this breakfast that is prepared for the guests has to have a “Wow” factor and by that I mean that we want our guests to feel extra special when their entrée is place in front of them.  This requires a lot of attention to not only flavors but also to presentation.  The chef I work with seems to have a lot of experience with this and I am excited to learn all of the tricks of the trade that have to do with composing a beautiful plate.

-Chef Jon plating up Root Vegetable Waffle Entree on my first day at The Inn

-Root Vegetable Waffle Stack with Shaved Ham, a poached egg and hollandaise- Yum!!!

After the first day or two the Chef tells me that I will do my first solo breakfast towards the end of the month- a day later he decides I am ready to do one as soon as week two!  I am ready for the challenge and I can’t wait to show them what I can do!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Boots the Cat- Total Foodie at Heart

**Boots is the Black Star Farms kitty who basically thinks she owns the place.  From what I have learned she is the sole surviving barn cat, particularly good at avoiding coyotes and rabies infested mice.

She comes to visit us at the kitchen every morning for a small plate of half and half cream.  On my first day at the job she was an ambassador, making sure I was aware of her routines and that i shouldn't take too much time to prepare her morning treat.

I've come to learn we aren't her only stop and that she has various venues throughout her day that she greets, even if only for a scratch behind her ears.  I've also heard she is not allowed in the Inn for anything since on various occasions she has apparently been found sleeping in some of the guests beds.  I don't blame her at all- from what I understand the Inn beds are AMAZING!  Finding traces of cat hair on bedding comforters might not be a great way to keep that reputation though.

Overall I like Boots approach to farm life.  She makes her rounds about the property in style and she is a foodie too!  She is well liked by everyone and never over stays her welcome.  Every morning various different employees come up to the Inn kitchen to fill their coffee cups, I like that Boots has her only special morning pick-me-up too!