Where Are They Now? Pino di Cerbo

It’s closing on one year to the day when 50 of us made our national TV debuts, and as we begin the process of passing the torch to season 2’s crew, I’m sharing with you some of the amazing stories of some of the home cooks that have made strides in the food business since the camera lights went off.

Today, I’m bringing you the story of one of the biggest class acts of the show…no, not Danielle, Julie or Meghan (I didn’t mean class act sarcastically),  I meant everyone’s favourite Italian Papi and a gentleman of the highest order, Pino di Cerbo.

I have to admit, I never got much time to talk to Pino one-on-one while on the show. We were from two different worlds; me a fresh-eyed Chinese kid from Calgary cooking in-your-face Asian cuisine, and he a stay at home dad to two boys from Mississauga cooking traditional Italian fare. And of course, his kids are freakin’ adorable, as you can see in this darling little audition video:

Despite not talking face-to-face with him, he definitely he spoke pretty loudly when it came time to cook. Spurred on by a large cheering section led by his wife Anna, he pounded out a plate of crepes filled with beef and ricotta that blew the judges away. And as he progressed on the show, he became a sleeper pick to win. With his strong Italian stylings in his pocket, Pino proved to be a rock in the rough, turbid sea that is MasterChef Canada.

Sure, his plates might not have been as flashy or diverse, nor was he the centre of every drama storm, But time and time again, he got it done. Who knows what would have happened if hadn’t been undone by a box of donuts? Nevertheless, the pastries ended his hopes to win the prize money for a charity working to end eye disorders.

But no matter how he exited, Pino showed true class throughout, playing an honourable game; I seriously  can’t recall Pino losing his temper at all even when facing the pressure tests, whereas in those same situations I probably would have lost my shit repeatedly (and probably on him, too…I shudder at the very thought.)

In a game where tripping over your own feet to stab someone else in the back to gain an iota of advantage is routine, Pino was steadfast in his gentlemanly ways despite being under constant pressure, staying above the head games and the drama while letting his cooking do all the talking for him. Now that, kids, takes some mad skills.

After leaving the show, Pino wanted to do more with cooking. He still had his kids to take care of, which practically rules out working in restaurants and most professional kitchens. Yet he longed he to share his passion for authentic Italian cuisine with others. And that is where the Presidents’ Choice Cooking School came in.

A few times a month, at Loblaws stores across the GTA, you will find him wowing home cooks with his Italian flair, showing them how to create some of Mama Di Cerbo’s time-honoured recipes that’s been given a twist that is indelibly Pino. Times and locations vary by month, but from the listings he has three classes, one of which shines a spotlight on the crepes that made him a superstar. With these classes, Pino has the best of both worlds: he gets time to spend with his family, while showing the world the gospel of Di Cerbo style Italian cuisine, which in my opinion is a well-deserved reward for a gentleman and class act.

Pino is proof that in the pressure cooker that is MasterChef, that there is still a place for honourable play; one can do extremely well without resorting to dirty tactics and back-stabbing, and he got it done. The unsung hero during team challenges and rock solid when the chips were down, this is a man who will continue to forge his own path, and someone to be looking out for in the future.

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Fun with Brining, Part II: The Pork Strikes Back

Last week for Thanksgiving, I brined meat for cooking for the first time, brining a chicken with a strong brine stuffed with Thai spices accompanied with a green curry gravy that had my parents wanting even more, and me wanting to experiment even further with brining meats.

So the very next day, as I took the day “off” (a chef’s brain is never off, hence the quotation marks…just ask any of my friends and bosses), my mom came back from grocery shopping with a whole rack of pork. I had no clue what spurred her to purchase such a large hunk of meat, but I knew immediately who would end up having to cook it.

Yep, that’s right…yours truly.

Ready for the cook...

Ready for the cook…

So that got me thinking. How would one go about seasoning and cooking such a thing to perfection in a short amount of time? The grill was one answer, but I had ran the grill out of propane during my YYC Pizza Week adventure and no one bothered to have it refilled. So a quick direct heat method was out of the running, leaving me with the oven as the only option.

With the cooking method settled (albeit by default), I then thought of ways to season the pork. While a nice olive oil rub of rosemary, garlic and thyme would have been nice, I had some lemongrass left over and more Asian herbs and spices in our cabinet that you could shake a stick at, and plus lemongrass pork is a favourite in our house, I got to work devising a way to season the pork rack with Vietnamese flavours.

No, Mr Pig, I expect you to cook to a perfect tenderness!

No, Mr Pig, I expect you to cook to a perfect tenderness!

Once again pulling up Michael Ruhlman’s quick brine, I once again added to the standard salt and water some fish sauce, soy sauce, lemongrass, shallots, chilis, black peppercorns and Kaffir lime leaves. I sliced up an orange to give it a bit of brigtness, and replaced some salt with sugar to balance out the flavours. Sliced the rack in half (so that I could submerge the rack completely in the biggest pot I could find in the house.)

I also scored the meat a little, and then let it soak for about two and a half hours to let the brine do its magic. Once the rack was dried off, I put it into the oven to let it start cooking.

But if you have ever been to a Vietnamese restaurant and ordered the Vietnamese pork chop on rice, you know it is usually got a nice char on the outside, while still remaining juicy on the inside. And without a direct flame, the char can be difficult to obtain (unless you char the rest of the meat, of course), so what is a cook to do?

Enter the nuoc mau.

Yes, the veritable Vietnamese caramel sauce, made of fish sauce and sugar. I had made a small batch (infused with lemongrass) for a batch of stir fried Brussels sprouts and tomatoes that I didn’t finish using, so I took a bit, added just a little bit of water to thin it out, brushed it onto the pork and let it crisp with a 145°F interior.* The result was a sweet, slightly crunchy contrast to the juicy, soft flesh inside. It was almost like Chinese style char siu (BBQ pork), but in a way it’s even better!

A taste of fall. Oh yes!

A taste of fall. Oh yes!

Thanks to these last two experiments, I’m now totally convinced on the merits of brining. It might take an extra day or maybe a little bit more effort, but it is truly worth it if you are a fan of moist, juicy meat — something I’m sure most of us are!

(* – I understand if some people are a little leery at that number, and when you’ve brined your meat chances are it will survive to the 160°F recommended by the federal government, and still remain perfect. But as long as your meat has been safely handled, it shouldn’t be a problem as long as it is cooked to a satin white on the inside, flecked with a little pink.)

Vietnamese Style Roasted Pork Rack
(Serves 4)

Ingredients
1 8-bone pork rib roast
500ml water
600g ice cubes
1/3 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 + 1/3 cup salt
1 stalk lemongrass, finely chopped
1 orange or lime, quartered
10 Kaffir lime leaves
1 chili, chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 5mm piece ginger, finely chopped
1 tsp black peppercorns, crushed
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon Vietnamese caramel sauce

Directions
1. Remove pork rib roast from package, rinse off and score in a diamond pattern on the fat. Set aside for later.
2. In a saucepan, combine all the remaining ingredients except for the ice cubes and the Vietnamese caramel. Bring to a boil.
3. Remove brine from heat, and let steep for 10-20 minutes.
4. Add in ice cubes, and allow it to melt.
5. Put pork rib into a large clear bag, and pour in cooled brine. Seal, and let sit for anywhere between 3 to 8 hours (the brine is too strong to keep overnight.)
6. Preheat oven to 425°F.
7. Remove roast from brine, and pat dry. Cover with salt and pepper, and place on roasting tray.
8. Place roast on a rack that is in the lower third of the oven, and let cook for approximately 20 minutes.
9. After 20 minutes, turn heat down to 390°F. Cook for another 25-30 minutes.
10. Using a meat thermometre, check for pork doneness. If it is sitting at 125°F (or 145°F), brush on the Vietnamese caramel sauce.
11. Turn heat back to 425°F, and continue cooking the roast for another 15-20 minutes, until the internal temperature hits 140°F or 160°F, and the outside is golden brown and delicious (GBD).
12. Let roast rest for up to 20 minutes, covered with tin foil. Don’t carve it immediately! Trust me on this one.
13. After resting, carve and dig in! Drizzle with more Vietnamese caramel sauce, and Serve with seasonal vegetables and a hearty mash, or rice.

Vietnamese Caramel Sauce (Nuoc Mau)
(Makes about 1 cup)

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/2 stalk lemongrass, bashed

Directions
1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce heat, and let reduce to about half in volume. It should be the consistency and the colour of maple syrup.
3. Let cool, and put that shit on anything.

Where Are They Now? Dora Cote

As we count down to another season of MasterChef Canada, I’m catching up with some of your favourite home cooks that were with me on season one, now that the glare of the spotlight is no longer on us. Today, I look at the person whom I consider my MasterChef “mama”; the Badass Motherplumber of Rocky Mountain House, Dora Cote. Dora

At first glance, she is a tough cookie, hardened by years in the male-dominated plumbing trade. But like a good home baked cookie, she has a tender chewy side too. You won’t see it if she doesn’t like you, but it’s there if you earn the right to see it; and luckily for me I’ve stayed in her good books (Believe me when I say you don’t want to be in her bad books…certain members of the Top 50 know what I mean!) long enough to see it.

The first time I met Dora, it was at the Calgary auditions. On first glance, her tattoos and tough demeanour scared me a little, but then again so did JP and Bubba (and their amazing dishes, but that’s a story for another day…) But on the other hand, I think my somewhat over-the-top persona might have scared her a little too. But the moment I tasted her amazing strawberry-rhubarb pie that she had baked before making the long drive from her home to Calgary, it was clear to me that she was a lock to go to Toronto.

I however, wasn’t sure I had done enough with my dish, an Indonesian beef curry on garlic flatbread. But as I fretted and panicked, what she told me would become a catalyst for what I have become today.

She told me that was my dish was one of the best dishes in the room, and that I was certain to make it.

For a kid that has barely cooked for anyone else besides family, for a complete stranger to say that knocked me for a massive loop. For a brief shining moment, I felt I could cook! But was she was just being kind to a poor kid that was turning into a nervous wreck in front of her eyes, or was she playing the game trying to pump me up hoping to see me fall? But after getting to know her over many a night (and many a pint), I realized she wouldn’t have said that if it wasn’t true.

Yes, she us a very good hugger, as Michael Bonacini and I both know.

Yes, she us a very good hugger, as Michael Bonacini and I both know.

Despite my deep-seated misgivings about myself, Fate proved her right. Fate proved me right as well, and together we became two of Canada’s inaugural Top 50. Joining this elite club meant that she had to leave her 11 year old son Devyn Jay behind; and seeing I was in need of a cheering section, I became her “little egg”.

She mentored me in all she knew about cooking (and vice versa), celebrated with me when I won my apron (and I celebrated her apron win), kept me motivated and loose when the nervous wreck threatened to return, and (along with Tammara) one of the first to comfort me when I was given my marching orders from Claudio Aprile.

It was after I was eliminated, however, is when she gave me a second and arguably the most valuable piece of advice: that what happens on MasterChef cannot define who you are, unless you choose for it to be. (From which I read: Quit feeling sorry for yourself, you did all you could…now stop worrying and get living!)

So, I did. With hers (and the rest of Team YYC’s) encouragement, I have embarked on my chef apprentice journey, while she made her dream come true.

She had told us that her dream was to open a restaurant in her hometown, serving amazing food for a population crying out for some “Canadian soul food”. And when I got to visit Rocky during the last May long weekend (and seeing what an amazing ambassador Rocky has gained in her time on national TV), I got to see first hand the place that she was going to make that dream into reality.

Dora doing good work in the community. (Photo Courtesy B94)

Dora doing good work in the community. (Photo Courtesy B94)

The Black Stump was an old restaurant just off Highway 11 in Rocky that had a reputation of being a dive bar. When we went into the now closed restaurant for the first time, she was beaming like a proud parent. As we went through the restaurant, she was detailing what her dream would look like in reality. She was so sure, so steady, so calm…yet so excited and self sure. It was this kind of self-assured, hard-nosed positivity that made her a darling amongst MasterChef Canada viewers, but for me it was just classic Dora: tough but tender, salty but with a large dose of sweet.

When I departed for home after that long weekend (which included spending some time cooking for and drinking(!) with her amazing friends) — she was still in the midst of finalizing her finances for her new restaurant, and helping Tammara out with some of her catering gigs (one of which I was called into help at). But as this is being published, the old Black Stump is slowly being transformed into the new Dora’s Rocky Mountain Road House, which will put her into an elite club of MasterChef finalists worldwide who can say they have achieved their stated dream. While there is currently no set grand opening date, word is that many of her friends (myself included) may be making guest appearances in her kitchen!

In my life, I have had many great female culinary role models, with my grandma at the very top. While she won’t displace my Poh-Poh from the very top, Dora ranks pretty high on that list. And if you ever happen to be in Rocky, and you’re smelling something amazing coming out of the kitchen at Dora’s…better run fast, ’cause the good eats are just about on!

The dream team, bitches!

The dream team, bitches!

Thai’d Thanksgiving and Other Holiday Culinary Hijinx

When I’m at home, I am lucky enough that someone else makes dinner. But when major “western” holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas roll around, the onus falls on me to make the celebratory meal (I haven’t made the Chinese New Year meals yet…that I think is coming soon.) And each year I’ve gotten a little better, incorporating every new technique that I’ve learned over the past year. And for the most part, they’ve all turned out okay. But this year, having been exposed to so many new techniques, I think I outdid myself.

Most years (especially when my grandmother was still around), on Thanksgiving we would sit down to a big turkey. But ever since Poh-Poh left us, we’ve taken to having a roasted chicken instead. Sure, we don’t get the luxury of turning the bones into delicious turkey congee, but on the other hand we don’t have tons of leftovers that would take us days and weeks to get through. So in a way, it’s a win-win.

As for chicken, it has always been one of my favourite meats (my unfortunate encounter with it on a certain show notwithstanding), and when I’ve roasted chicken, I’ve always been partial to Ina Garten’s technique of stuffing citrus, onion and garlic into the cavity to perfume and keep moist the meat. But with all the rage about brining, I decided to give it a try. The problem is, I’ve never brined it before. And since my mom asked me on Sunday night what we were having for Thanksgiving Monday, I needed an answer…and fast!

The brine working its magic on Mr Chicken!

The brine working its magic on Mr Chicken!

And through the magic powers of Google, an answer came in the form of Michael Ruhlman’s quick brine. Since I needed a chicken in the oven, cooked and served in a reasonable amount of time (there have been years where the bird was not served until 8:30pm or 9pm, which is rather inconvenient to say the least.) — a quick brine was the only answer.

A standard brine, according to Ruhlman, is 5% (or 50 grams of salt per 1 litre of water). But to get it done quick, a 10% brine would do just fine. While the brine was great, I had to put an Asian spin on it. And what better way to Asian up roast chicken than to make it Thai? So instead of what Ruhlman added (lemon and sage), I placed limes, shallots, cilantro, Kaffir lime leaves and other Thai-style herbs and spices into the brine. And to give a nod back to Ina Garten, I placed the lime wedges into the chicken cavity for the extra perfume.

The result? A perfectly tender, juicy and moist chicken that was aromatic and flavourful. But no festival roast is complete without some sort of gravy, right?

The finished product, ready for carving!

The finished product, ready for carving!

Enter in the green curry gravy. Just like your ordinary gravy, except made with coconut milk steeped with Thai spices to give it a brand new aroma. Drizzled on top of the moist chicken, it was incredible…so incredible, that my dad (usually not a gravy kind of guy) had the gravy with the chicken. I think that means I did well, right?

As for side dishes, I went with a traditional buttermilk mashed potato and roasted peppers (a family favourite), and paired it with two new items, a spiced butternut squash and stir-fried Brussels sprouts with tomato and lap cheong (Chinese sausage). All in all, it was definitely a meal for the books, once again raising the bar higher. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have to find a way to top myself for Christmas.

Maybe a nice prime rib? Hmmm…

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thai Style Roasted Chicken
Ingredients
1 3-4 lb chicken, whole
515ml water
1/3 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup salt
1 tablespoon sugar
600 g ice cubes
1 lime, quartered into wedges
1/2 onion, peeled and quartered
1 shallot, peeled and halved
1 stalk lemongrass, roughly chopped
2 dried chilis, cut
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, crushed
3 Kaffir lime leaves
1 5mm piece of ginger, smashed
4 cloves garlic, smashed
A handful of cilantro, roughly chopped

Directions
1. In a pot, mix water, salt, sugar and fish sauce. Add in lime, lemongrass, cjilis, peppercorns, lime leaves, ginger and cilantro, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and let steep for 10 minutes.
2. Add in ice cubes and stir until most ice cubes are melted.
3. In a large bag, place in chicken. Pour in brine. Seal.
4. Shake bag, and let sit for anywhere between 3-7 hours.
5. Remove chicken from bag and discard the brine. Pat dry chicken completely (yes, even the insides). Place the wedges of lime into the cavity, and truss (if not done already…)
6. Let chicken dry for about 1 hour.
7. Preheat oven to 450°F, and cover chicken skin with salt and pepper.
8. Cook chicken in the oven for approximately 20 minutes to crisp up skin, and then reduce heat to 350°F. Cook 20 minutes every pound of chicken. (i.e. 3.5lbs = 70 minutes.)
9. Using a meat thermometre, test chicken for doneness. You’re looking for 185°F or more. If it hits, take it out and rest 5-10 minutes.
10. If desired, place chicken on low broil for 5-7 minutes really crisp up the skin.

Green Curry Gravy
Ingredients
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon roast chicken drippings
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups coconut milk
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon green curry paste
1 tablespoon chicken stock powder
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped fine
1 tablespoon lemongrass, chopped fine
1 tablespoon ginger, chopped rough
1 dried chili, chopped

Directions
1. In a pot, mix milk, coconut milk, chicken stock powder and fish sauce. Bring to a simmer, and add in green curry paste, cilantro, lemongrass, chili and ginger. Let slowly steep on low heat.
2. Melt butter on medium heat, add in roast drippings. Add in flour to create roux and whisk. Let cook for about 5 minutes to create a blonde roux.
3. Strain milk mixture of herbs and spices, and gently pour into roux to incorporate. Whisk until a smooth sauce forms, and keep warm to serve with the chicken.

Tools of the Trade: My Knife Set

This is a question that I’m sure many have come up more than once, with more than one home cook or chef in training…

“What are the knives that every chef (or serious home cook) should have?”

To that question, I respond with “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” (Stay with me, there is an answer…)

Before I started my journey, I tried to Google that same question. The answers were varied and diverse, and no two articles gave the same answer — kind of like looking for identical snowflakes while herding cats. It’s likely because that every home cook and chef is different; everyone has their own comfort levels with knives, have particular allegiances with a certain brand, have different budgets, or possess different kitchen utensils to use with said knives. Like the aforementioned snowflakes and cats, to each there is a need and to each there is a knife. You can ask a dozen chefs, and a dozen home cooks — everyone will give you a different answer, and it can be daunting to figure heads from tails.

In the end, with a little off-line help I was able to answer the question for myself (thanks in part to the work of the fine folks at Calgary’s Knifewear) and built a team of four that I use each day in my journey towards Red Seal-chefdom.

Meet the team...

Meet the team…

First off, before you even splash out your hard-earned Simoleons to purchase a knife — do your homework. Look into the knife in question, and look into the shop selling it to you. Check the maker, (and if you’re the type swayed by other users’ opinions) check the reviews. And if you get a chance to hold the knife of your dreams in person (most knife shops will allow it) and even test drive it (like Knifewear does), TAKE THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO IT. A knife is almost like a bonsai plant; if you take good care of it, it will provide you with years of well prepared meats and vegetables that you can proceed to make restaurant quality meals that will dazzle and amaze.

As for brands, there are three schools. There are your classic German stainless steel brands (J.A. Henckels and Wusthof), the American (Global, KAI (makers of the popular Shun line) and others), and there are the hundreds of Japanese brands, many of which are just single artisan blacksmiths that hand-forge, hand-sharpen and hand-carve their names onto carbon steel blades. Personally, I’ve found Masakage knives to be my brand of choice, even though the carbon steel is a little less tolerant to abuse (which you shouldn’t be doing to your knives anyway), but chances are you’ll probably find your own favourite(s). And with new knives coming into the market each day, chances are your choices will change as you go along, too.

So, what IS inside my knife bag? Let’s take a peek inside…

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The Main Event: The Chef’s Knife

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The one I use the most. Also known as Kyōka Suigetsu.

Every golfer has their favourite putter, every baseballer or cricketer has their favourite bat, so why can’t chefs have their go-to knives? Your chef’s knife is the one that does most of the heavy lifting cutting-wise, and in return should be the first knife that you reach for. (I’ve even given mine a name, but that’s a different story…)

The chef’s knife was first designed to take apart hunks of beast (but not the bone!) but over time have gradually played a more all-purpose role. There are two designs: German (where the edge curves from tip to butt) or French (where the curve only happens nearer to the tip). Most Japanese-made knives I’ve seen are usually of the French design, and it works great for me. However, perhaps you are more inclined with a blade that curves further for easier back-and-forth rocking while cutting? That is when the German design may work better for you. But at the end of the day, neither one is better…it’a all about what makes you happy!

As for me, at both Co-op and Eats of Asia, I reach for my chef’s knife (called a gyuto, which is Japanese for “cow sword”) for almost every task, ranging from dicing up dozens of pounds of onions during prep, to slicing the green onion and kimcheese waffles for plating up the Korean Chicken and Waffles. Most chef’s knives range anywhere between 8″ to 10″, and come with different names, with gyuto or santoku the two most common for Japanese models.

I have: Masakage “Koishi” 240mm (9.5 inch) Gyuto

The Sidekick: The Petty Knife

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For the smaller things in life.

Despite it being an all-rounder, the chef’s knife has its limitations. Say for example, I’m looking to neatly slice up some orange segments for the salad bar. That would mean slicing off the rind and pith without slicing off too much of the flesh, and then cutting each segment between the inner membranes. Try doing that dozens of times with dozens of oranges with a chef’s knife.

Can’t imagine doing it? I can’t either. And believe me, I tried. And it was…how should I put this gently? Hell? Yep, that sounds about right.

The paring knife (or in the Japanese knife parlance, the petty knife) might look like a small chef’s knife (ranging anywhere from 2″ to 6″), but in reality they are playing in different leagues, kind of like the Premier League vs. the Championship, or MLS and the NASL, or NFL and the NCAA…you get the idea. If you’re looking to carve a swan out of an apple for a beautiful presentation, or taking out the veins from prawns for a pot of Jambalaya, or taking out the seeds from a Serrano chili, or if you’re just wanting to dice just a couple of cloves of garlic; you’re treading on the paring/petty knife’s territory.

Price wise, this knife should the least expensive in your kit. I have found some acceptable paring knives for as little as $10 at the local department store. But in most professional settings, like pencils and pens at any school they are usually the first to disappear when you loan them to someone. As one of the chefs wisely advised me when it comes to paring knives, “stock up.”

I have: Maskage “Yuki” 120mm (4.5 inch) Petty

The Heavy Hitter: The Cleaver 

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When you want to break some bones (and meat, and sinew…)

Uh oh, looks like you’ve got a few chickens to take apart. Or maybe that bone-in prime rib needs to be de-boned. Or there’s some pork ribs that need cross-cutting? This is when you’ll need to break out the heavy artillery, and when I mean heavy artillery, I mean a good old fashioned cleaver.

Go to any Chinese BBQ restaurant, and chances are the pit master will wield a pretty heavy ass cleaver. It will break through most* bones, sinew, fat…everything, with one heavy swing. That whole roast duck? It’s now headless, and cut neatly into chopstick-friendly pieces. And the char siu (BBQ pork)? Same deal, and ready to be served on a bed of hot steamed rice with blanched greens. However, don’t be fooled by the Chinese chef who has what looks like a cleaver going gangbusters on a block of tofu or reducing a piece of boneless tenderloin into thin slices…what we’re talking about here and what they are using are not the same.

(* – Chicken bone, yes. Pork bones, yes. Beef bones? Maybe not…you’ll probably need a butcher’s bandsaw for that one.)

Being a Japanese knife fan (thank you for that, Kevin Kent…), I have tried to find a good Japanese or Chinese meat cleaver. However, I have yet to locate one of those, and with my Wusthof having dispatched more whole chickens into halves and quarters without much of a fuss so far, I’m pretty happy with it.

I have: Wusthof “Classic” 6-inch Cleaver

The Specialist: The Carving Knife

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When you need a long, smooth cut.

It’s prime rib night, and you’ve got hungry customers waiting to dig into slices of a freshly roasted-to-perfection hunk of Alberta beef (the best beef in the world, but then again I’m totally biased.) — that is when you break out the carving knife and get those prime ribs sliced up.

However, the carving knife can do more than just slice up the Thanksgiving turkey; it can take off the skin off a slab of pork belly before it’s braised for filling up dozens upon dozens on freshly steamed baos, or easily slicing up entire pork tenderloins into chops, or carving off slices of smoked salmon directly from the filet to crown a cream cheese-topped bagel (with lemon, pickled red onions and capers, if you so desire).

Some carving knives may come with “eyes” or “divots” for easy cutting , or some may even be serrated, and some are even electric. Personally I have forgone all those “luxuries” with my carving knife. With most knives, as long as it is sharp, it should be able to slice anything. Yes, even bread.

I have: Fujimoto 270mm (10 inch) Sujihiki

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There are a few other knives that I use on a daily basis, like a serrated knife for cutting up bread for sandwiches or cubing it for stuffing prep. Other chefs, depending on what they’re doing, will have different knives. A prep cook specializing in meats may have a boning knife or a honesuki, a sushi chef may have a fileting knife, or master Oyster shucker may have a Boston- or New Haven-style oyster knife. It’s almost as if each kitchen task has its own knife.

But no matter what you get, building your own knife set as a serious home cook or chef is not a cheap affair. Chances are, you will probably get a little bit of sticker shock by merely looking at the prices, but always remember that a good knife is like a good, stable investment. Think of it as buying a car: If you buy something that looks nice but will only last you a few years before it breaks down, then what’s the point? Pick something that lasts, but also give consideration something that you are comfortable with. Would you buy a Humvee if all you’ve driven are smart cars? I didn’t think so.

As for maintenance, a good ceramic honing rod is usually good to keep the edges sharp on most knives, whether they are German, Japanese or American, for a couple months (depending on how heavily you use your knife and how you treat it, of course). One common misconception about those, is that it sharpens your knife as well. No, it doesn’t; that is the job that oilstones and wetstones do, and that’s another conversation altogether. Just remember, of course, is that when you are honing, keep your knife at a certain angle (usually 15° for Japanese, 25° for European), and GO SLOWLY. What Gordon Ramsay does on MasterChef USA (or Hell’s Kitchen) looks cool, but it looks goofy professionally and doesn’t even do what it’s supposed to.

For keeping your knife edge safe, in style!

For keeping your knife edge safe, in style!

And also do consider purchasing protection for your knives (like a knife guard or a leather knife holster (on the right is a fine example of the latter, which was custom made from High Ridge, Missouri). Because a sharp knife is a safe, easy-to-use knife that slices easily with very little exertion, while a dull one is harder and more dangerous to use. Why? Because using a dull knife means you have to exert more force to get the job done, and by the same token raising the risk of cutting yourself exponentially…which if you’re an up-and-coming hand model, is very hazardous to your career. Your fingers will thank you for not cutting them!

And last but not least, please don’t use your knife to hack at anything. Not frozen food, not a tin can, nothing. Just promise me that much, okay?

 

So, what’s in your knife kit? What are the knives you use on a daily basis? Any brands you love? Let me know in the comments below!

Where Are They Now? Tammara Behl

It’s almost been a year since the 50 of us made our national TV debuts on CTV, and a lot has happened to some of us since then. I’m sure some you have wondered where some of your favourite contestants have gone to after the cameras went off, and the set lights extinguished. And believe you me, there are some amazing stories! Today, I will begin my “Where Are They Now?” series with Tammara, someone whom I consider a friend, a mentor, culinary kindred spirit and a sister from another mother.

My MasterChef sister. (Photo Courtesy CTV)

My MasterChef sister. (Photo Courtesy CTV)

When I first laid eyes on Tammara, she was just another person chilling out at the airport waiting for our flight to Toronto. But when I actually got to talk to her, I knew in my gut she was going to go far in the competition. Like most of us, she was putting her entire life on hold to make her culinary dream come true. She was not only leaving a special needs teaching job with the Calgary Board of Education, but her husband Rick, and her darling young daughters, 3 year old Abby and 5 year old Breanna. It was a risk she was taking, but for her to be leaving two kids and a hubby behind for up to two months? My folks weren’t happy with me gone for that long, but a spouse and kids? That had to be a challenge.

If she did have any pangs of homesickness though, very few people could read it from her steely poker face (I sure as hell couldn’t.) — in a stressful situation, she proved to be the most genuine, free-spirited and generous person I’ve met in my life so far (beside the rest of my Team YYC colleagues, of course.) And when I first got a chance to talk to her, it was abundantly clear she was something special. She is caring, kind and generous. Wanna know why?

This is the real Tammara. 100% genuine article.

This is the real Tammara. 100% genuine article.

For those of you who have been on a MasterChef set, you would know that we are warned that days on-set will be long. And if you think the producers are joking, you are DEAD WRONG. Armed with that fact and knowing she had only 60 minutes to make perfect authentic Indian samosas from scratch, she still took the time to make extra samosas for us, on top of making the ones she would blow the judges away with AND the two chutneys. Chalk that up to parenting, maybe, but that’s chef-level time management if I ever saw it. And the fact that she barely broke a sweat, keeping totally cool as ice in her adorable ice cream heels…if that isn’t grace under fire, then I have no idea what is.

Since her elimination (which was a shock, since I was pegging her to win the whole thing), she has launched head-long into her food dream. She has launched a catering company (aptly called Chef Tammara’s Catering) along with Rick. I had the chance to work alongside her and Dora (who helps out on occasion) at one of her gigs earlier this year, a 50th wedding anniversary, It was a thrill to say the least; for me it was almost like a MasterChef Canada “what if”, as in “If only the judges had kept the three of us together!”

Tam hard at work with Chef JP!

Tam hard at work with Chef JP!

On top of that, she has made a number of guest appearances on CTV Morning Live in Calgary, as well as doing a popup dinner at Muse Restaurant (before its closure) with their head chef, J.P. Pedhirney.

As well, she has also soared through the ranks of The Pampered Chef, a cookware sales program that she had been part of before going to Toronto. Since the show, she has been promoted to the program’s Alberta regional director; and at a recent Pampered Chef associates conference in Toronto, she was one of the opening speakers, and was greeted with a raptuous welcome by all in attendance. Just looking at the Facebook pictures of smiling attendees with Tammara, and you can tell.

But most of all, Tammara is still a mother at heart. She takes great care of her two daughters and husband, as well as her friends. Steadfastly loyal, she was one of the first people to embrace me when I was eliminated, and has stood by me ever since, encouraging me on my journey. She is so much to so many people, but all at the same time keeping a cool facade. Slowly but surely, she is making her dreams come true, and staying fabulous despite the crushing pressure.

A little bit country, a little bit rock and roll.

A little bit country, a little bit rock and roll.

Tammara is living proof that if you’re willing to take the risk, and know how to play your cards right, you can make the impossible, possible. The fact that she exudes love and confidence is just icing on top of the proverbial cake. I certainly can’t wait to work with her again…and who knows? Maybe the next time Chef Tammara caters your event, you may see a familiar face!