VCS Hospitality Tips

Part of the Visiting Chef Series is a monthly hospitality class provided by Legal Sea Foods. The Hospitality class gives the trainees the chance to get professional insights on front of the house operations. On June 10th, the class was led by Guy Pierce. He discussed some of the many facets that make up his personal philosophy on hospitality.

For starters, service and hospitality aren’t always the same thing. Hospitality is that extra personal touch. It’s taking a drink order instead of just providing a self-service machine. And it can be as simple as a nod and a smile. It lets guests know that they are taken care of. A balance needs to be struck, however, between what is right for a guest and what is right for the business.

Hospitality is also something that shouldn’t just be provided to patrons. A restaurant is a team, and every single role is crucial to operations running smoothly. There is structure, but there is also plenty of chaos. Therefore, hospitality should be given within as well. Providing assistance to anyone who needs it goes a long way.

No matter how smoothly the team runs, mistakes will happen. The important thing is how they are handled. In any situation, it’s best to identify the next right thing to do, and move forward.

Graduation 2015

Grad2015Last week contained a big day for Pine Street Inn. The annual graduation ceremony was held on June 3rd. This celebrates all the men and women who completed one of PSI’s job training programs. It also recognizes everyone who was able to overcome homelessness by moving into permanent housing. The Food Services Training Program represented well with 77 graduates. One of them, Rachel Davis, even took home the Robert Heard Scholarship.

The festivities were kicked off by Lyndia Downie, the President and Executive Director of Pine Street Inn. Among her remarks were two acknowledgments of iCater. First, the success and return of Joe LeBlanc. He is part of our culinary team, and is himself a graduate of the FSTP. Secondly, our milestone of serving 3 million meals.

The Keynote Address was delivered by Joanne Chang. She is a long-time supporter of the FSTP through the Visiting Chef Series, so we were thrilled when she was chosen. She eloquently described three lessons that she has found are equally important in life and in the kitchen:

  1. “If not you, then who?” Never dismiss anything as “not my job”. Treat everything like it’s your responsibility.
  2. “Act like the person you want to be.” Actions speak louder than words, so don’t just tell the world what you can do. Demonstrate it at every single opportunity.
  3. “Be grateful.” The more gratitude you have and express, the more you can find in return

That third lesson was echoed by Ron Taylor, a graduate of the Housekeeping Training Program. His spirited remarks were the highlight of the ceremony, garnering cheers and applause. His own journey was like a roller coaster, and through it all, he remained grateful. “Life isn’t scripted,” he said, emphasizing the importance of making the most of whatever situation you find yourself in. He concluded by declaring all of his fellow graduates superheroes for doing just that.

We wish them all well. They have proved they have bright futures ahead.

3 Million Meals Sold

iCaterthanks2Wow! iCater has now sold over 3 million meals. We have come a long way since our start, and there is much to be thankful for. In 2000, we opened to serve family-style meals to residential centers, treatment centers, and transitional homes. Since then we have acquired an outstanding culinary team, a new name, and a new branch of corporate catering. We’ve prided ourselves on good food and good customer service, and the result certainly shows.

But this celebration wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging another group that made this possible: our loyal customers. We appreciate each and every one, and the effect they’ve had on the Food Services Training Program. Since the program’s inception in 1996, we’ve graduated over 1,100 trainees.  As iCater grows, we look to enhance and grow our social mission as well.

We look forward to serving millions more meals, and further supporting and growing training and job opportunities in our community!

 

VCS Lemon Meringue Pie Tips

DSCN2435On April 28, Chefs Sarah Powers and Lauren Feldman came in from Flour Bakery + Café to be our Visiting Chefs. They were even kind enough to prepare something a trainee had requested: lemon meringue pie. Its roots go back to Medieval times. The form as we know it today most likely was a product of 19th century Switzerland. There are different ways to go about preparing it; these are tips used by Flour Bakery.

The Crust. Pies are best with a tender, flaky crust. There are several things you can do to help achieve that. First, make sure the butter is softened properly. It should be able to bend without breaking. Don’t overmix the dough; it will produce more gluten and result in a tougher texture. Once mixed, let it rest before rolling. This avoids the need for more flour and helps prevent shrinkage. The dough should be rolled from the center outwards, and not back and forth. Bake before adding the filling.

The Lemon. The lemon filling is a custard, which means it has a base of milk or cream and egg yolks. Before the yolks are added, the lemon mixture must be heated till it’s steaming, but not boiling. The egg must be added very gradually. Eggs cook at a relatively low temperature. If they are added to quickly, they will cook and scramble. Stir slowly and gently. Pour into crust, chill till firm, then bake until the filling is warm.

The Meringue. A Swiss meringue is the easiest and most hands-off route. It involves indirect heating: combine ingredients, then set mixing bowl into a hot water bath. The mixture should be warm to the touch. Once this happens and the sugar is dissolved, whip until high, glossy peaks form. The meringue should be used immediately.

VCS Sardine Meatball Tips

DSCN2363On April 16, Executive Chef Kelly Armetta of the Hyatt Regency came in as our Visiting Chef.  He showed our trainees a tasty dish that’s nutritious, inexpensive, and easy to make: sardine meatballs. These fish may get a bad rap, but it’s completely undeserved. They’re packed with nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for good health. Our bodies are incapable of producing them, but they are needed for a number of normal functions. Omega-3s can also offer protection against heart disease. As for their taste, like anything else, quality counts. Poorer quality sardines can be oily, fishy, and bitter. However, higher quality ones are more akin to tuna.

The Preparation. Select sardines canned in olive oil. These are often of better quality, plus olive oil has many health benefits of its own. Drain the sardines, then finely chop them. Mix with bread crumbs and desired spices. Good choices include onion powder, garlic powder, ginger, and paprika.  Use eggs as a binding agent.

The Sauce. When making a simple dish, it’s important to cook with heart and really make it your own. A great way to do this is with a sauce. For these meatballs,  try a tomato based one, seasoned to complement their flavor.  Simmer the sauce before adding the meatballs.

The Finish. A benefit of used canned sardines is that they have already been cooked. This means the only component of the meatballs that needs cooking are the eggs. For maximum flavor, simmer them with the sauce until the eggs are cooked through. Serve with couscous, pasta, or plain white rice. The meatballs also freeze well. If going this route, use an ice cube tray so they freeze separately.

 

VCS New England Clam Chowder Tips

DSCN2328On April 14, Chefs Joe Price and Sarah Powers from Flour Bakery + Café came in as our Visiting Chefs. The dish they prepared is an absolute classic – New England clam chowder. Chowders are seafood or vegetable stews that are often milk or cream based. Clam chowder was created when the clams found in the New World replaced fish in the fish-milk stews of the English coast lands. There are several regional variations. The New England variety is a thicker, cream-based one known for having potatoes and onions, and no tomatoes. It’s even commonly believed that it’s illegal to put tomatoes into clam chowder in Massachusetts. While not actually true, it paints quite a strong picture. Here are some tips to make this dish on your own:

The Preparation. Assemble your ingredients and be aware of when and where to cook them. Bacon is an optional addition that provides a smoky flavor. If being used, start by cooking it first. Next to be added are finely diced onions; Spanish and white are most recommended. Yukon gold potatoes should be cooked simultaneously, but separately.

The Roux. A roux is a thickening agent made by cooking wheat flour and a fat together. The heat removes the flour’s raw taste and leaves behind a substance that is stable and smooth. This is how to get the desired thickness of New England clam chowder. In this case the flour is cooked with butter. If bacon is being used, the grease can also be added to the roux as well. Once this is finished, it can be added to the rest of the mixture, along with the clams and clam juice.

The Finishing Touches. Heavy cream, salt, and pepper should be added to taste. The amount of cream will affect the chowder’s thickness. Consider varying it to suit the season. Chives make an excellent garnish. Serve with crumbled oyster crackers, or in a bread bowl.

VCS Fisherman’s Stew Tips

DSCN2288On April 7, Chef Chris Clark came from Legal Sea Foods to show our trainees how to make Fisherman’s Stew. This Italian-American creation, also known as cioppino, originated in San Francisco in the late 1800s. It started as a poor man’s dish, using seafood commonly had on hand to make something unique and delicious. Though there are some defining characteristics, it still leaves plenty of room to be customized with a loving touch.

The Base. Tomato paste and white wine make up of the majority of the base, even more so than water. The alcohol of the wine will cook off, leaving just the flavors behind. This is the perfect part of the dish to utilize cheaper ingredients. By boiling and then removing them, their flavor is added to the mix. If you decide to add seasoning, make sure to select something with a strong flavor, like cilantro.

The Seafood. While there were specific types of seafood historically used on Fisherman’s Wharf, the key to this stew is to use what is on hand and fresh. If using shellfish, like clams or mussels, in the shell, more cooking time will be needed. On the other end of the spectrum, delicate elements, like lobster or breaded fish, should be added at the very end. They only need to be brought to temperature.

The Preparation.  The name of the dish comes from the Italian word meaning “chopped”. Conveniently, cutting the meat into small pieces shortens their cooking time. That being said, this is still a stew. The longer it is cooked, the thicker and more flavorful it will become. Let your desired result guide how long to cook it. Whatever your preference, make sure to serve it with your favorite toasted bread.

 

VCS Salsa Tips

DSCN2241(2)On March 31, Andy Husbands from Tremont 647 came in for our Visiting Chef Series. He prepared tacos and three different salsas, with plenty of tips on how to create your own.

Flavor profile

The key to creating (or even re-creating) a great salsa is to analyze the desired flavor profile. Salsa can be made out of anything, so it’s important to have an idea of how you want it to taste. For example, sweet and sour is a common profile. Then, identify what ingredients you want to cause those components. The sourness of lime? The sweetness of tomato? Spicy is also very common, and comes in varying degrees of intensity. For the mild end, consider onions or even black pepper. For more kick, familiarize yourself with common chili peppers. These are all classic, but don’t be afraid to experiment and make it your own.

Maximizing flavor

Knowing what produce is in season can help you get the most out of your salsa. Tomatoes are available all year round, but they will have the most flavor in summer. At other times, they can still be used as a base, but consider using seasonal produce as a star flavor. Acids and salt bring out the flavors in food, so they’re great ways to make your salsa pop.

No matter what you decide to do, always remember to taste your food as you prepare it!

 

 

VCS Rice Pilaf Tips

DSCN2197On March 17, Chef Connie Bearden from Sodexo was featured in our Visiting Chef Series. Chef Connie introduced our new trainees to the wide world of rice pilaf. Rice is one of humanity’s oldest crops, and in some cultures it was even used as currency.  Pilafs are steamed dishes that can be made with a wide number of ingredients.  Chef Connie had some great advice to make rice anything but boring.

Types

  Rice types go way beyond grain length and brown or white. A rich spectrum of colors is found, and each variety expands differently when cooked. For example, the ends of jasmine rice explode and become puffy. Learn about these differences, and always keep the characteristics of the dish in mind to select an appropriate variety of rice.

Preparation

Rice pilafs require 2 phases of cooking: in a skillet, and in the oven. While in the skillet, keep the rice moving to avoid burning it. Pilaf should be baked until all the liquid in the dish is gone, which typically takes 30 to 40 minutes. The rice should be soft, light, and fluffy. Fluff the pilaf with a fork before serving to prevent crushing the grains.

Creativity

There really aren’t any set rules for what you can add. Pilafs come in many forms and flavors from all over the world. Experiment freely, and look to other cultures for inspiration. Keep the entire meal in mind to help select ingredients that will complement the other components.

 

VCS Baking Tips

DSCN2088[1]On March 10, our Visiting Chef Series featured Chef Sarah Powers from Flour Bakery + Café. She brought in blueberry muffins for our trainees and used the same batter for a blueberry streusel cake. Baking is an art that’s all about timing and precision, and Chef Sarah had some great tips for making it easier.

Preparation: Always read the directions first to make sure all ingredients are  on hand. Once they are assembled, measure out the needed amount.  If the recipe calls for melted butter and eggs, make sure to cool the butter before use. This prevents it from cooking the eggs.

Texture: The texture of any baked good is determined by several factors, but a big one is gluten. Gluten is created when 2 proteins found in wheat and some other grains mix with water to form chains. Long chains of gluten are stronger and form tougher textures. This is ideal for more robust goods like bread. Short chains will result in a more tender texture, which is great for muffins and cakes. The more the ingredients are mixed, the stronger the gluten will become.

Storage: Batter doesn’t need to be baked immediately; it can be covered in stored in the fridge for 5-7 days.  In fact, baking batter the day after it was made can maximize the rise and fluffiness of the final product.

Presentation: The appearance of baked goods has a lot to do with how they are set up just before baking. Ingredients like blueberries and chocolate chips can cause stains and discoloration. To prevent this, don’t mix them in while making the batter. Instead, layer them and the batter into the baking vessel. For an even distribution, use an ice cream scoop to measure out the batter. If needed, use a butter knife or spatula to smooth it all out.