What Careers are Possible After Culinary School?

Oct 2010: In these uncertain economic times, lots of people are turning to cooking to make a living or supplement their living—and it’s working! What I am going to do here is describe some of the careers graduates of Tante Marie’s Cooking School have and give the specific example of Jennifer Pappas of Half Moon Bay who graduated from our Six-Month Part-Time Pastry Course in March, followed by my recipe for Mom’s Apple Pie shown here being made by my friend, Sophie.

What we do at Tante Marie’s is teach the professional students how to cook. Not only do they learn the theory and techniques of French cooking as it applies to modern California tastes, but they learn how good food should taste. After graduating, many of them continue their education by learning production in a Bay Area restaurant as an extern for a month, with the hope that they will be offered a job. We are very proud of recent graduates who are working in the kitchens of Quince and Nopa and baking at Tartine. Sometimes, graduates chose to try catering, food styling, or teaching cooking as an alternative to working in a restaurant or bakery. And, now many of them go right into becoming a personal chef. (A private chef is one who usually cooks and serves in a private home, while a personal chef usually drops off the meals for the family to reheat and serve.) Cooking for one or more families can be great fun and quite lucrative because you can make a variety of meals and people are happy to pay for good healthful food. Another modern career for cooking enthusiasts is testing recipes and food writing, specifically for blogs, websites, and cookbooks.

However, the really new thing is to make food to sell in local farm markets. You see, we all have to eat, and it’s even better if we can take pleasure in eating well thought out and well prepared delicious foods that we know are of good quality. Even before she graduated from the Pastry Course at Tante Marie’s, Jennifer was developing her recipes for fresh fruit tarts and scones. What she does is prepare her doughs ahead and spends all day Friday and early Saturday morning baking off her goodies. Then, she sells them on Saturday mornings at the Half Moon Bay Farmers Market. Now, she is getting orders from businesses in the area. And, she’s having a blast!

Here, for you are a few photos of various farmers that I met at this market. We came back with lots of wonderful vegetables to cook and some delicious pies. For a fresh fruit tart with edges that turn up, which is commonly called a Galette, you can make my flaky pastry (enough for two galettes) roll it out on a lightly floured board, and fill it with a mixture of about 2 cups for each tart of mixed berries with two teaspoonful of sugar. Jennifer adds a little lemon juice with blueberries or blackberries. Thank you, Jennifer, for your inspiration!

To make flaky pastry it is really important to keep the butter cold. So, the technique is to put the flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl and do what they call “cut in the cold butter.” The idea is to use two knives, a pastry fork, or a pastry cutter to break the cold butter into pieces the size of oatmeal flakes. If you shake the bowl, the large lumps of butter come to the top and you can go after them with the pastry cutter. If the filling is runny you should mix an egg yolk with the water and put it into a well in the center of the butter-flour mixture. The egg yolk will make the dough less flaky but also less likely to leak. Otherwise, you can use just water. With a fork straight up and down you mix the dough. Then, you bring it together with the fingers of one hand. The idea is that it is the fingers and the heel of the hand that are the coolest. If you pack the mixture like a snowball with the palm of the hands, you will melt the butter so that the dough will be tough when it bakes. When the dough is a shaggy mass, you should put it on the table and “fraissage” it with the heel of the hand. That is, spread it across the table and bring it together loosely two or three times to get the butter flakes to flatten and then come together. Then, cover it with wax paper, press it together lightly into a pancake shape, and chill it for 20 minutes. If the liquid mixes mostly with the flour and the butter stays relatively cold, the final product will be flaky. Remember, to keep the butter cold!

When rolling out dough, always roll away from you starting in the middle of the dough (not the bottom) and keep moving the dough on a lightly floured surface to keep it from sticking. The best is to roll straight and move the dough around so that the final dough is round. Here too you need to keep your hands off the dough so as not to warm it.