By: Craig Munhall, Executive Chef
Everyone would love to cook like a professional. Throw a few things in a bowl and turn out something suitable for a king. I know how frustrating it can be to put in a lot of effort and the result turns out to be absolutely inedible. But to be a really good cook takes time and experience. It would be nice to condense time and experience and get on a fast track, but it truly won’t be authentic unless you take the time – that time requires.
I have worked with close to a hundred different cooks from all sorts of backgrounds. I’ve seen people with varying skills sets and all sorts of different passions. Having said that, I can tell you that it is my experience that truly good food is in direct proportion to the length of time someone spends in the kitchen – not skill or education. Who can argue that grandma’s corn bread is the best? Here at Guilford we have several cooks that have been in this industry for over 30 years. Lois over at the vegan station can make water taste like a million bucks. And this is my point! I and many others would love to have that uncanny ability, but we have to wait in line until our experience matches hers.
That’s where the Tao comes in to play. There is no sense in being disappointed or upset about the food you do create. Every time you prepare something you learn more about it. You learn times, colors, temperatures, combinations, techniques, and most importantly you learn what YOU like. So the important thing is that you keep cooking. Encourage yourself and over time you’ll get it. There was a time when I was curious about wines. I wished I had the lingo and the knowledge of the differences between wines. But this is not something that you can just switch on, or pick up by reading a book. In order to truly understand and appreciate wines you need to grow into it. It would go against the Tao to assume that you know enough. That is when they say that your “cup is full”. And in order to learn something new, you must empty it. So with good food, like a whole host of other things in life, it takes time and there is no short cut. Try to be patient and appreciate where you are right now and over time more will be revealed.
I love movies and documentaries. Over break I watched a movie called “Fat Head”. It’s streaming on Netflix right now. It’s a movie that shook things up with me. Basically the movie was a scientific study to disprove the assertions made in the film “Supersize Me”. In “Supersize Me” the host eats nothing but fast food for 30 days, he gains around 30 pounds, his cholesterol shoots up, and his liver enzymes go off the chart. In “Fat Head” the host eats nothing but fast food for 28 days and he loses 12 pounds, his cholesterol goes down 10 points, and his energy level shoots up. How is this possible? Of course there is more going on behind the scenes, but it’s definitely worth checking out.
I’m like most people: when I hear a convincing argument regarding a subject I tend to believe it, especially when it is backed by studies and experts. This sounds reasonable, right? Well, what do you do when conflicting sides of an argument are backed by the same studies? Polar opposites with equal scientific proof? What I am getting at is diet, more specifically vegetarian, vegan, low-protein diets versus a low carbohydrate, carnivorous diet. In the book “The China Study”, the author uses the “Framingham” study to make his point that an omnivorous, high protein diet, leads to heart disease and high mortality. In the film “Fat Head”, they use the same study to prove that there is no difference in mortality. The difference is that in the “China Study” which was published in 2006 they quoted research from 1961. And in “Fat Head” they quoted research from 1997. Which is accurate? The FDA says one thing and some expert says another. And then we’re off on conspiracy tangents — big business is forcing the FDA to recommend their foods in greater proportion than others, or the pharmacies recommending diets that ultimately create a need for their prescription medicines.
Of course I wouldn’t recommend a diet in this forum, but I would suggest watching “Fat Head.” For me, I’ve always carried extra weight. About 10 years ago I lost 80 pounds on the “Atkin’s” diet, eating hardly any carbs, of course I gained it back. Last year I lost 74 pounds going all vegan, with a high carb diet. And yes, I’ve gained it back. What’s next, exercise?!?!?!
By: Craig Munhall, Executive Chef
For this cooking subject – The Tao is time. Common question: “how long does it take to cook?” Like you have a roast beef and you want to cook it in the oven. The first question would be what temperature to set the oven on. But the second question would be, how long will it take? After you have your answer, has the item ever been over or under cooked? You followed the directions but it didn’t come out right? Well what’s up with that? There are many different variables that go into applying heat to food. Almost all heating sources vary to some degree. Even elevation/altitude can have an effect on cooking times (and how far a baseball travels – but that’s another subject). Because of these variables in a professional kitchen you will often hear things like “cook it till it’s done” , or my favorite, when someone says “How long should I cook this?” and the chef says, “till it’s ready”. This is the Tao of cooking that every chef adheres to. We cannot say that something will take x amount of time to cook. What we WILL say is something like check it in 20 minutes or take the temperature in an hour. Approximations in time are something that we learn through experience. When we don’t take this fluid approach thinner cuts of meat get overcooked and larger ones are rare, sauces and stocks don’t have the right consistency and flavor. Just as important as how long – is when to stop. For things like stocks and sauces, vegetables, and baking there is a need to arrest the cooking at the correct time. Again, the food will tell you when it’s ready (and your thermometer will confirm). You cannot blindly go on time, you need to pay attention to the food and care of it.
Guilford Dining Services Feedback is crucial – so please keep filling out the comment cards. Some recent comments have asked us to provide sliced deli meats and cheeses on the salad bar. Before we had the grinder station we had an elaborate deli bar there. So because of the feedback and the thought that for every comment I get there are probably more people that don’t write it out, but feel the same way – we brought it back starting today! The system works! :O)
By: Craig Munhall, Executive Chef
I was thinking about this blog entry and what I should write about and I looked down and there on my forearm is my tattoo of the Tao, so I thought I’d mention it. I’m no Taoist…but, as an analogy – you don’t have to play music in order to appreciate it.
Have you ever watched “Hell’s Kitchen” with Gordon Ramsey? When I was coming up in the kitchen, I worked for a few chef’s that had a little “spirit” similar to Gordon. For some reason, a lot of people think that in order to get ahead in the restaurant business you need to be a drill sergeant and scream at people. After all – you want them to do exactly what you say, right? If the guest is upstairs waiting for their meal and the waiter drops the plate, your first reaction might very well be to call him “a donkey” or worse! I mean that little mistake is going to mess up the timing of the entire table, including the reservation’s book. If a cook burns the Crab Bisque with $70 worth of crab in it, ripping his head off is your next step, right? But…for some reason that type of kitchen “persona” a.k.a. temper lost its hold on me as I grew up. Sure, when I was 19 and thought I knew everything, I thought that everyone had to listen to me because I was kitchen manager…yeah, big deal (whatever, I was naïve). Anyway, I decided to make a change and I took a line cook job at a better restaurant while I went to school. At school, I was introduced to something called the Tao. When I heard about it, it was like I already knew it intuitively – so I latched on. Like I said earlier, I’m no expert, this is more philosophy for me. The simplest thing I can say is that the Tao translated means “the way”. And the simplest way to understand the Tao and how it relates to my life and thinking is this: you should not force a square peg through a round hole. Pretty simple stuff, right? But think about it. Really think about it. Isn’t yelling at someone trying to force something unnatural? Is yelling at someone going to bring that food off the floor, un-burn the soup? No, it won’t. It is what it is. Relax and take comfort in the way. People will make mistakes. By their design people are not robots, their minds get distracted. How can you change that? You can’t, so go with it. I studied this philosophy for a year and when I got back into a leadership position I applied some of the understanding I had to stressful situations. Now, you could look at me and think I don’t care when mistakes happen. That is far from the truth, I care a great deal. But, when something goes wrong, the first course of action is fixing it, not changing my state (ie, yelling). Plus I think of mistakes as learning opportunities. So I look down at that mark on my arm on a regular basis and apply this thought…..how am I trying to force this situation? What are my incorrect expectations? Then I change my expectations and everything goes according to the Tao. You should check it out. There are lots of books on the subject. If you ever see me and I look mad, pinch me – and remind me of my blog!
By: Craig Munhall, Executive Chef
What a blast it was doing our last theme meal. Of course I hope the food was good, but the real fun was watching the chef’s at work. Most people think that French Cuisine is a pre-requisite for cooking but in truth it really isn’t. I’m sure there was a roux before Escoffier, however without his books and the books of others a lot of cooking knowledge would still be kept secret. Several of the chefs, myself included, have gone through culinary school and although all schools are different they are still faced with the same challenges. Like how do you teach a vast amount cuisine to a large group of people in a short period of time. On top of that, most people when they graduate, go on to cook more modern foods or location-based cuisines. So when the recipe calls for Robuchon cheese or French Roast Pork, everyone was like “I don’t know what that is -google it!”. Now our next challenge will be Hawaiian food – the names alone have cause more than one person to say-“whose idea was THIS!?” he he.
I was asked by our Corporate Executive Chef, Denise Simmons, if I would talk about my diet a little. A little while back, somewhere around March 2009, I read the book “The China Study”. It’s a book based on disease and diet, it’s a good book. It has tons of scientific information about how our body deals with protein, more specifically animal and dairy proteins. I won’t do a book report here, but it is worthy of a read. After reading the book I decided that if there was a way to reduce or eliminate the dreaded doctor speech- “Mr Munhall I regret to inform you that it’s cancer”, I was willing to make a change. So I went vegan and ate whole fruits, vegetables, and grains. It was surprisingly easy to do. I was not going to be too rigid on myself, like if I found out that the soup had chicken stock, or the “burger” patty contained egg whites, I wasn’t going to loose it. I would just learn what to do next time. I was surprised at how good I felt and how much energy I had. Important to note here that I did research this further and found out that I needed to take supplements- most importantly vitamin B-12. Apparently B-12 is the ONLY nutrient in meat that is difficult to get in a vegan diet. People would tell me that you can’t get protein in a vegan diet and I would laugh and say – “Have you ever seen a cow? A horse? Etc. , they seem to get more than enough protein and all they eat is GRASS!” Plus collectively we eat too much protein, most people eat the same amount of daily protein as professional athletes and don’t exercise at all….check out some literature on that. Now for the skinny- I weighed 288 pounds when I started, one year later I was 239. Some other things were happening in my life and in August 2010, I went back to a “normal” diet. Once I started eating everyday foods I started gaining the weight back. In four months I was back to 276 and it kept climbing. I think the problem was that as a vegan I could eat as much food as I wanted and my appetite increased, then I started eating all these dense calorie foods with the same appetite! I’m back on the vegan diet and down 7 pounds. I’m starting to feel better and my energy has picked up.
As a vegan I find it more difficult to get food. Normally, people get hungry while running errands and go through a drive-through and there are so many to choose from and they are all over the place. But what do vegans do? Hunt for a subway? Get a pack of garden rolls from the grocery store? Also, at home it can be a pain because when you’re sitting on the sofa it can be a drag to have to work with produce and dirty up a cutting board, etc. What has made it easy for me is the dining hall. Soy milk and cereal, Salad bar with all the fixings, Fresh vegetables, starches, fruits, vegan sandwiches, and of course LOIS and her station! There’s always something to eat. Of course it can be repetitive but whether you do it for Health or for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, there is an inherent sacrifice involved. So I’ve adapted to the routine. Cereal in the AM, Lois’s station for lunch, and the vegan dish or salad for dinner. I’m always open to suggestions for vegan dishes and I change the menu frequently. I certainly to not profess to know everything about diet and nutrition, there is a wealth of information out there to check out. One last thing to note about the change in diet. Before I went vegan my cholesterol was always around 240, and I was taking medicine at twice the normal dose. So even medicated by cholesterol was high. After the switch, about 4 months into it my doctor took me off the medicine. After being vegan for about 10 months my cholesterol was 195, without medication! If you have a similar story to share, please leave a comment. Thanks
Today for lunch Lois has Hummus Plates and Tomato Soup, but of which she makes with love. Steve is in the back getting ready to start preparing and marinated foods for tomorrow night, Fatma is making omelets, Tina is on the Sandwich station, Jason is cooking brunch, and we’re listening to some Richard Cheese, you have to youtube some of his stuff!
By: Craig Munhall, Executive Chef
Today was a busy day. Whew! We got a bunch of things done today so it was good. All day we waited for the snow to start falling. I’d walk through the kitchen and I’d hear “not yet” or “check the forecast again” . It didn’t start until later on this afternoon and now it looks like we’ll have a bunch of closings tomorrow.
Kelvin made a great lunch today, I heard a lot of positive feedback. Breakfast and dinner were both well received. Remember to use the comment cards at the exit of the dining hall to leave feedback. Any feedback is good. Just write down “Have this again” or “never have this again” that works.
We put together a theme meal for Thursday that should be quite cool. We’re going to do all French food. We will do our best to bring out the flavors and traditions of France. Of Course we will have ratatouille! And Coq Au Vin! We’re going to make the ratatouille like they did in the movie…with a mandolin, how cool is that?
Today we got started with our composting program for the semester. We brought all the pulp from the weekend down to the Earth Tub. If it hasn’t already been mentioned or you haven’t heard, we compost all pre and post consumer waste. We have this really cool pulper that grinds the scraps of food from the kitchen and the leftovers on your plate in the dining hall. It looks like your typical garbage disposal but it’s connected to a device that spins water out of the mix and then pushes the pulp out a shoot. We collect that stuff and bring it down to the Earth Tub- which is a HUGE composter…of which the school has TWO! The resulting mulch is used on campus and in the community garden. We’re proud to be a part of this system. When I am part of being sustainable I feel like I’m creating good karma, and it makes me want to do more. Speaking of which, I had a conversation with a student named Anna this evening and we were talking about living sustainable. I told her that I had watched the movie “The 11th Hour”, she hadn’t seen it, if you haven’t either, I recommend it for those interested in the environment. Anyway, as I was driving home I thought about our conversation and what I was doing at home that was sustainable. I came up with a few things – we use a set-back thermostat that conserves energy, we use those fluorescent bulbs that replace regular bulbs both inside and outside the house, we have one of those water filters on the faucet so we do not buy any bottled water, and I recycle. We also control water usage when brushing teeth, etc. These measures not only help with my carbon footprint but also on the wallet! Being sustainable at the home is like multi-tasking!
I was wondering do you have a favorite dish? I think it would be cool to put some of your favorites on the menu – let me know. We are making a dish for brunch on Sunday called Hamburger Hash, it was a request from Peter, a student, he also provided the recipe. If it’s good then let ME know….if it’s bad, let HIM know! HA!! Good Times!
One last note – We have a BUNCH of local produce coming in tomorrow. Even though it’s winter we can still get North Carolina tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, potatoes, turnips, beets, sprouts, and parsnips. Look for them on the salad bar and as your veggies. I’m going to be ordering a bunch of greens next, all local!
By: Craig Munhall, Executive Chef
What’s “C-MO”? It’s me! Craig Munhall (aka C-MO) and as of October I have been the Executive Chef here at Guilford Dining. I’ve been at Guilford since 2008, mostly handling catering and being a part of overall management. This new role is allowing me to express my passion for food. I love food! You wouldn’t know it because I’m paper thin (NOT!). Truthfully, one look at me and you’d say – “this guy loves food!” and that’s okay. Too bad I’m not as driven to work out!
In addition to having fun with food, I’m going to be having a little fun with this blog, sharing what’s happening with food and what we’re doing in and around dining. I want it to be fun and informative, and helps me relate more with everyone at Guilford. But you’ll let me know if any of that’s working, right? I’m so grateful to be here, Guilford has the best faculty and staff I’ve worked with and the best students. You guys make my day.
Feedback is very important to me, everything from the comment cards in the dining hall to “likes” on our facebook page, I love it. It has been said that “feedback is the breakfast of champions” and I believe it. So going forward I invite everyone to communicate with me or the other dining staff any of your likes, dislikes, and suggestions.
We have a lot planned for this coming semester. We’re going to start with a French themed meal on the 13th and there are many more theme meals to come. We’ve made changes to our Pizza menu and soon you’ll be able to order pizzas online! Please take advantage of our delivery service, stay warm and let us brave the cold! We’ll be holding our first food committee meeting of the semester on Jan 31st and we’re going to be holding a raffle for attendance, details to come. And lots of stuff will be happening on facebook – more coupons for pizza for starters.
I’m keeping it short, but want you to know we’re here in the kitchen getting ready for your return. It’s too quiet! Montese is blasting Maxwell out of this beat-up boom box as she’s making a cheese dip for a catering event. Four fresh cheeses: mozzarella, sharp cheddar, Swiss, and provolone = delicious! Ann is here making dressings for tomorrow: our house, balsamic vinaigrette, and the ever popular ranch. I’m working on the staff schedule for next week. What’s missing is serving lunch to 500 plus people! So travel safely and we’ll see you soon!