Culinary School Confidential: Level 4 - Family Meal

Chicken and lentils
Chicken and Lentils

So I'm half way through this little adventure now folks. Time seems to be flying by quicker everyday.

As of level 4, we students begin cooking for other people. I guess the assumption is that by this point you can be trusted to make things that taste relatively good and hopefully not make anyone sick.

Level 4 is divided into two sections, Family Meal and Buffet. Half the class does one, the other does the second, and then we switch. My group did Family Meal first.

Steak and Chayote with Pico de Gallo
Steak and Chayote with Pico de Gallo

The name of the game with Family Meal is ‘Get it Done.’ At school, Family Meal is responsible for making food for everyone who needs to be fed within the school; that means everyone who works there and all students in the French, Italian, pastry, and bread programs who aren't making lunch for themselves. That's a lot of people. (By the way, restaurants do this for their staffs as well.) There are usually a couple of proteins, at least one vegetable, a starch or two, a vegetarian option, and a salad bar. Lunch gets delivered to a few classes everyday at 11:30, and a buffet gets set up for everyone else by 11:45.  Every morning is a hustle to get everything cooked and ready on time . . . or close to on time. The pace then slows down a little in the afternoons as we do prep work for the next day.

A lot of my classmates did not care for this section and I understand why. Everything takes longer than you think it will when you're producing it in bulk, and you have no idea just how tedious chopping or prepping a vegetable can be until you have to do crate after crate all at once.

Also, hauling around those kinds of quantities is REALLY exhausting. During the entire time I was doing Family Meal, I would fall asleep pretty much as soon as I'd sit down -- on the subway, in cabs, at home, anywhere – plop down, sigh, snore. I was starting to think I was narcoleptic.

All of that said, I actually kind of liked doing Family Meal. Our class is half the normal class size-- we're now 12, a full class is 24 – and then remember, the class is divided in half between Family Meal and Buffet.  This means that we had only 6 people putting out the food for all of those people. Nonetheless, I think we put out pretty damn good food most of the time given our limited manpower and I was really proud of our little crew for that.  From comments we’ve heard, others seem to agree. Sometimes we'd be a few minutes late, but hey, give us some credit . . . we were usually close.

Family Meal Team
Our Family Meal Crew with our Chef 
(Picture courtesy of Anna Dais)

I also liked the up and down pace. Additionally, since the idea was to get it done and make it good, our Chef allowed us some leeway and creativity in preparing our assigned dishes. (I'll leave you with one recipe at the end of the post. I already posted our fried chicken recipe.) Also, certain things were kind of fun to prep in bulk. For example, when else would I get to mix 70 lbs of meat for meatloaf? It was rather fun to squish around, although really, really cold.

Giant vat of meat
35 lbs of ground pork and beef- half of the total quantity.

The one thing I just really could not stand was Stock Day. Family Meal is also responsible for making stocks for the school and the restaurant and we'd take making them in turns.  This is a very different situation from making a nice pot of stock like we do at home. This is carrying around boxes and boxes of chicken and veal bones and large quantities of vegetables.  For the veal stock, the bones and veg have to be roasted, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but now you’re handling the already super heavy veg and bones in huge roasting pans that get really, really hot. Additionally, some of the doors on the convection ovens that we often use have the happy habit of unexpectedly swinging back at you. I nearly doubled my total burn count just in my two weeks in Family Meal.

Then all of the bones and vegetables have to be dumped in a giant steam kettle, which gets filled with water. Eventually, the stock has to be strained out into 12-qt cambros containers (usually about 4 to 5 containers of each the chicken and veal stocks), followed by a lot more heavy lifting while cooling, transporting, and storing those containers. Blech! I hated stock days. 

Still, on the whole I kind of enjoyed Family Meal . . . but I have to admit that I’m a lot less exhausted since moving on to Buffet.

Platian Chips 
Lots and lots of Plantain Chips


Barley with Roasted Mushrooms

Roasted Mushrooms and Barley

I made this dish on one of the days I was assigned to do the vegetarian option and I was really happy with how it turned out.

I simply cooked the barley according the instructions on the package in veggie stock. (You can use whatever type of stock you like or even water.)

While the barley cooked, I roasted mixed mushroom in the oven that had been tossed with oil, salt, and pepper until the were golden brown.

To add extra flavor, I roasted a couple of heads of garlic (remember, I was cooking for a lot of people, so scale down for home purposes) that had been doused with olive oil and wrapped in foil.  When the garlic was soft (I started checking at about 30 min) I allowed it to cool, then mashed it and mixed it with butter to make garlic butter.

When everything was done, I simply tossed it all together and added, salt, pepper, and seasonings to taste. You can add whatever spices and herbs you’d like.


Cut and Burn Count: 7 new burns to report.  Yeah, my hands and arms kind of look bad now. Plus, a blister from chopping huge amounts of veg, which burst, so I guess we’ll count it as a cut.

Total: 11 cuts, 17 burns


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