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Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Culinary Conference, Day 2

Pittsburgh is a beautiful city. A onetime steel mecca, a pivotal centerpiece in the French and Indian War, and now a popular tourist destination, practically every corner provides a photo op. There are the three rivers, mountains, bridges, tunnels, industrial complexes, the Steelers’ stadium, the place where the Buccaneers play. You get where I’m going with this. But if something doesn’t smell like baked yeast and browned butter, I don’t think to take a picture. So here’s a picture I found on the internet.

Lovely, isn’t it? Now, back to food.

There’s a certain feeling you get when you go to a culinary school, or any vocational school, in my opinion. One of our speakers put it best when he said that they are where misfits find a home. Picture a live version of The Breakfast Club where everyone cooks. There’s something immensely comforting about seeing kids who, for one reason or another, have finally found their niche after so many years of not fitting into traditional school. The kids we encountered seemed passionate and excited to be there, even at eight in the morning–a far cry from most liberal arts students I knew (myself included.) The Art Institute’s overall post-graduate placement rate is an impressive 89%. In their hotel/restaurant management program, the rate for 2011 was 100% with a starting salary of $40,000. Also, they made these.

I have no idea what that has to do with anything, but look how pretty!

Anyhoo, our speaker of the day was Chef Dave Russo. He showed us how to make cheese. First goat milk ricotta and then fresh mozzarella.

For the ricotta, he heated goat’s milk to about 185 degrees, added salt and lemon juice, and stirred until curds began to form. (They don’t form as well with pasteurized milk, by the way.) Once the curds began to separate, he poured the concoction into a cheesecloth-lined strainer. (Why do chefs always have cheesecloth lying around? I’ve never even seen that stuff in real life, and yet they seeminly have it coming out of every orifice.) While the ricotta was straining, he made mozzarella from pre-formed buffala curds. (The female buffalo is called a buffala, something else I learned last week.)

He heated the curds in salted water until they began to melt, and then he pulled them using two dowels (sort of like taffy.) Not content to simply make cheese like any common peon, he then rolled it flat, lined it with prosciutto, and rolled it into a pretty design. Here’s a picture of the mozzarella along with a salad he made. It was topped with a simple vinaigrette (mind you he didn’t use recipes for any of this stuff; that’s why they pay him the big bucks.) The salad was amazing, and this is coming from someone who considers sugarcane a vegetable.

After a break, he taught us how to filet fish, (the one on the table is a flounder and then a salmon) and then he made some fish/cheese dishes.


This is poached salmon with polenta and beurre blanc with some of the fresh ricotta on top. For the polenta, he used the leftover whey from the cheese and added goat cheese and heavy cream. Seriously, best. polenta. ever.

Next he made a salmon mousse and stuffed it into the flounder. The noodles are soba which I learned are made of buckwheat. He made the mistake of setting all the plates in front of me. Heh, heh. I’d like to say the others got to taste the heavy cream-infused salmon mousse, but only the Lord knows for sure.

Finally, sautéed red snapper with vegetable ragout. (Did I mention that this was after we consumed a catered Italian meal at lunch? It takes conditioning to be able to withstand such a grueling day of eating without getting the meat sweats.)

After class, we retrieved my niece and nephew from the hotel where they had been keeping themselves entertained. My niece took this picture of one of the trolley cars that goes up and down the mountain. I don’t think she took any pictures of food. Crazy, I know.

Traffic in Pittsburgh was horrible. It took a half an hour to go a few blocks, and it was rush hour. So of course we picked up the kids, loaded up the car, and headed across town to a bakery.

With traffic, it took almost an hour to go seven miles. But, look, they put chocolate in their éclairs. Chocolate!

Side note: I have two friends from the Pittsburgh area. Coincidentally they’re both named Amber. For the last few years, I heard them lovingly describe smiley face cookies from an area restaurant. All this time, I thought they were saying Eaton Park. Then we passed a billboard with a smiley face and an ad for Eat ‘N Park.

I had one of those light bulb moments that had my sister careening through traffic to try and make the exit. The food was typical diner fare, but kids ate for .99 cents, so my nephew got two meals. And it came with one of the iconic smiley face cookies. It was an exciting time for us all. Now I want to go all over again. Next time I’ll try to take some pictures of the scenery. Probably. Maybe. Perhaps someone could put a bakery in the Steelers’ stadium; I’d definitely take a picture of that.


About vanessagraybartal

Author. Eater. Wife. Mother. Not necessarily in that order.

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