Culinary School

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Feb 14, 2008


I just finished the culinary arts program at the Professional Culinary Institute.  My section started in April, 2007.  It was 10 months of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights, from 6 to 11 pm.  

The last 2 nights of the program included a practical final.  Half of us one night, and the other half the next.  We each were required to prepare a 3 course meal for 2 chef judges and a 3rd plating for display. 

My 5 classmates and I worked for weeks planning, practicing, tasting, plating, experimenting.  We all made lots of forward progress and each probably had a night or two when it looked like nothing got better. 

Overall I'm thrilled with how my final worked out.  The process was challenging, frustrating, and rewarding.  The cooking during the 3 hours of the final was a major rush.  All that preparation and practice to try to produce the end product as planned, within the time limit, served at the right time, hot food hot, cold food cold--sounds pretty simple, maybe, but it didn't feel that way.  I wouldn't have guessed I'd enjoy the execution that much.  Surprise.    


Here's what I made.


Tuna Sashimi on a Woven Won Ton Mat, with Daikon Sprouts, Diced Apple and Papaya Salad, Wasabi Cream Sauce and a Soy Glaze



Main Course: Peking Duck Presented Three Ways

Mandarin Pancake with Duck Skin and Green Onions, with Hoisen Sauce with a Green Onion Brush

Duck Leg with Duck Breast Stir Fry.  Shanghai Noodles, Shitake Mushrooms, Carrots, on a Bed of Snow Peas

Duck Consommé with a Dumpling of Duck and Green Onions




Coconut Panna Cotta on an Almond Cookie, with Strawberry Mango Salsa, Topped with Green Tea Ice Cream.  The Chinese Character for Strength in a Tuile Cookie.





The 2 chef judges for our final are quite distinguished--I've included their bios below.  Chef Klaus is a Certified Master Chef, of which there are fewer than 80 in the United States. 

For the most part they had complimentary things to say about my dishes.   The dark sesame oil in the appetizer was too strong.  The tuna slices were way too thick (silly mistake).  Fruit in the dessert should have been cut more finely (my chef instructor, Chef Tomm Johnson, gave me that feedback only a week before, ja deh).   The most embarrassing mistake was that the consommé was not hot.  Starting with some duck stock I had made a very good consommé that night, but while keeping it hot for hour or so before service, I let it almost evaporate completely away.   And then, while plating the main course, I let it get cold.  Rookie.

But they both loved the duck, which requires a 2 day preparation period, and a good deal of practice.  I blew it up with a bicycle pump, scalded the skin with a boiling mixture of water, molasses, honey, ginger and herbs, and let it hang in the walk in fridge over night.  After roasting for a couple of hours, the skin was crispy and the meat was tender and quite tasty.  Yumm. 


I very much enjoyed the culinary program.  I found, way more than I would have guessed, that I love to cook with my family and friends, my kids and their friends, whoever's around.  To me that's by far the single biggest benefit. 

By no means am I an experienced, or even a very good cook.  I'm just brave enough to apply some basic, classic, straightforward techniques.  I understand more what's going on in a recipe so the whole process is less mysterious.  After the program I enjoy cooking for myself, trying new things, playing around.  I still enjoy watching cooking shows, but now what they're doing in their demonstrations fits into a framework I've been taught. 

These days I'm a little more critical of restaurant food than before, and I guess some of the mystique is gone since I know something about what goes on back in the professional kitchen; but, that seems like a small price to pay for all the fun I get to have cooking, experimenting, and celebrating with food, and with people close to me.



Klaus Freidenreich, CMC, AAC, CHE
Chef Instructor

Klaus Freidenreich is one of only 70 Certified Master chefs in the United States as recognized by the American Culinary Federation (ACF). He is the recipient of the 2001 ACF National Chef of the Year award and prior to joining the staff of PCI, he was the Program Chair for the Culinary Arts program at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. Chef Friedenreich has led many of his student culinary teams to victories in numerous competitions around the United States. He oversaw the student-run restaurant the Chef's Palette, which recently won the 2005 American Culinary Federation Achievement of Excellence Award.

Chef Friedenreich came to the United States from his native Germany in 1964 and spent the next 26 years in American restaurants and hotels. He made significant contributions to the United States Culinary Olympics Team in 1980. He contributed three personal Gold Medals as the Captain of the team that won 30 Gold Medal Awards. Also, In 1984, and again in 1988, he was an advisor to the winning U.S. Olympic teams.

Chef Friedenreich cooked for U.S. Presidents Carter and Ford on their campaign trails when he was Corporate Chef for Dobbs House Airline Catering. He was also the chef Manager of Indigo Lakes Country Club at Daytona Beach. He later became the Executive vice President of the United States ChefŐs Open. In 1971, Chef Friedenreich participated in the inauguration of the Walt Disney WorldŐs Contemporary Hotel. In the 1960s, he provided his skills to JosephŐs of Lock Ober, the Sheraton Hotel of Boston and the famous AnthonyŐs Pier 4. Other accomplishments included Executive Chef at OrlandoŐs Carlton House and at the Maison et Jardin Restaurant. Additionally, Chef Freidenreich created and ran KlausŐ Cuisine where he won 5 Golden Spoon Awards.


Chef Randy Torres
Culinary Arts Department Chair / Student Team Manager

Chef Randy Torres is an exciting addition to PCI's winning team. Chef Torres comes to the Professional Culinary Institute from Bear Creek Golf Club in Southern California, where he has been the Executive Chef for the past five years.

Chef Torres received his formal training and an Advanced Certificate from Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California, where he has served as a faculty member in the Culinary Program since 1999. Not only has Chef Torres excelled in some of the top country club and hotel kitchens in the country, his impressive record in Culinary Competitions really sets him apart as a star chef and instructor. He won his first Culinary Diploma at the Palm Springs Culinary Salon in 1995. Since then, he has won a Bronze Medal, eight Silver Medals, and two Gold Medals, in competitions across the country. He is currently Team Captain for the Western Region Culinary Olympics Team, with whom he won Gold and Silver Medals in the 2000 Olympic competitions.

As team manager at Orange Coast College, Chef Torres's squads have been Hot Food Category Champions in California State Competitions five years in a row, and have won three out of five Gold Medals at the Western Regional Conference Competition. We're proud and honored to have him on staff.


My Instructor

Chef Tomm Johnson
Chef Instructor

Chef Johnson has trained all over the world including Italy, Mexico and Thailand. He graduated from the Culinary School of Connecticut and has been a chef educator for over six years and is Serve Safe Certified. During his three year tenure as the coach for the Culinary School of Connecticut’s competition team he advanced them to their highest record of achievement ever due to his careful guidance and leadership.

Chef Johnson believes in the hands on approach with an emphasis on fresh and new products. He creates innovative recipes from scratch such as; vinegars, oils, sorbets, breads, ice cream, smoked foods, blown sugar, cheeses, gum and chocolate. He has mastered the techniques of Ice Carving, Asian Cuisine, Artisan Chocolates & Candies, and Artesian Bread Making. As a former student of Ewald Notters School of Confectionary Arts, Chef Tomm mastered the skills of pulled and blown sugar.

As an accomplished culinarian, he has held various positions such as the Executive Chef for Becco Fino in Florence, Italy and most recently, Executive Chef of La Sirena Restaurant located in Westport, Connecticut which specializes in hand made Italian regional cuisine.

Chef Tomm knows that in today’s culinary world, a mastery of the basic fundamentals of cooking and baking is essential for success. This belief, as well as his many talents has made him sought after as one of the best chef educators in the country.