A day at SAIT’s culinary bootcamp

We are 10 minutes from lunch service when chef informs us the rabbit legs currently roasting in the oven will need 10 more minutes to finish, on top of the additional 10 we will need to pan fry them to get the bacon they are wrapped in crispy, as well as the time we need slice them and carefully plate them next to Pont Neuf potatoes, caramelized Brussels sprouts and thin, sweet carrots.

We are officially in the weeds.

Rewind three hours and we are a group of seven people sitting in one of the classrooms just off the massive kitchen that serves as the training ground for many of SAIT’s culinary programs. School is out for the semester, but the kitchen is open to us, the students of a four-day, intensive culinary bootcamp set to put us through the paces of working in a restaurant kitchen. For eight meals, those who have signed up for the course will rotate through appetizers, main dishes and desserts, preparing two dishes per day to chef’s standards. We will then dine on the three-course meal we have prepared in the oddly empty Highwood Dining room.


At the invitation of SAIT, I am here to try out the program for one day. In the morning, dressed in my chef’s jacket and hat and oddly appropriate shoes — how very un-gwendolyn — I am excited and eager to get into the kitchen. By the end of the day, I am exhausted and have renewed my appreciation for the hard work chefs put in. I also leave, though, knowing some new skills — even if it’s unlikely I will never again butcher a rabbit. (Not that I was very good at it in the course either.)

Chef Jacket Selfie

A new program for SAIT, the culinary bootcamp is aimed at those with a solid base of cooking skills, those who have taken other continuing education-type courses on campus and are looking for something a little more challenging. The seven of us are treated similarly to the professional cooking students; we’re shown where things, are told our menu and given recipes, but are then mostly left to our own devices under the watchful eye of Michael Mandato, the chef instructor who oversaw the bootcamp.

One of the chefs on SAIT’s enviable team of cooking instructors, Michael came to Calgary after working in hotels all over North America. His New York accent, though, makes it clear where he was raised. He makes no bones about what his expectations are from us and it becomes clear early on that those are high.

This, I think at one point, is why I am likely not cut out to be a chef.

But that’s the point of the boot camp. This is not an easy-going, lunch-and-learn type of class. This is getting put through the paces of what it’s like to work in a restaurant (though thankfully not for any paying customers), with all the prep and scramble and cooking and trying to nail down timing, working backward from when your plate is supposed to hit the table. This is home ec on steriods.

I ask to join the entree team since I figure — correctly — it will be the most challenging part of the meal. Along with two other women, we are tasked with butchering rabbits and preparing the legs to be wrapped in bacon, roasted and then pan-fried, making a madeira sauce and Pont Neuf potatoes (fat, squat french fries, essentially). That’s just for lunch. For dinner, we will need to make a root vegetable gratin, a tamarind duck breast and some spiced fruit chutney for the side. And, because this is restaurant-type situation, we also need to do prep for the team taking over entrees the next day — that means searing off short ribs and wrapping and labelling them for a chill overnight in the cooler.

The rabbits — one of the first tasks — are my undoing. As in, I have no idea what I’m doing and have to repeatedly ask for help from a patient Mandato and one of my teammates, a home economics teacher well versed in skills that have escaped me.

This, I have no doubt, is partly why we are in the weeds, still waiting for our dish to come out of the oven to pan fry, to slice, to serve when the clock has technically already run out.

Slicing the rabbit leg

In a flurry, with the three of us — and a chef who I suspect would definitely be marking us down if we were in his class — working together quickly, the dish gets plated and we head into the Highwood Dining Room for a luxurious three-course lunch prepared by the bootcamp teams. A scallop ceviche starts the meal that is then capped off with a chocolate mousse.

Plating II

Ceviche appetizer

Rabbit with carrots and Pont Neuf Potatoes

It feels indulgent to sit down after racing around and I’m impressed with what we’ve all managed to pull together. Mandato praises and offers critiques on the dishes so we can learn where we can make improvements and it isn’t long before we’re back in the kitchen for round 2.

This time, at least, we are getting the hang of things. We know where the ingredients are, where the utensils and pots are located. There is now a rhythm to our team and we are quicker to jump in and offer to do things or help when it looks like one of us needs some assistance. The duck entree with its tamarind sauce, chutney and (ridiculously decadent and delicious) root vegetable gratin (can you decipher that this was the piece I worked on?) come together much more smoothly. (Though, as I am about to add all the different vegetables to the pot of boiling water at once, Mandato with a knowing nod and slightly cheeky smile asks if I am making sure only one type of root vegetable is going in at a time. “Yes, chef!” I say, though we both know he’s caught me from making an error that would lead to a mushy gratin.)


Grilled shrimp appetizer

Plated coconut panna cotta

And as we sit down for dinner, I survey the dish, pleased that I contributed to this plate, this meal that we are all enjoying with a glass of wine.

My feet ache, my bangs are aswirl from the heat of the kitchen and being trapped under the chef’s hat and I fear someone will need to roll me to my car I’m so tired, but I have a sense of accomplishment that wipes that all away. It’s been a long time since I was a student — and I’m not likely to sign up for the two-year program — but this taste of professional cooking, this challenge of being in a massive kitchen and needing to worry about timing and plating and helping my fellow cooks, that was delicious.

For more information about the SAIT bootcamps (there’s a pastry one!), visit SAIT. The next round will run May 30 to June 2, 2017.

Thank you to SAIT for allowing me to join the class.

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Turning the page

Excuse me, just let me dust off the cobwebs a bit.

There. Much better.


Yes, it’s been awhile since I posted on these pages. That will be changing now, though. As some of you may know, I was laid off from my job as the food writer at the Calgary Herald in mid-January as part of the Postmedia-wide cuts. It was a shock, yes. And I am, admittedly, still reeling a bit. But there is one constant in life — for me, at least — and that is eating. And cooking and baking things so that I can eat them.

So, here I am.

There’s a somewhat poetic symmetry in returning to this blog to share recipes and eating adventures. After all, it was because of Patent and the Pantry that I was offered the position as the food writer at the paper in the first place. And now, as I turn the page on that chapter, it feels good to go back to where it all started.

It’s a return to posting recipes and photos, but I’ll also be doing a little more around restaurants and culinary happenings, product reviews, dining out and, my favourite thing, eating while traveling.

Come join me as I turn this page.

Looking to get in touch? You can get me at gwendolyn_richards (at) hotmail (dot) com.

And now, for some cake p0rn.



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Leftovers III

One of the awesome things I got to do this summer was appear on Breakfast Television and judge some of the city’s food trucks. For three mornings (four, if you include the day when I announced the winner), I got up extra early and — before most people had their first coffee — chowed down on smoked meat sandwiches, burgers, donuts, French Fries and gelato.

Yes, sometimes my life is pretty amazing.
I mean, this is my kind of breakfast.
One tall burger

I had the pleasure of judging with John Gilchrist and Calgary Farmers’ Market’s Amanda Bonner. (The Best Of segment tied in with the Sundown Chowdown event at the market that weekend. I judged some of those dishes too. Oooof.)
Here we are preparing to try the Whole Truck Burgers and Poutines from Alley Burger.
Judging Alley Burger for BTV

This is The Special from Red Wagon Diner. Although not a huge smoked meat fan, I really loved this sandwich.
Red Wagon Diner's The Special

There were even ice cream sandwiches from Fiasco Gelato.
Fiasco Gelato ice cream sandwich

In the end, the winner was the Naaco Truck. But I have to give shout outs to Cheezy Bizness, which does fantastic grilled cheese sandwiches. I particularly loved The Big Cheese, which has a mix of cheddar and gruyere, pimento cheese, dill pickles and shaved red onion. And one of these days I am going to try a Mac Melt, which is grilled cheese with mac and cheese. Oh, yes! (I also love that owner Nicole is a huge proponent of local and runs her truck as close to waste-free as possible.) And another shout out to Los Compadres. They dished up some truly Mexican fare and the best mole sauce I’ve ever tried.

The folks from Teatro opened a new spot on Stephen Avenue this fall. Cucina is rustic and charming in decor, but the food is impeccably done.
Cucina place setting

Chef John Michael MacNeil has created a menu of bistro-style dishes with a Teatro influence. Rosemary roasted porchetta is tender and deeply flavoured. On the sandwich, the rich meat is contrasted with an apple-celery slaw.
Porchetta sandwich from Cucina

The Chicken Liver Parfait is also fantastic.
Chicken liver parfait from Cucina

A couple of weeks after having lunch there, I was back having brunch. Loved that instead of hashbrowns, you can get servings of pan-fried gnocchi hash. I was glad to get back because I really wanted to try the BBT (Bacon Basil Tomato) sandwich, which isn’t on the lunch menu.
BBT sandwich from Cucina

We may have had eyes bigger than our stomachs.
Breakfast at Cucina
But it was worth it.

CRMR has added to its stable by opening Bar C on 17th Avenue. May I recommend the Sazerac? Because I do.
Sazerac from Bar C

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Meanwhile, over at my day job

Recipes galore!

(But, full disclosure before we get any further, you’ll have to click through to read more and get the recipes. Think of it kind of like keeping church and state separate.)

Over at my day job, I’m a few months into a new column that has me keeping busy, but very happy.

It involves tackling some of the hundreds of cookbooks that come across my desk by reviewing them, cooking from them and photographing the results. My favourite part is the column name: Cooking the Books. (OK, reality check, my favourite part is getting paid to cook from cookbooks and take photos and eat the results. My life is pretty charmed these days.)

So far, I’ve made some pretty easy stuff and had some adventures with others, like Martha Stewart’s sticky buns, which made so much dough that I had no idea what to do with it all.

But good lord, were these tasty.
Sticky Buns II

Sticky Buns

Read the whole story and get the recipe over here.

Something A LOT easier were these refrigerator pickles from Ted Allen’s cookbook. You know him from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Chopped.

I’ve come to realize that I really love a good pickle. (Especially these ones that I make with my Teriyaki Trout.)
Refrigerator Pickles

Feel like getting in a pickle? You can get the story and recipe by clicking through.

Love her or hate her, I have to admit that I appreciate Rachael Ray’s love for burgers.

From her latest, The Book of Burger, I tried out a Satay Slider, topped with a cucumber-mint relish. It was good enough that I ignored the fact that I hate how she calls sandwiches, “sammies.”
Satay Slider

Check out my story and the recipe.

I completely fell in love with Nigel Slater’s Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard when it landed on my desk. It is just . . . gorgeous. The photographs, the writing, the fonts. Oh man, I love a beautiful font.

Beautiful Ts in this font

And the cover. Dreamy.

Nigel Slater's Ripe

I made his Blackberry Focaccia and it was heavenly.

Blackberry Focaccia

I have a not-so-secret love of southern food. Biscuits and gravy? Yes, please. Chicken and waffles? Order it up. And this, chicken-fried steak.
Chicken-fried Steak

Oh yes.

It didn’t look exactly like the photo in the cookbook, but I did not care.

Find the story and recipe here.

Probably one of the most hilarious ones so far (other than the dough fiasco of the sticky buns) was this one for Champagne-Strawberry Jell-O. Mostly because I was thinking to myself, “How on earth will the bubbles stay bubbly?” And then, I didn’t quite follow the instructions and they got over bubbled. Live and learn.
Strawberry Champagne Jell-O

Want to put some wiggle in your dessert? Head on over to check out the story.

Lastly, for the summer issue of HERS magazine, I blitzed up some Gazpacho. This is like salad in a soup bowl and as soon as it actually gets hot here, I’ll be whipping up another batch.

As part of the Gazpacho package, you can watch me make it by clicking through. Warning, it will autoplay.

(And, if you really want to, you can check out videos of me making Lemon Bars and, *gasp*, a Souffle.)

I’ve got a few other posts in my back pocket, including some Szechuan Green Beans, Butterscotch Sauce and an easy, one-pan Roast Salmon. I promise to get them up in the next two weeks or so.


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In the last few months, I’ve shot photos for meals and food adventures here and there that haven’t made it in to any posts. Julie and I were joking that we should just do posts of these leftovers with no real preamble, just letting the photos speak for themselves.

So, yup, that’s what this is.


Pasta Carbonara

Pasta Carbonara. (Recipe over here)

Pasta with tomatoes, peppers and wilted spinach

Penne with cherry tomatoes, roasted peppers and wilted spinach in a cream sauce.

Japa Dog

Oroshi dog, topped with freshly grated daikon from Japa Dog in Vancouver. My favourite part was chatting with the staff in Japanese.

Shio Ramen

Shio ramen from Hokkaido Ramen Santouka. Check out Andree’s review for more.


Charcuterie from Cassis.

Steak and potatoes

Steak and potatoes from Cassis.

Strawberry Tart

Strawberry tart from Cassis.

Shrimp Po' Boy

Shrimp po’ boy from Big & Little’s in Chicago.

Lights at the Publican

Lights at Publican in Chicago.

Cinnamon Bun

Pecan sticky bun from Publican in Chicago.

Digging in

Digging in to the Pecan sticky bun at Publican in Chicago.

Kimchi Fried Rice

Kimchi fried rice for brunch at the Publican in Chicago.

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Pickled Onions and Onion Jam

As a kid — like almost all kids, I imagine — I was resolutely against onions. No, not in any dishes, please and thank you. And I was totally convinced that I could tell when they were in something. Until my mum did a little experiment. With my eyes closed, she gave me a piece of cooked celery and a piece of sauteed onion to taste. If I could tell them apart, I won. And if I couldn’t, then I wasn’t allowed to complain about onions ever again.

I failed.

Even though it was a 50-50 shot.

Red Onion

Now, I find the whole thing amusing. These days, almost all of my favourite dishes start with sauteeing some diced onions in butter or olive oil or both. (Like this one or this one or this one. Huh. Think I have a pasta addiction? Yeah.)

Of course, they don’t have to just be the start of a dish.

A few months ago, over at my day job, I wrote a piece about saving the standard sandwich. I made some jazzed up mayo with lemon juice and a whole bunch of herbs and then I made onion jam. That was my first time making it and it was a revelation. Sweet and savoury, rich and that slight hit of vinegar. Dear god help me, I was eating it with a fork. Seriously. And I had just made some no-knead bread and I had a chunk of brie and for the next three days, that became my go-to snack. (That and the herb mayo on toast with thin slices of tomato. Drool.)

Onion Jam II

A few weeks ago, I made a little Mexican feast (guacamole — recipe coming — and slow-cooked pork and tortillas) and at the last second, I thought nothing could improve this delicious trifecta than a little zing from pickled onions. I did a quick surf around the web, found a recipe and whipped them up. It made those little tacos sing. Seriously.

And then, a few days ago, I bought two red onions for reasons that are entirely unclear to me. And so, with two red onions and two recipes that would transform those little purple globes into something amazing, (And that’s with me liking red onions to begin with.) I got cracking.

I made Pickled Onions and Onion Jam.

I didn’t have brie this time around, so I’ve been eating the onion jam with Monterey Jack. Less fancy, still tasty. And I don’t have homemade tortillas, slow-roasted pork and guacamole, but I do have toasted bagels and ripe avocados that I’ve just mashed on top before lacing on top a few forkfuls of pickled onions. So simple, so good.


Adding the red onion

Pickled Onions

One quick note on the pickled onions: I made them the first time without the fennel and the second time with. Since I don’t love fennel, I will probably leave it out from now on. But if you do actually like fennel, then go for it. Other recipes I found also called for allspice berries (don’t have any; trying really hard to stop buying ingredients for just one recipe) and dried chiles (don’t have any and didn’t really want that kick of heat.) So, in short, this is totally adaptable. This is how I did it this time around.

Pickled Onions

Adapted from several sources.

  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 5 peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 large red onion, peeled, and thinly sliced into rings

In a small, non-reactive saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar, salt and spices until the mixture comes to a boil.  Add the onion slices and lower heat, simmering gently for about a minute.  Remove from heat and let cool. Transfer the onions and the liquid into a container and refrigerate.

Sauteed onions

Onion Jam

Onion Jam

  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) butter
  • 2 red onions, halved and sliced into 1/4-inch (1/2-cm) moons
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) fresh thyme
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) sugar
  • pinch salt

In a saute pan, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat until melted.

Add onions and a pinch of salt (which helps to draw out the onions’ moisture) and garlic (if using); saute until onions are cooked and caramelized, about 15 minutes. Add sugar and thyme, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Add vinegar. Simmer until it is thick and has a jam-like consistency, about 5 minutes. Remove garlic clove.

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Contests are So Nice

I’m a bit late to the party on this one, but there’s nothing like a tight deadline to get the creative juices going, right?

I was approached a couple of weeks ago and told about the contest that has been put together by So Nice, the soy beverage company. They’re asking people the question: How would you spend $5,000 toward a better organic world?

The answer will give one person the $5,000 to put their plan into action.

The hitch? The deadline is December 31, so it’s time to put your thinking caps on.

I’ve been trying to make some changes to green my world, so to speak. Eating more local food, eating organically a little more often, stepping up my recycling efforts. None of this is earth-shattering; it’s just simple everyday stuff that isn’t too hard to incorporate into everyday living.

But that’s just me.

But what about you? You probably have some big plans or cool ideas.

If you think you’ve got a winning idea (or not even; you can just go and vote on those others have put forward), head to the So Nice Facebook page and enter. Who knows, maybe you’ve got a winner.

I have to admit, I don’t usually go for soy milk, but as part of the pitch I was given some of the So Nice original and these hot chocolate shavings from Cocoa West, an organic chocolatier located on Bowen Island (a very quick ferry ride from North Vancouver). I had never seen anything like them. Instead of a powder, they were literally small shavings of chocolate that easily melted into warmed milk (or, in this case, warmed soy milk). Heat, whisk, drink.

Yeah, it was good.

Disclosure: I was sent So Nice beverage and the chocolate shavings, along with information about the contest. There was no obligation to blog about any of it. I have chosen to because I think it’s a cool contest and the hot chocolate was tasty. Plus, you know, I was just fascinated with the hot chocolate shavings idea and thought it would be cool to tell you about it.

So Nice and Cocoa West Hot Chocolate

Cocoa West

Hot Chocolate - the beginning

Hot chocolate

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And the nominees are…

I got some lovely news earlier this week. Patent and the Pantry has been nominated for a Canadian Blog Award!

This blog was a pet project for me when I started it, but I have really loved working on it over the last 18 months. I think as it continues to grow, it really is getting better and better. I have enjoyed working harder on my photos and taking on a few projects that I may not have attempted otherwise. And I have really loved connecting with you guys, who have been quick to offer compliments and advice when one or the other is needed.

So, you can check out the Canadian Blog Awards here. I’m in the Crafts, Cooking and Other Activities category. I’d love your vote, but, of course, it’s still an honour to be nominated.

EDIT: Thanks to everyone who voted! The polls are now closed



Striped tomatoes

(The tomato photo has nothing to do with anything; I just liked it and have not had a chance to use it yet.)


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