Garde manger: The culinary wonders of keeping food

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When was the last time you enrolled in a class that you could not spell or pronounce?

This fall quarter, Chef Dan Thiessen recommended I take garde manger as part of the Culinary Institute’s offerings. He told me this class would not only be as interesting and colorful as the Asian Cooking I course I took last spring but the imagery would be “very cool to photograph.”

One of the best ways to describe food prepared in this class is to think of the last time you attended a fancy buffet or reception where the appetizers, hors d’oeuvres, salads and sandwiches were served and you could not get enough because they looked and tasted so good!

The instructor for this course is Chef Robin Leventhal, who not only excels in garde manger, but manages to mentor student chefs to bring out the very best in their creativity.

When I purchased the text for the class, “Garde Manger — The Art and Craft of The Cold Kitchen,” which was published by the Culinary Institute of America, the first thing I noticed was superb photography throughout the book.

The term “garde manger” means “keep to eat.” Without any refrigeration, our ancestors needed a cold food storage place to keep preserved foods such as hams, sausages, pickles and cheeses, and it was usually located below ground level.

This class started at 7 a.m. Monday through Thursday and at about 10:30 a.m., final plates were to be assembled in the kitchen for the chef’s critiques.

As a photographer/student in this class, my challenge was to see if I could capture the natural look of the food and portray the beauty of the final plates.

Normally I would photograph the preparation of ingredients early in the morning, and then catch my fellow student chefs as they meticulously assembled their creations for the final plating.

Due to the extreme delicateness of the food prepared for this class, I purchased two 11-inch Mercer plating tongs, to help replace or reset any plate imperfections; a tabletop LED Light that has six color temperature settings (2800-6500k), and operates with six AA rechargeable batteries that permitted me to lower my ISO to 500 to achieve greater saturation; a circular polarizer was also used to reduce the macro plate/food glare.

Chef Robin often assisted me by setting up a small portable table with a black tablecloth to highlight and photograph the final plates.

The Culinary Kitchen at the College is lighted with fluorescent lighting so for macro, shallow depth of field, I normally set my Nikon D7000 with a Nikon 18-200mm lens with an aperture of F5.6; shutter at 250, to increase clarity; ISO to 1250 if not using the LED, and produced a RAW image of about 19MB.

Chef Dan was right about the “very cool” imagery of this class, and Chef Robin guided students’ daily creations to perfection.

Not only was this class a real learning experience for me, but I believe student chefs also benefitted from the macro look at their culinary creations through the lens.

Don Fleming can be reached at don512@me.com. To see more of the Institutes culinary works visit www.flickr.com/photos/wcci2013 .

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