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Duck, Duck,....Duck!

(post, Maggie Restivo)

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Every 10 weeks school holds a master class, usually taught by one of the chefs on our advisory board. The latest class was last Friday, taught by Chef Eric Brenner. For those of you familiar with the St. Louis area, he is the chef/owner of Moxy Bistro, and Chef Brenner is also responsible for the new menu at Molly's in Soulard. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend his class. 

Chef Brenner has a great appreciation for the flavors of France. The ingredient he chose for the class was duck. Prior to the start of the master class that was all I knew about the class and pretty much all I knew about duck. I showed up ready learn and excited to get my hands on my chef's knife again. (the last 10 weeks have been baking...needless to say everyone in class has been itching to get their hands on a knife again! I don't count using it at home because it doesn't quite match the excitement I feel when I am in class with my chefs at school.)There was a nervous excitement about the kitchen as we waited for Chef Brenner to arrive. You could almost see the thoughts running through everyone's mind- would he be mean or nice? strict, sweet, quiet our in our faces? And what the heck would we be doing with duck?

Our first indication as to the mood of the day was when Chef Brenner dashed into the room a few minutes late and apologized by he wasn't used to being up so early. The whole room exhaled and I though to myself "Yes! Someone who feels exactly like I do in the mornings. This is going to be a great class!" Chef Brenner introduced himself and told us a little about his education and his restaurants. He then announced that the reason he wanted to work with duck was to teach us about cost control and because he loves duck.  

We opened up  our ducks, placed them on our cutting boards and tossed the neck and innards aside. After breaking our ducks down into breast and leg quarter pieces, we removed most of the skin. The carcasses were submerged in a steam kettle with mire poix to start a stock. Fat was rendered for the skin and used to confit the leg quarters. The skin was then turned into cracklin' (for our purpose it was then snacked during the remainder of the class). The breasts were seared. Had we had time we could have turned the liver and kidney's into a savory mouse or used them as a filling for a ravioli. The stock could have been turned into a base for a sauce or a soup. At the end of class I had learned a lot about duck and a few new cooking techniques. In that respect the class was a huge success.

However, duck was not all that Chef Brenner taught us about last Friday. As a restaurateur he told us about his philosophy on coping with hard financial times: Do not take out those hardships on your staff, and do not compromise the quality of your product. Take it upon yourself to utilize every bit of your product, like the duck we worked with. Then, treat yourself like your product and utilize all of your talents as a chef. One of the ways Chef Brenner has helped to supplement income for his restaurants is to do consulting work across the country (not to mention that he hasn't taken a paycheck in months). And despite having never been to France he left me passionate about continuing my classical education at school. 

Personally, the last three weeks have been hard. They have left me feeling a little defeated. I left his master class excited about the possibilities in my future, inspired to do more to further my education outside of school, and longing to visit France. Chef Brenner added much needed fuel to my fire and for that I would like to thank him, he is truly a master of his craft!