So you want to be a Test Kitchen intern: Meet Annie Rouleau Dean
Working in a newspaper's test kitchen can certainly keep you on your toes. Although you may not have the "rush" of completing hundreds of covers a night, as you might in the hot kitchen of a busy restaurant, you are constantly challenged with testing new recipes from a variety of sources (restaurants, writers, chefs, original creations) and frequently required to master new techniques and find unusual ingredients. At the L.A. Times, we not only test (and routinely retest) every recipe that runs in the paper, we then re-create and style those recipes for food shoots to appear both online and in print, coordinate and shoot step-by-step demonstrations and videos of various cooking techniques, and prepare for televised recipe demonstrations, which air weekly on KTLA's afternoon news. When we're not actually working with food, we're tracking down reader email requests for the Food section's popular Culinary SOS column.
In addition to our full-time staff, we host interns from culinary schools all over the United States, including international students. These students receive hands-on training as they learn the finer points of recipe testing and development. The students also interact with chefs, writers and food professionals of all kinds.
Over the last few months, I've introduced some of our recent Test Kitchen interns, including Sicily Johnson, Larry Diamond and Jonathan Wing. Here, I introduce Annie Rouleau Dean, on loan from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Los Angeles (Hollywood campus).
-- Noelle Carter
Heavenly Chiffon. Doesn't it start you dreaming? This was the title of Test Kitchen manager Noelle Carter's lead story in the Food section the Thursday before Mother's Day and, as I proudly stared at the pictures on the cover, I thought back to the days we spent preparing the cakes for the photo shoot.
After Noelle worked out the recipes, she had the interns try the recipes to double-check the results. When I first looked at the basic recipe -- nine ingredients, seven steps -- I thought it sounded easy; we should have a day as light as the cake itself.
But wait. We needed to test four different versions of the cake, one of them made with pandan leaves. I was in for some detective work. I had never worked with this aromatic and delicate flavor and didn’t know what to expect. Oops. No leaves in the fridge. I jumped on the computer. The long green leaves, typically found in Southeast Asian cuisine, were to be found in a Thai market. We quickly gathered a list of all the other ingredients needed for the day and went chasing for them. Successfully.
Back in the kitchen, it was time to practice what I had learned in my baking class. The basic recipe seemed like a good start. I read it once again. The challenge was in the stiffly beaten egg whites, which are a primary leavener in the cake. The first thing I got out of the fridge was the eggs. Egg whites whip a lot better at room temperature, I learned from Noelle while discussing our game plan. I had scribbled her tip on the recipe, another useful step for successful egg whites. At the top of the recipe page, my note also said "clean equipment." This was my reminder to inspect and look for squeaky clean bowls and whip, because even a trace of grease or water will prevent proper rising of the egg whites.
Together, we mixed the dry and wet ingredients in a large bowl. In another bowl, the egg whites had successfully reached a stiff peak, and I was folding the beaten whites into the rest of the batter.
As each cake baked, Noelle discussed the science behind the cakes with the interns. And we watched the cakes rise in the ovens -– some of them 2 to 3 inches over the pans! I actually guarded the ovens to watch their fantastic rise. For me, that is exactly what gave meaning to my internship. A passion for detail and a desire to help readers succeed at home when cooking.
When the cakes came out of the oven, we inverted the fluted pans over a wine bottle -- now I understand the reason for the pan with a hole in the middle! We inverted the cakes so their delicate structure would not collapse as they cooled. Voila! So simple when you've experienced it.
By the end of the week, we had made several batches of each of the four different versions of the cake. By then, I knew all the recipes by heart, applied the techniques with ease, used all the tips and, most important, experienced the joy of successful baking. And as I stared at the food section and the heavenly chiffon cakes on the cover, I again thought through nine ingredients and seven steps, and hoped we had helped our cooks at home bake the perfect cake.
-- Annie Rouleau Dean
Photo: Photographer Anne Cusack shoots interns, left to right, Stephanie Luu, Jung Hwa Choe, Annie Rouleau Dean and Steve Braslaw. Credit: Noelle Carter