Life List Trifecta: Breakdown Chicken, Filet a Fish and Make a Souffle!

January 5, 2012


Hey, look at that! I’m in a chef’s coat again!

Several weeks ago I was browsing my Life List and decided it was time to tick a few more things off before the end of 2011 and, since it was the middle of the holiday season, anything dealing with food seemed to be a great idea.

You see, I have this thing about respecting food. And I wasn’t doing a good job of treating my chicken well – not for lack of trying, but for lack of skill. I didn’t want to waste or massacre another bird.

So, I called up my old-colleague and friend, Chef Michael Bargas, Assistant Academic Director of Culinary over at the Art Institute of Houston to see if he wanted to participate in some shenanigans.

Michael is a brave soul and also an awesome guy to work with. How many chefs do you know that have philosophy degrees from Princeton? Our history of shenanigans goes back a few years when we were both part of a large hospital system and I’d routinely call him up with insane ideas for an event – and he’d never fail to make it happen.

I told Michael I wanted to do something fun with him again and he could pick: Teach me to (a) break down a chicken, (b) filet a fish, or (c) make a souffle. His response? “Let’s do all three!”

Alright then!

I called my favorite photographer friend, Christine of Christine Tremoulet Photography and Big Pink Cookie and asked if she, too, wanted to be a part of some culinary shenanigans and she said yes, too! Remember this – it will become important in a few minutes. I have her to thank for all these awesome pictures in this post.

Let’s break down a chicken!

Everything started out ok...

Taking off the thigh

But then I wasn’t using my knife appropriately. It appears I was chopping instead of slicing, so Chef Michael decided to teach me a lesson all young culinary students needed to know …


You can see how awesome I thought that was. The lesson is that chopping straight down does not cut, slicing in long strokes does. NOTED, MICHAEL.

Moving along…

Taking the breast off

Learning to make an "Airline Breast". Very fancy.

Success! Who wants dinner?


And now, let’s meet Sam.

Sam is a redfish. A redfish with the scales still on thankyouverymuch. And Sam needs to get fileted. Let’s go!

Cut straight down right behind the gills. This was hard work to get through the scales. Sam was sort of an asshole that way.

Then slightly angle your knife and while slicing, hold Sam down to keep him steady. Also make a stupid face while you're doing it.

Lift up the filet as you go down the fish.

All the way to the tail...

Repeat on the other side. Now let’s clean it up a bit before we take the skin off. Scales are not chic.

Now! Time to skin Sam.

Hold the tail and slide the knife under the flesh at an angle to get as close to the skin as you can, then flatten it out so it's parallel. Wiggle the fish back and forth as you move the knife towards the other end.


Hey, what’s that?!

That's a flounder. Surprise!

Oh, yes, we did filet a flounder! There are FOUR of those available on a flounder. Here’s how that looked.

But let’s get to the REALLY good stuff: The SOUFFLE. Before we arrived, Chef Michael had made some pastry cream. This will serve as the base of the souffle and is super easy to make.

Next we needed some meringue. Time to whip up some egg whites.


Don't you just want to put your face in it? Pro Tip: Don't. It doesn't taste good like this. Trust me.

Time to combine the pastry cream and the meringue. We divided each in half so we could make two types of souffle.

Fold them in gently and then pour into some buttered, sugared ramekins. As ramekins should be.

Now let’s add some cocoa powder to the mix to turn this into CHOCOLATE souffle.

Butter and cocoa powder some ramekins. Try not to lick the bowls.

Fill the ramekins while singing. Kanye works.

And bake! Try to contain yourself while they are baking and making everything smell like butter and sugar and unicorns.

And then you eat them all.

Totally not kidding.

Thanks, Chef Michael – you’re a star.

Disclaimer: The Art Institute of Houston didn’t have any formal involvement in this adventure and I received no compensation for this. I am just super thankful to Chef Michael for his assistance and happen to be a fan of him and his program. You should check it out.

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10 Responses to “Life List Trifecta: Breakdown Chicken, Filet a Fish and Make a Souffle!”

  1. Knighton Says:

    I don’t ever want to learn how to filet a fish. There. I said it.

    But the souffle? Color me jealous. xo

    • pamlewis Says:

      You know, I’ll probably never filet a fish again. But I’m glad I know how to at least. 🙂

      The souffle was fun – and yummy!

  2. elz Says:

    Looks like fun. Keep crossing them off!

  3. Judy Zainfeld Says:

    How cool!!!!! The pics are great and I’m so glad you have people to help with your list. Yes, your mom and I still need to do the Brooklyn Bridge with you girls.

  4. Teri Wathen Says:

    This was a fun post. I thoroughly enjoyed the pictures and the lessons. Wow! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Christine Says:

    That was so much fun & Chef Michael was AWESOME!!! I have to admit, the moment that he slammed the knife on your hand was a bit priceless. I’m glad he warned me that I might want to get a photo first.

    Thank you for sharing the shenanigans with me!

  6. MainlineMom Says:

    Totally fun post! So glad Christine took all those photos!!