Back to School…

It’s about 20 years overdue, but thanks to the enormous (and ultimately self-serving?) support of my family, I am at last attending full-time professional culinary school (doesn’t that sound so official?) this winter.

I have loved cooking at home forever, and have been lucky enough to eat a lot of delicious and crazy food all over the world.  But cooking in a professional kitchen is definitely a new experience.  Not least of which is the super flattering uniform, ever smudged little apron and jaunty white students cap.  Very stylish…

(I was going to insert a first day of school pic here of my in my uniform but I just JUST can’t bring myself to do it…)

Really one of the greatest aspects of food for me is that there is ALWAYS something new to learn, even in realms I thought I had already mastered. So…here are a few core themes I have noted in my first month of cooking school:

Work clean – Move everything unnecessary out of your way as you are working, and clean your prep area, knives and other utensils as you go.

Think ahead – Envision your cooking process and select the mixing bowls, pans, or other items you need with the whole project in mind so you don’t have to keep switching equipment as you go.

Create a logical workflow – Streamline your set-up so you have everything you need in front of you, line up the steps of your project to minimize the amount of back and forth or running around you need to do.

Taste at every stage – In most cases we season food just before it goes on the plate, but don’t wait until the end to taste and adjust!  Yes I have been tasting a lot of raw eggs recently, but it’s kind of part of the deal.

Embrace salt – You can work for hours to layer amazing flavors into a dish, and then they’re overlooked for a simple lack of salt.

Technique is transferrable – If you learn the basics of how to execute something, you can go on to apply it to many different cuisines or preparations.

“Cook time” is a ballpark – Rely on your senses rather than just a recipe to determine if food is actually done cooking. There are a lot of variables between ovens, kitchens, and ingredients that will affect the exact time a dish needs to cook.

• It really is about ingredients – Every chef I have met spends a good chunk of time talking about the critical importance of using ingredients that have been well raised, farmed, treated, shipped, handled, delivered and just only finally prepared.  We hear this a lot in the media these days, but the bottom line is that for better or for worse the level of care, attention and even love that goes into your raw ingredients very much ends up on the plate.  

• Taste is subjective – Everyone has a slightly different experience of taste based on their physiology, genetics and memory/food experience. No two people experience taste exactly the same way. That said, you can train yourself to taste in more detail through trying lots of different things, giving a new food a few chances before you decide about it, and slowing down and being mindful of flavor, aroma and experience as you eat.

Cooking is a discipline – We always reference the “art” of cooking, but a lot of culinary success actually comes from practice, presence, focus, repetition and attention to detail.

More to come.   Happy cooking!

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