I started culinary school this week. It’s exhilarating and exhausting to embark on what my instructor predicts will be “the best seven months of your life that you’ll never want to do again.” It’s five intense hours a day, five days a week, and each day is an opportunity to build on the skills we were taught the previous day. For example, on Tuesday we were introduced to the classic French knife cuts (and sent home with a potato and a carrot to practice) and prepared ratatouille, a dish involving plenty of knife work, on Wednesday.
I’ve been working with food for awhile now, and a friend wondered if maybe I already knew too much to really benefit from culinary school. Not at all. Although I’ve picked up a lot along the way, there are huge gaps in my knowledge and skills. For example, day one answered a question that’s been nagging me for awhile: What’s the difference between stock and broth. The answer: broth is seasoned; stock is not.
Another insight occurred to me on day two, as I struggled to whittle my first tourneed potato. The tourne cut is the considered the most difficult, as it involves shaping a potato (or other vegetable) into a little football with seven equal sides. Mine resembled misshapen tumors. I am not, by nature, a precise cook. It will be an interesting exercise for me to learn the discipline of French cooking, one that will ultimately improve my results in the kitchen.
Much of culinary school is about practice and repetition, and I’ve already begun to reap the benefits of that. I was able to whittle my homework potato into better tournes–not perfect, certainly, but a far better shape.
There will be good days and frustrating days. Yesterday was a good one, as we prepared braised leeks and ratatouille. We bustled through the preparation, practicing knife cuts, sauteing, braising, and presenting the results–on warmed plates–to the instructor. My leeks were cooked just so, she commented, but the sauce needed a bit more lemon. She examined my ratatouille.
“Good knife cuts,” she noted before taking a bite. She sample a bit and paused to consider the results. “Good seasoning,” she said, giving a thumbs up. “Yes, it’s very good.”
And as I took my dish to the back of the kitchen to gobble the results–culinary school makes you very hungry–I had to agree. Of course, every dish won’t be a winner, and there are bound to be some duds. But it’s a nice way to start.