After the conclusion of art class, my classmates and I embarked on our cooking journey. Our newest course is titled “Cafe and Savory Foods Production” and is a course designed to teach students in the baking program the basics of how to cook.
At school the bakers are often teased (in a mostly endearing way) because we spend our “cushy” days in the quiet bakeshop while we measure, mix, whip, and knead. It’s quite a contrast to the daily adventures of the culinary students who sweat it out over hot stoves and quickly maneuver their knives with ease and confidence.
Of course I was a bit nervous to be over in the hot side kitchen. Besides being slightly out of my normal element, we were scheduled to do a crash course in classical cooking techniques that allotted just three short weeks to master stocks, broths, sauces, soups, vegetable cookery, grilling, sautéing, roasting, stewing, poaching, and frying.
As I near the end of the course, I’m happy to say that I (and my classmates) survived and even did pretty well! In the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, I wasn’t able to snap as many photos as I would have liked, so the recaps will be more brief than usual.
Day 1: Orientation and Stocks
Between not knowing where things are kept in the kitchen and having a slower pace, I thought the first day was going to be really rough on my class. The production list was very short, however, so it allowed us time to settle in to the kitchen environment and learn the ropes.
We learned the proper way to handle a knife and practiced basic vegetable cuts. We each made mirepoix, an aromatic base, made of onions, celery, and carrots, that is used to flavor stocks and soups. Also for flavoring stocks and soups we made bouquet garni and sachet d’epices, which are small bundles of thyme, parseley stems, and bay leafs wrapped in cheese cloth or within a leek leaf.
As a class we made large batches of vegetable and chicken stock to be used later in the week.
Day 2: Broths, Soups, and Pasta
Individually we made half a pound of mire poix and one pound of clarified butter. Clarified butter has the water and milk solids removed, allowing it to be cooked at higher temperatures without burning. Our team work included one gallon of chicken broth, one gallon of onion soup gratiné (French Onion Soup), one pound of fresh pasta, and one pound of dry pasta.
Day 2 taught me that I have a chronic problem of under seasoning. In being conscientious of my health, I rarely use salt at home, and consequently I perceive any amount of salt to be more than enough. For class preparations I now have to season it until it seems too salty.. and then add a few more pinches. I’ve always known restaurant meals are very high in sodium, but it is shocking nonetheless to actually see the amount of salt put into each dish.
Day 3: The Cold Kitchen
I anticipated day 3 to be an easy day, as production only required making salads, sandwiches, mayo, and vinaigrette. The energy and pace slumps so much when there is less to do, so much so that we ended up behind and finished class really late.
Below are beautiful club sandwiches made by another team.
We also made a composed salad with toppings artfully placed on a plate rather than being tossed all together. I used melon, orange supremes, proscuitto, and julienned celery in addition to mixed greens tossed with red wine vinaigrette.
Day 4: Consommé, Introduction to Sauces
I heard a lot about consommé when the culinary students were in their fundamentals class. I mainly heard a lot of heartbreak over broken rafts, cloudy products, and ghost proteins. Consommé is a clarified broth, made by simmering stock with a mixture of egg whites, ground lean meat, and vegetables. The proteins in this mixture unwind and then coagulate, trapping any impurities and acting as a self contained strainer or cheesecloth. The meat and egg mixture forms a “raft” and floats on top of the stock as it simmers, and if broken can significantly cloud the consommé.
Consommé can also be victim of ghost proteins, which coagulate after straining and form wispy white solids. Thankfully, my consommé turned out very well and stayed clear and free of impurities. I also seasoned it well, a refreshing change from my typical under-salting ways.
The first week only had four days of classes, so I’ll be back soon with recaps of weeks two and three!