The Day I Became a “Real” Chef

The teaching kitchen was swarming with people as we started our third week of classes.  Every kitchen suite was filled with CIA students or guest chefs that were participating in a Kikkoman sponsored event on campus.  The energy was palpable, as the guest chefs worked quickly to prepare intriguing dishes and all of students did our best to impress our guests.

I worked efficiently and confidently that morning, that was until I lit my frying pan on fire.  I was simply moving around small pieces of beef, but a flash of oil caught on the gas burner and before I knew it huge flames shot up.  It was as if I flambeed chunks of beef.  My instructor appeared quickly and helped quell the flames, and somewhat sarcastically said, “hey, you’re a real chef now”.  Slightly embarrassed, I did my best to laugh it off and ignore the frightened and shocked face I made. We joked around that I gave the guest chefs a nice show and proved that we did real cooking here at the school.  Thankfully even with my rookie mistake, the beef had a nice sear and was suitable to use for my stew.

Day 10

Most of the tenth day of the class was spent working on knife cuts as our beef stew simmered away.  We used demi glace as the base of the stew to develop deep and hearty flavors.  The vegetables were prepared separately by cutting battonets (1/4” x 1/4” x 2”), blanching them, and finishing them with butter and parsley.  Preparing the vegetables separately brings a nice burst of color to the dish and makes a more appealing bowl of stew.

Day 11

On the eleventh day our focus was poaching salmon to serve with hollandaise sauce, julienne vegetables, and parslied potatoes.  Our chef ordered a whole salmon and demonstrated how to check the quality and freshness of fish as well as how to properly filet and break down the salmon.  The culinary students have an entire 3 week course on fish fabrication, so this was a highly condensed explanation.

My poached salmon was barely overcooked, due in large part to my extended vacillation about whether or not it was done.  In the bakeshop I know when to stick to my instincts but I’ve found I don’t have that same confidence on the culinary side.

I missed taking photos of our finished products, but I did take a photo of our knife skills tray: 2 cups julienne carrot, 2 cups chiffonade cabbage, 2 cups julienne leek, 2 cups julienne celery, and 6 half tourneed potatoes.

Day 12

During first semester we had “fry day” over in the bakeshop and we also had a “fry day” in our culinary class. The menu included , fried sole, remoulade sauce, buttermilk fried chicken, whipped potatoes with country gravy, pan steamed carrots, and coleslaw.

The day began with another demonstration of fish fabrication.  This time our chef showed us how to properly filet sole, and we then practiced on our own fish.

We dredged the sole in flour, dipped in eggs, and coated the filets in breadcrumbs.  We pan fried them in a sautoir until they developed a golden color.  I continued to struggle with seasoning, and this time had too heavy a hand when salting.

The remoulade sauce was made by combining mayonnaise, fresh herbs, drained chopped capers, and anchovy.

After marinating the chicken in buttermilk and herbs for over a day, we tossed it in seasoned flour and dropped the pieces into 350°F oil.  Once they were crunchy and darkened we moved them to the oven to finish cooking.  I wish fried chicken wasn’t so unhealthy, because it is so, so delicious!

Day 13 

The final day of class included one written exam and two practicals, a 30 minute knife cut practical and a cooking practical.  My teammate and I had just 150 minutes to prepare cream of tomato soup, a tossed salad with fresh vinaigrette, grilled steak, pommes puree, jardiniere vegetables, steamed broccoli, and hollandaise sauce.

We planned out who would do what and developed a nice timeline of our cooking schedules. I like to make timelines in excel to make it easy to see what is happening with each dish with just a quick glance.  We stuck to the timeline for the majority of the cooking practical until everything became crazy at the end.  We still haven’t mastered timing everything perfectly and ended up frantic.

We did manage to prepare everything and finish it on time, but every dish was slightly off or not quite perfect.  The cream of tomato soup was very good but lacked a garnish, the tossed salad, jardiniere vegetables, and broccoli all needed more salt, the grilled steaks were not all cooked evenly, and the pommes puree was too stiff.  I think with more practice our dishes would be much closer to perfect.  Nonetheless, I am very proud of how we did after just a 12 days of instruction!

I’m so happy that bakers have the opportunity to take a cooking class, and am especially thankful for our instructor who quickly worked us into shape.  We have struggled with efficiency and speed in the past, so this class pushed us and demanded that we improve.

Even though I really enjoyed the class, I was still excited to not smell like garlic and onions everyday. I prefer being covered in flour or having chocolate marks on my apron.

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One thought on “The Day I Became a “Real” Chef

  1. Sudhakar says:

    It all looks great . I am the same as yo. I can bake till the cows come home but ask me to cook those cows and I couldn’t.

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