Culinary School: Hot Mess

incognita August 4, 2010

culinary school flambe

You never forget your first fire. I set my first one in a microwave when I was ten by exploding a loaf of bread, which was innocently pre-sliced and still wrapped in plastic. In my defense, I was only trying to set the microwave timer.

I was attempting to time thirty minutes of reading — an assignment from my fourth grade teacher. How was I supposed to know my mother used the microwave as her own personal bread box/storage compartment? And certainly it wasn’t my fault when I hit “time/cook” instead of “hold/timer!”

Blowing up a loaf of bread at such a tender age has a way of making a long-lasting impression. For instance, I’ll always remember the smokey odor that comes from plastic disintegrating in waves of violent flame. I’ll always recall the way my family left the windows open for a week to vent the charming campfire smell I had infused. To this day, I haven’t seen my father move so fast on his feet as the day he lunged for the fire extinguisher and eliminated what could have been a very unpleasant situation.

I’ve spent the better part of the last twenty years trying not to set any more fires. Of course, two weeks ago, I did it again. Thank goodness, this time it was in culinary school and all in the name of flambĂ©.

In a vivid class demonstration, my instructor unexpectedly deglazed his sizzling-hot sautĂ© pan with white wine. A glorious hissy-fit of fire followed — an eruption that took all seven of us students by surprise. Oh I wish you could have been there! It was ever-so impressive! As soon as the flames died out, a lovely sauce was swimming in the bottom of the pan. And not one person had to emergently lunge for a fire extinguisher.

So there I was, ten minutes later, standing in front of my six-burner range with a glug of wine in my hand and what must have looked like a petrified expression. I looked at the hot pan, I paid respect to the loaf-of-bread-incident, I closed my eyes and then I did the unthinkable. I threw the wine in the pan and took a great step back. A fistful of fire blew up suddenly in front of me.

For a good five seconds I stood there, paralyzed by the image of the rolling flames. Visions of sprinklers and emergency vehicles and caution tape flashed through my head. And then, just as quickly as it came, the fire was gone. Nothing but a shimmering sauce remained.

After adding some stock and some butter, the sauce turned out thick and creamy and still had the lingering scent of burned alcohol. Friends, it’s been said about a lot of things but this time it’s really true:

It was way, way better than sliced bread. Especially the burned variety.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Barb August 4, 2010 at 6:12 am

That is just awesome!

I’ve had two kitchen fires in the past and neither of them were in the pursuit of culinary education. I nearly burned my apartment down one day when I had a grease fire, and another time I was baking something and the heating element in my oven died and burst into flame. Both were scary, but at least the second one spared the fire department. Can’t say the same for the first one.


Courtney August 4, 2010 at 7:01 am

Yikes! Grease fires are my worst fear! Glad you made it out okay.


Jen August 4, 2010 at 7:51 am

My husband is a fire systems inspector and obsessed with fire extinguishers. I don’t think he would have enjoyed that experience whatsoever, no matter the delicious sauce at the end!


5chw4r7z August 4, 2010 at 8:55 am

What a dramatic act of creation.
My one brush with kitchen fires began with a Pop-tart and a toaster. Who knew those things were so flammable, a red hot jet of flame shooting out of it for what seemed like for ever before running out of fuel and dieing.


Courtney August 4, 2010 at 9:26 am

Seriously, 5chw4r7z? How does that even happen?

Jen, your husband could actually come in handy at my house. My husband is only handy after someone gets hurt.


Intuitive Eggplant August 4, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Hehehehe. Yet another great personal story incorporated into your tales from culinary school. I’ve always been nervous about trying to flambe anything, although the results you describe pique my interest. Meanwhile, congrats on your linkage in the Enquirer! You rock, Courtney!


Sophia August 4, 2010 at 6:40 pm

WOW. That looks scary as hell. Glad it had a happy ending for you.

I remember Dave Barry speaking about taping down a toaster lever with FROSTED pop tarts (outdoors) years ago. Flames do indeed shoot SEVERAL feet into the air. They go higher with frosted Tarts.


Allison August 5, 2010 at 8:21 am

That’s so strange, I also torched a loaf of sliced bread in the microwave! I stupidly put the whole thing in, wrapper and twist tie and all, and reached in to grab the bag without looking. I clamped my hand down on the flaming twist tie and I’ve been extra cautious of burning myself ever since then. I can sympathize.


Bob August 5, 2010 at 8:32 am

Everybody’s been there, accidents happen! Mine was boiling noodles and got distracted….can you say torched pan. Just lots of smock though no fire or fire department.


Courtney August 5, 2010 at 8:38 am

Maybe I’m not alone in the fire starting world? Love hearing everyone’s brushes with danger!


Mary Lou Keller August 5, 2010 at 10:37 am

Oh that brings to mind a funny story about my husband, when we were just dating. He made ribs for dinner one night at his apartment.. had them in a metal pan in the oven, under the broiler I think. Smelled something burning, he opened the oven and the whole pan was on fire!! I sat at the table in open mouthed disbelief while he managed to get the pan out of the oven, over the the sliding glass door and outside he went (thank heaven he was on ground floor). He threw the pan out in the snow and finally the flames were extinguished, no damage to the kitchen or the oven.. I was useless as I sat laughing so hard I was in tears. He will never live that story down. :)


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