When I was a kid I used to love a certain amusement park roller coaster that, in retrospect, did little more than beat my head against a padded seat harness. But what about the anticipation of slowly chugging up a wooden mountain? What about cutting through the wind and roaring down the other side? Yeah, there was that too.
I’ve just started my third term at Midwest Culinary Institute and with seven students in my class and my bigger, badder, hotter, six-burner range, I’ll be focusing on meat, fish and poultry. In some ways, I do feel like I’m beating my head up against something. There’s still that scurry from work to kitchen to contend with. There’s still heat and frustration and the occasional slip of the knife that yields both embarrassment and pain. And then there are frustrating technical things …
Last night I stood, for the first 30 minutes of class, grappling with a potato, trying to whittle the poor thing down into a football shape — the one affectionately known in professional kitchens as a tourné. It is, of course, the hardest knife skill to learn and the one that, last night, had my little finger spasming and my ring finger completely locking down. In the end, my potatoes looked gnarled and chewed — much like my very rebellious border-terrier had made an evening snack out of them. As it happens, this cut is even harder to pull off when applied to carrots, relatively simple when dealing with turnips and utterly impossible with parsnips.
All said vegetables were forgiven on the stove top when glazed in a sugar/butter coating over high heat. The resulting side dish was typical of one you have probably confronted hundreds of times in restaurants: madly delicious with a caramelized, sweet and savory flavor. (Buzzkill for healthy eaters!)
But the good news for me is that my classmates this term are all people I’ve come to know and really like. No uncomfortable introductions necessary this time, folks, I already know that (let’s call him) Jerry wants to be a Food Network Star and (lets call him) Michael wants to cater. Like a lot of people we’ve got: jobs during the day, spouses, errands, kids, mortgages, calendars, block parties, deadlines and one very obscene fascination with food. And we seem to be okay, at least for the moment, closing our eyes, climbing the hill, white knuckling the handle bar and waiting for the thrill of the drop.