Culinary School: Sharper Knives, Hotter Flame April 22, 2010

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The difference between a simmer and a boil is the slight turn of a dial. One will produce a beautiful stock, rid of any impurities and another will make a dull, cloudy water. Just the slight turn of a dial.

Two weeks ago, as I finished up Cooking 1, I was worried about flipping an egg. But in Cooking 2 we’re expected to have fundamentals down. Claiming blind ignorance is no longer an option. All of this has occurred in two weeks. Just the slight flip of a calendar.

In my new kitchen classroom, we stand spread out in rows. Each of us has our own oven, or own set of burners, our own collection of pots and pans. We are no longer the freshman, the bottom of the line omelet-makers. We are the stock, sauce and soup makers.

When we stand up at the beginning of class to introduce ourselves, most students know exactly what to say. “I’m a pharmaceutical rep who wants to learn how to cook,” one says. “I work at McDonald’s and want to own my own restaurant,” another claims.

Me? I’m not sure. “I really like food,” I say. “I really like the way it brings people together. I want to understand it better. I’m willing to see where that might take me.” And then I sit down. I already hate my answer. It rings out somehow empty, somehow passionless.

I don’t focus on it for long. We are making stock and each of us has been charged with a different flavor profile. Some do a traditional stock made of chicken bones, some use ancho chiles to create a Mexican flavor. I use lemongrass and cilantro for an Asian-style stock.

The results are stunning. After a few hours of simmering, we walk around the room with handfuls of tasting spoons. We dip them into each other mixtures, bring them to our lips and then revel in how each one is so different. Slight variations in components produce entirely different experiences.

Standing there, I realize –– I think we all realize –– that it’s not just about physical technique anymore. There, in the midst of each other, we are learning how to become cooks. Somehow, the tension in my shoulder eases, my worries subside. And I vow to continue on this path, winding though it is, until I see what’s on the other side.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Ann April 22, 2010 at 7:44 pm

I love reading about your classroom experiences, Courtney. They so mirror my own. How interesting that you each did a different type of stock; we each did a chicken and a vegetable stock – same ingredients. I definitely felt pressure to operate more independently.


Courtney April 23, 2010 at 6:25 am

We actually did a veggie stock too, very interesting how different proportions of veggies produce different results. I’ve always known this in my head but to taste them all lined up together was great. Hope you are enjoying class so far!


Brian (cincycub) April 23, 2010 at 11:53 am

I thought your answer was beautiful and perfect, and I love reading about your adventures. Keep it up!


Courtney April 24, 2010 at 12:28 pm

thank you :)


5chw4r7z April 26, 2010 at 6:29 am

Stock, sauce and soup!
Can’t wait to see where this goes, and I don’t know how I would photograph soup, but I bet you pull it off brilliantly.


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