Thursday, January 31, 2008

Professional Cooking Basics

OK, so now my SRJC Classes are in session... actually this is the third week. I was very pleased to get the evening PCB class; this time there were 28 students for a 24 place class. Some will drop, I know, but the "Brickyard" kitchen is really crowded! The kitchen is really a working restaurant, and 24-27 students really don't fit well into the space. Eighteen, maximum, would be better as far as learning space is concerned, but some restaurant kitchen lines are REALLY crowded, so I guess learning in a small space is actually better training for the real world.

Chef Christine is AWESOME! She just knows so much and is really patient with us. There is a lot of reading, and the assignments might be organized differently (I'd rather read the text before the lesson to have a CLUE of what we are meant to be doing), but I'm learning a whole lot. There are so many things in food preparation that I either 'just did' without knowing why they were necessary, or didn't know I was supposed to do at all. Lots of tips, like in Art classes, all given with loads of patience and good humor.

One of the people I baked with in the summer class had a hard time in Chef Christine's class, and wasn't complimentary about her at all... so I saw the instructor's name and was a little distressed. But it goes to show you that one shouldn't take another person's recommendation or dislike to heart - she wasn't a very happy person, and it colored her views of both the class and of Chef Christine, I'm afraid. I REALLY LIKE CHEF CHRISTINE PICCIN! What a good teacher!

The first week we "did" eggs. We fried eggs. We poached eggs. We scrambled eggs. We basted eggs. We baked eggs. We soft boiled eggs. We hard boiled eggs.We made omlettes. And at the weekend, I went home and practiced more with eggs! I'm happy to report that I can now fry a 'perfect' over-easy egg... well actually two together is easier, so I usually do that. Our homework was to look at our own "Global Culinary Heritage" describe it, and present a dish from that place. I chose a breakfast of Kidneys on Toast... Erin was pretty grossed out.

Last week we were on to vegetables: blanching, steaming in the big mechanical steamer, pan steaming, grilling, roasting, sweating, sauteing, and multi-cooking (two or more methods for one dish). Lots of veggies came into our hands, and all the different methods. We didn't have to LIKE them all... just learn how to make them nice for the customers.We learned new techniques and 'different' ways to do familiar veggies. This was pretty cool, too. For example, I had thought that blanching was just to make the tomato skins slip off easier when you wanted to have peeled tomatoes... but I found that you can VERY quickly blanch spinach (like 10 seconds! You ice shock it to set the bright green color if you aren't serving it immediately), then toss it with carmelized onion and minced cooked bacon, slivered toasted almonds, chopped egg, and a little clarified butter to make a lovely vegetable dish. It is a little more cooked than a "Wilted Spinach salad" and served hot, so it is a nice side dish for a meal. I can blanch carrots before I saute them for Ginger Carrots as well, and that will shorten the cooking time as well as make them all the same done-ness. Of course, the pieces all have to be the same size to allow for even cooking, so that is where my Knife Skills training from last Spring comes in. Yummy! The homework was reading an article about "Rochat" a Michelin 3-Star Restaurant in Paris, and writing about a memorable dining experience.

This third week we are on to studying about "Spices and Herbs" (last night)and cooking Beans, Rices, and Legumes (tonight)... see you later.

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