“I’m going to chef’s school,” I proudly told my clients.
“Wait. Haven’t you already taken a ton of classes? You’ve written COOKBOOKS for cryin’ out loud!” they said. Okay, I’m paraphrasing all of their answers into one, but you get the idea.
Yes, I have done all that, but I’ve never taken a full course that teaches you EVERYTHING. I know what I know, but I still have a lot to learn. Many “cooking classes” that people take either just show how to make one or two specific dishes, or are only demonstrations where you can’t even get your hands on the food. If I wanted to expand my horizons and really learn the correct way to make sauces, all the different ways to cook meat and fish, and to actually bake something (yikes-CARBS), I needed a course that went literally from soup to nuts. Besides, if I want to re-engineer recipes, I need to know the ins and outs of the chemistry of cooking, too.
So here I am, with my friend Cathy Arkle, food blogger and food photographer, donning a chef’s jacket and slicing and chopping my way through 20 weeks of learning everything there is to know about life in a professional kitchen.
The course lasts for 20 weeks, once a week, for four hours. Perfect for the working stiffs, those who are between jobs, who are thinking about changing careers, or who just want to learn how to be better cooks.
Last night was class one. The Intro. Laura Weinman was our instructor for the evening. A graduate of the California Culinary Academy, Laura cooks for corporations and is a private chef, and also teaches the pro course here. She was as cute as a button. I didn’t know chefs could be that nice. Gordon Ramsey could take a lesson or two from her.
We learned about school rules and policy, where everything was in their kitchen, protocol, dress codes and THEN….we got the coats. Starched white chef’s coats with the school’s logo on the left breast. I felt so professional. Laura explained how the coat “worked.” The side pocket is for thermometers and pens. Do you know why all chefs’ coats are double breasted? If you’re cooking and get stuff on you, you just switch the hidden side to the top…TADA! All clean. Now you can come out and greet your guests and look as fresh as a daisy. Sort of.
Since France seems to be the birthplace of all things “chef-like,” there are tons of French terms to learn, like Mis en Place- which means everything in its place and is used to describe the prep work of all your ingredients and equipment for cooking. Julienne is way of cutting veggies (but you probably knew that) and Brunoise is like dicing, only smaller. Comprendez-vous?
Cathy was pretty bummed she took German in college. Look at it this way, Cath, when we take a beer-making class, you’ll be way ahead of me!
Then it was time for Knife Skills. This was a class I had taken before, but you never get enough practice. Chef knives, especially. We sliced, diced, julienned, minced and chopped our way through onions, carrots, cabbage, apples, potatoes, oranges and garlic. These ingredients would be made into our dinner, which was grilled chicken with caramelized onions and oranges, Thai cabbage salad and roasted potatoes. We didn’t get to cook anything that night, just chopped. You have to be a prep cook before you can work the fire.
We got one more thing before the night was over, our textbook. A gorgeous 1200 page tome entitled, “The Professional Chef” from The Culinary Institute of America. It weighs about 10 pounds and has information you didn’t even know existed about the culinary arts. Well, at least I didn’t. But I will, in about 20 weeks.
Thai Style Cabbage SaladServes 6
3 tbsps lemon juice
1 tbsp brown sugar or palm sugar
2 tsps Thai fish sauce
1 green cabbage, finely shredded
1 small red onion, sliced thin
3 peeled and grated carrots
½ cup chopped mint leaves
½ cup chopped cilantro leaves
1 tbsp peanut oil
In a large bowl, stir together the lemon juice, sugar and fish sauce until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cabbage, onion, carrot, mint, cilantro and oil. Toss well.