“Pros Not Schmos”
I’ve always considered myself a morning person. However, early took on a whole new meaning this week when my team and I had to wake up before 5:00 to haul 140 plus pounds of bones from the school’s basement up to my fundamentals kitchen. Kind of an ironic first assignment for a former vegetarian…
It all begins with the basics. This week we have been learning the foundation recipes and techniques used in traditional French cooking: knife cuts, making stocks, sachets, broths, and soups. This class aims to even the skill level of everyone before moving on to the more challenging kitchens. Some people in my class were former students at a technical high school, some have spend years working in the field and others have little to no experience straight out of high school.
Regardless of experience, however, everyone has to work together. This school not only encourages teamwork but it requires it. Everyday you are graded as a class and by your individual team of four people. You move through all of your classes with the same twenty people so you better like them – or at least learn to work with them! Luckily, I am really enjoying spending time with my group not only in class but during my free time as well.
On day one our chef was quick to remind us that we were here to learn how to be pros not schmos. Tardiness, laziness and carelessness are three things simply not tolerated by any chef here at the CIA. In the kitchen we have to demonstrate that we are moving with a purpose and paying attention to our food. We must properly address our chefs and respond accordingly to them when they speak: yes chef, no chef!
Fundamentals teaches the essential habit required by any chef, which is referred to as mis en place or everything in its place. Even though class starts at 7:00 everything must be ready to go, which means we need to get there around 5:30! The bones for stock need to be picked up at the meat room, the food stewards need to pick up the produce at the storeroom, the tournants need to set up cutting boards and the kitchen for that days production. All the food must also be washed and ready to prep before we can begin class.
The first day my team was in charge of stock, which means we needed to pick up the bones. Now that we know how to properly make stock, the next time we are assigned that job we will be in charge of getting the ingredients, making it, straining it and storing the stock.
The second day our chef was not as easy on us. Although he shares hilarious stories with us, he is not shy when we fail to meet his standards. We were not given extra time and we were held to much higher expectations on the second day.
For our first graded knife tray we had an hour to complete making a sachet d’epices, one bouquet garni, a sliced onion, a small diced onion, minced shallot, minced garlic, minced parsley, diced potatoes, julienned potatoes, batonnet potatoes, brunoise potatoes and two tomato concasse. It might sound like a lot of time, but boy does that hour fly by in terror! Nothing gets by the chefs here! They pick up individual pieces looking for quality and consistency – so don’t bother hiding your less attractive knife cuts under the pretty ones.
On the second day we built on the basics of making stocks. We then learned how to make broths and glace. Broth is basically the same as stock, however, it has a more intense flavor because you add meat along with bones. A quality stock is made with only bones, mirepoix, water and a sachet.
I really enjoyed learning how to make glace. Glace is a highly concentrated reduced stock. When it is finished it has a thick, syrupy consistency. In class we reduced one quart of stock to only two ounces. It tasted incredible when it was finished!
I’m finding that I am so hungry by mealtimes here that I have been forgetting to take a lot of pictures of my meals….I will try and get on that for next week! Here was a handmade ravioli dish topped with San Marzano tomato sauce and a mint salad. It was one of my favorite meals this week!
This week flew by because I began all of my academic classes along with fundamentals. I am hoping, however, to get another post up this weekend to share with you one of my favorite classes, product knowledge, and a trip to a local farmers market.