Getting My Hands Dirty in Class
Posted March 5, 2009on:
For the past couple of days I have been intensely focusing on becoming a student again. Being a student is not foreign to me since I’ve gone back to school for a few things and I was a teacher, so I’m aware of the different challenges students face. However, I’ve never been a culinary student! My first couple of days, we were clearly eased into things. Day one orientation, was a normal day of getting to know the ropes. Yesterday however, it was clear that things were going to pick up fast.
Day two of culinary school involved some more lectures and even movies! Yes, movies! We were to see a movie all about food safety and learn about all the different pathogens that can cause food borne illness. About 20 minutes into the film, the DVD froze, so our teacher basically went through all the information as a lecture. We were told about salmonella, botulism, and other awful afflictions people can get by eating contaminated food. We also went over other aspects of food safety, like safely defrosting foods, cooling liquids and HACCP.
For the next part of class we moved on to learning about different dairy products. We learned about milk, cream, skim milk, fat-free milk, the components of milk and fermented milk. We then went on to address butter and it’s non-dairy “cousin”, margarine. This is when class got even more interesting as our teacher went on to talk about the process used to convert canola oil into margarine and how harmful the process and the final product is for the body. The conversation took a serious turn toward the politics of food production in the United States, how the big food producers (Big Agribusiness) seem to be inextricably linked with the government, and how the changes we’ve seen in the American diet in the last 50 years have really contributed to our chronic disease problems. It was very intense!! After hearing about the food safety and the issues of food production I was angered and motivated to try to do my part as a culinary professional!
And for the final part of the class, we got to watch another movie! We watched Deconstructing Ferran Adria, a documentary about the revolutionary Spanish chef, hosted by Anthony Bourdain. It’s always great to see one of Bourdain’s shows–he’s always entertaining and informative. The chef he was interviewing is controversial and known for creating unusual combinations as well as foams and aerosols out of food. His restaurant, El Bulli, is gorgeous and is able to create an almost life changing experience for the diner. I was jealous! I was riveted! I was intrigued! And I was in love! I loved how the food was savored, experienced and how the chef’s approach used science to test the boundaries of what a meal could be. Day 2 was great and I was ready for more.
Today I got more. A lot more. Things picked up and FAST. After an hour long talk from career services about our externships and our future careers, we dove right in to creating a Mirepoix–a course chop of carrots, onions and celery. This went well as it was all a course chop and the pieces could be large. Then we moved onto a medium dice of an onion. This was more challenging. Keeping the pieces uniform was difficult. I did manage to do this fairly well, save a few pieces of the onion skin. Then it was onto a medium dice of a green bell pepper. The first one was too big. The second one was better, but my pieces were not uniform enough. Next, it was onto the medium dice of a tomato. We were to remove the stem, the big ugly part on the top of the tomato, then quarter the tomato and remove the guts. While sliding my paring knive along the inside of a quarter of tomato, I managed to nick my thumb. I hadn’t even realized it until I wiped my knife with a paper towl and saw it was pink. I showed the teacher, washed my hands, covered my cut and continued. I finished my tomato and again, my cuts were too big. *sigh* I then moved onto the jalapeno which I had to really focus on and do very slowly. After I finished the first one, I was told to dice it finer. We were also supposed to get to chop a half of a bunch of cilanto, but I never got to it. We moved onto the next segment of the class.
During this segment, he took the 3 huge bowls of chopped vegetables from each student table and we were to compare them. One bowl was plain–no seasoning, oil or vinegar. The next bowl had only oil and vinegar. The third had salt, oil and vinegar. We made a raw salsa, basically a pico de gallo, but he didn’t call it that. We tried each one to ascertain the importance of salt in foods. After we got to eat our creations and have some chips to go with it, we got some take out containers, packed stuff to take home and began our clean up. As a team we worked together well to get the kitchen back in order and ready for the next class. Four hours went by SUPER fast! We were told we worked well together, overall, except for those of us who clearly did not chop things in the way that he said. Of course, I hope he wasn’t talking about me! I really did try to focus and pay attention!
I learned a lot today. I’ve been trying to spend my days reading my course materials so that I’m prepared for class and that is seriously helpful. Seeing the techniques presented in the texts and then demonstrated by the teacher really help me put the ideas together. I learned about caring for my knives, Mirepoix and medium dice. And of course I learned about salsa! But most of all, I learned I need a LOT more practice to avoid more casualties like this one.