After dreaming about culinary school for the last five years, I finally signed up for a course this summer at the International Culinary Center in New York. The course, "Culinary Techniques," is a three month class that meets two nights a week, and focuses on classic culinary traditions and methods like knife skills, stock-making, classic recipes, and some pastry. After buying my black Dansko clogs, giving my measurements for my chef whites, and handing over a large sum of cash, I was ready for class to start.
Here’s what happened the first week (short story: I rediscovered the paring knife).
Week 1: Knife Skills, Cooking and Glazing Vegetables
The class is small: only nine students and one instructor, or chef. This small ratio is excellent because the students really get to know the chef and he or she is able see the student's progress and help accordingly.
The first week was all about knife skills and different ways of cooking and glazing vegetables. As we perfected cutting our carrots in julienne style and our potatoes to an even smaller brunoise, a few things really stuck out to me that I could bring to my home cooking: the importance of the paring knife and what good mise en place really means.
The Paring Knife
I never use a paring knife at home, or at least not a real paring knife. I tend to always use my chef's knife or one of those colorful, small ceramic knives (but rarely). The first week of culinary school, however, I realized what an incredible tool it is in the kitchen. We peeled onions and turnips with the paring knife, got rid of the small black bruises on potatoes, and carved carrots, turnips, and potatoes into small bullet-like shapes (tournéed).
Mise en Place
The second thing that really struck me was the importance of mise en place in culinary school. I always assumed keeping a clean workstation and preparing your vegetables ahead of time was important, but this class took this to a new level. We use an incredible amount of metal prep bowls while we cook: one for the peeling vegetables, one for water, one for keeping certain vegetables in water, one for the vegetables that don't need water, and one for the vegetables that are waiting to be prepped. It makes me want to run to IKEA this weekend and pick up some more for my kitchen!
Next week we're covering stocks and sauces – stay tuned!