Cooking School Part 1 (A little background)
After writing my post about making coq au vin a while back, I realized that when I’m in the kitchen I have some advantages. I would like to help you develop a similar set of skills. I wouldn’t be surprised if you are not interested in spending your life in a kitchen. However, there are a lot of skills that you can learn at home that will serve you well, and my goal with this little series of posts is to help you learn some of them.
Your first job in a commercial kitchen is washing dishes. While you do that, you also learn to do some prep. Frequently, it involves chopping a pile of stuff into whatever size and shape the chef would like. There are lots of terms to learn, and techniques to be practiced. During one shift I cut thirty pounds of various vegetables into 3/4″ pieces for roasting. What does that do for you? Practice, practice, practice. There was plenty of time, and there was lots to do. During this time I was told things by the chef and sous chef like, “I need 2 pounds of mirepoix for stew” or “roll cut these carrots”. Essentially, you will spend a lot of time with a peeler and a knife.
This is how people have always learned to work in a kitchen. Each skill builds on the next. Going to culinary school speeds up the process some, but it still won’t give you the hours of practice with each skill that you would have working under a chef.
Once you have the hang of fabricating vegetables, you will be moved onto other tasks. Next you might be given the job of using the vegetables, and some other materials to make basic stocks. Essentially, you will be making the basic components of what is needed for lunch, dinner or a party that is being catered.
When the salad guy stops showing up you might get a promotion from dishwasher to the salad station! This is kind of how kitchens work. Each one is different, but generally the first station you do is salads or pantry. This is sometimes called Garde Manger in the brigade system used in large kitchens. As you move from station to station you learn new skills. One of the first things you will learn on the salad station is how to make salad dressings, and other things like pesto. During service (when food is being served to guests in the dining room) you will make salads, sandwiches, cold appetizers, and some hot appetizers that can be done quickly. Generally, these are very simple things to do, but you will be busy. This gives you the chance to really practice what you have learned and apply it. (Usually at high speed!)
So, the goal of this series of posts is to walk you through the things you would learn as a dishwasher or pantry cook. We’re going to do things like make a vinaigrette, make pesto, use a knife properly, cook eggs, and maybe make some candied nuts. There are probably a few other things as well. Then, I will show you how to use what you just made. These are all tasty, easy, and useful. Hopefully, this will inspire you to try some new things, and eat something great!