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Adventures at the French Culinary Institute


manton
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I know they are all different, but it's not just Chef X. who defines "slurry" as "cold liquid plus starch." The whole school does, apparently.

I have used arrowroot in the past, and still do sometimes, but I don't like it quite as much these days. Yesterday, I actually thought that the espagnol (roux) was better than the fond de veau lie (slurry).

In Escoffier, everything is a roux. According to Ruhlman, however, E said that a roux was a makeshift thickener and that pure starch such as arrowroot was best and would one day be common. But Ruhlman does not cite a recipe number, and my edition of Escoffier contains no such declaration.

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I'm not questioning that definition of slurry--only the generalizations about them leading to Chinese restaurant-style sauces. And for that matter, any other generalizations you might make about slurry-thickened sauces. The point is that each of these starches is different. They each have their respective strengths and weaknesses (just like roux), and a good saucier knows how to work the strengths and minimize the weaknesses.

As far as categorizing, it might be more sensible to label them refined starches, since you could make a slurry out of any kind of powder, and you could incorporate these starches in ways besides slurries if you wanted to. The main thing that sets them apart from wheat flour (roux, etc.) is their relative purity. Wheat flour is full of protein, which tends to cloud the stock and so requires hours of skimming. The protein also adds strong cereal flavors which are brought out by cooking and then reduced only through extended cooking. Refined starches avoid these limitations.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

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The slurry thickened sauce did seem more "gluey" to me. Vaguely translucent and gummy. I just did not like it as much.

At home, I stopped using slurries a long time ago in favor of reduced heavy cream, and then I just skip the monte au beurre. But maybe I will start doing brown roux again, as it has been a while and that espagnol was very good.

But I have a big container of that fond de veau lie, so I can always try again, and maybe I will like it more.

As to Chef's comment about Chinese restaurants, I don't think he meant that as a slur on slurries. I think what he meant was that a good technique had unjustly acquired a bad reputation by being done badly so often in poor to middling restaurants.

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As to Chef's comment about Chinese restaurants, I don't think he meant that as a slur on slurries.  I think what he meant was that a good technique had unjustly acquired a bad reputation by being done badly so often in poor to middling restaurants.

Which is perfectly reasonable. In fact badly made roux-based sauces are a big part of what sent them so radically out of fashion in the '60s.

Any technique can be abused or misapplied. Keeping this in mind, I'd discourage you from generalizing too much from the gluey slurry-based sauce you tried. I'm pretty confident I could make sauces that you'd strongly dislike using any liason! I'm not sure what can be generalized from a bad example of something.

It would be more educational to try a sauce made with purified starch by someone who's a wizard with those ingredients (as your chef no doubt is with roux). This would give a much better point of comparison.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

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Wow. That class is so old school and classically based. Takes me back to my days in culinary school. It's interesting to read your posts (good job BTW) and see how much I think I've grown as a cook by comparing how I feel now about some of that stuff and how I felt back then.

The places I've worked (and work) at completely shy away from roux based anything. We've made veal stock that is so reduced and full of gelatin that no thickening is needed. We didn't even mount the sauces--or at least very rarely. We make a stock that is similar to how Keller would do it (though I would still change a couple of things if it were my kitchen) and it produces sauces that are nappe and so full of intensity that we rarely need more than an ounce to sauce a plate.

I know that you are doing this to expand your knowledge and not for pro. use, but its still cool to read your posts. BTW, I've never done a tourne before (not even really in school). I don't know why they still teach that knife cut--it was essentially invented to occupy the time of the apprentices that those types of kitchens had back in the day. Essentially they had to give them something to do to occupy their time because otherwise they would just be standing around doing nothing. Not too many places do that knife cut anymore--and if I ever run my own kitchen I certainly wouldn't ask my cooks to do that.

About demi-glace. Nobody does sauce espagnole anymore. If anyone says demi to you it is greatly reduced veal stock.

Good stuff man...keep if coming.

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It is interesting. I understand from reading, from friends, and just from observation that restaurants simply don't make the stuff I am learning any more. Yet all the cooking schools teach it anyway.

Actually, I shouldn't say that as I simply don't know what they "all" do. But I know this is what CIA teaches. Reading Making of a Chef, I find that the curriculum Ruhlman describes there is nearly identical to what I am being taught now. I know a guy in culinary school in Chicago, and he is learning the same stuff.

Of course the schools must know that the restaurants have passed them by, and the restaurant chefs must know what the schools are teaching. The schools keep teaching this paleo frog stuff anyway, and the restaurants keep hiring their graduates. My guess is that there is a consensus, or something close, that there is value to learning all these basic, classic, even outmoded techniques even if you will never formally serve the food. Because nearly everything a modern restaurant is doing is derived from this stuff, or is intended to replace it.

As for tourne, I don't think it is strictly make-work. Partly, it is to put something pretty on the plate. Partly it is to help the veggies roll around in the pan so that they glaze or saute evenly.

Keller still uses tourne at Bouchon. Not sure about FL, but I know he used to there.

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Legal education is quite a lot like that: pretty much nothing you learn in law school is directly related to what lawyers do. Rather, law school is focused on teaching students to "think like a lawyer" -- the curriculum helps develop a common set of thinking skills that every practicing lawyer is supposed to share. That common background is just that: a background.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Just to be clear, I wasn't trying to denigrate the class or anything...it was a great read and just made me think of my time at culinary school and similar classes.

I think there is a lot of value to the things in the class...and I know in one of Ruhlman's books (I want to say Reach) that he talks about how the CIA had talked about "updating" some of the classics and doing away with teaching the mother sauces. The idea, IIRC, was almost universally shot down by chefs both at the school and in the restaurant/hotel world.

I personally think that at some point they are going to have to move away from this type of old school cooking. I mean, we are talking ideals that have been in place for about 100 years (going back to Escoffier) and at some point it's got to give. I mean, I know what a classical demi glace is and I know how to make veloute and bechemel, and Escoffier style tomato sauce, the only time I ever even use any of those is when I make a mac and cheese at home or for family meal or something.

It just seems like someday something has got to change.

FatGuy's analogy to law school was pretty accurate I think, and a good one.

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I think it's great that the schools teach classical technique (like Espagnole based demi that hardly anyone makes anymore). It gives you a lot of foundation and technique, and if you work in a restaurant that calls reduced veal stock demi glace (one of my biggest pet peaves in the world), you'll know enough to jump in.

What seems missing is the techniques used at many of the best restaurants, which often blend pre-classical techniques (meat coulis) with contemporary methods of extraction. These techniques are just more advanced that what Escoffier was doing, and I think it sells kids a bit short to send them out into the world without awareness of them.

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

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Keep in mind this is their basic class. If you go to the professional school, there are six levels and this is only the equivalent of Level One. So maybe they teach all this stuff later.

There is also a follow-on amatuer class called "Advanced Culinary Techniques" where perhaps they go into some of that stuff.

Edited by manton (log)
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...

As for tourne, I don't think it is strictly make-work.  Partly,  it is to put something pretty on the plate.  Partly it is to help the veggies roll around in the pan so that they glaze or saute evenly.

...

Tourné is also a way to present old root vegetables ("it is now march, and they were harvested in october" old) in a pretty way. You shave away all miscolorings and imperfections and end up with something attractive.

That was of course more of an issue during the 19th and early 20th century than it is today.

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I'm glued to your story too. As I'm currently living in France, it's interesting to me to note that these old French sauces really don't appear on the daily menus of small and simple places, even here. Probably they used to, but I haven't seen much real saucery here, outside of a few places.

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:smile:

Thanks again! I am so enjoying your thread I actually saved it up for when I had a few delicious quiet moments.

“Don't kid yourself, Jimmy. If a cow ever got the chance, he'd eat you and everyone you care about!”
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Legal education is quite a lot like that:

Funny you should have mentioned Legal education; I was just thinking as I read, there is no training for any profession, that treats its students as contemptuously as the training to be a Chef.

Law school, med school, teacher education programs, the building trades, any training or education program I can think of has some modicum of respect for its students and apprentices. Why oh why does this one profession feel that humiliation is essential to learning? The only conclusion I can come to (and I'll admit that its a real stretch) is that because cooking had traditionally been the domain of women, to professionalize and "legitimize" it, it was necessary to fill it with more machismo than a boxing ring.

Any thoughts?

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I don't know about that. Most "fine cooking" or what you want to call it was done by men for a long long time. (Strange as that admittedly is)

I think the main thing is that cooking is a high stress and rather dangerous work environment, things hot and cooking all over, sharp knives and other dangerous equipment all over. People jumping over each other and demanding guests impatiently waiting in the dining room Everybody has to be on their toes and give all they got during a dinner service, there's simply no room for slacking about or goofing around.

Stress, heat, high humidity, noise, cramped quarters, that just makes for tempers to boil and things being yelled and thrown around. Maybe they just want to make sure you can stand the heat and stay on top of your game, no matter what boils over next to you, the chef or the milk pot? In the heat of the moment asking politely to please make that risotto again is probably not going to happen - or work.

I'd be curious to hear from some chefs here though, as I'm just standing outside, looking in.

I'm just not sure the gender thing comes much into play here, though some chefs sure have big ego (probably required) and machismo, no doubt.

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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I mean, traditionally medicine and law were only practiced by men as well. And I would argue that med students get treated with respect. I'm sure there are a lot of interns that would agree with me. Stress? Anyway you slice it, in the kitchen, no one is going to die because of my actions.

Besides, I think nowadays most of the "hardcore" hazing is a thing of the past. Sure, you could get worked to death and yelled at a lot, but I doubt too many places still throw things or hit employees.

I've felt like an idiot, sure, (many, many, times) but I don't think I've been "humiliated." I think that this style of learning to be a chef is getting phased out.

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Aren't we talking about training to become a cook? I think the term "chef" is being used rather loosely, no?

Jmahl

The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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Just to be as clear as possible:

1) I am not training to be a professional chef. It is too late for me. I will spend the rest of my life as a drone, or at least earning my living as a drone. I am not in this to learn to cook professionally, nor do I think I have it in me to do so successfully were I to have some kind of mid-life crisis and quit and risk everything. I am just not that good.

2 I really disagree that there is any "hazing" going on. Chef X can be tart, but he is always fair and honest. There is no "grade inflation" here. He tells us forthrightly what we did wrong, but he does not go in for gratuitous humiliation.

3 I really like Chef X. Really. He is THE factor that makes this class so worthwhile. I feel that we are lucky to have him. A teacher that inspires you to hustle is invaluable. I don't want to be petted for trying. I want to know how I did, truthfully, and know how and when I blew it, and learn how to fix it.

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