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Diary: July 3, 2002

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Monday, July 1

I received a letter from the school recently telling me where to go on the first day of school, where to park, what time to report to campus, what to wear, and what to bring. I’d seen the school before, so I knew I would have no trouble finding the appropriate classroom. It’s a small place.

I arrived at school about 30 minutes early on Monday morning. I remember approaching the back door, where we were told to enter from the student parking lot, and looking at the door handle. Another phase of my life was on the other side of it. I smiled and turned the handle.

I thought I’d be one of the first there, but when I got to the demonstration classroom where new students were gathering I saw almost half of my class had already arrived. We are a class of 18 students total. We all sat quietly, waiting for things to start. Faculty members drifted in and out. Two women to my right were talking animatedly about some kind of Puerto Rican dish with a plantain crust surrounding pork. Nobody else was really talking. About 10 minutes before starting time, school director Chef Dionot came in and told us that there was coffee or tea available and pointed us towards the beverages.

At 10am on the dot, orientation began. Chef Dionot introduced all the faculty and had us introduce ourselves. He then began explaining the major components of our education: showing up and actively participating in the classroom, and compiling recipes at home (which is most of what homework we are expected to complete). He spoke at length about the importance of the recipe compilations, explaining that they serve as a self-written map of how to take food and make a finished dish out of it.

After about 45 minutes, one of the academic deans came in and gave a PowerPoint-aided presentation on school and classroom policies. Then, the admissions director presented us with our goodies: uniforms, books, and the much-anticipated knife kits. The uniforms included three embroidered jackets, four aprons, two pairs of chef’s pants, and three neckerchiefs. The knives included a chef’s knife, a carving knife, a boning knife, a serrated knife, a paring knife, scissors, and a steel, all in a black carrying case. Books include On Cooking: Techniques from Expert Chefs by Labensky and Hause (overall reference with many illustrations and photos, a very large and heavy book), The Meat Buyers Guide by the North American Meat Processors Association (which is almost all pictures and is a good-sized spiral bound volume), Le Repertoire de La Cuisine by Louis Saulnier (a slim volume filled with basic cooking references), and The French-American Market, Kitchen & Table: A Bilingual Dictionary of Food by Spencer.

Our primary instructor for the early part of the program, Chef Peter, came in after we’d been issued our materials and did a brief chat about some of the tools we’ll be using and how they differ. He discussed the differences between a china cap and a chinois (a chinois has a finer mesh), and explained why you want aluminum pots for some applications and stainless steel ones for others (aluminum heats quickly but stainless steel is not as reactive with foods). He also talked about the difference between VitaPrep blenders and basic bartenders’ blenders (the VitaPrep are more powerful, plus they have the naked-chef advertising campaign to recommend them), and other similar distinctions. “You might want to remember this” was his cue for us to write things down, and he warned us that he’ll say “it depends” in response to our many questions which do not have clear answers.

It was almost 12:30pm by this time, and we were getting hungry, so I was glad when he said he was going to do a brief plating demonstration and then it would be lunchtime. He wet two paper towels and placed a cutting board atop them, explaining that the paper towels prevent the board from sliding about, and placed a roasted pork loin atop the board. He used his fingers to place some asparagus in the center of a dinner plate, and then carefully scooped some basmati rice into a round atop the asparagus. He sliced three small rounds of the pork and arranged them fanned against the rice. Finally, he used a small ladle to put some of the sauce for the plate around the edges of the asparagus and rice.

He explained as he did these things that when people pay $20 for a plate of pork loin that costs $4.95 per pound, they expect you to do something nice with the way it looks. He repeated “A little frou-frou, a little chi-chi” frequently. He talked about how meats need to rest after they’re roasted before carving if you want the juices to stay in each portion. He commented on the contents of the sauce (they included soy sauce and passion fruit), and he complimented the recipe and technique for roasting the pork. He explained that if you dribble sauce on the edge of a plate, you use a kitchen towel to push the dribble into the intended puddle rather than wiping along the edge of the plate where you’ll just spread the dribble into a thin patina of sauce. He told us that it’s usually easier to do a nice presentation of an odd number of items than it is to do an even number. He said normally a restaurant would finish a plate like this with a sprig of some fresh herb or other. His finished plate was simple but quite lovely in appearance.

He then shooed us into the main kitchen for lunch. The faculty and instructors had laid out a casual buffet comprised of the pork, the sauce, the rice, the asparagus, baguettes, butter, and an assortment of fresh cookies from the pastry program. We all took plates and served ourselves. As I have posted previously on eGullet, I’ve been working on transitioning meat back into my diet. I optimistically selected two small rounds of pork loin, and loaded up on asparagus and rice. The pork was cooked medium-rare (Chef Peter: “Trichinosis isn’t a serious concern any longer.”) and the sauce was salty and rich. The asparagus and rice both tasted of butter and salt, but they weren’t at all overwhelmed…the rice was especially tasty with the pork sauce. The baguettes are great: light and airy inside while blessed with a substantial, chewy crust. And I thought the merengue cookies were great. (The chocolate spritz, on the other hand, suffered from a bit of dryness.)

Over lunch, I sat at a table in the kitchen with some of the other women from my class. One of them is a mother and restaurant owner who lives in a resort town four hours away; she’s staying with her in-laws during the week and going back to her kitchen on weekends. Another is a dietician who is interested in moving her career more towards institutional food service. A few people are refugees from the collapsed tech sector (one had left MCI WorldCom to start school not too long ago). There are also a few people who work in restaurants already and want to earn more pay and prestige. Two people had formerly worked in the same restaurant together, so they knew one another and got together to gossip about it. There are also people who have worked as mechanics, a former member of the Navy, a longtime nanny, and a few younger folks with high school educations but little to no work experience. The group is fairly gender balanced.

We cleaned up our plates and such after eating and then we enjoyed a 30-minute break. I used the time to flip through my new books a little, and I chatted with some of my fellow students about who they were and why they’d enrolled.

After the break, we reconvened for a school tour. Chef Peter took us into the main kitchen first, which has a bank of stoves and grills along one edge and several work tables staggered in the center. He explained the importance of turning on the exhaust hoods before starting the stoves, and told us that we’d have to take apart a stove and relight it if the hoods were turned on later (apparently this makes the pilot light go out). He showed us where refrigerators are: a side-by-side style “reach in” for fish plus a walk-in for dairy, fruit and vegetable products are by the main kitchen. The walk-in also serves as a reach-in, since there are small glass doors built into the side which can be accessed without walking into the body of the refrigerator. There’s also a table loaded with spices, oils, and other flavorings in the main kitchen, and racks holding Vita-Preps and Robot Coupe food processors. Our tour continued past the walk-in to where supply storage, including disposable paper supplies and cleaning supplies, and the dry storage are located. Dry storage includes flour, salt, excess seasonings and oils and other flavorings, the limited canned goods used at the school, and so on. “The chocolates are on the left. Don’t eat too many,” Chef Peter said. (He pantomimed sneaking chocolates as he said this.) Around the corner there’s a men’s locker room, a women’s locker room and student lounge, and then the academic offices. The pastry program students (who are only at the school a few days per week) were in class in the pastry kitchen, so we didn’t get a chance to peek at it.

After the tour, we filed back into the demonstration kitchen (which, by the way, had long tables with chairs behind them facing a long counter with stoves built into it and a mirror overhead). We took a reading comprehension test (which was ridiculously easy) and were told we could leave once we finished. I left the school at 3pm. Our only homework assignment was to read the chapters on professionalism and sanitation in the book On Cooking.

Tuesday, July 2, 2002

I didn’t know how long the commute would take, so I left home at 6:30am. I arrived at the school at 7:15am; I would have been there at 7 except I’d stopped in a hardware store to buy a lock for my locker before going on to class. Only one other student was present, and Chef Peter of course was already there and working. I asked if I could help him in any way and he suggested that I put away the onions and carrots that had arrived with that morning’s deliveries. I did so as quickly as possible (nothing like lifting 50lb bags of root vegetables first thing in the morning) and then asked him if more assistance was needed. He said no, so I got a cup of coffee from the beverage station beyond the locker rooms and sat down. I finished my reading assignment (physical contaminants include hairs and metal shavings; chemical contaminants include cleaning solutions and drain cleaner type items) and watched as the rest of the class filtered in.

Chef Peter set up some vegetables for himself at the front of the classroom, and then he wrote down some information on a whiteboard which I copied down. This information included a basic outline of knife types, the vegetables we’d be cutting, the basic cut types for vegetables, and the basic cut types for potatoes. Once 8am rolled around, he rang the bell to start class. We started off with a demonstration of how to tie our neckerchiefs and our aprons. The neckerchiefs are large cotton squares, which we fold down and then tie like neckties. I’ve never worn a necktie, so I had a hard time figuring out how to do it and needed a fair amount of assistance. I don’t think it looked too neat when I was done. The aprons are the around-the-waist sort, not the kind with a strap behind the neck. We’re supposed to fold the apron over to shorten, and the strings pass behind our backs and come back around tie in the front. I like the crisp look we have with the aprons, jackets and pants on, though I could take or leave the neckerchiefs. At least we don’t have to suffer with toques or other hats.

The morning’s lecture consisted of a brief overview of the topics we’d read about last night and then a full discussion of knives plus demonstrations of the basic knife cuts. Chef Peter went over the materials knives are made of and what the parts of a knife are. He showed us a carbon steel knife, which I have never seen. They are not considered safe in this country because they discolor most foods, but they keep a great edge.

The morning got more interesting when Chef Peter started demonstrating classical knife cuts. First up was a julienne: he took a fat carrot, peeled it, and cut off a 2.5” chunk. He then squared it off by cutting pieces off of the edge. Then he cut even 1/8” planks off of the squared carrot. Then he cut the planks into 1/8” strips. This is the classic julienne: when you look at it from its short end, it should look like a square, and it should be tiny. To make a brunoise, you cut the julienne strips at 1/8” intervals to make tiny cubes. Seems simple, but it’s incredibly hard to do, as I found out later in the day.

There are also specific methods for creating a brunoise cut from onions and shallots. These are methods I had learned before when I took a recreational knife skill class, and I was proud that I understood the concept already and was later able to execute an even onion brunoise (although the cubes were too large). Other cuts include a mirepoix (rough dice), paysanne (hard to describe, sort of like the 1/8” planks cut into 1/4" strips and then cut into triangles or other shapes), and jardiniere or batonettes. There was less time spent on discussing these cuts than on the julienne and brunoise.

In addition to the julienne and the brunoise, we learned how several potato cuts should look, including pont neuf (large rectangles), frit (slightly smaller rectangles), and so on. Chef Peter demonstranted the use of a mandoline to get crisp or chip cuts and gaufrettes (waffle chips). Finally, the dreaded tourne, or turned cut: cocotte, rissolee, and chateau cuts, the three sizes of barrel-shaped cut potatoes (in order from smallest to largest). The tourne is supposed to have seven even sides and be tapered at the ends and thicker in the center. I’ve heard a lot about it and it seems pretty hard to do evenly. There are beak-shaped tourne knives you can use for doing it, but you can also use a paring knife.

Finally, Chef Peter showed us how to make a studded onion and how to make a bouquet garni (hereafter referred to as a BG). The onion is used for flavoring light colored soups and sauces, and a BG goes into all sorts of soups and sauces. Studded onions are slit, the slits are stuffed with a bay leaf, and then you use two cloves to “pin” the bay leaf into the slit. BGs consist of a few peppercorns, a bay leaf, a pinch of thyme, and some parsley stems wrapped up in a bit of cheesecloth and tied with kitchen string.

I tried hard not to get mixed up with all the cuts, but I was worried about my ability to execute any of them. Once the demos were over we were told to set up stations for ourselves with two carrots, two stalks of celery, two potatoes, a shallot, and an onion. We were to peel our vegetables and get them ready so we could practice cuts after lunch. Once we were released to set ourselves up I began hustling. I was convinced that I’d be efficient and clean, and since I’d put away carrots and onions in the morning I knew where they were kept (not everybody had seen exactly where such items were from our tours). I swiftly collected a cutting board and two work bowls from the dish area, and set up two damp paper towels under my cutting board as we’d been shown to anchor it. I collected and cleaned my vegetables and set out my paring knife, my chef’s knife and my steel from my knife set. The school only has a few peelers for all the students to share, so while I waited for my turn I peeled my onions and shallot with my paring knife. Chef Peter came by and lifted my cutting board. “Two damp paper towels, Rochelle.” I protested: “They’re on there, they’re just sticking to the underside of the board.” Chef Peter smiled. “I see. There’s one in every class,” and then he wandered off.

The school peelers are terrible. Dull and rusty and old. It was hard to control them, so I ended up with bits of carrot all over the place once I finally had my turn at peeling them. I knew I’d need to keep my work area clean, and I managed to avoid getting much on the floor, but I felt I was swiping up bits of carrot for far more time than it took me to peel them. I plan to buy my own peeler this weekend. As it was, there were no skills required to speak of for setting up my “mise en place” (food and equipment set up, so everything is in place and ready to go), and since I’d hustled I finished rapidly. I helped the student who was stationed next to me with my extra time, peeling a carrot and wiping up potato scraps for him. I knew that when we practiced our cuts after lunch I wouldn’t feel so ahead of the game, so it was nice to able to be fast about the easy stuff.

As soon as we were done with our mise en place, we took our lunch break. The faculty prepared our meals again: steak, potatoes au gratin, buttered steamed broccoli, and brownies. I ate a small piece of steak and lots of potatoes and broccoli. The potatoes were salty, cheesy and browned. I sat with some of the guys who had worked in restaurants during lunch. One of them, who had been a sous chef before coming to school, told me that he never cooks in his spare time. “I just eat whatever’s around. I don’t want to cook after spending 60 hours a week in the kitchen.” He clearly enjoyed having the faculty prepare lunch for us.

There’s a break after lunch every day. I spent most of my break walking around seeing where things were: checking out the spice inventory (they stock Italian sea salt, fleur de sel, Hawaiian sea salt which is an intriguing red, Kosher salt, and more), the contents of the paper product boxes and the identities of the small boxes and jars in dry storage. I also investigated the walk-in refrigerator and nosed around dish storage to see where to find those items. Chocolates are indeed on the left when you enter dry storage, and no, I didn’t sneak any. It’s interesting that there’s such a laissez-faire attitude towards eating at the school. The school does not run a restaurant, so all the food is for the students, faculty and guests to eat. It seems to be okay to snack on carrots while you’re cutting them, and nobody stopped one of my classmates from packing a couple brownies to take home to their spouse.

After the break it was time to practice our knife skills. I’d had an inkling that these might be difficult for me, but I was rapidly cowed by my lack of ability. I’d set up near the restaurant guys, who quickly piled little foam plates with beautifully cut carrots, onions and leeks, all even and tiny. I was struggling to make even cuts just for “squaring off” my carrots. The planks I cut for julienne and brunoise were thicker at one end than the other, and when I tried to shave bits off of my planks I usually overcorrected and ended up having to shave bits off the other end. When I cut my planks into small julienne matchsticks, the ends looked triangular or trapezoidal instead of square when inspected head-on. It was hard going. I tried to be slow and deliberate but found that I didn’t do much better when careful than I did when I just tried to get the job done and over with. Even cutting pont neuf, which are large blocky potato rods, was difficult for me.

Chef Peter came around to check on us, and the student next to me (who was having as hard a time as I was) asked him to redemonstrate cutting planks and juliennes from celery. I went over to watch as he worked, and he showed us how to even up the planks via shaving with the knife, plus how to remove the riblike ends from the inside edge of the celery plank. The extra demonstration helped a little, but not much. When Chef Peter checked out my julienne and brunoise samples he didn’t look too impressed.

I wasn’t shy about trying the tourne…everybody would have a hard time with it, I reasoned, and I may as well get started on messing around with it. I cut a peeled potato in half and started pulling off strips with my paring knife. The potato got smaller, and smaller, and smaller until I had turned my potato half from chateau sized to rissolee size to cocotte size and finally into a beleaguered narrow scrap. I tried with two more potato halves and didn’t do much better. There were far more than seven sides to my finished potatoes, and they didn’t taper cleanly from the center to the ends.

I tried not to get too stressed out about the knife cuts. I have a long weekend ahead for practicing, and I wasn’t the only one having problems. Just the same, I wished I was better at least with cutting the planks, and I had to focus to avoid getting frustrated. Several of the students were having similarly difficult times with their cutting skills, and we all tried to help one another as best we could. I peeled extra potatoes and carrots for other people, and was delivered onions when somebody else ran off for more. Still, despite the camaraderie I was glad when things ended. Again, I was very quick with cleaning up my mise en place, and was able to spend time helping others clean up and put away their materials.

After our cutting practice we took a math exam, the second component of the comprehension and skills test we’d started yesterday. And then I left class for the day. Homework: we were told to read the chapter in On Cooking on knife skills.

Wednesday, July 3

Today is the first day we will be cooking: we are expected to produce onion soup, and eat it as a part of our lunch. The temperatures are in the upper 90s outside, which is not good onion soup weather, but I’m eager to get at it anyway. I just want to get into the kitchen, since that’s where I feel I have the most to learn.

I left home at 7am today, and arrived at school at 7:25. It’s a light traffic week in DC since Congress is on leave and a lot of people are out of town. There were about 6 students there when I arrived, most of whom were working on their knife skills or helping Chef Peter set up for the morning’s demo. I asked Chef Peter if he needed help and he asked me to take some large plastic containers of chicken stock and put them into a stockpot, and then set the stockpot on the stove over high heat. I had to ask for assistance but it didn’t take me long to get it done, and I remembered to turn on the exhaust hood before starting the stove. There was nothing else that needed to be done after that, and I didn’t really have enough time to set up, practice knife cuts, and clean up before class, so I got a cup of coffee and had a seat in the demonstration classroom to wait for class to begin.

At 8:01am Chef Peter greeted us and asked me what time it was. “8:01.” He grimaced slightly. They’re pretty serious about being on time here. No student has been late yet, but I know it will happen, especially in September when the city fills up and traffic gets crazy again. A whiteboard was already set up with a list of what we’d be learning that morning, and Chef Peter had a pot of water simmering and another pot of oil set up along with mise for our soup demo and so on.

Chef Peter began by thinly slicing some onions for our soup. As he did so he explained that thinner slices have more surface area, so they will cook darker and caramelize more completely than thicker cut slices. He put some butter in a pot and melted it over medium heat, and then he added the onion slices. He talked a lot about the difference between sweating, sauteing and searing (he was sweating the onions). He explained that you need to keep listening to the sound of the onions cooking to help you get a sense of when they need to be stirred and when to add ingredients. He talked a lot about caramelization, the thin brown bits that stick to a pan which you can then deglaze by adding a liquid and scraping them to loosen them up. Caramelization and deglazing help you build the flavor in a dish. Once his onions were starting to brown, he deglazed his pot with some water. He cooked the onions and water until they were “a sec,” or completely dry and starting to caramelize again. He repeated the deglazing with water, and again cooked the onions a sec. Finally he deglazed one last time with white wine. By this time the onions were completely wilted down and turning into a tangled mass, and they were a dark golden brown color. All along the way, he added salt and ground in white pepper, stirred to keep the onions off the sides of the pan where they could burn, and added other flavoring ingredients (a BG and a slightly smashed garlic clove, which he removed after the wine deglazing). Eventually he added chicken stock, skimmed the fat and foam that rose to the top, and let the soup simmer for 15 minutes. He passed it out in small portions for tasting: very salty and peppery and sweet and rich. This was what he wanted to see from us.

In between working on the soup, Chef Peter demonstrated how to blanch various foods. Tomatoes are blanched to remove their skins. Green vegetables are blanched to parcook them and make it a faster job to prepare them when somebody orders them in a restaurant. Bones and meats are blanched to remove impurities such as blood before using in stocks. Potatoes are blanched so they can be stored outside of water and so they will cook more quickly and evenly when somebody orders them. I was already familiar with blanching for the most part, but I took lots of notes to make sure I could keep it all together.

Since we are expected to write recipes for every dish we cook, I took lots of notes to help me write my recipe for onion soup. I coped down almost everything Chef Peter said to do for the soup. Here is what I wrote, verbatim:

La Soupe A L’Oignon


Whole butter (not clarified)



White wine

Chicken stock

Sea salt

White pepper

Peel onions. Remove root and slice finely; the more finely, the more color your onions will introduce during caramelization. Slightly old, softer, sweeter onions tend to work best. Melt butter on medium heat in pot. Add onions. Sweat over moderate heat. Onions will turn clear and a little brown. Season with white pepper and salt. The bottom of the pan should turn brown. Stir so none of the onion sticks to the side of the pan using a heatproof spatula or a wooden spoon. Add enough water to cover the onion by 1/4 to 1/3. Stir to release brown bits from bottom of pan. Add BG. Reduce a sec. The color in the pan will develop more quickly. When it’s dry, add the same amount of water again. Add whole garlic clove that has been lightly crushed and peeled. Add more S&P. Taste to see if you can taste S&P, adjust seasoning. Reduce. Color should be well developed. Cook a sec. Remove garlic when it starts to break up. Deglaze with white wine. Add enough so that it covers the bottom of the pan and comes partway up the onions. Reseason if necessary. Cook a sec. Bring your chicken stock to a boil and cut back to a simmer in a separate pot. Add stock to pan. Stir to release solids. Taste and adjust seasoning. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Foam or scum may rise in pan; remove with ladle. Use bottom of ladle to stir surface and force the impurities to the edge, and then scrape up and remove with the ladle. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Remove BG. Classically served in a ramekin. Use one half onion per serving.

Once we tasted the soup, Chef Peter pulled out a deck of cards that he’d previously prepared with our names on them. He shuffled them and then dealt them in pairs. I was paired with one of the younger students. We went into the kitchen to make our first onion soup. I set up our equipment while my partner retrieved the foods, liquids and seasonings we’d need. I got to work on peeling the onions and as soon as he came back we started slicing them. I think we sliced ours too thickly, but they were thinner than some of the other students’ onions. I wanted to work quickly because I wanted to get a prime spot on the stove for our soup, and indeed we were the second team to be ready to hit the stove. We followed the procedure above for the most part, although the edge of the pan got a little too black because we waited too long for the second deglazing. I think my partner was a little intimidated since he didn’t know much about food or cooking in general before starting school, nor did he have much kitchen experience, and so I found myself guiding and coaching him. We managed to get our soup ready in the hour we’d been allotted. Chef Peter came by to taste it when we finished up. His verdict: we needed more salt, but otherwise it was a good soup. Our soup was darker than about 2/3 of the soups other teams prepared, which I thought was good since our onions were probably too thick. My partner and I agreed to work on our knife skills over the long weekend so we could make a thinner slice next time.

Once our soups were ready we ate lunch. The faculty prepared some cold cuts, a tomato-olive salad, a tossed salad and a cheese tray to go with our soup. I’d had enough meat by that point (I don’t really eat much meat, and I ate more this week than I have in about a decade) so I made a cheese and salad sandwich instead of eating cold cuts with my soup. Over lunch I talked to some other students about what we’d do over the holiday weekend. We all professed interest in practicing knife skills. One person had a new boyfriend who has a boat, so she said they might go for a long sail, and another person planned to play golf despite the Washington heat. Nobody planned to go downtown for fireworks, what with the security.

As we were washing up from lunch, the school’s director Francois Dionot started nosing around the remaining pots on the stove and sampling soups. I went over just as he was about to taste the one my partner and I had made. He saw me approaching and asked, “Is this your soup?” “Yes, Chef Dionot.” He ladled some out into a small ramekin and tasted it. “It’s a little too acidic. Either you added too much wine, or you didn’t cook it a sec once you deglazed with the wine.” I nodded. He kept sipping at his ramekin. Then he started fussing with the ladle in the pot. I asked, “Would you like the rest?” “Yes, please. I love onion soup, it’s one of my favorite things.” I poured out the rest of our soup into his ramekin and he slurped it up. The acid must not have been terribly bad if he chose to polish our soup off. I was pretty happy about this interaction.

As we were scrubbing down the kitchen, my partner from the soup came over to me and asked me some questions. He said he was too shy to ask Chef Peter but he thought I could help. He was having trouble understanding why you blanch a tomato for only a few seconds when a green vegetable blanches for a few minutes, and so on. I explained the distinctions, and gave examples and tried to help him understand the hows and whys. He seemed to get it a little better and thanked me for my help. It’s nice to be able to teach somebody else something about food.

All in all, it was a pretty good day. School let out once we were done cleaning up from lunch as a holiday treat. This weekend: buy a nice peeler and a tourne knife, and practice, practice, practice!

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Malawry -- Yes, thanks, especially since you have been busy and yet so much wonderful detail was provided. For me, the information regarding basic cookery was helpful (e.g., the cuts, deglazing), as I try to prime up before beginning cooking at home. :smile:

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Chef Peter smiled. “I see. There’s one in every class,” and then he wandered off.


"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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dear malawry,

sounds like you're enjoying yourself. did you know that you can sharpen the veggie peelers with the tip of your steel? place the tip in the slot and run it back and forth a few times, or maybe a lot if the peelers are really dull! :smile:

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Rochelle, about peeling. I don't want to tell you what to do but: I always have people peel over a discard bowl. Always. Small bowl of water to rinse peeler. No mess.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Jinmyo, I learned that trick today actually, thanks. A sharp peeler will be even better for keeping the job neat. I think the ones at the school are beyond sharpening, they're so bad, but it's good to know I can sharpen the one I'll purchase myself to keep it in good shape.

I don't know yet if I can use my diary for studying. It's not designed as a tool for that, although it might help me codify information I'm learning since I will explain some things as I write my diary. I won't put all my recipe notes in here, and I've already skipped over several techniques we've learned that didn't seem interesting enough to bring here.

Knife grasp: Thumb and forefinger at hilt, grasping blade, straddling spine. Rest of fingers curled around handle. This might be wrong, though. It's the grip I learned when I took the recreational knife skill class I mentioned, and Chef Peter has not corrected it, but IIRC it's not exactly what we were taught in class. Will have to check on Monday.

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You're using the right grip (at least for cutting most veggies), it'll just take practice and concentration on what you're trying to do. Even after 20 years of professional cooking, I still can slip up if I'm not paying attention.

Next question, what's the other hand doing? By that I mean how are you holding what you are cutting?

One piece of advice: don't take what you are taught as gospel. The names of vegetable cuts, methods for making soups, stocks and sauces, and even the necessity of turning on the vent hood before you turn on equipment will change from kitchen to kitchen. I'd stay in the habit of turning on the vent hood first, though. If you turn equipment on and forget the vent, you will not only soon be working in a sauna, but you stand a slight chance of setting off the fire-suppression systems. It's a nasty mess that takes days to clean and usually requires inspection by a fire marshall before you can use the kitchen again. From what I understand, it would not look good on a resume'. :biggrin:

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Re tournee spuds: If you want to learn how to do these you must PRACTICE! Muchly :biggrin:

A curved tournee knife will work, but after you get good at it you'll find that you'll be able to tournee olivette with a 12 inch chefs knife. :smile:

For practice, B size potatoes work nicely. Buy a few pounds and practice at home or anywhere in your spare time.

First : make sure the knife is sharp

Second: Draw the knife (right hand for right handed) towards you in a curve along the spud, while at the same time the left hand holding the potato turns it the opposite direction to the knife draw, at the same time!

While you're in school, you should try to get 7 sides (many chef/instuctors will count 'em). Irregardless of the number of sides, they should look uniform. This way they'll cook evenly.

Continued good luck to you!

Nick :smile:

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Well, I'm hooked!  Thanks for doing this, Malawry.

Ditto. I was looking forward to your first report. Sounds like you have the most valuable learning tool: enthusiasm and positive attitude.

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Thank you for posting such a detailed report of your first three days, it was an enjoyable and interesting read. I'll be looking forward to reading about how you are improving your knife skills - an area in which I feel I am weak as well.

I hope you find yourself enjoying the classes.


Starwind . Fort Lauderdale


There are moments when one feels free from one's own identification with human limitations and inadequacies. At such moments one imagines that one stands on some spot of a small planet, gazing in amazement at the cold yet profoundly moving beauty of the eternal, the unfathomable; life and death flow into one, and there is neither evolution nor destiny; only Being.

-- Albert Einstein

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A rare eGullet post for me:

Rochelle is working on her knife cuts in the kitchen as we speak. I'm becoming a kitchen widower! :wink:

Seriously, I can't say how much I look forward to her growth as a chef over the next year. She's already the finest cook I've ever tasted. :biggrin: I can't even imagine the meals she's going to create a year from now!

Disclosure, of course: I'm Rochelle's partner, and the luckiest beneficiary of her passion for food and cooking. :cool:

You go, Rochelle!

All my love and support,


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Splendid reading!

You are very generous to share with everyone, and it is obviously appreciated...best of luck and keep up the good work!


...I thought I had an appetite for destruction but all I wanted was a club sandwich.

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It sounds like things are going well. It is nice to see that the intimidation factor is having no affect on you. Congratulations on the successful completion of your first week! Please tell me what kind of peeler you decided upon. :biggrin:

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