After just three months of culinary school at L’Academie de Cuisine, I have learned a lot, to say the very least. I remember when I could hardly wrap my head around preparing our first assignment, French Onion Soup. Slicing an onion seemed like an impossible task – I did not even know how to hold a knife properly. Nor could I hold a straight face as the onion burned my eyes. Let’s face it, there is no sympathy for criers in the kitchen.
To think I can now take a whole chicken and break it down into its breasts and legs in minutes blows my mind. Looking back on everything I have learned so far, here are three tips from school that I value the most in the kitchen –
1. Trust your Chef’s Knife.
Before culinary school, I had no idea this knife existed. Although its long length and thick blade intimidated me at first (I felt like Jason from Friday the Thirteenth!), the chef’s knife quickly became one of my best friends in the kitchen. This all-purpose knife can be used for just about anything – slicing, mincing or chopping. He (or she?) hasn’t let me down yet.
2. Take Advantage of Stainless Steel.
Growing up, my family only used non-stick, or Teflon, pans in the kitchen. I had never cooked with a stainless steel pan before I came to culinary school. It’s all we used, and for a good reason, too – stainless steel is a reliable, durable material that most chefs and restaurants rely on in the kitchen.
Of course, the main complaint with using a stainless steel pan is that the food will stick. The solution is quite simple – just use a fat with a high smoke point, such as canola oil or clarified butter (butter removed of its milk solids…check out this website for an explanation).
I also recommend a set of stainless steel mixing bowls. In culinary school, we use these handy bowls for anything and everything imaginable. Every class, I surround myself with several of these bowls – one for scraps and garbage, another one to catch prepped ingredients. Mixing bowls are essential for mis en place, or the act of arranging and prepping all necessary ingredients in front of you. As they tell us in school, if you want to be a successful chef, you must be organized.
3. Try not to waste!
In culinary school, we save almost everything. I have learned that there is a use for even the most obscure ingredient. For example, you are breaking down a whole chicken – what do you do with the excess bones; the parts usually destined for the trash can? Chicken backs (after the fat is removed) are perfect for a chicken stock. The rest of the bones can be used to add flavor to a pan sauce. We also save duck fat for duck confit. Even scraps like mushroom stems or shrimp shells can be used to add flavor to a sauce as well. It is important however, to make sure to strain them out of the sauce serving – No one wants to bite into shrimp shells!