February 12th, 2010

Definitely Not Too Cool for School

This spring I signed up for a cooking class at a local community college. Not just a one-night cooking class where you learn to make risotto for Valentine’s dinner… it’s an honest to goodness, uniform-wearing, knife-kit-having, basic food prep class. So far it has been exhilarating and exhausting. It’s only on Saturdays since it’s quite a drive from where I work and live. That means that it’s an extra-long class… almost 6 hours actually.

The first two sessions were lecture. We talked about history, safety and sanitation. There is a class entirely devoted only to Safety and Sanitation and I will have to take that class later on, before I can move on to more advanced cooking. We also learned how to convert recipes, menu structures and touched a little bit on food costing and pricing. Those first two Saturdays were spent in the classroom and there was a feeling of general anxiousness to get into the kitchen. Last Saturday we finally got the chance… and it was FUN.

The prof started off by outlining the plan for the day. Ratatouille, rice, fried chicken strips, french fries, chicken broth, clarified butter. Woof. It sounds like a lot (and it is) but we were divided into groups and the prof also decided that we would throw everyone’s ratatouille ingredients into one giant pot, and that he would take care of the rice for the most part.

He started off by showing us how to chop and julienne veggies. The ratatouille is the first recipe we work with because it provides a lot of practice for knife skills. Onions, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes, herbs… chop chop chop. We also got a lesson on how to hold a knife properly, which is pretty uncomfortable at first but gives you complete control over your knife. We got even more knife practice by putting together a mirepoix, which is a combination of diced onions, celery and carrots. This is the foundation for a lot of classic cuisine so we’ll be seeing a  lot of this over the course of the semester.

This is how you hold a knife: Last three fingers wrapped around the handle, index finger and thumb squeezing the blade.

From then, it was a bit of a blur. One teammate took care of the broth (chicken bones into a pot of cold water and let simmer for a long time, then add mirepoix and herbs). We worked together on sautéing the veggies for the ratatouille, and we put a pound of butter (!!) into a pot to get clarified butter. Cut up some potatoes for fries. Cut up some chicken breast, season with salt and pepper, dump into flour, then egg wash, then bread crumbs.

In the middle of all this controlled chaos, we also had to make sure to wash our pots and pans. It’s better to wash as you go rather than waiting till the end so that you have a clean station at all times and so that team assigned to sink duty would not go on a murderous, greasy rampage.

By midday we were all starving. Good thing the fries and the chicken were scheduled for the deep fryer in time for lunch. The ratatouille and rice were done shortly after that and we all scarfed most of it down. The food itself was pretty simple but there is nothing like eating a hot meal after hours of hard work to make that meal. After that, we put together everyone’s clarified butter into a bin so that we could use it over the semester. We also strained everyone’s chicken broth into a giant bucket for later use. Prof had also roasted some mirepoix and beef bones in the oven so that we can have some beef broth to work with.

After that, each team was assigned a cleaning assignment. Sanitizing surfaces, cleaning the floor, sink duty, dish room duty. Needless to say this is the least fun part of the class but I’m glad we get to do it too. It instills a lot of discipline to keep the workplace clean and also to be held accountable for all the equipment that’s used.

I’d like to share pictures of all this craziness with you guys but honestly there’s not a lot of time to do anything BUT work while we’re in the kitchen. I’ll sneak in what I can but no promises!

Posted under Cooking School

3 Responses to “Definitely Not Too Cool for School”

  1. replicate said recipes for us STAT!

  2. Where are you taking classes?! I almost started baking classes at El Centro in the fall of 2007, but it fell through because the class I had to take first was full. I would love to take cooking classes, too…..

  3. I’m taking it at El Centro! They have a really good program and seem to be pretty well-respected at least in the DFW area. One of my teammates is actually in the Baking/Pastry Program… kinda up your alley! :)