I recently enrolled and started cooking school and have been prodded by several loved ones to post about my journey from average home cook to hopefully above average chef. So here goes nothing …
The chef program I chose is designed for working adults and actually meets once a week in the evening. The instructors trust you to do a lot of work during the week between classes, and they include some hands-on lab experience in the form of brunches and theme dinners. If I hang in there for four semesters, I get my chef certificate.
Although the program isn’t as rigorous or hardcore as Cordon Bleu or CIA, it fit my goals, and I was not disappointed after the first class. The instructors are professional chefs, and they expect us to respect the uniform and the kitchen. We are expected to come to class in full uniform, cleaned and pressed. We are supposed to say “Yes, chef” and “No, chef” to our instructors. I was excited at one of the first professional perks besides the nifty uniform–my own case with my very own knives. (Although I couldn’t help but think of the Top Chef line: “Please pack your knives and go.”)
The first class we spent a lot of time on sanitation and safety. Not glamorous but necessary for our handler’s permit and well, safety, of course. My overwhelming impression of the first class was something the chefs kept saying: Everything in this kitchen is hot or sharp. I feel now like the home kitchen is like a kitchen with training wheels. Everything in the professional kitchen is bigger, hotter, sharper. There is less protection from yourself– the flames go higher and there is less insulation or safety protection devices. Forget hot mitts–you use your little hand towel to touch pan handles and move cookie sheets. You even leave a towel wrapped around the handle of a hot pan meant for a dishwasher to let them know it’s hot.
The other thing that struck me is getting used to sharing a kitchen with so many others. Common courtesy isn’t just to be nice–it is imperative. You yell “sharp” if you are walking with a knife and “hot” if you are walking with a hot pan. It is tough to share kitchen space with a dozen other cooks. The room looks spacious until you are all trying to work! (Of course, once clean up time came around, I was glad there were so many of us…)
Another side note: several pieces of equipment seem to have a slightly different name than you would use at home. The most notable probably being the saute and frying pan. A straight side pan is a sautoir and a sloped side pan is a sauteuse. Rectangular pans that look like roasters or cake pans are all called hotel pans.
The highlight of the night was the knife work. We learned how to hold the knife correctly, how to chop and slice, how to hold our non-knife-holding hand for safety. We practiced first on celery, then moved to specific cuts on carrots–a julienne (thin sticks) and a brunoise (small dice). We also julienned potatoes; chopped onions; peeled and chopped tomatoes; and sliced, diced and pureed garlic. We also broke out the mandolin and experimented with potatoes. My favorite had to be the supreme of the orange with the paring knife. It was cool to peel and segment an orange the “right” way for once!
Overall, a great experience, especially since I have the pleasure of my husband’s company as a fellow student in the class. Why didn’t I do this two years ago??