May 18, 2007

Techniques of Fine Cooking 1 - Class #1

Last night was the first class of the five, and to make sure that I wasn’t late, I left work slightly early to make sure I had enough time to get downtown and find the school, and by “slightly early” I mean that I left at the time that I officially work till as directed by the employee handbook and my job description.

I don’t know what it is, but I’ve been having amazing luck lately when it comes to the subway. It seems that I either arrive right as a train is pulling in, or about to pull in. During rush hours, I never need to wait more than two minutes for one. And yesterday afternoon was no exception. As I was going down the stairs to the N/R/W tracks, there was an empty train pulling in. Within 15 minutes, I was at 23rd and 5th, getting rained upon.

I easily found the building at 50 W. 23rd Street and there was a sign in the lobby that had my class name on it and directed me to go to the fifth floor, which I did. On the fifth floor I was able to find a reception area and, after checking in, was given a name tag and a binder with the course material. I was also instructed to wait in the reception area with about ten or so other people.

After about ten minutes, the receptionist informed us that we were in kitchen 1402, on the 14th floor, second on the right. It took two elevators, but we all went up and found the kitchen. It was a large kitchen with ovens and burners on both sides, sinks in the back, four refrigerators, an area for non-refrigerated items, and three tables shaped like parallelograms.

There were chairs set up around one of the tables, so we all sat down on them and our instructor, Chef Jane, introduced herself to us. She then dove into the course material and told us what she thought about the equipment checklist and some of the items that we would really need in our kitchens, as well as the different types of cookware (stay away from copper — too expensive and other types are just as good). She also mentioned some things about food safety, why washing meat and chicken in water is bad, what kind of cutting board to use, and how to keep a cutting board from sliding around while you use it (place a wet paper towel underneath it).

She then talked about the different types of herbs and passed many around so we could smell each to see how the were different. Mmm, mint. She also passed around different varieties of vinegars to show how they may have had a similar aroma, but what they were made from greatly enhanced the flavor.

She then moved on to some general knife skills, by first showing us the different types of knives, some pluses and minuses of each type, how to hold them, and then how to cut different vegetables, with an emphasis on the ones we would be cooking with that evening such as onion, carrots, bell peppers, oranges, and garlic.

We then started to talk about Lesson One and the food we would be making that evening. Each portion of the meal had at least two options, but most had more. By breaking us up into groups, we would be able to make a nice variety of the menu which would give us a chance to taste different dishes, as well as different dishes prepared different ways by different people.

After making the groups, we decided what each group would be making, and then we got down to the business of slicing, dicing, sautéing, and macerating. I assisted in making the gazpacho by dicing an onion and a green bell pepper. I also measured out the appropriate amount of vinegar, oil, and tomato juice. After we made that, I started prepping broccoli for blanching and sautéing. After that, I and my teammates, surprisingly, blanched and sautéed the broccoli.

Once everything was done, we sat down to a nice meal of soup, salad, lamp chops, sautéed potatoes or broccoli, and several different type of macerated fruit for desert. Wine was served, and we spent the next few minutes enjoying the food we made as well as sort of getting to know our fellow students. At about 11pm, after clearing our places, we started filtering out.

Get this…I have homework. There are four recipes at the end of the lesson that should use some of the techniques we learned in class and I have to make one of them. I think the easiest would be the veal cutlet piccata, but I think I’m leaning towards the sautéed pork tenderloin with mustard-herb butter, especially since I didn’t make any compound butter in class. Guess what I’m doing Saturday?