Friday, July 31, 2009

Week 1+2: Organising & Preparing Food to Stocks, Soups and Sauces

Chef Jimmy Chiem and Yours Truly
Donning my brand new clean, crisp chef whites – double breasted long sleeved coat, black and white checked pants and tightly wrapped waist apron, complete with neck-tie, hairnet and hat it would be an absolute understatement to say initially I felt out of my element. Like a little girl playing dress up, swimming in mummy’s oversized high-heeled shoes and lipstick smeared around her pout, I felt I too was drowning in what seemed to be a uniform that was way too baggy and loose (minus the clown makeup). Accustomed to fitting, ‘well-worn’ clothes, even with the XS chef whites, I still felt like a fashion disaster.

By the second day, things quickly moved beyond appearances. I am now the proud owner of my first very own chef’s tool box from King of Knives. The hardy steel case is similar in appearance to a carpenter’s toolbox (of course a lot flashier thanks to the metallic shine – not that I’m complaining!). The toolbox cost AU$ 240 and contains knives by Victorinox: Chef’s Knife, Boning Knife, Fish Filleting Knife, Paring Knife, Turning Knife, Palate Knife, as well as utensils: Carving Fork, Steel, Stone, Vegetable Peeler, Whisk, Wooden Ladle, Metal Handled Ladle with Rubber Spoon, Rubber Spatula, Plastic Scraper, Heavy Duty Serving Tongs, Digital Thermometer, Piping bag with 1 set star nozzles, 1 set plain nozzles and Pastry Brush.
The Full-Time TAFE Commercial Cookery Course which I am doing runs five days a week – 10.30 am to 6.30 pm, with a one hour break for lunch and to change into our chef whites. Two hours every morning is made up of theory classes, covering technicalities and forms the foundation for the hands on practical session that takes place in the afternoons. The first couple days comprised basic knife skills and the fundamentals and an introduction to organising and preparing food in general.
French Onion Soup with Cheese Croutes

Mid-week we had already plunged full force into stocks, soups and sauces. From grappling with proportions and ingredients of what make up a roux – the various kinds of ‘mother sauces’ it is used to form and the derivative sauces thereof, to definitions of what a moulis, chinois and mandolin are and how they are used in the kitchen.

Medium-Rare Beef Steak, Grilled Mushrooms, Bordelaise Sauce and Mushroom Sauce
While the theory tends to drag on a little, especially for food enthusiasts that know their gastronomy inside out – the practical classes bleat ahead with full force leaving little or no time to breathe, yet everyone, self included seem to be loving every minute!
So what have I learned that I didn’t already know?
- Always bend your knuckles, tucking your fingers safely below, thus guiding your knife in the right direction when chopping/ cutting. Ok I lied, I knew this, but never applied it, however I am learning my lesson after cutting the tip off my index finger on the first day of practical class and will hopefully adopt this method soon.

Pumpkin Puree Soup with Sippets, Julienne Carrots and Chopped Parsley

- Sippets are delicious miniature version of croutons fried in clarified butter. Once you pop you can’t stop.

Pommes Duchess

Potato Croquettes

- The best croquettes are made using a piping bag and allowing the mashed potato mixture to cool adequately (at least 20 minutes) before rolling in flour, egg-wash, breadcrumbs and deep frying (I tried this a month ago as hors d'oeuvre for a friends party, and although it did not completely flop, free-forming the shape by hand was not only a messy and arduous task, but yielded poor quality and visual unexciting croquettes. But, I will admit that a commercial deep fryer presents stiff competition.

- Mayonnaise whisked by hand replaces your quota of bicep curls for the week!

Poached Fish, Hollandaise Sauce, Crisped Skin and Turned Potatoes in Parsley Butter

- Hollandaise sauce is actually pretty easy and best prepared fresh. Goodbye to McCormick’s store bought modified starch preparation.

- Practice makes perfect. Even though I wasted god knows how many potatoes before turning a single decent potato, in the end the satisfaction of a job well done i.e. a barrel shaped potato is well worth ruining perfectly fine potatoes into mounds of useless vegetable scraps.

Carved Mash Melon boat, Musk Melon and Water Melon balls, Pineapple palm trees and Orange Segments with Sauce Anglais and Rasberry Coulis

- Oddly enough, carving fruit can be strangely satisfying and calming! And maybe I'll hone my skills in time!

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