101 Things I Learned in Culinary School

101 Things I Learned in Culinary School

by Louis Eguaras with Matthew Frederick

“The culinary world is ever evolving, as familiar techniques and experiences continually give way to new ones and force chefs to reevaluate their comfort zones. A chef’s understanding of food and cooking thereby needs to extend beyond knowledge of ingredients, technique, tools, and equipment. A chef must be a scholar of colors, textures, and fragrances. He or she must know the history of food, its chemistry and alchemy, the art of presentation, and how to keep customers safe. A chef has to know how to manage and meet customers’ needs and expectations, how to create and manage budgets, and how to delegate and answer to those working around him or her.”

This book introduces a variety of such topics. Here’s a sample of 10 items covered in the book.

Why the chef’s jacket is double breasted. The front of a chef’s jacket is reversible. This allows a chef to wear the clean side over the dirty side if entering the dining room to greet guests. Additionally, the double layer of heavy cotton protects against hot spills and splatters. Cloth toggles are used instead of buttons, which can snag, break, or melt into food. The vented cuffs turn up, getting them out of the way of foods and leaving a fresh edge to turn down when entering the dining room.”

Good beef is 30 days old. Beef is aged to allow an animal’s natural enzymes to break down tough connective tissues, resulting in deeper flavor and improved texture. Dry aging needs at least 11 days and may take more than 30 days. The meat is hung and exposed to climate controlled air, where it loses 15 to 30% of its weight, mostly due to water evaporation, becomes meatier and more buttery, and develops a more concentrated flavor. Dry aged beef is rarely found in supermarkets.”

Drying intensifies flavor. Fresh herbs may be 80% or more water. When dried, most become two to three times more potent, although they lose flavor over time. Oregano, sage, rosemary, and thyme tend to retain the most flavor when dried, and work best in long-cooking dishes. Delicate herbs such as basil, chives, tarragon, and dill lose flavor when dried and are best used in fresh form and added at the end of cooking. Toasting spices right before grinding or cooking further intensifies flavor.”

Five mother sauces. Marie-Antoine Carême, considered the founder of classical French cuisine, streamlined many cooking techniques. He made mother sauces in large quantities, then created daughter sauces by adding spices, herbs, and/or wine. Auguste Escoffier later added tomato, vinaigrette, and other sauces to Carême’s initial four mother sauces.” The author explains the five sauces: béchamel (cream) sauce, veloute (white) sauce, espagnole (brown) sauce, tomato sauce, and hollandaise (butter) sauce.”

Roux is a thickener used in soups and sauces. To make roux, heat butter, lard, or other fat in a saucepan and slowly add an equal weight of flour. Stir gently and continuously until the flour granules evenly absorb the fat and produce an evenly textured paste. The longer a roux is heated, the more the flour taste will be reduced and the darker it will be.” The author discusses white roux, blond or pale roux, and brown roux. “When blending roux with stock to create a sauce or soup, gradually add hot stock to the roux (not the other way around), and whisk continually.”

Amuse-bouche is a gift from the chef. Amuse-bouche literally means mouth amuser. Presenting this bite-sized appetizer to customers awakens the taste buds prior to the dining experience, and is a way for a chef to express his aesthetic ambitions without overwhelming the diner or dining experience. It is often served on a spoon.”

How to keep salad dressing from separating. Emulsification is the combining, through rapid agitation, or two immiscible (unmixable) liquids to create a new liquid. Emulsified liquids tend to separate over time, as one experiences with vinaigrette and other salad dressings. This problem can be solved by adding an emulsifier, such as egg yolk, mayonnaise, yogurt, ground nuts, mustard, or fruit puree, the molecules of which are friendly to both water and fats.”

Water your oven! When baking cheesecakes, custards, puddings, and other fragile egg dishes, place the pan in a water bath to promote even cooking and prevent curdling. The oven temperature may fluctuate, but the bain marie will stay at a steady 212°F. When baking French baguettes or boules (country loaves), place a broiler pan in the oven while preheating, beneath the bread pan or baking stone. Pour a cap of water into the pan just before putting the bread in the oven. The steam will attract sugars in the bread to the surface, where they will caramelize and produce a crisp crust.”

Don’t marinate at room temperature. Marinate foods only in the refrigerator, as colder temperatures retard bacterial growth. Also, never make a sauce out of marinade that was previously used on raw meat, poultry, or seafood, as it will contain bacteria from the uncooked product.”

How to put out a grease fire. If a fire occurs in a stovetop pan, it usually can be smothered with a pan lid—preferably metal. Salt or baking soda can also be used for smothering, although a lot is required… The best tool is usually a dry chemical fire extinguisher. Blanket the fire with the fine spray mist. Clean up thoroughly afterward, as the chemicals will contaminate the kitchen. Never pour water on a grease fire, as this will splatter the burning grease and increase the possibility of injury. And never carry a burning vessel to a ‘safer’ place, as this will increase the chances of spreading the fire.”

Additional topics include wine pairings and beer pairings.

The book provides an interesting selection of information for prospective chefs as well as Food Network fans. The title not only refers to the number of items presented, but is also a word play (intentional or not) on the introductory course number Culinary Arts 101.

Eguaras, Louis, and Matthew Frederick. 101 Things I Learned in Culinary School. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2010. Buy from Amazon.com

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