fundamentals of cooking

Of Fundamental Importance–the basics of being a chef

Chef Annette TomeiEat & Tell with Annette Tomei

For the past several weeks, I’ve been making notes of fun spring-like things to write about for the month of April, but in NYC winter has been very much a part of the present and near future. Besides, my mind and time have been occupied with other things all together.

A recent opportunity to return to my culinary alma mater (the French Culinary Institute) – as a professional this time – has sent my mind straight back to Lesson One.

Throughout my career, I have professed the fundamental importance of, well… the fundamentals. Little things like being organized, working clean, respecting your ingredients, not trying to reinvent the wheel, making the familiar fabulous (ask anyone who’s been lucky enough to enjoy my roast chicken…)

The “deconstructionist” movement of cutting-edge cuisine demands that the chef first master the original construction of the dish. What characteristic is each ingredient – and, more importantly, each technique – bringing to the final product? Why roast vs. braise, grill vs. sauté? Why do size and shape matter when preparing vegetables? What’s the difference between cooking meat on the bone vs. off? (Answers bellow) Knowing, really knowing, this is crucial to a great chef’s success. You can’t fake it.

fundamentals of cookingIt’s kinda like kissing… something you should have learned in the beginning, something that improves with a good teacher and lots of practice, something you should never forget the importance off mastering, and an important indicator of how you’ll do with the more complicated stuff that comes later! Think about it… when you are lucky enough to be with a truly great kisser, you often need very little else to put enough butterflies into your stomach to send you floating off into the clouds!

Sadly, like the chef who moves on to more complicated dishes and forgets how to turn an artichoke or fillet a fish perfectly, some people in long-term relationships forget the excitement and importance of a perfectly executed kiss. This basic skill becomes something that we’ve moved past or that we no longer have time for as we go straight for the “good stuff”… a quaint custom that is part of our school days, not adult life.

So this spring, as I go back to the basics of Level One in culinary school – trussing chickens, hand-beating meringues, and tourner-ing potatoes – let’s all go back to the basics in our romantic endeavors… find a willing partner and remind yourself of the wonders of a truly great kiss. Remember, practice makes perfect!

Answers:

1. Roasting is a dry cooking technique for higher quality cuts of meat, braising involves liquid and longer cooking time, making it ideal for tougher cuts of meat.

2. Grilling adds the flavor of the fire but requires a product that is sturdy enough to hold up to the process, sautéing is most convenient and well suited for delicate or small items.

3. Size and shape affect cooking time… if every piece is uniform in size and shape they will cook more evenly and will look better on the plate.

4. Cooking meat on the bone imparts more flavor than off the bone. It also preserves the shape of the cooked product.

Culinary student photo by Hernan Herrero.

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