Sunday, December 20, 2009

12 weeks of discovery, and it's still a mystery

"We're having Brussels sprouts," doesn't exactly whet the appetite or pique the interest of many people. Yet the idea that Brussels sprouts can -- and more important should -- be part of a culinary repertoire is now in my reality. That includes that they can be cooked in a prescribed manner to achieve flavor and contribute to a well-rounded plate.

Getting to know the Brussels sprout serves as an apt embodiment of my culinary school experience. The strong smelling member of the cabbage family was to me as unapproachable as the complexities of classic French cooking were just three months ago.

In three months -- 12 weeks, to be exact -- my mind, my hands, my palate and most of all my spirit have entered a transformation in which they are moving toward an inexact and still mystical end. Chef Tony Marano of the California Culinary Academy makes the case for pursuit of the mystery being a lifelong joy.

Before, I was a fair cook, with good knowledge of the kitchen and more than basic ingredients. I could braise a short rib and capture the pan juices for a delicious sauce, create a baanced tomato sauce and pasta, even turn out a molé with complex layering of flavors.

Now, I can do those and so much more, with a peak at the mystery behind each. It's what some call chemistry. It seems more sorcery to me. As Chef Tony says: "We use the word magic to explain what we don't yet understand."

For example, I don't understand the magic of how something as minimally attractive and, frankly, odoriferous as the Brussels sprout can be transformed into a tasty, flavorful morsel. Yet, I know how to transform it.

Twelve weeks of culinary school -- and now a reflective break before plunging in again -- have helped me to get a small glimpse at the magic. Understanding? Maybe never. But the pursuit of it has my full attention.

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