Monday, December 07, 2009

'Restaurant pace' comes to culinary school

The beginning of Week 11 in culinary school brought us to what Chef Dan Fluharty called "restaurant pace," meaning we are working by the day now at the pace and intensity we would be in a real restaurant kitchen.

Could have fooled me; I though we had hit that pace at least a week ago, if not farther back.

Today's pace was swift, but it didn't seem unreasonable or chaotic. In two hours of cooking time, we did mise en place and the cooking for three braised dishes -- a beef stew, chicken fricasée and red cabbage. Plus we made puff pastries, although they were from pre-rolled dough and not from scratch.

"It's braising day," Chef announced at the beginning of class. "It's one of the hardest days in the whole curriculum. Why? Timing and the long time it takes to cook."

Indeed, braising is a lengthy process because it involves slow, low heat cooking, designed to turn tough pieces of meat and poultry tender and draw out their flavors. "It's cooking that is as slow as you can get it," Chef Dan said.

The slowness is worthwhile. The flavors cajoled from meats in braising hit the top of the umami chart. Other students seemed to agree.

Chef Dan's remark that, "It couldn't be a better time of year to do braising, because it's colder than the dickens outside," inferred to me that braising focuses at least in part on what we would call comfort foods.

Not to mention that, if I do say so myself, I consider braising to be in my sweet spot when it comes to cooking. I have done it often, and it's my favorite culinary technique.

Evidence comes in the beef stew and chicken fricasée that I brought home from school today: There wasn't any left over.

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