The soufflé became a most appropriate symbol this week amid the fracas of the culinary school classroom kitchen. It represented one fundamental fact that has been taking shape for a while, almost unnoticed by the 10 of us working our way through Culinary Foundations III.
We made soufflés on Friday, each of us doing so successfully to varying degrees. Among the more difficult-to-make offerings of French cuisine, the dish is part art, part science and all kismet in the hands of the culinary gods and goddesses.
Chef/Instructor Dan Fluharty pointed out the emergent truth on Wednesday in the end-of-class go-round at which he seeks comment on what the day's work taught us. Several of us mentioned making adjustments and adaptations to often-changing conditions. From that, Chef concluded:
"You are starting to think like cooks."
It was a statement that is profound for its simplicity and despite its obviousness. What he described is in fact occurring as we get a tighter grip on the basics and routines of the kitchen and as we face cooking challenges with increasing complexity.
The soufflé, for example. Chef did an aborted demo on it at the end of class on Thursday and promised to show it again at the beginning of class on Friday, less than an hour before we had to make them ourselves as part of a plate for a grade.
We all watched intently, some taking notes but most committing the timing, texture, touch of the hand and temperature of the oven to instant memory for recall as needed. Then we did it ourselves, not as a stand-alone exercise but as part of the complications of plating two distinct meals of five parts each.
Hence, just one-tenth of what we were cooking was the soufflé, but the degree of difficulty made it seem a much larger fraction. Yet, we all fit it into the production work, made needed adjustments and kept the work flowing.
That each of us was able to complete it in the hectic schedule, handle it with some perception of the grander scheme of things and emerge at day's end with success manifest our ability to think as cooks.