Fail to salt a vegetable or a piece of meat, and its flavor will be lessened.
Don't put sugar in lemonade, and it will be too sour to drink.
Remove all fat -- butter, oil, other rendering -- from cooking, and it becomes much more difficult, in fact nigh impossible.
So which of those is the most important ingredient in the kitchen?
None of the above.
"We only have so much time," Chef Dan Fluharty told us in a recent lecture in Culinary Foundations III class. "You must make it your friend."
And your most important ingredient. More than anything else, time can make or break a meal. Day after day in the last 18 weeks of classes, we have faced one time crunch heaped upon another. In some cases, we spent too much time on something, in others not enough, and in still others time simply ran out.
Take Wednesday's time crunch in the competency final exam. We had 15 minutes to fabricate -- cut into specified pieces -- a whole chicken. We had 45 minutes to cook a five-part meal with one piece of that chicken. We had one hour to cook another five-part meal right after that.
Time-line organization and planning were keys to success, along with execution of the time line. In each instance, time was tight, and there was some, but not much, margin for error.
Most of us completed the chicken fabrication with plenty of time to spare. Mine was done in 9 minutes.
My chicken dish, too, came together according to my timeline and plan. I was the first in class to present the dish to Chef, with about five minutes to spare.
The grilled New York steak went to the last tick of the clock. The steak itself was the final ingredient to go on the plate, and I placed it there literally as Chef walked by to declare time was up. I could have used another 3 or 4 minutes, time I had lost on two do-overs -- my potato mixture for which I had forgotten the egg yolks and my spinach, which I had over-blanched, leaving it as a small glob of green.
We've seen it on "Iron Chef", "Top Chef" and "Chopped". The tming matters, more than just about anything else.