Over the past four months, I’ve developed a new appreciation for pants with stretchy elastic bands. I’ve traded in cute shoes for kitchen clogs. And, I’ve certainly given up on manicures – I’ll consider it a win if my nails are simply ...
Over the past four months, I’ve developed a new appreciation for pants with stretchy elastic bands. I’ve traded in cute shoes for kitchen clogs. And, I’ve certainly given up on manicures – I’ll consider it a win if my nails are simply clean and don’t smell like onions. Or fish.
I’ve been immersed life at the San Francisco Cooking School, and fat pants and fishy hands aside, I am loving every minute of it.
SF Cooking School came into my life somewhat fortuitously. I had been invited to cover the opening of the school for a preview story and the more I learned about the school, the more I fell in love with school’s philosophy, curriculum, and culture.
A small, intimate class. Hands-on, practical learning. And access to some of the best chefs and resources San Francisco has to offer. Sign me up! I pulled the trigger and so began my adventures in cooking school. It’s impossible to distill everything I’ve learned into a few short paragraphs, but here are a few of the big takeaways:
Perhaps one of the biggest differences between cooking for pleasure at home and cooking with a purpose in a professional setting is the pace at which you are expected and required to work. At school, we are taught from day one to work with a sense of urgency. Whether it is a matter of using the right tool for the job, organizing your mise en place, or even walking with purpose, your goal is to work fast and work smart.
Along the same lines of efficiency, you’ll work quickest if you batch together similar motions. For example, if you are forming meatballs, you wouldn’t portion out and roll each meatball one at a time. Instead, you would want to portion out the entire batch, then roll out the meatballs all at once. The work will go twice as fast. Trust me, I learned the hard way. At school, we are taught to pay attention to what are “wasted motions” or wasted effort. If you find that you have to put down and pick up your knife/utensil a lot, or if you find yourself in an awkward position, stop and reevaluate your work flow. Always arrange your work in a way that lets you complete your task with minimal effort.
One of the most memorable lessons we had was taking down a half hog with 4505 Meats. What a treat to be able to be able to learn about butchery from one of the leading butchers in town.
It’s amazing how similar most animals are structured. If you learn the basics of breaking down a chicken, for example, you can follow the same rules of thumb for breaking down a whole hog. Use your fingers and look for joints and natural breaking points. Follow the bone when you’re trying to remove meat from bone. Let gravity work for you.
Don’t waste anything. We used every bit of that beautiful hog. We made sausage and cured salumi, we used the leaf lard for pie dough, saved the bones for stock, made chicharrones with the skin, and even fried up the ears (PSA: pig ears splatter. A lot.)
TASTE. TASTE. TASTE.
This is probably a no brainer, but of course, one of the most important things about cooking is learning how to taste your food and then having both the know-how and ability to correct it. That second part is where it can get tricky. In order to know how to correct a flavor, you need to have some understanding about how tastes work together (how does salt balance bitterness for example), and what flavors complement one another. You need to develop your library of taste memories and then be able to draw on that information when the time comes.
Within the first week of school, we had a taste workshop with Barb Stuckey. We delved into the science of taste and learned a lot — You can smell through your mouth! Butter has no taste!! (what you perceive as the taste of butter is just aroma and texture) — ultimately, this workshop set the stage for what we were all there to learn: how do you make food taste good?
Over the past few months, we worked on tasting cr