Monday, September 28, 2009

And so it begins... culinary school that is!!

Today was my first day of culinary school and much like the first day of anything, it consisted mostly of explanations and orientation type proceedings. First, Mary Risley, owner and founder of Tante Marie Cooking School, shed light on the basics—what time to arrive, that we should wear street clothes to school and change once we are there, hair must be pulled back, work shoes and real socks must be worn, etc. Mary also made a point to sign each student’s textbook, which happens to be a cookbook she wrote.


Next, Frances Wilson, our instructor for the six-month course, introduced herself and gave us a little tour to explain where everything we would need could be found in the school’s two kitchens. Before there was even time to use the loo, Frances was giving a quick chopping and slicing demonstration with a few classic vegetables including onions, carrots, celery, leeks, and potatoes. Each of these ingredients would be used in our very first recipe: Soupe au Pistou.

Our class was split into two groups and each group created their own pot of soup, which would ultimately be our lunch. Each person in the group was assigned a vegetable or two to add and before I knew it I was dicing potatoes and slicing carrots to be added to the wonderfully simple soup.  After adding our assigned ingredient to the pot, we spent the next hour practicing our knife skills with the various vegetables. I only cut my left index finger a tiny bit, not even enough for a band-aid, which boosted my confidence a bit, since my abilities with a knife aren’t exactly up to snuff.


The afternoon class today was a demonstration by Frances on how to make chicken stock and dark beef or veal stock. The idea of making stock seems relatively elementary, but given the four pages of notes I took, my instructor proved otherwise.  Both types of stocks require a mirepoix—carrots, celery, and onion, as well as, a bouquet garni—parsley, thyme, and a bay leaf—tied up in a leek.  No technical French knife skills required here, as all the vegetables just roughly chopped. Frances made it clear that while making perfect stock doesn’t take a lot of labor, what it does need is patience and care. Stocks are simmered for hours, all the while “scum” (white foam like substance that rises to the top) must be skimmed often, more water must be added, and temperature is crucial, as the stock must be simmering, but not boiling wildly.

I had been waiting impatiently for this day to come for months and it definitely lived up to all of my expectations. The school is warm and friendly, with a serious and professional undertone. My classmates come from all different walks of life, with a wide range of what they intend to do with the education. The progression of the course moves from simple soups and sauces to choux pastry and advanced cake decorating, please check back for daily posts as I make my way through this personally uncharted territory.