Week I: Knife Skills
I love it, I eat it, I now write about it, but get me into a kitchen, and I don’t really know what to do with it. The ‘it’ being food.
I’ve been spoiled the last, oh, twenty-two years when it comes to food. Growing up in Boston with a mother who diligently fulfilled her role as “chef” (slave to her children, call it what you will), I never, ever cooked in high school, nor tried to learn. I was similarly pampered these last four years at college in upstate New York. Though I was far from home, I certainly felt at home with a fully stocked dining hall at my disposal. Even my senior year, when I lived in an apartment “downtown,” my roommate and I continued to reap the benefits of on-campus living, frequenting the cafeteria at least twice a day. I don’t think we turned our stove on once.
But, both out of my love for food and out of necessity, I’ve decided it’s finally time to wise up and master something other than cereal. My “roommate” (Mummy dearest) has all but hung up her well-worn apron, and though my friends are also living at home, we have grand plans to move in together in the near future. But, only one of us has any cred in the kitchen, so now is a better time than any to put my passion into action.
For years my mother has suggested cooking classes, and for years I’ve shut down her well-intentioned idea. I had in mind that they were an old-fashioned way to domesticate women and relegate them to their ‘proper’ place. But, times have changed, as has my mindset, and rather than reject the cooking class, I’m finally embracing it.
A few months ago I signed up for a six-week cooking series at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts called “Back to Basics.” Each week focuses on a different staple–eggs, soups, sauces, moist heat cooking, dry heat cooking, etc.–and last Sunday was the intro class, Knife Skills. (I can hear you seasoned cooks tittering, but remember, everyone has to start somewhere.)
I was quite surprised by the demographics of the group. There are twelve of us in total (eight women, four men), and besides myself, only one other person is in her early-20s. Since the class focuses on the bare essentials of cooking, I expected more students/recent post-grads in attendance, but the age group ranges from early 30s-60s. From what I gathered, the issue for most wasn’t a lack of experience, but a lack of confidence. Many had been cooking for their families for years, but they weren’t comfortable with the basics. They felt as if they’d missed that step.
So, we all started from scratch and learned the fundamentals of kitchen knives, from safety to application to proper care, and fancy French words like ‘batonnet‘ and ‘brunoise.’ We also practiced these different chopping techniques on fruits and vegetables, which was prep work for the feast to come. Each round of veggies got tossed into a steaming pot, where all the flavors melded together over the course of two hours. What emerged was a delicious, perfectly-peppered soup, which we all sat down and enjoyed together, gazing proudly at our disproportionately-cut carrots and zucchinis. We also batonnet-ed lumpy brown potatoes to make rosemary fries, lightly sprinkled with Parmesan cheese (I’m salivating at the very thought of them).
Having someone show me how to properly chop an onion was mind bogglingly helpful. Before, I found handling them to be so frustrating that they brought tears to my eyes, and not just because they do that. But now I know they’re actually not that difficult to chop, so I’ve finally settled my beef with those buggers. Though I’m by no means experienced in the kitchen yet, that one class got me really excited for what’s to come.
Really. How many of you out there actually know how to wield a knife? How did you learn?
My own learning curve is pretty steep, but I’ve planted my foot on that hill and I’m climbing.
Next post: eggs!