People often ask me about my experience at Le Cordon Bleu and the very important things that I studied there. While I did learn all manner of fancy techniques and recipes over the course of culinary school, the truth is, I use very few of those skills on a day-to-day basis. I no longer blowtorch the feathers off of poultry multiple times a week, I can’t remember the last time I “turned” a vegetable, and I certainly don’t plan on bludgeoning live crabs or gutting multiple fish in my apartment’s tiny kitchen any time soon. I’m guessing you don’t either.
When I reflect upon my culinary education, I’m much more grateful for the big picture takeaways than the mastery of specific knife skills or complicated recipes. The majority of these teachings are so simple (i.e. tasting your food) that you’d think they’d be common sense, but based on recent conversations with some domestically challenged friends, they aren’t. So, in the spirit of sharing and domestic guidance, I thought I’d give you a little crash course summarizing the five culinary school lessons that every cook should know. You’re welcome.
The 5 Most Important Things I Learned at Culinary School:
1. Make a plan. No matter what you’re cooking, always have a game plan securely in place to ensure that things go as smoothly as possible. Read through the entire recipe before you actually do anything, people! Figure out the prep work that needs to be done, what ingredients and tools you should have close at hand, and the timing for each step of the process. Taking a few extra minutes to create a recipe roadmap and organize your “workstation” will prevent all manner of hot mess moments. Trust.
2. Keep a trash bowl. The first thing you learn at Le Cordon Bleu is the glory of the trash bowl. This is simply a mixing bowl that you keep in front of you while doing any prep work for a recipe, i.e. peeling vegetables and fruit, trimming meat, gutting fish etc. (I’m sure you’re all gutting fish on the reg…) Instead of bending over a trash can or making a disgusting mess of your cutting board, simply put all scraps directly into the trash bowl and empty it at your convenience. I know you might not be immediately sold on this idea, but those of you who struggle with organization and clean-up will thank me. Embrace the trash bowl, people. It’s a game changer.
3. Taste as you go. This is mandatory. The only way to know if you’re on the right track with any recipe is to taste your dish regularly and adjust the seasonings/ingredients accordingly. Never serve anything without tasting it first. NEVER.
4. Don’t panic. The chefs at Le Cordon Bleu were constantly reminding students, “Pas de panique!” whenever they got flustered while cooking. (This was often communicated in an angry, screaming sort of way, which didn’t exactly help those panicking, but c’est la vie.) And while it’s often absurdly challenging, staying calm in the kitchen is probably the most valuable lesson that I learned at culinary school. Whether your apron is on fire, live crabs are escaping from your pot of bisque, or you’ve simply got several things on the stove at once, try your very best not to go postal. Nothing good comes from screaming, running with knives, sweating profusely or hysterical tears. (I know from experience.) Take a deep breath, pull yourself together, and calmly tackle the situation in the most rational way possible. Most culinary disasters can be salvaged with a clear head and a little creativity, so chillax.
5. Have fun. The concept of “fun” wasn’t exactly popular among the chefs at Le Cordon Bleu, and I can’t say I had very much of it in my practical classes while at school. However, since graduating, I’ve realized that letting loose and enjoying your time in the kitchen is the key to becoming a fabulous chef. Cook food that you’re excited about, experiment and try not to sweat the small stuff. If you’re new to the culinary game, I suggest getting some wine, besties, and a decent soundtrack involved. Make love, not war in the kitchen, people. Let’s get weird.
Domesticity is all in the details, friends. Bow to your sensei.
*If you have a burning question that you’d like featured on a future edition of Domestic Details, don’t hesitate to contact me or leave it in the comments. Help me help you.