Culinary School: Week 3 Recap

It's been three weeks of school already and it's flying by! After looking at my recap last week, I feel like I barely scratched the surface of all the things I've learned despite my lengthy blog post. This week, I'll try to do a better job just highlighting the main topics without getting into too much detail... or I'll create another blog post to cover topics that I found really interesting. Read on to see what I learned this week in my nutrition and culinary principles courses...

Nutrition: This week we talked about carbohydrates, specifically grains and legumes.

Grains are a powerhouse of nutrients since they are high in vitamins, minerals, starch, fiber (if whole grain), low in fat, moderate in protein and low/moderate in calories. Whole grains are also a source of antioxidants and phytochemicals. Grains are inexpensive and can be quite profitable.

Legumes are also a great item to include in a diet. They're high in complex carbohydrates, fiber, low in fat, cholesterol free, a good source of vitamins and minerals and low in sodium. They're also very cost effective too.

There was quite a bit of science involved in discussing carbs but rather than bore with scientific terminology and how carbs are digested, here are some 'chef tips' in using carbs such as high fiber grains and legumes:
  • Grains work really well as main dishes with each other or with lentils. Some good combos include couscous with wheat berries or even barley with quinoa. To either of these combos, you could add lentils, vegetables and seasonings to impart more flavor and texture. The key thing to note in mixing these grains together is that they must be cooked separately with aromatics (bay leaf, onion, and thyme), strained and cooked, before mixing with other grains and beans, depending on its application.
  • Orzo works well with toasted barley or quinoa and a mixture of roasted vegetables and fresh herbs.
  • Rice and beans is a very popular and versatile dish using grains and legumes. For appearance, mix purple rice with a variety of beans or wild rice with cranberry beans and fava beans. Each of these mixtures can be seasoned in a number of ways. A balanced dressing can be used for a cold salad as well as a hot accompaniment.
  • Don't forget to serve whole grain cereals hot and cold, from simple steel cut oatmeal to cold favorites like cornflakes. Also, dress them up with berroies, fruits, and spices. Steel cup oats are whole grain groats (the inner portion of the oat kernel) that have been cut into 2or 3 pieces using steel discs and look like gold pieces of rice. Rolled oats are flakes that have been steamed, rolled, and toasted. Due to this process, they have lost some taste and texture.
  • When choosing legumes for a dish, think color and flavor. Make sure the colors you pick will look good when the dish is complete. Also think of other ingredients you will use for flavor.
  • Bigger beans, such as gigante white beans, hold their shape well and lend a hearty flavor to stews, ragouts, and salads.
  • Chickpeas can be pureed, as in hummus, and used as a dip, a spread, or a sandwich filling; layered with grilled vegetables and mushrooms, or as a filling for pasta, crepes, or twice baked potatoes. They can be soaked in changed water for 3-4 days in the refrigerator, seasoned and pureed, and then pressed into a half sheet pan and cut into french fry shapes. You can coat them in yogurt and seasoned crumbed and bake at a high temperature as a crisp substitute for french fries.
  • To enhance their flavor, cook several types of beans together, such as cranberry, turtle and white beans, in stock flavored with herbs, shallots, onions, carrots and celery. Pre-soaking dried beans helps remove some of the complex sugars they contain that can cause flatulence.
  • A number of dried beans are also available fresh; cannellini beans, cranberry beans, fava beans, black eyed peas, flageolets, lima beans, mung beans, and soybeans. They tend to be expensive but are excellent products. They are plumper and have a fresher flavor than dry beans that you rehydrate.
  • Use whole lentils, such as black or French green lentils, in grain dishes or salads because whole lentils hold their shape better. Use split lentils, such as brown, red, or yellow lentils, in soups, where they help thicken the liquid and shape is not as important.
  • Pastas and beans work well together, as in pasta e fagioli, a rich Italian vegetable soup with pasta and beans. There are many variations of this classic dish due to its nourishing value and taste. Many other ethnic groups have similar traditional dishes associated with pasta and beans or rice and beans for their versatility of preparations, health benefits, cost factors, history, and utilization of a region's products.

Homework: Lots of studying for my Nutrition class since we have our first exam Wednesday morning, which will cover chapters 1 (nutrition basics) and 2 (dietary recommendations). I also have an assignment due involving the MyPyramid. As of right now, I did well on the first quiz I took last week - yay!

Culinary Principles 1 - This week we covered a lot of info. Specifically, we went over three chapters on tools & equipment, knife skills and mise en place.
"And, indeed, is there not something holy about a great kitchen? The scoured gleam of row upon row of metal vessels dangling from hooks or reposing on their shelves til needed with the air of so many chalices waiting for the celebration of the sacrament of food."
- Angela Carter, British novelist
Tools & equipment - NSF International (NSF) previously known as the National Sanitation Foundation, promulgates consensus standards for the design, constructions and installation of kitchen tools, cookware, and equipment. For this chapter, we looked at a variety of professional kitchen tools and equipment. Many states and municipalities require that food service operations use only NSF-certified equipment. Certified equipment bears the NSF mark and the standards reflect the following requirements:
  • Equipment must be easily cleaned.
  • All food contact surfaces must be nontoxic, nonabsorbent, corrosion resistant and nonreactive.
  • All food contact surfaces must be smooth - that is, free of pits, cracks, crevices, ledges, rivet heads and bolts.
  • Internal corners and edges must be rounded and smooth; external corners and angels must be smooth and sealed.
  • Coating materials must be nontoxic and easily cleaned, coatings must resis chipping and cracking
  • Waste and waste liquids must be easily removed.
While reviewing the tools & equipment chapter, we learned about all tools in a professional kitchen including hand tools, knives, measuring & portioning devices, cookware, strainers & sieves, processing equipment, storage containers, heavy equipment, buffet equipment and safety equipment. With each of these categories of equipment, I could easily write a whole blog post about each one! I just may write up another post to talk about cookware and knives since I learned quite a bit that's worth sharing with fellow home cooks and bakers. From the tools and equipment chapter, I also learned how to select and care for knives as well as understand how a professional kitchen is organized.

"Every morning one must start from scratch, with nothing on the stoves. That is cuisine." - Fernand Point, French restauranteur

Knife Skills - In the tools and equipment chapter, we learned about selecting knives and learning about the various types of knifes based on their specific uses. Knives are the most important tool to a chef because with a sharp knife, a skilled chef can accomplish a number of tasks more quickly and efficiently than any machine. In this knife skills chapter, we learned how to care for knives properly, use knives appropriately and cut foods in a variety of classic shapes. This chapter is one I could easily go in depth with so instead of sharing all the interesting knife information here, I'll be posting all about knives in a separate post in the coming days.

"When you become a good cook, you become a good craftsman, first. You repeat and repeat and repeat until your hands know how to move without thinking about it."
- Jacques Pepin, French chef & teacher
Mise en Place - This is a French term that literally means "to put in place" or "everything in its place." But in the culinary context, it means much more. The concept of mise en place is simple: A chef should have at hand everything he or she needs to prepare and serve food in an organized and efficient manner. A proper mise en place requires the chef to consider work patterns, ingredient lists and tool and equipment needs.

Coordination of multiple tasks is also important. An organized cook will think about everything that needs to be done and the most efficient way to complete those tasks before beginning the actual work. Taking the time to first plan the day's activities can elimination unnecessary steps and conserve resources.

An important step in creating the proper mise en place is not only to gather ingredients for a recipe to prepare, but to also identify and gather all of the tools and equipment that will be need to prepare a recipe properly and work in the kitchen efficiently. A few general rules to bear in mind:
  • All tools, equipment and work surfaces must be clean and sanitized.
  • Knives should be honed and sharpened.
  • Measuring devices should be checked periodically for accuracy.
  • Ovens and cooking surfaces should be preheated, as necessary.
  • Mixing bowls, saucepans and storage containers should be the correct size for the task at hand.
  • Serving plates, cookware, utensils, hand tools and other necessary smallwares should be gathered and stored neatly.
  • Foods should be gathered and stored conveniently at the proper temperatures.
  • Expiration dates on foods should be checked periodically for validity.
  • Sanitizing solution, hand towels, disposable gloves and track receptacles should be conveniently located.
From this Mise en Place chapter, I learned how to organize and plan my work more efficiently, understand basic flavoring techniques, prepare items needed prior to actual cooking, and set up and use the standard breading procedure.

When it came time for our kitchen lab, I brought my camera but sadly forgot my SD card. As a result I wasn't able to take any awesome pictures of the fun things we did in the kitchen. I really missed out on some great pictures of dishes we prepared and demonstrations that Chef S did for the class including:
  • Knife skills, techniques and cutting various shapes out of vegetables
  • Comparing induction cooktops to a gas flame stove top
  • Clarifying butter
  • Making fresh breadcrumbs and toasting them to use in the breading process
  • Using a mandoline correctly
  • Working a deep fryer
We prepared quite a few dishes in the process of applying techniques and concepts in the kitchen. The class did great making the following...
  • Sweet potato chips
  • Breaded yellow squash
  • Braised napa cabbage with white wine & bacon
  • Homemade french fries
  • Oven roasted diced potatoes with fresh herbs
Homework: At our next class, we'll be starting off with a quiz on chapter 3 (tools & equipment). We'll also be presenting our individual 5-10 presentation on a spice or flavoring of our choice, accompanied with a 3 page report. So far I'm doing really well in the class based on the first quiz we took last week. We had a quiz this week on menus & recipes, including recipe conversions... and I'm hopeful I did okay. We'll soon find out when the quiz and grades will be discussed this week in class. Aside from the usual weekly quiz, I have to answer questions for discussion in chapter 4.

So that's it for this week's recap. I'll be posting soon on knives since that topic alone has so much great information to share. Stay tuned for what I learned in the coming week with my week 4 recap. I'll be sure to bring my camera and SD card to class & kitchen lab so I can share some pics next week!


  1. Wow Joelen, reading this makes me seriously think about cooking school as a next step. But I think I'd be a nightmare student! So many of the things I read that you had to learn in your post (the nutrition stuff, the sanitation stuff) I disagreed with the science behind strongly!

    Anyone with a science background who's read a nutrition study knows the flaws therein. Or anyone who's read Michael Pollan is at least aware of the flaws other people see therein. There are simply too many variables and so many are discounted! What ever is found about the foods studied is barely scratching the surface, but is often presented as The Truth.

    And the sanitation stuff. "Non-porous, perfectly flat, easy to clean." I've read in multiple places that wood cutting boards are actually the most sanitary. They may absorb from food, but they don't allow transmission of the absorbed material. But that one's just hear-say. I've never seen research done on it.

    I think my teachers would hate me for the arguments I would start in class. Still... I'm going to have to notch that possibility up on my list of "what next". It sounds like you're learning so much and it is a wonderful experience. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Thanks Daniel for your comment! Please keep in mind what I'm learning is specific to professional & commercial kitchens in food service operations... so what applies in that setting may not necessarily apply in a standard home kitchen.

  3. I love all the information. I can see how for some it might be too much. I feel like I'm a little sister soaking in everything you say when you get home from school.

  4. Very true, Joelen. The stuff they're teaching you is probably more set by the health code than by science. And those are even worse. A lot of the regulations have neither science nor common sense behind them. Which can make it seriously hard for cooks in restaurant kitchens.

    After my journey through Michael Pollan's books I went and picked up a book written by Joel Salatin, the alternate farmer Pollan spends a whole section with in The Omnivoure's dilemma. The book is decidedly one long libertarian rant, but it also makes some pretty damning points about the current food regulatory structure.

    If you find a moment to breath in your studies and want an interesting perspective on food, the food regulatory system and sustainable farming, I would recommend it. It's called "Everything I Want to Do is Illegal". Brace yourself before reading though, it is definitely one long rant - and if you aren't libertarian prepare to be offended.

  5. I've actually read that about wood vs. plastic cutting surfaces as well (wood is more sanitary, contrary to popular belief). It was in the book Organic Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck and the discovery was the result of experimentation. However, I don't remember how rigorous the testing standard was in that example. Still, something interesting to think about. The basic idea was that the micro crevices that develop on plastic cutting surfaces hold moisture better (since plastic is non-porous) and thus breeding grounds for microbes.

    I second the reading suggestions by Daniel - very eye opening and a must for any sort of foodie.

    Anyway, this blog is one of my few favorites and I love the inside scoop on cooking school!

  6. As the guy above said

  7. I love all the information. I can see how for some it might be too much. I feel like I'm a little sister soaking in everything you say when you get home from school.

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