It’s only my third day into the program and I’m completely exhausted. When I walk into the kitchen this morning at 8:30 a.m., it’s already sticky and screaming hot. Immediately my ass starts to sweat.
Today is about learning different vegetables, herbs, and spices, and then putting that knowledge to use in two vegetable-centric recipes: Nicoise-style ratatouille and a roasted beet and goat cheese salad. I’m not particularly excited to stand in front of Chef to learn about the different varieties of potatoes or the wonders of asparagus (or “asparagoose” as Chef would say) at 9 a.m. in a humid room, but Chef’s passion for different produce (and his lack for others) makes the class entertaining. Mushrooms get special attention. Just the word makes him laugh, and he brings up stories of him and his father foraging the forests of France to find wild shrooms. Just like your childhood, right?
To introduce us to spices, Chef gives us a blind smell test of about 21 different spices and asked us to differentiate each by color and smell. “Do not taste them” was his instructions. But I ignore his advice and popped some anise-tasting seed in my mouth and immediately spit it out. I hate fennel and anything that tastes like licorice. Unfortunately the French love it.
By 10:30 a.m. we start to cook our first recipe: Ratatouille. It’s a vegetable dish that’s made of eggplants (which are a fruit!), tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, tomato juice, zucchini, and herbs. It’s a peasant dish, but those are always my favorites. Simple ingredients (read: cheap) cooked in classic methods. All students learn the importance of salt. “A little bit of salt” means a lot more than you’d usually add. After your dish has been prepared, you bring it to Chef to critique it. Most students will hear “it needs more salt,” but luckily I was brought up in a salt-addicted family, and I can’t bear to eat anything that isn’t properly salted. So from Chef I hear, “Ees good.” And the meal is ready just in time for lunch.
At ICC all your lunches are provided gratis thanks to the Level 4 students who are slaving away upstairs to make a meal for the rest of the employees and students. Today’s delicious meal consisted of crab cakes, ratatouille (surprise, surprise), couscous, salad, and some weird vegetable concoction that was drowning in a sauce reminiscent of cleaning solution.
We spend our last two hours of class staining our hands pink as we make a beet salad. We’re introduced to a cool tool, a Timbale, which is a mold that’s responsible for making cylindrical dishes. Once I finish packing my Timbale with our vinaigrette-dressed beets, I feel like I’m playing Jenga. Slowly lifting this mold is making me sweat because I fear my edible Tower of Pisa would topple right in front of me. Luckily it didn’t. Critiques prove that I forgot to salt my beets. Sacre bleu!
I realize something important today: I take extra long bathroom breaks because it’s the only place I can sit down.
TIP OF THE DAY: Roasting beets—rather than boiling them—makes for a tastier dish.