Just like the “Terrible Twos,” Tournage is tainted with the same type of wary reputation. And for good reason. Tourner or “to turn” in French is a method of shaping whole vegetables into an oval-shaped football. It might not sound so bad or hard, but trust me: It’s like some form of medieval torture. Your knuckles become cramped because you’re squeezing your little piece of carrot so intensely, hoping that each little shaving you peel away with your pairing knife will result in a perfectly almond-shaped vegetable. Instead, mine looked more like misshaped turds—that is—when it didn’t come flying out of my hands and perfectly land into the garbage. I kid not.
Chef justified this type of torture as an aesthetic way of cooking something, plus the uniform and even shape (if you’re skilled at it) will help your food cook at an even rate. It made me think twice about whether I’d want to work in fine dining if I’d have to tourner potatoes, carrots (which is even harder to do because they’re denser), or turnips all day.
We incorporated our tournage when we made our Garniture Bouquetiere, a dish of vegetables cut in extraordinary shapes that usually accompanies a meat dish. The dish centers around an artichoke heart, which is my favorite vegetable. My Italian-French mother makes artichokes frequently, but she doesn’t make these prehistoric-sized ones. We eat the baby artichokes, and eat all the leaves (without mayonnaise or a vinaigrette dipping sauce, like in the French fashion). But in class, when we tackled these giant artichokes, we cut away all the leaves by the tournage method, and broke off the stem, which sounds like cracking bones. (But Chef promises to use the trimmings to make an artichoke soup.)
It’s only been four days of class, and there’s been an immediate trend: The use of butter.
“In French cooking, we use a lot of butter and cream,” says Chef Dominique, as he thwacks a healthy teaspoon full into his pan of carrots. And then he puts in a sprinkling of sugar and water to give his vegetables a glaze—another trend. The French love pretty food. So we learn how to add a simple-syrup glaze to carrots and turnips, and for our pearl onions, we let that sugar caramelize to allow them to “glacer à brun” or brown. Delicious!
By the end of class, Chef has to taste all our vegetable dishes, and he’s less than enthusiastic to eat multiple plates of carrots and turnips—especially when most of them were undersalted. But at least we all got props on presentation.
TIP OF THE DAY: If you want to preserve artichoke hearts, prepare the following solution (called “dans un blanc”), bring it to a boil, and then drop in the hearts and let simmer until tender. The hearts can be refrigerated in the liquid for a week. (You’ll need a scale to measure these ingredients.)
Dans un blanc:
2 L water
25 g flour
Juice of one lemon
100 g oil
Salt, to taste