The first day I arrived at The French Culinary Institute, I received my monogrammed uniform and a beautiful knife set with a carrying case.
The group of ten students gathered in a large kitchen and met the two head chefs who would be our instructors for the next five weeks. After quick introductions, we jumped right in and learned some of the most important French culinary terms.
Poste De Travail: work area
Mise En Place: everything in place
Taillage: methods of cutting vegetables
Day one was primarily dedicated to practicing knife skills, becoming comfortable with our new 30 piece sets, and learning the terms for each cut. I never knew there were SO MANY WAYS TO CUT A VEGETABLE. Although it’s a hurdle right now, I love that I’m learning some French terms in my classes. Foreign languages and cultures are absolutely fascinating to me and any time I can learn more about them is time well spent.
After butchering my first few slices of zucchini, we were called back up to the front to learn two methods of cooking vegetables: à l’anglaise and à l’étuvée. One demonstration later, we were given a time limit to complete an aesthetically pleasing dish and present it to the chefs for constructive criticism. The school believes in a Total Immersion approach by providing a realistic environment and replicating the rigors of the restaurant industry.
…Translation? They throw you right into the fire. In my opinion, this is the best way to learn. From my summer living in Spain, I realize that our own skills and abilities tend to extend much further than we give ourselves credit for. So next time you’re doing something outside your comfort zone and you’re doubting your abilities, when the choice is to either sink or swim, you might just surprise yourself.
Feeling like I was a contestant on Top Chef, I put my new knife skills to the test to swiftly create a Medley of Market Vegetables with Coriander. After burning my first batch of tomato fondue and re-cooking the pearl onions, I was finally satisfied with my dish. I plated the vegetables in an interesting design and walked up to the front to take my punishment. Holding my breath, I was surprised to hear that, being an over-salter, I had actually under-salted the dish. I tasted the food and was very proud of my day’s work, but I agreed–it definitely needed salt!
I had an incredible first day of culinary school and left the building grinning from ear to ear. I can’t wait to learn more and expand my cooking repertoire as these five weeks unfold. Stay tuned!