Wednesday, May 27, 2009

leaning tower of potatoes

Even though the cuts we are learning everyday seem trivial, for some reason I find this class incredibly relaxing. The repetition of the cutting, how I feel when I'm holding my knife, the quiet atmosphere when everyone is prepping their knife skills tray, there's something therapeutic about it all. And I know many of my peers are terrified of Chef Viverito, but I know that the more harsh the chefs are, the better we learn (up to a point of course.) Because we don't always receive immediate feedback, I find myself approaching the chef and asking if my cuts needs improvement and etc. Today we all finished our knife skills tray early (given that it was simple things like 1/4 inch julienne of onions, 1/8th inch diced onions, minced shallots, garlic, and parsley, concasse of tomato, and a bouquet garni,) so the chef rewarded our speed with a 50 pound bag of potatoes that he taught us how to tourne.

Doing tourne'd potatoes is probably a lot of chefs least favorite prepping methods, since you are turning a round potato into a seven sided torpedo shape. Although it is a bit hard to grasp at first, after some practice it becomes quite fun (I will probably be the only one to say that much.) I spent part of the lunch hour practicing these with my pairing knife in order to hone my skills and get into the habit of how it feels to tourne potatoes. 

Here was our first tray (not exciting but documented nonetheless):

And some of my potatoes tourne (no where as good as the chefs, but not horrible either):

Another part of our skills tray was various cuts on a potato. We did battonnets, julienne, and 3 different sized cubes. (1/4 inch, 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch dice) It is quite intimidating when the chef gets out his plastic kit and measures your cubes against the model for consistency in size and shape. And believe me, if they are not perfect squares or the right size, they're not good enough.

Some of our potato cuts (surprisingly hard to get perfectly sized cubes):


And with the repetition in cuts, I find myself learning about the knives more, my hands more, how I hold and interact with my knife. It's something you probably don't think about at all, but when holding a knife for hours on end, I try to find ways to make the movement flow instead of being choppy. To date, one of my favorite things to do is watch professional chefs cut. To me, it's very telling about their attitude towards the job, whether they care or not, and how they feel that day. I saw it in meat class with Chef Schneller, the way every cut came so naturally to him, he knew where all the muscles in the animals would be from years of repetition. Thinking about it, I even remember watching Chef Marcella, Chef Andrea, or Chef Max in Italy cut items. The way they get into a zone where it's only them, their knives, and the item they're cutting. I think it's one of the great marks of a chef. Chef Thomas Keller, one of the most famous in the country and world, is known for having spent everyday for 2 years practicing making a hollandaise sauce until it was perfect. Some of us can't even do the same cuts two days in a row...

Anyways, enough rambling, my right wrist is kind of tired because the french knives I'm used to aren't as heavy as the CIA knives, so I'm still finding my way with them. 

Everyday, one of the outputs from our kitchen is stock (chicken, beef, veal, etc). I really do love how this school was set up. In the meat class, they learn how to cut the chicken off the bone, then our kitchen gets the bones to turn into stock, then various kitchens at higher levels get the stock to make soup or sauces. It's a pretty great system. Here is some from today's stock production:

Chilling the stock on ice before putting them in the fridge:

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