21 August 2011

Week in Review #1 - Let Them Eat Pasta

The first week of culinary school is in the books. A basic foundation-laying process has begun.

And of all the things that I’ve learned, one thing jumps out: the French didn’t really invent modern cuisine. As a red-blooded American, I feel it’s my duty to take every opportunity to cut down those peace-mongering surrender monkeys.
"We all talk like Maurice Chevalier!"

I kid! I kid! But let's face it, there's a strange allure to poking fun at the French.

It’s fun to, how you say, ooze theez reedeecooluhs ahk-cent. It’s fun to add “le” to things to make them fancier. Even though American involvement in war is a lightning rod of a subject nowadays, can any one of us resist pointing out how we saved the French twice last century? And they lost Vietnam, too!

So, if you’d like to get under the skin of the resident Frenchman in your social circle, do try to work this into a dinner conversation: French cuisine was brought to France by an Italian.

Of course, this is a gross simplification that ignores all the innovations the French brought to the modern, professional kitchen, but it’s essentially true. Catherine de’ Medici, she of the Famiglia de’ Medici (cue your ridiculous Italian accent), married King Henry II of France in 1533. She brought her cooks and their more sophisticated techniques with her.

It wasn’t until the next century that a French chef, trained in a Medici kitchen, decided to break away from Italian conventions, kickstarting a series of changes that eventually resulted in haute cuisine, the brigade system, restaurant terminology and all that stuff.

Okay, so it’s not even “essentially” true that French cuisine was brought to France by an Italian, but hey, it’s all in good fun. And besides, we all know the Chinese invented everything.

Technique of the Week

My new rule of thumb: give it the finger.

One of the essentials of slicing and dicing is uniformity. Our cutting boards do have ruler hash marks on the bottom, but moving ingredients to the edge slows me down. The most basic measure we’ve had so far is half an inch, because from there you can cut down to a batonnet (1/4" sticks) and a julienne (1/8" sticks).

To help me eyeball the measurements, I went home and measured my fingernails. It turns out my middle finger nail is half an inch from the back to that line where the nail meets skin (as opposed to the end of the nail, which, of course, grows). If I'm ever in a kitchen with you, please don’t take it personally.

Injury Report

One week, zero cuts. I did scratch myself at home on, of all things, the little metal teeth on a box of parchment paper, but I don’t think that counts.

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