Field Report:
Adventures of a Culinary Padawan
École des Techniques à la Cuisine: INTRODUCTION

SuSu

Dear Foodie Groupie,

Food preparation is not about artistry or style points. It's like being a mechanic, in many ways -- techniques, lessons, rules, laws. These all have to be brought together to make the engine run. Food is about business and profits at it's heart, as well as about dates, happiness, satisfaction. The main reason there are cooks is because machines simply don't do the job as well as humans. Despite the age of Cuisinart, kitchen machines, labor saving devices, auto-cookers, clever gadgetry ... the best machine for the job is still a living, breathing human, complete with trained pair of human hands, tongue, eye. It's the "training" part that makes a difference, it's true!

In contrast, "cooking" as it's understood by the public is a romantic, glamorous, creative profession, encompassing art, science, personality and experience. Of course, with food shows and networks abound, sexy food and lifestyle chefs doing a "Gilderoy Lockhart" and signing cookbooks, cooking and kitchens are VERY popular and fashionable. The best part of all is that not knowing how to make dinner at home is not longer an acceptable excuse to not entertain, and if you mooch off of friends who can cook, you can appreciate their efforts all the more. Even if you never get formal training, you can at least LOOK like a cook by watching the shows, buying the cookbooks, and emulating and parroting. To paraphrase, "I'm not a chef, but I've seen them on TV!"

So why go to cooking school (or as they all seem to be called now, "culinary institutes")? No need really, if you love cooking as opposed to "preparing food." In fact, it can be a discouraging thing, being that the great classes will destroy any fantasy bubbles about the field. Cooking for a living is a hard, hot, tiring life. Tony Bourdain's grizzled grumpiness is a lot more common than Tyler Florence's niceness.

But you may be considering a career in cooking, writing, editing or teaching; you're the type of person who really needs an instructor to come and show you; you want to meet people who are more serious foodies (as opposed to the "couch potato" foodies, something I respect, no mistake!). It can be short and inexpensive -- a day or two, or a few hours, from $20 to $200. Or it can be longer and more expensive -- akin to professional career courses. There's a lot of stuff inbetween. You can learn with professionals, career teachers, or enthusiastic amateurs.

I opted to sacrifice my evenings and attend what I'll call the Jedi Temple Culinary Institute. The local newspaper reviews this particular class and called it "culinary boot camp." Classes run twice a week, at 5 to 6 hours a pop, for 11 weeks, $5000, knives, tools, uniform, "family dinners," textbook included. It's considered a vocational/technical school, so you have to provide evidence of having completed secondary education, deposit $500 filing fees, etc. It's serious stuff. Why here? I wanted something much more serious, to match my experience in professional kitchens. And if I'm paying that much, I want transferrable credit, so that someday I can become a full Culinary Jedi if I want to!

Most importantly, ever since I've become the "foodie editor" of WookieeHut, people have written in to ask about the recipes or instructions. We've chatted about doing a "cooking 101" type of thing where techniques and basic recipes are explained. This is my response to all those requests. This is an extended, multi-part field report with summaries of stuff I'm learning and experiencing. Consider yourself part of my monetary and time investment! I hope you learn something and have fun at my expense!

This is also a way for me to rewrite my notes, and I'll have an ever-expanding glossary posted time and again. Many of the terms are in French. Despite the flack the French always get, the cooks of that country did a marvelous job of standardize and regimentalizing the commercial and restaurant kitchen. For that, they deserve respect; besides, French techniques are the basis for all western cooking. (Though it's true that French cuisine is derived from Italian, thanks to the marriage of Catherine d'Medici to the Duke d'Orléans, who became King Henry of France, it's the French who formalized technique and service. The other great "grandfather cuisine" is, of course, Chinese.)

Since I'll be writing these as I go along, I may not have illustrations or photographs; maybe I'll add those later. (Ten hours a week plus a real day job doesn't leave much time for niceties!) I'll ask the Admin Droid to note those on the "Latest News & Weather" page when I get a chance to update past reports.

Enjoy my reports. I hope to enjoy cooking school! (If you have questions, please write to me at susu@wookieehut.com. I'll write back ASAP, considering my schedule!)

With Love,
The Culinary Padawan

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Disclaimer: All contents are personal observations, and no profit or lucre is expected, solicited, advocated or paid by anyone, including those being observed. This is all just for fun. Any comments, please e-mail the author or WOOKIEEhut directly. Flames will be ignored. This report may not be posted anywhere without the author's knowledge, consent, and permission.