Culinary Arts Program – Week One

As some of you may know, I just moved to Boston to work on my Master’s Degree in Gastronomy at Boston University. As part of this degree, I am also obtaining a Certificate in Culinary Arts through the Food and Wine program. I am completing this certificate program this fall with a Culinary Art Lab that runs Monday through Thursday from 10:00 AM to roughly 6:00 pm.

Our class began this past Monday, and I was so excited to get started on my culinary education. I made sure to complete my readings on Saturday, so I could enjoy my first Patriots game as a Bostonian on Sunday. I found a good dive bar to watch the game Sunday night. Unfortunately, that left me out pretty late and in turn very tired on Monday morning. Still, I was pumped to get in the kitchen.

Our first class was devoted to knife skills. To practice, we had an extensive list of vegetables we were each to cut. We spent over four hours cutting vegetables. I never realized how many wrong ways there were to cut vegetables. It was difficult to think about everything at once: the position of the knife in my hand, the position of the knife on the cutting board, the position of the vegetables, the position of my body, etc. I found my brain being very overwhelmed by all the details.

Even though we were just doing a single task, it was exhausting. I could not believe how physically tired I was by the end of the day. When I got home, I laid down on the wood floor in my apartment and did not move for a good 20 minutes. For a few seconds, I was wondering what in the world I signed myself up for, as I was thinking about all the parts of my body that hurt.

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Snapped a pic at the end of day one

Fortunately, each day of the week got a little better on the tiredness aspect, as I think my body starting getting accustomed to being on my feet all day. On day two, we took all those vegetables we chopped and turned them into stocks. Plus, we had some other ingredients like chicken carcasses, chicken feet, ham hocks, and fish bones.

Stocks day was enjoyable. We made vegetable stock, chicken stock, ham stock, and fish stock (aka fish fumet). For some of the stocks, each group had a different variation, while others we did all the same procedure. Interestingly, each group’s stock had a distinctive taste whether or not we all followed the same procedure.

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Homemade stocks are so high in quality. They have such a rich flavor. This made me never want to buy stocks from the grocery store again. However, making my own stocks all the time is completely unrealistic and costly. I would like to start making stocks more often, but you can’t easily store gallons of different stocks in an apartment. I think I will start with a couple small batches and see how long those last.

Day three was hot sauces. We started to turn those delicious stocks we made into some traditional French sauces. This day was called “Sauces I,” but I think it would be more aptly named “Butter Day.” French sauces involve so much butter. Since we taste in the morning during the chef’s demo and in the kitchen while we cook, it felt like we each ate a pound of butter by the end of the day. Here are the sauces we made: tamari butter sauce, vermouth jus, red wine sauce, hollandaise, chicken jus, and beurre blanc.

As one might expect with beginners, some of our sauces turned out well while others were literally hot messes. Some of these sauces like beurre blanc, I may never have to make again, and I am fine with that. It is 90 percent butter. However, I really enjoyed learning the history and technique behind these French sauces. Some of the sauces, like the tamari butter sauce, I actually would incorporate into my cooking routine. This sauce would be great with Asian-inspired meals, especially involving fish or poultry.

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Front: Tamari Butter Sauce; Back: Beurre Blanc

By day four, we all started to get into a better grove, as we felt more comfortable with each other and with the kitchen. Yet, we may have gotten slightly too comfortable thinking we had an easy day with cold sauces. After an 80 degree day where we had all our burners going at once, we were relieved to have a break from the stove. It seemed that our cold sauces would be easier to put together. The part that we may have overlooked was how long it would take to prep the ingredients for the sauces (or as the French would say mise en place).

It took about an hour and a half for each group to get all the ingredients together. We were then running frantically around the kitchen trying to get our sauces done in time for presentation. My station was a mess, and I lost any organization that I had. I went into chaos mode for awhile. What I learned from this experience is that it is better to work swiftly but with order and cleanliness, focusing on one task at a time. Hopefully this coming week, I can work on staying calmer under pressure.

We made seven sauces in total this day: remoulade (fancy French mayo), sauce ravigote, sherry vinaigrette, sauce gribiche, salsa verde, tapenade, and chimichurri. Most of these sauces were completely unfamiliar to me. This was probably my favorite day of the week, however, as many of these sauces are things I would want to incorporate into my own cooking. I told myself once I get my apartment organized, I am going to start making my own vinaigrettes and keeping at least one in the fridge at all times for my salads.

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By the end of day four, not only did my feet not hurt, but I actually felt like I still had energy. That was a dramatic change from Monday. If that keeps up, I think I will enjoy myself in the kitchen much better. It was hard to get going last week because my apartment is still not quite there. We still didn’t have any living room furniture, which has now been fixed, and I still didn’t have a bed, which has yet to be fixed. I should be getting my bed this week, so once I do, I think I will be in a better grove.

Week one was exhausting but exhilarating. Part of me is still in disbelief that I am here and getting to do this. I am in awe that we get to learn from such amazing and successful chefs. I was mesmerized watching them cook during the morning demos. It is a bit surreal that I am on this culinary journey.

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Coming up this week, we are working on soups, pastry basics, and poultry. I will be back next weekend with another recap. Thanks for all my friends and family who have been supporting me during this transitional period.

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