By: Kathryn Dwyer, Culinary Arts Student
There are moments in culinary school when you turn to your fellow students with looks full of pure astonishment, “we made this?”. Mustard, bacon, hot dogs, mozzarella cheese…”we actually made this?!”. While we practiced recipes for elegant, sophisticated dishes like oysters Rockefeller and pâté en croute, the most impressed I found myself was recreating every-day dishes that are synonymous with the grocery store or specific restaurant. So, mustard doesn’t just come from a yellow squeeze bottle and bacon isn’t only to be found in vacuum sealed packages, who knew?!
Students are almost guaranteed to gain weight in culinary school during the days that focus on practically everyone’s favorite culinary tradition: Italian. More specifically: pasta. You will make and consume a lot of pasta in culinary school and it is glorious. After eating perfectly cooked, fresh egg pasta, it is hard to go back to the boxed stuff. Even more impressive was how simple and straightforward pasta making is and how many variations and shapes there are to learn. Learning to mold the pasta into different shapes was especially fun. There are so many forms of filled pasta beyond ravioli or tortellini and with a few different folds you can create all sorts of looks. It opens a whole world of creative freedom to fill and shape your own pasta, and no longer is it only to be found on a grocery store shelf.
Growing up when my sister or I were sick my mom would bust out the big comfort food guns, a hot bowl of boiled pierogies with topped with plenty of melted butter. I loved them, there is nothing not to love about pasta stuffed with mashed potatoes; they definitely make the world’s top five comfort foods (according to me, they fall somewhere between chicken soup and s’mores). I’m sorry to give you up, Mom, the only pierogies I knew as a kid came from a blue box found in the freezer isle. In culinary school I gained a whole new appreciation for the real deal, from scratch pierogies. The pierogies we made in class were stuffed with creamy potatoes and caramelized onions; after boiling them, we sautéed the little pillows in butter, letting them get golden brown and delicious. A big change from the bland, soft little pockets I was familiar with as a kid. Crisped on the outside, creamy on the inside, the pasta retaining some of it’s texture and chew, the flavor went from comforting yet mellow to one with notes of garlic, savory onions and browned butter. They were a revelation.
Sushi, like dentistry or forklift operation, seems a task best left to the experts. Raw fish, sharp knives and unusual ingredients don’t make for a very approachable dish. My instructor happened to make sushi often for his family and he talked us through the technique, giving us lots of tips and tricks. We each had the opportunity to create our own rolls of sushi using an array of ingredients and at the end of the day we plated and garnished our creations to share with each other. We came up with some really interesting combinations; I remember a chorizo and green onion roll and a nothing-but-cream-cheese roll! I was super impressed with how successful we were and just how beautiful they turned out.
Another recipe from the international cuisine portion of the culinary program that blew my mind was not traditional or even really international…we made fortune cookies! While they might be an Americanized concept and only found in plastic wrappers at the bottom of your Chinese food take-out bag, making them from scratch was so much fun. We wrote our own messages with lines like, “your future will be full of mirepoix” or “may your mayonnaise never break” and then shared them at the table during family meal, all laughing at our “fortunes”. There was no comparison between the packaged, crisped-cardboard fortune cookies from the Chinese place down the street and the fresh wafer cookies laced with vanilla and sesame oil that my classmates and I baked.
Learning how to create from scratch something that was always associated with the grocery store or a specialty restaurant was enlightening and totally fun. With the focus at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts being on farm to table and locally sourced ingredients, eliminating many of those processed, packaged items is a proactive move toward a sustainable lifestyle. Using my skills I’ve learned at culinary school, I now feel more confident and capable of eliminating more of the specialty items I thought could only be sourced from the market. And I’m excited to figure out what I will try next…