High time for the SiS team to learn its chops! Hanne and I recently attended NAIT Culinary School’s Art of Garde Manger & Knife Skills course. We spent three four-hour sessions in these kitchens:
There’s Hanne in the back of the room interviewing Chef Roote. Hanne was working double duty as she was on assignment for Vue Weekly. If you’re interested in all the nitty gritty, jump over here.
I tagged along because I’ve always wanted to work in a professional kitchen. I’ve read books and articles on chefs and their kitchens. I simultaneously romanticize and pragmatize this life when cooking. I want to work dans le merde, even though I know that means in the shit. I want to work in a lively, chaotic environment, but don’t want to get pushed around or yelled at (you reading this, Hanne?). I often tell Hanne, while doing the prep work for dinner, that if someone would pay me well to chop and slice food all day, that would be exactly what I’d do. But not only do I not chop and slice well enough, a chef’s work is meant for people with figuratively and literally thicker skin than me.
I was excited to take this course because I could pretend. I did the pretending in my head, so not to embarrass Hanne. Like calling the chef, “chef” or my prepared ingredients my mise or asking if I could wear a toque. I didn’t actually yell at people to get out of my way, but thought of cantakerous ways I would have while waiting impatiently for them to get THE HELL out of my way. I didn’t actually scold a guy for putting a knife in the sink… no wait. I actually did. It is a sure-fire way to dull a knife, after all. Man, I’m an asshole.
The fun wasn’t all in fantasizing. I learnt a lot. I have decent knife skills, but the chefs gave me a gamut of tips to sort out a few bad habits. The best tip was to simply move my cutting board to the edge of the counter so that my fist (the one holding the knife) wouldn’t get in the way when side-slicing an onion. Painfully obvious. “Thanks for the tip,” I said, and at the end of the sentence I swallowed the word chef and washed it down with my pride.
Chef also told me to take my time. I learnt the bear claw/knuckles knife technique around the same time we launched SiS and have spent the last year and a half NOT cutting myself with the chef’s knife. I got so good at not cutting myself that I invested all excess energy into doing it fast. But while quickly pounding a carrot into a haphazard rumble strip is fast, it ain’t good. I was told to take my time and be more precise, which you may have read about in Hanne’s chowder post. What I learnt in this course paid off on the chowder as all the veg. cooked through evenly (perfectly!) and, although you couldn’t see it in the post’s picture, the symmetry of the cubes looked great on the spoon and felt great to chew.
Precision was also called upon in class when making canapes and sandwich displays. I’m now convinced that paying attention to presentation is important. Seeing all the food laid out pretty in class made me even hungrier and although the moment was fleeting, I did at first eat with my eyes.
The course was a lot of fun and I encourage you to read Hanne’s article. She spent way more time working on it than I did on this post, so if you’ve read this far, you owe her a read. Also, if you’re a foodie in Edmonton, check out NAIT’s list of part time culinary courses.