The Joy of Not Cooking

Perri and Su’s pasta primevera a la minute and butter lettuce with toasted pine nuts

I’ve spent the past several months writing so.much.about.food, that lamentably, my actual kitchen time has been, well, limited to “shoot I have a potluck and I’m the girl who graduated culinary school so there are high expectations and I can’t just show up with a bottle of wine” and “how am I going to turn my leftovers from lunch into dinner?”

Nights have been filled with holiday dinners, catching up with old friends and internal monologues of “Well, I have this thing Thursday night anyways so what’s the point in going grocery shopping for the two meals I’ll be in this week?” Jake, wanna go to Mole for dinner? Guilty.

For sure, it’s made me really sad. And I’ve often worried that like anything that takes a lot of patience and practice (Hey, 30 days of Bikram yoga…), when I pick up a knife next, I won’t even know how to small dice my way through a carrot (Did I ever?). But happily, like returning to the gym after a few months of, say, Bikram yoga, you realize, you still know how to work the elliptical, you still know how to do lunges, and yes, you can still hold a plank for about 20 seconds longer than you want to.

Last week, when cooking dinner at Aunt Su’s, I realized there’s something really nice about not cooking for a couple of weeks. You’re flooded with a sense of relief and happiness when you realize you still, in fact, know how to make a red pepper coulis, you still remember the proper washing technique for tackling leeks, and like anything in life, you still know how to fuck a few things up and rebound from it.

It’s like taking a few months off from listening to your favorite band. The moment one of their songs pop up on shuffle, it always feels like coming home. You’re right back where you left off and suddenly remember why you fell in love in the first place. And now you get to do it all over again. And really, what could be better than that?

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Our Final Culinary School Dinner: Put Some South in Yo’ Mouth

Nope, not your average meat and three or butter and cheese-loaded mac and cheese and cornbread-fest. Given my penchant for anything southern and involving glazed pecans, it’ll come as no surprise that my six-person culinary-cohort settled on a southern themed epicurean paradise.  And this past Friday night (times two because I wrote it two weeks ago and forgot) was the culmination of my chef’s training program at the Natural Gourmet Institute: a three course vegan meal for 100 people.

Also of note, my amazing boyfriend who could subsist (ew did I just say amazing boyfriend? I hate people who wax poetic about that kind of stuff) on eggs and lean chicken breast alone with a wild aversion to all things plant-based, offered rave reviews of the bean and mushroom stout pot pie (even more miraculously, he hates both beans and mushrooms) and probably tried about five new vegetables in the appetizer alone.

After countless hours of chiffonading greens (because, hey, I can kind of do that now), supreming oranges (which, hey, I can also do) and arguing for spiralized beet “noodles” over roasted pickled beets, we managed to pull it all off. Behold, a few favorite photos from the feast.

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5 Things to Buy for the First Week of Culinary School

So you got your knife kit, now what? Before you’re poached pear-ing and artichoking (or in my case, just choking because you have no idea what you’re doing…) here are a few key assets I wish I knew to buy before the first week of culinary school.

1. 6-Inch Ruler

It will come in handy more than you ever dreamed. No excuses. It’ll probably cost you 75 cents at a hardware store. Unless you’re me and go to a hardware store that doesn’t sell it, than head off in a blizzard to Michael’s, an art supply and crafts store that also doesn’t carry it, and finally wind up at Staples that sells a pack of 2 for $3, but you subsequently lose the first set without even using them, and have to trek back to buy another set. So let’s just say it ranges from 75 cents to $6 (and a whole lot of frustration). Pro-tip: Don’t ask your significant other if he has one you can borrow.

2. Duck Tape

Remember that aforementioned  super-expensive knife kit? You don’t want to be the idiot who gets their knives stolen, or, even more likely, confuses it with the mayhem of 20 other knives floating around the kitchen from your classmates and then grabbing the one with the dull edge…right before the exam. I jazzed mine up with glittery looking tape, but any old tape will do.

3. Knife diorama kit

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As if that $300 knife kit wasn’t enough, just suck it up and pay the $15 at your school’s front desk or online for one of those nifty kits. It comes with 3-D cut-outs of the widlly impossible cuts you still won’t understand how to accomplish (Tourné, anyone?). Your knife skills practical exam will be thanking you.

4. A lock

You’ll have more knives, hand towels, and pastry thing-a-ma-bobs than you know what to do with, which you’ll probably cry over if they go missing. Not to mention your cell and wallet. Do yourself a favor and show up with a lock on day one, ready to go.

5. Shoe Insoles

Remember those super expensive pairs of ugly clogs you bought? Couple that with the insane amount of hours you’ll be standing on your feet all day. Now: make those shoes worth it by spending the extra dollars on insoles so the comfort level goes from “Meh, why did I spend $90 on these” to “Kind of walking on air.”

7 Things They Won’t Tell You About Day 1 of Culinary School

Hello, Toto, we’re not in our cozy test kitchen anymore.  And man, has it been an incredibly humbling experience thus far. To be honest, my main takeaways from day numero uno pretty much boil down to (oh hey, I’m probably doing that wrong, too): I really have no clue how to cut an onion. Or a carrot. And I sure as hell don’t know how to cut a potato. Or parsley for that matter. Even better, I have no idea how to sharpen your knife properly to ensure that after incorrectly attempting the aforementioned you at least keep your knife in good shape so you can keep trying. Which, by God, I will!

1. Nobody cares about your fancy job title or your ivy league degree. In fact, you’re probably way cooler if you went to vocational high school for cooking and took a spot on the line for two years fresh out of senior year.  Garde Manger  >>> Manager du Hedge Fund // Culinary Arts  >>>  Liberal Arts.

2. Those years of French you took in high school that you thought would never come in handy (or your dad miserably laments as total “merde”) suddenly becomes way more handy than you ever imagined. Mise en place! Garde Manger! Déglacer! You’ll suddenly derive great pleasure from breaking down these terms into their literal translation and smiling smugly to yourself because you’ll probably score 8.3 points higher than you would have otherwise on the kitchen terms ID quiz next month due to your ability to breakdown words to their roots. Even concassé makes total sense! With breakage. Brilliant!

3. You don’t have to wash your hair! No, really! All it does is stay tucked up in a super tight bun under a big hat all day. What’s the point?

4. A chef’s handshake is like his coat of armor. If someone says “Oh yeah, I’m a cook,” you can pretty much tell whether or not that’s the truth by shaking hands with them. You suddenly find yourself desperately searching for colorful stories for all the calluses, scars and nicks on your hands. A little julienne war wound? Obviously from your trail at Chez Panisse. That Brunoise bruise? Clearly from your stint at French Laundry. Totally not, you know, from lifting weights at the gym or that glass you accidentally smashed on your hand in high school.  Totally.

5. Don’t go grocery shopping the day before class starts. Les whoops. You’ll go home with more baggies of chopped veggies than could be converted into feed at a chicken farm in upstate New York (which coincidentally, your school sends its compost to) and enough minced garlic to have bad breath for nine years.

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6. People will ask you “So, what did you cook?” GUYS I haven’t cooked anything. But did I mention I have a 9lb bag of poorly diagonal-slanted-cut (shoot, what’s that called again?) carrots in my fridge?

7. You will arrive at a dinner party so starving (and not to mention tired from standing on your feet all day), that you will somehow confuse the below spread for one of the 120 types of produce you identified.  Honeycrisp Ham and Fuji Filet Mignon, am I right? (You’ll also wonder how you survived twenty six years of your life without tasting a pummelo).
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