Chef School 2: Looking the part
So week 2 dawns, and the long bus commutes between the East Coast and Hobart are giving me plenty of time to appreciate the beautiful Tasmanian scenery. The downside is getting up at 5.45am. When I researched studying in Tasmania, one thing I completely overlooked was the complexity of the chef uniform, and even worse, the need to clean and iron it on a daily basis. The ironing came as a particular shock, as I had survived 15 years of London professional management consultancy life without ever owning an iron. I simply never bought clothes that needed ironing.
Although once upon a time, back in London, shortly before leaving to go an office Christmas party, I discovered the dress I planned to wear had accidentally been left folded rather than hung up in the cupboard. I rushed round to my neighbour's flat, to borrow his iron and board. He took one, incredulous, look at me, and another at the state of the dress I was holding, took it from me and ironed it perfectly in less than 5 minutes – he said he was worried I would break his iron. So yes, a major oversight on my part not spotting the ironing skill (and attitude) gap I had for this Commercial Cookery course. Angus, my sheep farmer boyfriend, had to show me how to iron my chef uniform that first night.
The student chef uniform...
If you are a fashionista who is considering becoming a chef, believe me that a chef uniform is about as far from glamorous as one can get - unisex baggy black trousers (too long for me, so turned up as well), a shapeless white double breasted jacket, a white waist apron, clumpy black non-slip shoes, a name badge, a black cap that somehow you have to battle your hair into, as well as that ultimate fashion accessory, a hairnet. That’s not all though - to accessorise the look – no jewellery, no watches, no make-up and no nail varnish. Luckily I already have a wonderful boyfriend, as I wouldn’t be finding one here!
Getting to know different methods of cookery...
And the course is progressing at a furious pace. We have 14 weeks to cover the 16 modules for our initial Certificate 2 qualification. By the end of week 2 we have spent days in the kitchen practising all different methods of cookery - boiling, simmering, poaching, deep-frying, grilling, stewing, braising and ‘poeler’ing. I finally understand what braising is and how it is different from stewing, roasting or ‘poeler’ing.
We learn the three main distinctions between different methods of cookery:
Fast (e.g. all kinds of frying, grilling) and Slow (e.g. roasting, stewing)
Dry (e.g. pan-frying, grilling) and Wet (e.g. poaching, braising)
Gentle (e.g. poaching, steaming) and Harsh (e.g. deep-frying, boiling)
We start the long process of learning which method of cookery suit different vegetables, meat and fish cuts – a rule of thumb is that tender vegetables or meat/fish cuts generally suit faster, drier, gentler methods, and tougher vegetables or meat/cuts usually suit slower, wetter, gentler methods of cookery. Not many foods taste their best when cooked harshly, at high temperatures, although potatoes are remarkably versatile across the different methods of cookery.
We have also made and used white and blond roux, veloutes, marinades, batters, and crumb coatings. Some of which were familiar, but I am learning more and more every day. 2 weeks in and I have already handed in 5 written assignments. So far the course is feeling like good value for money, but one of my biggest fears was whether I could rev up my fairly relaxed pace in the kitchen enough. So far I am keeping up – despite our teacher being an ex-professional athlete – I call her ‘speed demon’ – which means that our class (Group B) finishes half an hour earlier than Group A every day!
Here are three really delicious recipes that will give your methods of cookery a workout
Beef vindaloo - stewing
Chicken schnitzel – coating and pan-frying
Braised lamb shanks with creamy parsnip mash – braising (lamb) and boiling (parsnip)