Blue Skies and a Kick Butt Risotto

I am over the moon, happy, elated, excited. My second level classes are amazing. My only regret in enrolling in culinary school is that I had to endure a boring first semester. While we were cooking during every class, we were never allowed to make stocks or break down chickens or fish or even try our hand at the 100-Escoffier ways to cook an egg. First level was definitely all about basics, and boy, I’m glad that's over.

Second-level classes can only be compared to the part in the Wizard of Oz when everything turns from black and white to super-duper technicolor. I have learned more about cooking science and techniques in the last two classes, than I did all last semester. I love it.

That being said, we still have a few know-it-alls in the class who make it their business to walk around the lab and give their unsolicited opinions on the creaminess of your bechamel, the color of your veloute and the size of your parmesan crisps. I’ve learned to grin, say, “Thanks, that’s a great tip!” It drives me crazy, nevertheless, but I’ve realized if I agree with them, they’ll pass by quickly and move on to the next victim, allowing me to get back to cooking much quicker than if I challenged them.

And then there is the dishroom issue. Cripe, no matter which culinary program you attend, please don’t soak your nasty, burnt, crusty pans in the sink that's been just-filled with squeaky-clean soapy water. Have some common sense and soak your pan off to the side. And rinse your pans before you wash them, please. Food in the dish water renders the dish water useless, and makes me cranky.

My groups are awesome this semester – we get along great, and complement each other well. And, everyone has been great in dealing with my food allergies, which can be a pain sometimes. I’m hoping it will be a skill they can take with them on the job when they have guests with food allergies dining in their restaurant.

We’ll be making chicken, it seems, for the rest of our lives this semester. But, I’m happy for the repetition – practice makes perfect. Between classes I’ve been practicing my knife skills with potatoes and carrots. I’ve just about mastered every cut, except the tourne – that one is killing me. If you have any tricks, please let me know! And now that I have the cuts almost perfected, I need to work on my speed – I’m accurate, but so slow.

The highlight this week was a kick-butt saffron risotto I made. Chef showed us a different technique that involved cooking the rice first and then drawing out the starches. I was skeptical, but it worked perfectly and didn’t require me to stand there holding its hand for 30+ minutes. The only downside is that I can’t get the smell of saffron out of my hair and skin, even after a hot shower.

Next week: more chicken!

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