Learn to dice onions, and you shall be great

Monday marked the beginning of the new semester, and for me, my first actual cooking class. Sure, I have one semester of baking under my belt, but this class, which our school calls Quantity I, is what I had been waiting for since I was 18. Needless to say, I was a little excited and anxious to get started.

Background: When I was a senior in high school, it was a toss up between art school or culinary school. Art school won out, and I’ve been working in the design and marketing industry for, gulp, just about 19 years now. Culinary school was something I always wanted to do, and I finally found a program that fit my budget and schedule.

OK, so back to Monday…I hate being late, so I arrived about 20 minutes early. Eventually, the entire class settled in, and I noticed about 60% were not in their chef coats, did not have aprons, toques, knives or their book. As I’m sitting there in my uniform with book, notebook and pen, I’m disgusted, appalled, and ready to label them all young, stupid and clearly not serious about becoming a chef.

Chef began his lecture. He was in a great mood, rested, excited about the semester. He let the 60% of rule breakers roll right off his back without skipping a beat, and addressed the syllabus and required attire, “If you show up without your coat, hat, apron, book, or KNIVES, you get a zero for the day. You might as well go home.” Brilliant, thank you, Chef!

I was quietly laughing at them all. I glanced over at my rolling culinary case, still laughing, and gasped. I literally sucked all of the oxygen out of the room. My face turned flush and I called myself every derogatory word I knew.

I forgot my knives. I had measuring cups, spoons, a cutting board, tongs, microplane – you name it, I had it. But I didn’t have my knives. My knives were home, all comfy on the corner of my bed, waiting for me to take them to culinary school. I had walked right out the door without them.

My focus shifted to how the heck I was going to magically make my knives appear, without creating a buzz. I’m an A student, an over achiever – I never mess up like this. After some noodling, I decided my best bet was to get myself over to the bookstore, without Chef noticing, and buy a new French knife and paring knife. Totally doable. We took a short break, and out the door I went. I passed my lab partner from last semester, “R,” and “Boy who talks too much” on my way – they stopped me dead in my tracks.

“You’re not going to buy new knives – that’s ridiculous,” R said. Just use ours – we’re not using them today.”

“I couldn’t, I shouldn’t,” I thought to myself. “R” interrupted my thought bubble, “I used your knives and equipment all last semester – I owe you anyhow!” I looked at “R” and said, “You know what, you’re right! Where’s your knife roll?”

Crisis averted.

The rest of the day Chef took us on a tour of the kitchen, showed us how to use the dishwasher in the dish room, and did a few demos on the basics.

As with baking class, I was surprised at how much I already knew. I was the only one in class who knew how to hold a knife properly, and part of the minority of students who knew how to dice an onion; how to make tomato concasse; how to chop a carrot. It felt good.

I never did need my knives, but I’m glad I had a back up plan, and glad Chef didn’t have to lump me in with the ”bad” half of the class.

First homework assignment: Dice a bag of onions.

To quote Chef this week, “If you can learn how to dice an onion properly, make a proper roux and all the other basics I’m going to teach you in this class, you’ll be a great chef.”

I hope Vidalias are on sale this week.

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