Learning to be a better cook

It took three weeks, but the excitement of my internship has worn off. It's still exciting, don't get me wrong, but the starstruck, rock star, gasp of air I would suck in whenever one of the TV personalities walked by has subsided. They're just like everyone else, and the internship is just like a regular job now.

I've experienced good days, where I've felt like I've made a real difference or learned something new; and I've experienced bad days, where I've pretty much screwed everything up. It's been humbling, and it's made me take a closer look at how I can be a better cook and contributor.

My mistakes have resulted from feeling rushed and not being particularly precise with my cuts. In school, and in teaching home cooks, it's been perfectly OK if a carrot isn't quite 1/4" thick, even if the recipe calls for it - some can be slightly off, without negative impact on the recipe. Cooking in the Test Kitchen, however, has to be exact. If a recipe calls for 1/4" sliced carrots, they absolutely need to be cut 1/4″.

Some of my carrots were not cut the right size today and the test cook had to take valuable time to redo them for a video shoot. I spent the better part of the day beating myself up over it, which affected my entire day. I was so nervous about making a mistake that one of the chefs told me I needed to be more confident about my cooking. Me. More confident. I'm one of the most confident people I know. But, he was right. I was very skittish today and I wore it right on the sleeve of my chef's coat.

The other issue has been misinterpretation - they don't use the standard culinary terms for cuts in the Test Kitchen, so one chef's "finely chopped" is another chef's "minced." As a result, many of us (interns) have had to redo our cuts. I've since created a list of questions to ask each chef before I even begin a recipe, including, "What size is the 'finely chopped' in the recipe?"

Week four will be different. Week four will be my "confident" week. I will ask my list of questions before I begin working, I will slow down, and I will be p.r.e.c.i.s.e.