As a teacher at a culinary school, one of the greatest and most rewarding moments is when students experience an "A Ha" moment right in front of your face. It's a lot of fun to know that you just managed to bridge a gap in understanding by a certain combination of spoken words or actions made.
Last week, I was up in front of my classroom full of eager culinary students, demonstrating a classic French sauce called Bechamel. For newcomers to Le Cordon Bleu, the initial discussion of the repertoire of classic French preparations known as the "mother", or primary, sauces can be confusing and intimidating. Each of these sauces is steeped in tradition, and demands a fairly specific set of ingredients being combined in a time honored way. As I cooked butter and flour together to make the white roux, then used it to thicken the milk I had infused with onion, bay leaf, and clove, I looked around at my students and saw a bunch of blank stares. I could feel that they were all thinking something along the lines of "that's weird".
Once the sauce simmered gently for the proper amount of time, and had transformed itself into the satiny, creamy concoction we know as Bechamel, I could sense that my students were about to have a revelation en masse. As with most of the "mother" sauces, Bechamel requires straining through a fine mesh sieve to render it absolutely velvet smooth. I seasoned the sauce to taste, and had every one of my students taste it. This is where many of them experienced the "A Ha" moment. One of them proclaimed, "This kind of reminds me of the sausage gravy I make with my biscuits." Another said, "That's a lot like the Alfredo Sauce recipe I made the other night." And a third stated, "Couldn't we make it thicker and then use it as a souffle base?" One even asked, "If it were really thick, could it be used to bind croquettes and fritters?" As I answered "Yes" to every one of those questions, and then proceeded to talk the rest of them through the many everyday uses of this classic sauce, I knew they had all just crossed that bridge to a place where a previously vague concept had become a solid piece of useful knowledge.