we straggle back after the holiday break. at the streetcorners, men in heavy jackets hawk christmas trees and wreaths, carved reindeer and pinecone art. the wind blows in colder and barrels in tunnels down broadway like a freight train.
chef chris is there, early, as he always is.
"i think he lives here," one of the girls says in the locker room (where is my sharpie? oh yeah, there it is. do i have everything? is my hat on straight?) we were back, we were here. as michael ruhlman says in the making of a chef, "that's all that mattered now, the physical fact of my presence. this was a physical place."
there's excitement in the air. module 2 takes a sharp break from the heavy protein cooking to teach grains, vegetables, and breakfast. these are new to us, completely foreign to this kitchen. i look at my prep card, alien to anything we've done in class so far.
egg whites to stiff peaks
fold in chocolate mixture
the souffle is one of the magician's tricks of the kitchen. add a little beaten egg white and some flavor, pop it in the oven, and voila! risen from nothing like lazarus from the dead. magic.
"beat the egg whites, i wanna be able to grab your bowl and turn it upside down with nothing coming out. this is what's gonna make your souffle rise - these egg whites are gonna expand and firm up and trap all that hot air like a balloon."
he retrieves his chocolate souffle from the convection oven, risen perfectly. he dusts a little confectioners' sugar on top.
the next day, we make pasta.
"what is the difference between pasta a home cook makes and what a restaurant makes? at home, you're only making one pot. you throw the most valuable part away - your starch water. you're gonna use this water to make your sauce, thin it out if it's too thick, whatever. it's liquid gold. it has flavor. it will bind better."
"I like this recipe," he said, "it's not fancy. it reminds me a little of olive garden, actually. but it's good. make it good."
i gather my items. at the table, i carefully brush the mushrooms with paper towel. never get mushrooms wet if you can help it, they'll absorb the moisture and get soggy. i start slicing. chef comes around.
"here, let me show you something." he takes my knife and instead of chopping the stem from a mushroom and slicing it, he instead chops all of the stems from the pile and then starts slicing. the knife never stops, he simply keeps feeding it.
"always do all of one task first. it will go faster. i know. i'm a very good mise en placer."
"you know what my interview was to teach here? i had to cook an omelet." chef chris shrugs his shoulders. "no, really."
cook a perfect omelet, the mark of a chef, the hallmark of classical training. how do you approach the eggs? a thousand techniques. he shows us his. "i'm gonna put a little cooked mushroom in here. you know why?"
"look outside. what do you see outside?" we look at the setting sun on the manhattan skyline. shrug. "america, that's why. we're in america. it's a free country. i can do whatever i want."
he flips his perfect omelet onto a plate, garnished with creminis.
"okay, i want you to show me a perfect french omelet and a perfect american omelet." chef says. he looks at the fifteen heads scribbling in pocket notebooks. "questions? no? goodbye."
contrast the french and american styles. the french omelet, cooked slowly in figure-eights like a custard. no color to the eggs, perfectly smooth, the top should be just barely wet and runny ("like a dog's nose"). i tip my skillet and fold the omelet onto the plate, filling with pre-cooked mushrooms and thyme, goat cheese, caramelized onions. fold the omelet into thirds, like a letter.
want to see more modules in culinary school? check out the culinary school tag!