chef chris is a chef's chef. he leans constantly against the stoves with his hands loosely behind his back, shrugging. chef ana has disappeared back into the catskills, whence she came, back to her garden of tubers and kale, carrots she had pulled to have us try. ("this is what a carrot should taste like. and you know what? it's already lost flavor from when i got it this morning. that crap they sell you in supermarkets? you know how long it's been dead? two weeks. what kind of flavor is that gonna have? you tell me, i'm just talkin' to ya.")
module 2 is the meat of ICE's curriculum. this is where the bones of cooking are taught, methods and techniques to weave into future sous vided salmon filets and gold-filigreed souffles. i finger at the hem of my increasingly soiled jacket (is that wasabi powder on the sleeve?) and breathe him in. i like a man with no fucks to give about mousses and foams, who simply wants good food cooked and presented well. "make it beautiful," he calls over the class. you eat with your eyes first, your nose second. mouth third.
moist heat cooking techniques are any technique where water (again, not oil) is applied with heat. this is your braising, your boiling, your stewing. these are long, slow methods. hours in pots with softly simmering bubbles breaking down the connective tissue on thick cuts of flesh.
these methods use water's natural boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit to control the temperature the item is cooked at. as the water steams off at 212 degrees, the water bath is never raised higher that that temperature. as this is also lower than the browning point of the Maillard Reaction (covered here in dry heat cooking methods), the food also does not darken and brown as it might in a saute or a roast. conversely, steaming, cooking the food (in our case chinese striped bass and sticky rice) uses these quickly heated rapidly-moving molecules to quickly raise the temperature of the food to above boiling. (evaporated water consumes a great deal of energy during the evaporation and condensation process, far more than simply heated air does, this energy is expended on the food - which is why steaming is a much faster process than baking or roasting, despite using similar temperatures.)
my bag is heavy on my shoulder and perpetually unzipped. fliers and schedules are shoved in with pastry bags and offset spatulas, microplanes and spatulas. out of fifteen in a class, there are three guys in total and i somehow take up residence with them.
if you show up late, you have last pick of your recipe. the rule of the table. he who has the conch may speak. i rush to class, checking all my jacket buttons on the way down the hallway, darting past porters with huge metal speedracks laden with today's pull (swordfish, veal, celery, artichokes, zucchini). i check my sidetowels, that my short pale hair is tucked under my cap. put my coffee under the table. chef chris nods at us.
i make paupiettes de sole. take a sole (beautiful gray flatfish, eyes on one side, both staring up at you, unfocused.) drive a flexible knife down, down along the backbone. slowly peel the ridged pink and white flesh away from its' skeleton, drag your knife down the bones like a xylophone. flip it over. do it again. throw the tenderly-attached guts away (how fragile we are, you realize, barely held together by sinew and silverskin.) lay the fillets flat and pull your knife through, quickly, to release the skin. slice leeks thinly and toss with orange zest and butter, saute until soft as a pillow. roll the leek confit up in the sole fillets and braise in a covered dish with wine and butter. toss with parsley, maybe. more leeks.
every class has its villain and as i'm plating my dish, he comes up and grabs one of the paupiettes from the resting rack and pops it in his mouth with a grin.
"hey! what the actual fuck?" i say.
"oh sorry," he says, smiling, "i thought you had enough."
on other days, i make osso buco. italy's love affair with the animal, use everything. it's not a frugal mantra but a demand for flavor. put the bones and the stringy meat of the legs into the pot. the meat is dredged in flour and cooked dry in the pot until the brown comes, encroaches shyly along the edges, leaves marks in the pan. at the time, my nose is deep in bill buford's ode to mario batali in heat. his veal shanks are my veal shanks. his are slow-cooked for eight hours in chianti wine and heaping spoonfuls of cracked black pepper. mine, regrettably, are tossed in a boxed red that the school buys in bulk. but these are still the same bones of the recipe handed down generations ago, flavored with medieval nutmeg and cinnamon we've traded for lemon and parsley. still the same. still, always, the same.