Friday, August 27, 2010

Knife envy

I love a good chef's knife. Keep in mind that the one decent piece of cutlery I own -- a scalloped 5" Henkel given to me by my cousin and her husband on my 30th birthday -- traveled with me around the country wrapped in bubble wrap inside my foodstuffs pannier (when it wasn't being used to dice potatoes for the beercan stove dinners or being clutched next to my sleeping bag as I listened to odd animal noises outside my tent). This implement is not to be confused with the multi-tool I used to stab myself in the hand, though that was also surprisingly sharp....

I've had an opportunity to play with some really nice knives lately. A week ago Thursday I had my first volunteer shift at a lovely, local recreational cooking school. It was a Knife Know How class given by one of CulinAerie's personable founders, principal chef Susan Holt. While moving about the tables and assisting the group of 30 aspiring cooks, I couldn't help marveling at Susan's dexterity with the various sharp implements as she demonstrated how to hold and to use each. (And, okay, I was a little giddy being so near a cache of such perfectly weighted, sharp-enough-to-cut-through-tomatoes-like-butter knives.) Susan spoke about the uses for different knives as well as which ones make sense to spend money on: invest in a good chef's knife, no need to spend much on paring knives since they get lost pretty often (and go dull anyway if you have them for any length of time). The class was pretty informative, actually. All these years in the kitchen and here I finally learn how to quickly and neatly carve a whole chicken into "a little something niiiiice" for the grill or saute pan. Could've used these skills when my brother proposed deboning an entire turkey, duck, and chicken to make a Thanksgiving turducken a few years back. Better late than never, I suppose.

At the end of the 3-hour class, during which I tried my darndest not to simply take the knife from hesitant students' hands and show them how to confidently dice an onion -- "just... hold it a little... like... um... no... no... almost... just... a little more tilted... uh huh... no, turn your wrist... um... watch your fingers... here, let me... okay, no... just... yes, like that... kind of... you'll get it" -- Susan whipped up a meal for the group of volunteers as we picked up pots and pans and wiped down the tables. The chicken in mustard cream sauce was simply divine atop a bed of rice, rounded out with a glass of wine, crusty french bread, and some sweet cantaloupe. A girl could get used to this.

I went back for more. This Wednesday I had my second shift, this time with Susan Watterson, the school's other founder. Equally impressive and dry-witted, Susan (W) led a corporate group through a scrumptious corn chowder, pan-roasted red snapper (with a parsley-garlic sauce so outrageously delicious I would bathe in it if I could, though as it is I ate enough that it's probably leaking out of my pores two days later anyway), orange saffron basmati, julienned veggie "noodles", and from-scratch strawberry shortcake. Again, the shift ended with a shared meal with the group of volunteer assistants. A little wine, a little conversation, a little more whipped cream, a little more wine... I took the bus home with a full belly and a happy heart. And some new recipe ideas. Whoever thought to finish rice in the oven? Brilliant.

You see, I love to cook. But there is something about teaching other people how to prepare a nice meal for themselves that is so immensely satisfying. The proud presentation of a thickened, well-seasoned sauce or just-browned, roasted chicken thigh. The shy smile when a tomato is perfectly seeded and diced for the first time. The discovery of a new flavor or texture. The realization that anyone can cook. (Kind of reminds me of Gusteau in Ratatouille.) Sure, CulinAerie is a for-profit business, but it's not just about money. They're making good food accessible to the masses, offering one-time classes and series, corporate sessions and private group workshops. Those who can pay, do. Those who can't still have a shot. Something they don't crow about on their website (so I feel compelled to mention) is the fact that they allow youth education programs like Common Threads to use their facilities now and again. They also offer food lovers of limited financial means (like me) the opportunity to observe amazing courses like Sushi 101 and Regional French Cooking by serving as chef's assistants.

Want to volunteer CulinAerie? Call the school and they'll send you an application and list of open spots. Maybe I'll see you there. Just don't edge me out of the Intro to Bread Baking class. I have a (dull) bread knife, and I'm not afraid to use it....

1 comment:

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