|Courtesy of Green Giant Valley|
Attending culinary school has opened up awesome opportunities, and one of them is in working in a combined kitchen and science research laboratory. It is as zany as it sounds, but it’s also really interesting. I’ve gotten to start a research notebook and explore some different cooking methods and recipe ideas. It’s pretty much exactly what I’ve been aiming to do; though I’m hoping to ditch the Intern title after a little while.
I’ve learned some great lessons so far. Chief among them is to keep your fingers out of the way of your knife, which I’ve learned to hone into a deadly sharp tool. Yep, I’ve taken a few hacks at my finger lately because we work much faster and much more precisely than I’ve had to do in the past. Essentially, the knife work in the lab is at the level of a fine dining restaurant. It’s definitely made me have to review the dimensions of cuts that we learned in First Quarter!
Something else I’ve learned is how to work more cleanly and more organized. In the last kitchen I worked, I felt that I was usually pretty organized and methodical. However, the first few days of work at this kitchen, and I felt like an adolescent tornado breezing into Pleasantville.
Fortunately – but sometimes intimidatingly so – each of the research chefs shares his or her best practices with me. One chef, Johnny, keeps handing me quarter- and half-sheet trays saying “work from tray to tray.” Anjana, another chef, tells me to wipe my (debris-free) cutting board and dump my (fairly empty) rubbish bin frequently. It’s humbling to be back at the beginning again. It’s also good, because I noticed that I’ve already started changing my habits. Yesterday, I had a half-sheet tray holding my tools (knife, honing steel, peeler, pairing knife, etc), a colander and bowl set, and another hotel pan all halo-ed around my cutting board and arranged at perfect 90-degree angles to each other and ready for my chopping assignment. I also managed to keep most of the peelings and trim on my workspace and off the floor. Yay for small victories!
I’ve also learned to double check everything. EVERYTHING. Check to make sure bottles are sealed tightly, bags are closed all the way, siphons are completely degassed before unscrewing the top. To that note, I did manage to get cake batter in my right ear when I was working too hard to loosen a whipping siphon’s top without continuing to squeeze the siphon’s trigger. Yep, it exploded all over me and all over the dish pit wall, but at least my face was mostly averted, right? (Johnny came by and said, “Not to rub it in, but don’t forget to wipe the walls down,” while I was trying to scrape batter off my (red) face.) Fortunately, it didn’t dry too much, and I did get it all off the walls. And the next 100 times I’ve opened a whipping siphon, I’ve been sure to continue pressing down the lever, and – viola! – the lid unscrews smoothly. By the way, when you’re emptying the last of the product of a whipping siphon, place it deep into the trash bin, pointed down, and squeeze the trigger until no more gas is releasing and product isn’t slowly oozing out. Otherwise, you’ll get batter ricocheted onto you.
Being an intern can be great too. I am learning so much, and the more I’ve learned, the more I want to continue learning. I am really caught up with the WHY of how food cooks and the HOW COME to the methods we follow in cooking in any kitchen. Usually, one of the research staff tells me to complete a task, shows me how to do it, describes the end product desired, and explains the why of the process while I furiously try to remember everything he or she says. Then, once left to complete the assignment, I try to jot down everything I just heard. I guess that’s why I’m an intern right now.