Sure I learned how to fabricate a chicken and make bechamel; we clarified butter and practiced our knife cuts. We used chinoise to strain our sauces and hailed the art of cooking an egg. We used bain maries and whisked emulsions, studied food culture across the US and learned to look at plate presentation with a trained eye. I adored culinary school. But beyond the cooking basics, I am realizing I learned some weird—or kinda cool—kitchen habits.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but now that it has been about a year… here is what I am noticing about who I am—how I am—in the kitchen:
1. clean as you go. Maybe intuitive to some—not necessarily to me. But now if a counter is full of smudges and crumbs—a sponge will quickly visit. Cutting boards are cleaned mid-prep, bowls rinsed and put in the wash and I put things away as soon as possible (ingredients used then put away). When it works, this actually is a great feeling… that I run my kitchen—it doesn’t run me.
2. clean before you go. This was interesting to me—I don’t like to start cooking until my kitchen is clean and the dishwasher empty. I need to have the dishwasher empty to ‘clean as I go.’ Apparently, this also minimizes crabbiness. And if the floor is dirty, it gets a clean sweep too. No I am not anal—just organized (ahem: family butts in to call me ‘Monica’ from Friends).
3. apron on, towel in back. Like going onto the stage, or packing your bag for school, or getting ready to play your sport. You get ready for what you are about to do… by dressing the part. I love wearing my apron in my habitual way, washing my hands and tucking a kitchen towel into the back of my apron. It is always there when I need it: to handle a hot pan, put under a bowl to hold it in place (for whisking!), or just to dry my hands.
4. think. Ha! Not that I didn’t think before. But the questions I ask myself are different: I use my senses to taste, to notice the heat, to plan my meals around the stock or bacon fat or leftover polenta. For example, these thoughts: too much of a simmer, too hot for the egg to fry properly, needs more liquid for the right texture, needs more fat, prepare an ice bath… I think about how to cool, store, plan my meals. Somehow now, my meal-planning feels more like a cascading waterfall than a separate series of puddles (both of which are fun to play in!).
5. no recipes. This was my goal: to divorce myself from recipes. Maybe its because I was less of a natural cook than I wanted to admit. But I needed to gain enough sense of the ‘method behind the madness’ so I could just ‘cook dinner’ and not always refer to a recipe. I wanted to know how to do things without following written-down instructions. Now, finally, I can look at a recipe and make all sorts of adjustments with confidence. And I make meals all the time without recipes. I still consult the plethora of great chefs out there—I just don’t have to. That makes me happy!
What are some of your ways of ‘being’ in the kitchen that make you happy?