Know this for your midterm. And for your life.

“You need to know this for your midterm.” Slight pause. “And for your life.” And we chorus back a slightly distracted “yes, chef.” Those little pearls, like several hundred others, were issued from our instructor one day this week.  I can’t even remember exactly what question triggered his response. But it somehow landed on my ears with a familiar, almost philosophical humor. Maybe humor because I’m once again battling- and loosing to- an onion for a perfect brunois knife cut. And maybe philosophical in that this school kitchen is teaching me so much more than how to create good eats.

If you use the fryer, clean it at the end of your shift. This could easily be translated as a basic clean-up-after-yourself thought. And you should- whether it’s a sweaty treadmill, a public toilet seat, your living room coffee table, or simply yourself. Grab the sanitizer and towel, the extra few squares of toilet tissue, the day old pizza boxes and empty bottles, a round of antibiotics… whatever it is you need to keep a clean shop. I’d also admit that usually I just avoid the fryer altogether because it’s such a pain to clean. I guess you can take from that as you like.

Communication is paramount in the kitchen. And life. This truly doesn’t need much explanation. Communication- or lack of- can look like so many things. Eleven students all needing two convection ovens at eleven different temperatures simultaneously. End result: constantly changing dial settings and a door opening so frequently that nothing ends up cooking appropriately. That would be a fail. Telling the gal that cuts my hair to do whatever the disheveled mop on my head demands- that’s usually a communication win.

Attitude permeates food. Our instructor told us very early on that food can taste “ticked off.” And he’s absolutely right. Try it. Or maybe, don’t. Take his word for it. I do remember cleaning my condo in one of those moderately “ticked off” moods. And I swear the dust bunnies seemed to multiply like… well, rabbits. It’s ridiculous but true.

Delicate things must be treated gently. Take salad greens, or properly cooked fish. Not the overdone fish jerky I’m more accustomed to, but the perfectly cooked, just-beginning-to-flake fillet of striped bass. I remember distinctly as a child being so incredibly sensitive, especially with my parents, that just one look of disapproval from my father or an “I’m disappointed in you” from my Maman was all it took for me to dissolve into tears. For better or worse, delicate demands gentle. And I’ve toughened appropriately over the years, but your fish never will. Or it shouldn’t.

A quiet kitchen is a productive kitchen. Yesterday we had the first of several scheduled days in which we were allowed to create our own dishes, all by ourselves, without specific recipes to follow. It became eerily quiet. A lot more was at stake, and a heck of a lot more focus descended upon everyone. Life is a little like that right now for me. Socially, I have become less active- or more focused, if you will. And I think for a brief season, that can be healthy. It’s my first experience in life where I can create my own dish, all by myself, with no recipe to follow…

When you finish the jar of milk, replace it. Yes, jar of milk! Our milk at school comes in quaint little glass jars- maybe two liters or so- that we rinse and send back to the farm for refills. And I can’t remember where these cows live exactly but I know it’s somewhere close. And I know these are happy cows- the kind that get to walk around outside at will eating things that grow naturally that cows are supposed to eat- playing marco polo on foggy mornings or whatever it is that happy cows do. And the milk is amazing. The cream is rich and thick; it whips by hand to soft peaks in less than two minutes. But back to the ‘replace it’ idea. Well, my readers are a brilliant bunch. You’d never leave an almost empty jar, or carton. Ever.

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