Katie Learns to Cook: Chapter 1

June 25, 2012

Happy Monday everyone!  I usually like to take today to recap my weekend and talk about my marathon training (or lack thereof).  And while I do have fun things to tell you about my weekend, will you forgive me if I push that off for just a day and introduce something new?

I’ve mentioned once or twice that I’d really like to learn more about cooking and while I don’t have the time or funds to ship off to culinary school, I do have other resources available to me.  I’ve started to work my way through that cooking textbook I borrowed from my brother and thought it’d be fun if I shared some of the things I learn along the way with you guys!  Ideally, I’d like to post this column of sorts once a week so we can work through the chapters at a decent pace and I was thinking Sundays would be a great day to do it.  Ideally, I’d also post the first post on a Sunday, but the first day of class is always a bit kooky, right? 🙂  Right!  And as an FYI – i’m planning putting together a page specifically for the posts on this column, so they can be easily accessed in the future.  So look for that over here —->

So today is the first installment of it, but pretend it came yesterday.   I don’t want to give anyone the idea that I am certified to or pretending to teach a class on Culinary arts, rather just hoping to share what I learn along the way!  Conversation, suggestions, questions, tips on any of the stuff I bring up would be a lot of fun, for readers, writers and commenters, so chat away down there 🙂

Rather than go through every single thing I’ve learned in each chapter, I think I’ll spend more time highlighting the things that were most interesting to me.  The first chapter, as usual is a lot of background information, setting you up for the things you’ll be learning in the subsequent chapters.  For this “course”, it means learning some culinary history, some vocab and getting a general idea of how a kitchen works.  So here goes!

The chapter focused on some of the main players in the development of restaurants and cuisines.  For instance – did you know that the first restaurant, was sort’ve scandalous?  Until then, guilds would specialize in one particular item (be it baking, soups/stocks, pastries, etc) and that was that.  Until along came a guy named Boulanger, who was the first to open up a restaurant that served a variety of foods that were made on the premises.  The restaurant industry, so to speak, was significantly helped along by the French Revolution, of all things.  That’s because the revolution abolished what was left of the monopolies that the guilds had over cooking and allowed the common folk access to chefs that used to work for the now downsized aristocracy.

Now, we have a whole slew of restaurants that can range from simple eats to grande, classic, nouvelle, new American and even fusion cuisine.   It seems that cuisines started out being pretty intricate and fancy, focusing on the hows and whys of cooking and refined presentations.  With the development of new cuisines such as nouvelle and new American, there started to be more emphasis on the simplicity, freshness of flavors and use of fresh, local produce.  I think one of the most interesting developments is the creation of fusion cuisine, where there’s a combination of ingredients or preparation of a meal from two separate ethnic or regional cuisines.  While I can appreciate all the different types of cuisines, I think I fall under the category of the new cuisines, I like when my meals have simple but delicious flavors, that are created from local ingredients.  And some of my favorite restaurants are Spanish Fusion restaurants.  Yum!

One of my favorite parts about this chapter, was the section that listed all of the different jobs of chefs (aka a brigade) that go into the preparation of our meals, as well as the serving of our meals.  Even though it was fun to learn the French names of chefs who specialize in all of the different components for a meal, I was even more interested in the job titles for those who work in the dining room.  Here’s a list:

The Dining Room Manager – also known as the maitre’d.  This guy/gal we’re all pretty familiar with.  They seat us and at the fancier restaurants, help to develop a menu, train the staff and creates the seating charts.  They’re an “overseer” of sorts.

Wine Steward/Sommelier – if you go to a nicer restaurant, these folks will help you pick out a nice bottle of wine to go along with your meal!

Now here is where it starts to get a little more involved than what I ever thought:

Head waiter – I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen one in action, but these guys are responsible for service in the entire dining room.  In actuality, American service tends to not utilize these, so its pretty rare that we’d see one.

Captains – these guys are responsible for taking your order and doing any on-site prep beside the table.  So if you order a Steak Diane, a homemade ceasar salad or a whole fish, or anything that involves “a production” beside your table, the captain is who you’ll see!

Front Waiters – responsible for serving the food and making sure your table is set for the appropriate course.  I think a combination of the captain and the front waiters are what most folks these days are used to seeing.

Finally, the back waiters – aka the busperson.  Charged with clearing the tables and keeping the water glasses full!

So the next time you go out to eat, keep in mind all the things that people are doing and see if you can pick the different jobs out as they happen!

It was a typical first chapter, but an interesting and enlightening one.  Its amazing to think of all the different jobs that go on behind the scenes.  Even crazier?  To think that we perform almost all of these jobs ourselves in our own kitchen each day! Yikes!

I’ll end with a quote that I thought was particularly relevant to something I was struggling with a few weeks ago.

“A chef should not be inventive, simply for the sake of invention”. 


One Response to “Katie Learns to Cook: Chapter 1”

  1. […] massive culinary arts textbook with you! If you missed my summary of Chapter one, you can find it here or in the designated page on the right! This week we dive into Chapter 2, and its a […]

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