Today was our first day in the kitchen! Jittery and excited, we fumbled to button our chef coats, put on our non-slip shoes, tied aprons around our waists, slung a towel to on our side, and entered the new playground with wide eyes. We drew spoons to choose our work space for the day, opened up our freshly minted knives, and the day’s chopping lesson began!
Chef Barry Maidan, James Beard award winning New England restaurateur as well as humorous, knowledgeable, and down-to-earth human, showed us the ropes on how to julienne carrots, small dice butternut squash, large dice onions, brunoise shallots, create potato rondelles and so much more…
When demonstrating, his knives moved like butter through the vegetables, with a well-known rhythm and familiarity. He chopped and peeled without any fear. It was incredible and captivating to watch.
While highly skilled and full of experience, I appreciated Chef Barry’s humility, honesty, and encouragement, even when I completely butchered my celery root. “Whoa, what’s going on here?” he exclaimed, as he took over and showed me where I was going wrong. He admitted to us that he did not know everything and that he was showing us “what works for him” which may or may not work for others. He emphasized that it is always important to keep an open mind. Chef also said to never get comfortable in the kitchen, to always to keep that sense of urgency and fire within.
In all honesty, chopping is the task in the kitchen that I am always ready to delegate to someone else. I have never enjoyed it and always found it difficult and awkward. Yet, today, three hours of chopping carrots, butternut squash, onions, garlic (my fingers STILL smell of garlic), celery, basil, chives, fennel…the list goes on…went by in a flash! Unbelievable. I was so engrossed and interested in getting my pieces to be even.
At the end of class, we learned how to sharpen and refine our knives. I felt like a blacksmith, brandishing my 6 inch chef’s knife on my sharpening steel, the sound of metal zinging all over the kitchen.
Clean up was fun. Dish-washing, lots of teamwork, end of the day meeting – we had survived Day 1.
Some interesting notes that I took away from today:
- Be gentle with your herbs. They bruise easily and you don’t want to let their chlorophyll leak out all over your chopping board.
- Choke up on the knife. It gives you better control. I got this piece of advice twice from two different teachers, so I must remember it!
- Work in small manageable pieces.
- Don’t waste anything! All pieces can be used in some way, even if they aren’t the highlight of the dish and just thrown into a soup stock.
- Sharp, good knives make a huge difference. No wonder I have never liked chopping – I have always used dull knives.
Just got home to write this. I am still shaking a bit from excitement, overwhelm-edness, and of course, Boston’s ice cold winter weather. I am happy that the extra hour I saved this morning for some quick asana practice really carried me through the day with full energy – no need for coffee! However, now I am exhausted for sure and I realize by the seized feeling in my back that posture will be essential to remember when standing all day in a kitchen.
Now warming up with light, milky lemongrass chai before I do some restorative inversions to cool my legs and mind.
6 hours later: I get hungry in the middle of the night and definitely fine-diced myself some fresh apple with a generous drizzle of almond butter. My fingers are craving the chopping board. That’s a first.