It’s Business Time!

I know I’ve mentioned before that I’m a cook. It’s what I love to do, both in and out of a professional kitchen. And, in my comparatively short time behind the line, I’ve learned some things. Some about how to make everything you cook a little better, some about how to choose a good restaurant or a good dish, how to make things run a little smoother, how people work. So I thought I’d share some of them with you, in no particular order.

  • Never work for a company named after a person — This particularly applies to first names. You’ll be working for a megalomaniac. While always interesting, it’s not always the best work environment.
  • Follow the crowd — if you haven’t eaten somewhere before, check to see who else is there. If the restaurant you’re looking at is mostly empty at supper hour when all the other restaurants are full to overflowing, take that as a big sign. If you’re going to an ethnic restaurant, and there are lots of people of that ethnicity eating there, that’s a good thing.
  • Check the washrooms — if you eat out with a cook and it’s an unfamiliar restaurant, they’ll make some excuse to use the washroom. Or, at least, I will. Why? They let you see the washroom. If the washroom’s clean, it’s more likely the kitchen is, too.
  • Fish — don’t order fish on Mondays, ditto the “seafood frittata” for Sunday brunch. The fish is going to be old. Even if the restaurant got the fish on Sunday or Monday, it’ gonna be bottom of the barrel.
  • Chef’s Specials — these can be hit-or-miss. Sometimes, it’s truly the Chef or Sous stretching their creative wings or making something they really enjoy. Other times, it’s whatever they can get out of the leftovers.
  • Clean as you go — the mantra of any pro kitchen. Not only does it keep your mise tidy (mise: pronounced meez, short for mise-en-place, your little area of the line where all your shit is, in the order you like it. You never touch another cook’s mise.) it keeps you organized and safe. Put stuff away after you’re done with it. Clear stuff off when you’ve dirtied it. Wipe stuff up when you spill it. Which brings me to:
  • Salt cleans up oil — this is really a lifesaver. Take your big box of salt and sprinkle it liberally over an oil spill. The salt breaks down the oil, stopping it from being so slippery, soaks it up, and makes the floor gritty so you don’t fall. Sweep that oil slick away! It always surprises me how few people know this one.
  • Salt ‘n’ Pepa — Put a little in pretty much everything. You’ll be surprised how much it peps things up. I put it on pork, with garlic, onions, lemon and cilantro for supper, and in our mac and cheese for lunch. Leave the salt out of your butter, though. Which reminds me:
  • Use butter. — Don’t ever sub margerine for butter in baking, in particular. It doesn’t take much to really give your food a little oomph, it shouldn’t blow your diet or your arteries.
  • Keep your knives sharp — dull knives are more dangerous than sharp ones. It’s not hard to learn to use a steel to keep your knives honed. If you’re worried about waving a knife around in mid-air, wet a cloth or towel and put it on a surface, plant your steel on it and sharpen away. Do this every time you use your knives. Using a stone to actually sharpen your knives is a little more difficult; pick up a crappy one from the thrift store to practice on. Don’t leave your knives in water, wash them in the dishwasher, or put them away wet. Love your knives.

And, to prove I’m not just another pretty face, some photos of the pie I made in honour of Flo’s last exam, taken with the blog standard of shitty, almost-dead point-and-shoot. Can’t wait for my graduation present to arrive.

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Cookbook

A sentry with its comrades

whose usefulness is signalled by tatters

sauce spots

and the grit of flour and sugar and fat.

Smeared with a thousand

hungry memories on pages

like the gills of a Portobello (sauté

with balsamic, the best you can afford,

and honey)

Instruct me on pie crusts, roasting, preserves,

on how to sustain myself with my own two hands.

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~ by yondergen on April 20, 2010.

One Response to “It’s Business Time!”

  1. Awesome post. I LOVE cooking, and I miss working in professional kitchens – As a dyke I have found that I’ve fit in amongst the HARSHEST line cooks.

    Additionally, even though I kind of find him annoying as fuck, Anthony Bourdain’s book “Kitchen Confidential” is an amazing read.

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