Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Taste of Hell's Kitchen

A batonnet is 5mm x 5mm x 5cm
A julienne is 3mm x 3 mm x 5cm.
A fine julienne is 2mm x 2 mm x 5cm.

Small dice is a 5mm cube
Medium dice is a 12mm cube
Large dice is a 2cm cube

Getting your culinary art and cut right helps cook the food evenly and enhances visual appeal for the diner. I would probably need to cut about 100 kg of carrots and potatoes each before I can get mine close to these. Or as one of my friends say, You need to spend 10,000 hours on an activity before you can become an expert in it. We calculate that to be around 4 years if you want your Sundays off.

Today was a nervous day for me due to a combination of factors - it was my turn to be sous chef, it happened on our first day in the kitchen, and we have been forewarned about the Executive Chef in charge for the day - a Gordon Ramsay, no less. "Whatever he says to you, don't take it personally," another chef pre-warned us. I had all sorts of images conjured in my head about how the day will take place.

The class dynamics developed from the past week changed dramatically in the kitchen environment. Some who could not contribute in the classroom became stars at once - their basic knife skills were too apparent. They finished first, way before the deadline, their cuts were precise and clean, and they could go round helping others. I was sandwiched between 2 of these guys, so I just did a copycat following their steps. I think I did pretty ok for a first timer.

I had a close shave on one of my fingers, shaving off some nail surface and had to compose myself again. It didn't help that when I got home and googled "culinary cuts", it led me to a video made by a culinary student in the US detailing all her injuries and burns. A bit shaken after watching the video, I started to question if this is what I really want to do.

Meeting my 'Gordon Ramsay'
'Gordon Ramsay' put a lot of pressure on me for obvious and deliberate reasons. I suppose having entered the industry the hard way, he had earned his stripes and rights to bark, yell, humiliate and reduce his students to nothing, so they too can learn the hard way he did back in his old days of ducking flying plates from chefs just as abusive. That was how he became a top-notch chef and that is how he will be teaching us.

To tackle his pugnacious management style, I tried hard to strike a balance between being obedient without being a puppy, and being quick without acting up like a headless chicken. If he shouted, I responded with the same volume. "Sous chef!" he yelled at the top of his lungs to the extent the other class could hear him and were trembling, probably the very desired effect he was seeking. "Yes! Chef!!" I yelled back, keeping my voice firm. "You don't know how to wash a kitchen? You don't know? Go back to your corporate job!"

Thank you, Chef, I just might. But not today.

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