Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cooking Preparations

In an earlier post I mentioned that I enrolled in a culinary class for one week on a small organic farm in eastern Washington. This class is offered to students enrolled in a culinary program, which I am not. Therefore, I am making an effort to start preparing myself for the class now that it is just one month away. I thought I would take all of you with me on my journey to prepare. So, where do I start? I only have one month but I also feel I have a good foundation of knowledge. There is a lot still to know, however. Generally, I think the art of cooking falls into three categories. Any good home cook or chef enthusiast should have ingredient and food knowledge. For instance, what is fennel? What is the difference between tahini and hummus? Which is hotter, a jalepeno or a serrano chile? Anyone know? Knowing the foods that are available and how to use them is an important aspect of cooking that is sometimes overlooked. Second, knowing cooking techniques and skills are probably the most important to cooking and some say the easiest to learn. For instance, when I took a cooking class last fall we learned how to saute, roast, poach, caramelize, grill, pan fry, and emulsify among other things. Once you have a good grasp of technique and basic food knowledge, tasting, seasoning, and understanding flavor profiles are what then leads to greatness and to endless creative pursuits. What makes the Quillisascut Farm culinary school so awesome in my opinion is that it doesn't just teach cooking, it teaches students about where food comes from changing the way people eat for a better food future. The key to eating local is developing recipes around ingredients (veggies, grains, meats, dairy, etc) that are available, either in season or by preserving and saving products for off harvest times. The farm to table philosophy then is planning meals around foods that are nearby and available. A farm to table chef is inspired by ingredients as they come into season, rather than by what is on a recipe. According to my syllabus, by the end of the week I should have knowledge of what a local food community is and my role in helping create this community, gain basic information of organic farming production and language, vegetable gardening fundamentals, food preservation (canning, jam, pickling, charcuterie, dehydration, and freezing), utilization of whole animal carcasses (prime cuts, stocks, sausage), cooking with fresh herbs and herbal infusions, cheese making, and knowing how the globalization of food markets effects local economies. We will cover implications of genetically modified foods, the importance of genetic diversity, and the ability to forage for wild foods and knowing how they can be used in recipes to develop a sense of place. Ok, so I should of started yesterday! But that doesn't bother me one bit because although I might not entirely be able to prepare for everything, like the good student in me wants to, I am mostly looking forward and excited about the process. My best plan to approach this is to read books, cook, and watch food documentaries. My goal is to finish reading Michael Pollen's book, An Omnivores Dilemma, a new book I just purchased called Ratio- The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking, read through the Quillisascut Farm Cookbook and study the ingredients, and practice basic cooking techniques. What I will continue to do is follow the brilliant words of Julia Child who said, no matter what stage you are in life or what you have or have yet to accomplish, "Find something you are passionate about and keep tremedously interested in it." Bon Appetit!


  1. As a rule serranos are hotter than jalapenos, though sometimes you'll get surprisingly hot jalapenso. And fennel is a root with a leafy green top that smells like anise or licorice :) Have fun with the culinary class it sounds like it'll be fun and really interesting. I love following your eating adventures on here!

  2. HI Erica-

    I stumbled upon your blog about a month, and just saw that you're going to be in Rice this week- me, too! I look forward to meeting you-