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The Professional Chef - Introduction

All right students, this is your first day of culinary education, so please open your textbooks to Chapter 1 of The Professional Chef. Over the next several months, Paper Palate will feature a number of posts which summarize the various chapters of The Professional Chef. The Professional Chef is the textbook for the Culinary Institute of America, the premier cooking school in America. Obviously, we can’t give out information verbatim, but if you were ever interested in knowing what you would learn in culinary school, these posts will give you a good overview. At the very least, they will give you enough information to be very dangerous in the kitchen.

It would, of course, be helpful for you to have your own copy of The Professional Chef so that you can do the exercise and make all of the recipes in the book. However, if you do not have a copy, that’s okay. I will still post recipes as I can and I’ll include useful tips, tactics, and tidbits along the way.

So, on to our first lesson.The Professional Chef starts out much like this post, with an overview. In this case, chapter 1 discusses the industry of food. It talks about the skills you will need to be a well-rounded chef (you have to know how to cook and how to run a business.) This was pretty surprising to me as I figured the book would have me huddled over the stove immediately. Instead, The Professional Chef challenged me to make sure I knew what I would be facing in the future. Not only will I be cooking lobster, but ordering them and storing them safely, too.

The first chapter also covers the positions in a traditional kitchen and a hotel kitchen. These are important to know, but easily searchable on the Internet.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the chapter was the list of different types of chefs and different jobs one can have with a degree from the Culinary Institute of America. For me, it was nice to know that I could get a culinary education and not work the family-estranging hours of a restaurant chef. For the Institute, I think it was a clever move to keep people in the school. The turnover rate amongst chefs in restaurants is huge, so the list includes many different professions which are not restaurant chefs, including banquet chef, caterer, consultant, and even food salesperson. Granted most of the things one does with a food degree is cook, but it was interesting to see that one might potentially use their food degree in a more business-oriented fashion (consultant or sales).

That was all there was to Chapter 1. It is one of the shortest chapters and was made even shorter by the fact it was mainly lists. Next time, we will look at Recipes and Menus, which will be more informative and will begin the process of getting us to huddle over that stove.

If you’re wondering where the idea for all this came from, it all goes back to Top Chef. Normally, I’ve got a pretty good handle on my culinary terminology, but several weeks ago on Top Chef, I witnessed one of those moments which showed me just how far I have to go to be the type of cook I want to be. It was the episode that took the number of competitors from six down to five. During Judge’s Table, Chef Eric Ripert was talking with contestant Carla Hall about a sauce and how much butter she had (correctly) used. Hall’s comment was something to the effect of “it wasn’t a buerre blanc, it was a buerre barbarbar” where “barbarbar” was a culinary term I still don’t know the meaning of, but took to mean “really buttery sauce.”

I realized at that moment I wanted to broaden my culinary horizons, but I wanted to do it in a structured way. This series will be that structured method of increasing everyone’s cooking skills.

I hope you are looking forward to it as much as I.

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