Like many people I know I am a regular watcher of The Food Network. There are shows I like, and shows I eschew, but unfortunately there are shows that keep me up at night… I don’t know about you, but when I watch shows like The Next Food Network Star I have no wish to be a contestant, but I do wish I could be there whispering in their ears ‘don’t do it’, or ‘that is just a bad plan’ or even ‘great choice, way to go!’. Last Sunday I watched Stacey Poon-Kinney attempt to make a mini pot pie, in what was clearly not enough time. I kept thinking, if only she had cut out her puff pastry and baked it while she made the filling, she could have popped that lovely, puffy, top right on the cooked filling in the ramekin. Stacy, can’t you hear me yelling at you???
I am a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and before you start thinking I am bragging, please keep reading, because I am definitely not! At the CIA what you learn is technique, lots of technique, some theory, lots of skills, and more technique. I learned to be a competent, skilled, professional cook, but no one can teach you how to be talented or passionate. Two of the residuals of my training, as well as working in professional kitchens are a respect for technique as well as proper food handling. Sometimes it is hard for me to watch what people do when they cook, and sometimes I don’t seem to have the self-control to keep my mouth shut…and I correct people. I try not to be obnoxious, but it is an obnoxious thing to do.
A few years ago at a family weekend at my mother’s house my brother-in-law poured boiling water over frozen salmon to thaw it, as I watched I blurted out some sort of noise, followed by a wail. ‘No, you never pour boiling water on frozen food to defrost it’. He glared at me and stormed out of the kitchen, and I don’t believe he spoke to me for the remainder of the weekend. On the flip side, the positive side of this knowledge and training is the service I offer to any and all of my friends- what I jokingly call my 24-hour food help hotline. My friends can call me anytime with culinary questions, problems, and issues, and generally I am able to help them out.
This past Thanksgiving my old friend Seth called me for some last minute help with his turkey. They were having a big feast, and doing some cooking in advance, so he had some questions about food safety and re-heating, but the most fun part of the call (for me) was I got to talk him through carving a turkey off the bone so it would look beautiful on the platter. What shocked me was that he had never carved a turkey before. Anyway, as he is a doctor, it all went fairly smoothly because he understood the anatomy. And when he was done he was done we both felt a sense of accomplishment and pride.
In general I prefer cooking shows to cooking competitions. I learn new techniques, get new flavor ideas, and they don’t keep me from falling asleep as I replay the scenes and review what I would have done differently. If you invite me to your house for a meal, I will do my best not to say anything when you cook your pasta with a lid on it, over-cook your rack of lamb, use a serrated knife to chop, slice the brisket the wrong way or any of the other things I’ve witnessed, but if you try to cut tomatoes where you just had some raw chicken, I’m going to have to stop you! It’s my civic duty.