I grew up in a family of great cooks. Food was a celebration in our home, and I still feel like it should be. We always had family dinner. It was a given that we would eat together. To this day, we’re just always eating and it’s fun. In fact, you can often see the whole family dining at the restaurant.
I think that has a lot to do with why I chose culinary school. I love everything about food. I went to Johnson and Wales in Denver, which is well known for its culinary program. It was a very intense year with so many labs—meaning I was cooking all the time. But it was fun. It’s the first time I really loved school. I took to culinary school like a fish to water, man. Like, I just got it.
Did I like everything? Honestly, I could have done without the aspics, which are savory gelatins made with meat stock and pieces of meat, seafood, or eggs and set in a jello mold. They are as gross as they sound. We got real deep into an aspic wormhole. That was terrifying.
But the meat cutting class was awesome. I’ll tell you, if you have to break down dozens of chickens in one afternoon, you learn how to do it fast and with no waste. And learning how to decorate with food was kind of cool. I used avocado skin as a tree once. And I did great fruit pulp as a cherry blossom that was gorgeous. But you won’t see it at the restaurant because it’s a little too fussy to make during a dinner rush.
Most of what I learned, at least what I apply in the restaurant, was hands on learning at the French restaurant where I worked. It was is very hard, but the life of a chef is hard. This is not easy work! I learned portioning and cost control in addition to creating delicious foods. I bring all of these skills to the restaurant every day.
Now that I have my own kitchen, I try to give my people the same experience I had. I want a learning and supportive environment. I worked in kitchens that are not like that. Rather there is a lot of yelling and cussing. And you know what? Most people do not respond well to that. A happy staff puts love into the food, and that’s what we all want for our customers.
In terms of the menu—I will admit I cook what I want to eat. I like using seasonal ingredients and experimenting with how to get the most out of their flavor. For that, my most prized possession is The Flavor Bible, which you can order at Reston’s indy book shop, Scrawl Books. I love it because it shows you flavor affiliates and classic combinations. I like to like cross reference and find out what ingredients pair will with some crazy thing I’ve found. My copy is worn out from use.
Skills I use everyday
Even if I wasn’t a professional chef, I would still use most of the skills I learned every day (I will NEVER make an aspic again).
First, of course, are the knife skills. I can’t stress enough how useful it is to learn how to properly use knives for cooking. Culinaria Cooking School in Vienna has classes all the time—it’s totally worth it! Click here to find one.
Aside from knife skills, the sauces and stocks are what I use the most. Those basic techniques go into everything. You make the stock that goes into your soups and sauces. Those skills show up in the mayonnaise, mustard, hollandaise, and everything else I make for the restaurant.
The great thing is you can learn any of these skills by watching cooking shows and YouTube. I mean there is so much great content out there I don’t even know where to start. I don’t think it matters. As long as you’re curious, you’re going to learn how to cook.