This article is Part 1 of two articles that will address elements of cooking every professional chef should know. There are several aspects to consider when dealing with culinary arts and proper training of personnel in the field. There are six major elements of cooking that every professional chef should know about. This first article will address three of the six major considerations. The second article (Part 2) will outline the remaining three elements of cooking that every professional chef should know. To begin, the first aspect of cooking involves the selection of ingredients.
How to Select Ingredients:
In order to produce good food, professional chefs know there is no substitution for the best and freshest ingredients. When selecting ingredients, two factors are of paramount importance–season and origins.
–Every professional chef should understand the importance of using fresh, seasonal ingredients. Not only do seasonal ingredients taste better, but they look better, taste fresher, and help out the pocketbook. As such, they add value to the food prepared and are budget-friendly.
–Where produce products originate from can affect their quality. A cooking fact many might not be aware of is that different countries have their own rules for growing produce. Case in point, different countries utilize various types of pesticides and each country has its own policies regarding which pesticides are used, as well as how often they are applied. The stamp or label applied to produce is a testament to its quality. Whenever possible, it is a good practice to purchase local produce products. This practice not only helps out neighbors and local farmers, but it also benefits the local economy.
Moreover, it is also very beneficial to grow one’s own ingredients, produce, etc. whenever possible. This does not require a large investment of time, space, and/or resources. Even if someone decides to try growing a herb garden in a shadow box, a small step in the direction of sustainability could have numerous advantages. For starters, growing one’s own fruits, herbs, and/or vegetables is beneficial to the pocketbook. Particularly with food prices in this economy, money-saving measures, such as growing one’s own produce, can make a big difference to someone’s piggy bank.
When someone grows their own food staples, there is also the advantage of knowing exactly what is applied to them. Thus, growing one’s own food crops can aid sustainability, transparency, and budgetary concerns. Not to mention, some people really enjoy gardening and growing their own food products and/or ingredients. It is not merely considered a hobby but some view it as a form of therapy.
Now that the selection of ingredients has been addressed, the next aspect of cooking every professional chef should know about is organization.
One of the most important factors for professional chefs to consider when cooking is time management. Having effective time management skills is crucial for culinary arts professionals from the preparation of a meal or ingredients to serving it. In a professional kitchen, there is a sequence of events to preparing a meal and each step must be considered when plotting out the time required. Moreover, the time involved in preparing each recipe will depend on what is being cooked and served. When considering the total time needed for each recipe, the cook must take into account prep, cooking, plating, and serving times. These four elements work in league with each other to produce a composed, cohesive, and perfect meal.
When preparing a meal at home or in a restaurant, the goal of a perfect meal is the same. However, when the meal is prepared at home, the chef also wants to spend time with family and/or friends, as well as enjoy the meal they have worked so hard to prepare. Therefore, good organization is a must for the creation of an ideal meal. Moreover, if someone is organized in the kitchen, they will be more relaxed when making the food, so it is very much a win-win proposition. In an effort to achieve tranquility in life and the kitchen, here are some tips to help cooks get organized in the kitchen.
1. Planning a Menu and Grocery List
–Organizing meals ahead of time via menus and constructing a grocery list can help food preparers in many ways. These steps not only aid chefs in organizing their activities and kitchen, but they will allow those responsible for meal preparation to economize, reduce stress, optimize their time, and reduce waste. In this society, time is a valuable commodity. Most people do not have enough of it, so time management is a necessary and vital skill. Moreover, balancing home and work obligations often push many individuals to their limits. Therefore, organizational tools, such as planning menus and creating grocery lists, can help maximize scarce resources, namely time and money.
Using a menu and grocery list can be particularly helpful when planning a dinner party or similar event. For instance, when planning a dinner party, there are many questions to consider. First, how many guests are invited and who are they? Are they family, friends, business associates, visitors from other countries, etc.? What type of food do they enjoy? What culture do they hail from? Do they have any food allergies or special dietary restrictions (e.g. low sodium, gluten-free, kosher, vegetarian, diabetic, heart healthy, vegan, etc.)? Are there dieters or those attempting to lose weight in the group? When constructing the menu, the person preparing the food should also consider what they like, as well. The dinner party menu should be composed of items that everyone can eat and enjoy.
Next, consider the budget involved. How much money can be spent? Are there certain ingredients that can be substituted for lower cost options? If money is a concern, is a potluck dinner an option? Third, consider the event. Is this dinner party for a special occasion, family function, birthday party, business gathering, holiday celebration, etc.? Finally, avoid trying new recipes for dinner parties and/or important gatherings. It is best to play it safe and prepare recipes the cook is familiar with and can be made with ease. Save new recipes for another time when the chef is free to experiment without stress or possible consequences.
3. Mise en Place
–The Mise en Place is a cooking term that refers to the anticipation of a menu and process of implementing it. In the kitchen, this is the preparation of the ingredients, so they are ready to be used. This process may also be called the pre-cooking of ingredients. In a professional kitchen, chefs know that a failure to prepare equals a failure of service. Using mise en place will help food preparers avoid these situations. Moreover, using this technique at home is also a major time saver for those with busy lives and/or schedules. On the weekends or late at night, cooks can prepare some of their ingredients ahead of time and that will make their meals for the week much easier to handle.
–Another essential organizational tool involves cleaning. The importance of this element cannot be overstated. Having a clean and organized kitchen–at home and/or work–not only makes meal preparation more enjoyable, but it removes potential hazards and risk of contamination. Nothing can make a meal or dinner party go south faster than a bout of food poisoning. Thus, in home and professional kitchens, a clean and organized kitchen must be a priority.
Now that organization has been addressed, the third aspect of cooking every professional chef should know about is using the right equipment for the job.
Using the Right Equipment for the Job:
1. Quality Equipment
–Using good quality equipment is crucial, especially in professional kitchens. However, safety is also a necessary element when working in the kitchen, whether someone is a professional chef or an at-home cook. There are many potential dangers in the kitchen, including but not limited to, gas, sharp implements, fire, liquid nitrogen, deep fryers, etc. It is also important to note that a chef’s job is not done when they have their kitchen fully stocked with quality equipment; that is only half the task at hand.
It is equally important that a cook maintains their equipment for safety and longevity purposes. For example, when using nonstick pans, if the pan becomes scratched, toxins can be released into the food and pose a health hazard. Therefore, it is recommended that rubber utensils are utilized with nonstick pans to avoid scratches and dispose of pans with scratched surfaces or other damage.
2. Use the Proper Equipment
–This means using the correct size of pots and pans for the job. This will affect the time required to cook the recipe and evenness of the cooking. A good rule of thumb to remember is that the equipment should be selected based on proportion size. For instance, use a nonstick skillet for an omelet. Select the correct knife for the job (e.g. a chef’s or paring knife for carrots and potatoes). Another example would include using multiple pans to cook or complete the meal. This helps to reduce cooking time and time spent in the kitchen. Other tips include using the right size burners on the range. Use the large burners for large pans, and small burners for small pans. These cooking tips will help food preparers avoid overheating the pans and burning the ingredients.
Opinion Written and Edited by Leigh Haugh
Personal Opinions and Observations of the Author
Eater–The State of the Domestic Goddess
The Daily Meal–An Interview With Anne-Sophie Pic, the New Face of The House of Pic in France
The Oakland Press–4 tips to cook like a professional chef at home
All Article Images Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons – Creative Commons License