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The Theory of Cooking

So what does it mean to cook? How do you boil water? What happens when you cook a chlorophyll type vegetable with an acid? These may seem like strange questions but they represent the basics behind cooking.  A lot of people know how to cook, but not everyone knows what happens when you cook. Cooking Theory teaches what happens when you apply heat to protein, water, vegetables, and starches.

So what do you really do in cooking theory? Make soup…. OK so that’s not all we did, in fact we started out making consommé and then stocks, and then soups. we had 2 days before we made soup… The whole point is that we learned in a logical progression of steps. The point in making consommé first is that it teaches us how to remove impurities in stocks and create a clear broths for soups. With the progression to stocks we learned how important it is to make the best stock we can so that we can impart the most flavor to the sauces we create from them.

Every part of this class flowed to the next topic of the class, so that it would reinforce the lessons we learned in the last class. Honestly every class we had, was to improve our understanding and reinforce the basics, because at the end of the class we had our final test or “practical”.

The practical was, well a test based on everything we had learned in a practical demonstration. I know kind of text-book definition right? Alright here is what the practical actually was. Pick a card, any card, and you have 2 hours to complete everything on this card. You will be graded on sanitation, organization, multitasking, and that you can correctly demonstrate an understanding of how to make what is on your card. Did you A) use the right ingredients for the cooking method you were assigned, (dry or moist heat)? B) properly cook the items on your card so that it was done correctly for that item? (protein is still cooked so that it is still moist, and not dry or tough on the inside. Vegetables were  cooked and cooled down in the right way to preserve the textural and appearance) C) how does your food taste?

A little intense right? So here is what was on the card I picked. Roast a protein, poach a protein, Escoffier style tomato sauce, Polenta, and finally vegetables 3 ways (sautéing, poached , and roasted). Doesn’t sound to bad right? Oh did I forget to note that we were not given the ingredient to use or anything prepped for us, or provided with the recipe for how to make the items on the list, oh and last but not least, the ingredients were not labeled so we had to recognize the correct one to use. We can use anything we took for notes in our pocket notebook, so it’s not all to bad…

*Tip: take the first 5 minutes and on your card # the order in which you will make the items or parts of the items, and put the cooking time next to the #. On the back of the card make a list of everything you will need to get from around the kitchen for each item. With this done go and get all of your non perishables and do all of your knife work. Once this is done follow your list.

So there you have it Cooking Theory in a nutshell. Alright yes there was a ton more we did in class but mostly it’s talking about the science behind cooking and for that I recommend this book: “On Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee. This book is not only a fantastic read but really does go in to “why” behind everything you could hope to know about cooking. Science like protein coagulation and why it happens in the way it does, or why adding salt or acid to your poaching water will give you different effects. If there was one book I would say that everyone should buy to learn about cooking then this is that one book, because it will not only teach you the theory behind cooking. It will start you down the path of being a better more flexible chef.


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