(CBS News) On the first day of culinary school, one of my classmates asked me a simple question that completely blew my mind, "Have you ever chopped a vegetable before?"
If not for the innocence in his demeanor, I would have been totally offended, thinking he was asking why my vegetables looked like you-know-what. It quickly dawned on me that he was asking for himself - he had never cut vegetables before starting school. Oh boy.
It never occurred to me that you would want to be a chef without ever having cooked before. Indeed, it isn't required. You will learn everything you need to know in class.
The only two skills you absolutely must have in order to be a successful culinary student are:
1. Listen. Chef instructors will only say things once, and usually very fast.
2. Multi-task. Every recipe and task you do in class has a deadline. Your food won't be tasted or graded if you don't make your recipe in the allotted time - and most of our recipes are very involved.
I thought my experience at CBS, working on tight deadlines, would translate well to the kitchen. Wrong. Food burns so fast in class. In the matter of one minute, your dish can completely flop. Four pots are harder to monitor than four computers, for sure.
This rings particularly true for eggs, which are extremely temperature sensitive. Omelets and poached eggs take just seconds to ruin. It took me several tries of each to get them "almost" right in class. Frustrating. But, hey, at least now I know how to make poached eggs, which have always been a mystery to me.
Adapted from The International Culinary Center
- 2 tablespoons vinegar, per 1 liter of water (I'd suggest white vinegar)
1. Bring water to a boil in a pot and add vinegar. This will help set the white. Never salt the poaching liquid; salt, unlike acid, will break up the white, not set it.
2. Lower the heat, so the water is barely simmering - one bubble here, one there.
3. With a wooden spoon, make a whirlpool in the water. Carefully add the eggs to the water one at a time. Cook for about 3 minutes. The whites should be firm, and the yolks should remain liquid and be covered with a thin film.
4. When eggs are cooked, remove the eggs and place on paper towel. Trim edges if you wish and serve. If you make them in advance, remove the eggs to an ice bath to stop the cooking. Reheat in hot water.