There are some people I’ve heard that will “burn water” when it comes to their kitchen skills… I’m not one of those persons. I’ve always been fascinated by all things culinary, an art that’s ever-evolving because there’s always a new trend and something that is so last season. But the bottom line is there is basic knowledge that can be applied to almost every aspect. And while I’ve always thought about enrolling in a self-enrichment cooking class just for the fun of it (and hoping that the hubby would one day surprise me with a Johnson & Wales summer program, or God forbid a program at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris), a few years back I even pondered enrolling in the course offered at the Bahamas Hotel Training College, but never did for various reasons. But reasons aside, I’ve done it, and am enrolled in Chef Charles Missick’s Simply Better Gourmet Institute’s six-week Gourmet Cooking 1 class. Let the cooking begin!
Missick’s small-size, six-person maximum, three-hour, once per week gourmet cooking class one promises to get participants ready for the holidays.
Sign me up!
I put aside everything I knew, or thought I knew, and went into the class with an open mind, ready to siphon all the information I could from the chef, because of course, culinary courses are a wonderful way to learn more about the fundamental techniques in cuisine. And doing things properly is important to me.
At the end of the six weeks, Missick promises we will have learnt and developed an appreciation for the preparation and presentation of gourmet foods through hands-on interactive sessions; and provide a basic understanding of various soups, vegetables, poultry, seafood, meats, sauces and garnishes with the ability to identify food quality.
And that we would have acquired understanding of various classifications of soups and thickening agents; an understanding of the various preparations and cooking methods for poultry; and a working knowledge of seafood and their qualities along with preparation and cooking methods.
Week one down – five to go!
In Monday’s first class the importance of a stock and how to make stock – which in its most basic terms is a strained liquid that is the result of cooking vegetables, meat or fish (bones) and other seasoning ingredients in water – was the topic of the day.
The first thing we did was watch the chef prepare a stock, as he took us through the process for the first hour using theory as well as practical applications in the process which we then had to replicate under his watchful guidance, to make a stock of our own. We chopped onion, carrot and celery which we added to a pot with a whole garlic clove, a leaf of Spanish thyme as well as a bay leaf, and surprise, surprise – a half of a tomato – and then just allowed the stock to do its thing on the stove for two hours.
As our stocks simmered, the questions arose: Why didn’t the chef cover the pot to allow it to come to a boil faster or while it cooked? Why did he not allow the liquid to come to a boil? Why use cold water to start the stock?
The chef’s answers were surprising, but enlightening as we began to note fundamental things we were doing wrong in our own home kitchens that we had been taught to do, but which were really wrong.
The science behind why certain things are not done became evident, and the knowledge learnt from making stock was shown it should be applied to making Bahamian favorites like chicken souse and boiled fish, and doing it correctly.
We even learnt there’s a proper method to skimming scum from broth.
While our stocks gently simmered, and the beautiful scent wafted from the kitchen into our learning space at a stainless-steel counter, we discussed the various ways the stock could be used in soup applications and the fact that many sauces are based on reduced stock. We also learnt how to make other stocks – vegetable, beef and fish. And to ensure to deglaze pans when making beef stocks to ensure maximum flavor.
After making my own stock and seeing how absolutely simple the procedure is, I probably won’t ever pick up a carton at the grocery store anymore, unless it’s an extreme – and I stress extreme – emergency.
Week one also entailed learning the various cuts of vegetables and how the size may vary according to their use; and learning how uniformity allows them to cook properly, and improves the visual appeal of food.
Again, under Missick’s watchful eye – and with it being such a small class – the chef saw everything. Armed with bags and bags of potatoes, we learnt how to julienne (strips), brunoise (small dice), macedoine (1/2 centimeter to ¼ inch dice) jardinière (batons) and paysanne (triangles, squares, rounds, rough-sided rounds). And we practiced, practiced and practiced some more.
When our stocks were finished, we each strained our liquids into a bowl to cool, which the chef stored to be used next week when we make soup – and it’s all about the preparation of pureed soup, creamy soup, clear soup and vegetable soup.
Week one was informative and surprisingly educational. The chef promised going forward that the classes were going to ramp up. I’m eager, willing and ready to soak in all of his knowledge. And you realize just how qualified he is after he speaks about the key positions he’s held in some of the country’s finest restaurants, as well as in London. You realize that there’s probably nobody better than chef Missick to take this cooking course with.