Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Everything I ever needed to know I learned as a catering intern

In today's NY Times there was an article painting the blogosphere as a ghost town populated by former best intentions. According to a study quoted:

"...only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled."

After a crazy week, I can understand how this happens. With visitors from Israel, midterms and my former roommate's wedding, something had to give, and that thing was the blog (and sleep). This morning I woke up rested (finally) and ready to write. I love to write, I love to cook, and I will continue to blog damn it. So here's a catch-up blog on my catering adventure.

Everything I ever needed to know I learned as a catering intern:
From assisting Back to Earth at a recent wedding

  • Sharpen your knives: The chefs sharpened their knives between almost every task -- at least three times over the course of four hours cooking. This was the most eye opening thing to me. We know it's important to sharpen our knives. But somehow the act is intimidating. As if running the blade is going to send off sparks that will burn down the house, you'll injure yourself, or you'll ruin your knives. Most people use knives until they are dull remnants of the former selves. Some take them to farmers market sharpeners. Some try to tackle the job at home. But here's the honest truth: sharpening knives is neither difficult nor expensive. Really. I bought a $30 diamond sharpening steel and have been using it to great success. Ask a local kitchen store which sharpener is right for your knives (there are different needs for German knives vs. Japanese, etc). They may demonstrate for you, or look it up sharpening basics online. But you should be sharpening your knives almost daily, depending on how much you cook.
  • Less is more: Simple is a buzz word lately. Think "Real Simple" the magazine, and everyone's desire to get "back to the basics." In cooking it can be difficult to keep things simple, but the truth is you don't really need that much equipment or complicated ingredients. We worked with five of us in a tiny outdoor kitchen on dishes that had a limited list of ingredients, but in which each ingredient was the very best quality possible, and the end result was the best catered food I've ever tasted.
  • Don't do a hack job: I was given bunches and bunches of parsley and basil to chop. Having always seen people run a knife over herbs repeatedly, I started going at it. One of the chefs was kind enough to show me that with herbs, no matter how small, you need to have your (very well sharpened) knife slide through to make a clean cut as you hold the herbs bunched with your hand. Do not go back over them repeatedly on the cutting board with your knife. This makes them turn color and become bitter, and negatively impacts the flavor of your dish.
  • Do cut the cheese: Or to be more polite, think of how to make the guest feel comfortable. I was surprised to see one of the chefs cutting a wedge into each oversize block of cheese on a gourmet cheese board until he explained that this made everyone more likely to dig right in. I thought this was a brilliant party tip.

Okay, so maybe this isn't everything I ever needed to know. But it was a phenomenal experience learning some cooking basics that go way beyond classroom knowledge.

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