My very first class in culinary school was Foundations. And though I’ve mostly developed my skills to deeper levels than were required by that class, whenever I am asked cooking questions, it always comes to mind. There’s nothing like a truism – “gotta learn to walk before you learn to run” – and while prodigies may create exceptions, creating strong building blocks is still one of the best ways to move forward in any field.
It seems like chefs always have one of two backgrounds, either they had to learn to cook in order to discover good food, or they were raised in the midst of kitchens and turned to cooking as a career in order to keep their worlds food-focused. My own foundations in cooking started young – as soon as I could pull a stool up to the counter and watch, my mother started portioning off small bits of bread dough for me to knead and turn into mini-loaves. To this day, if someone corners me and asks what my desert island food is, I say fresh-baked bread.
My early food experiences weren’t just bread, though. They were also picking radishes out of the garden pathways and eating them fresh out-of-hand, marathon applesauce canning that always included eating the extra still warm with plenty of cinnamon and sugar, and watching my father pull all the leftover dishes from the refrigerator and turn them into something fresh and new.
After earning my degree in Culinary Arts, I’ve spent ten years working in professional kitchens, logging valuable time with each of my foundations skills until I don’t even realize that the task I am performing is a skill. Peeling carrots, chopping onions (your eyes stop watering after the first gallon or so), folding biscuit dough, browning butter, and juggling timelines until it all comes together in the culminating adrenaline rush of working the hot line during the busy hours.
In between professional catering jobs, I’ve managed food for a sister’s wedding, for my own wedding, for birthday parties, card parties, dinner parties, and quiet family dinners. Slowly, I’ve discovered what skills and techniques are most helpful to transfer over from the professional world and which are best left behind. I know what I miss the most when I’m at home (the ovens are always pre-heated at work), and what I miss the least (I’m about 97% more likely to find a properly fitted pot lid at home).
Now I’m stretching my meal-planning skills, scaling down my prep to feed my new family of two, focusing on budgets and nutrition, and still finding ways to keep food an adventure.