Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Saturday, 16 July 2011

Week 1: Armed and dangerous

Woo hoo! This week veered from tedium to excitement and anticipation - much like life in general I suspect.

As you can see from the photo, we were issued with our knives - yes, a very good set of knives. And they come in a pretty smart knife roll.

From the left we have  a filleting knife - flexible blade; boning knife; chef's knife; vegetable knife; turning knife - you'll hear more about these next week as we learn how to use our knives SAFELY and PROPERLY .

But wait! there's more!!!!
Far from a set of steak knives we receive all manner of kitchen equipment - kitchen scales; steel; gas lighter (huh?); meat probe; tasting spoons (yum); wooden spoon; spatula; piping nozzles (x6); palette knife; zester; peeler, pastry scraper; pastry brush; whisk; scissors;  cuddly toy....

Why so much other equipment? don't they have all that in the training kitchens? It seems that if they do, it grows legs. Consequently we get our own and are expected to hang on to it. The tutors recommend we engrave our knives and label everything. They advise us not to leave our knife rolls in our (padlocked) lockers overnight. It seems the place is rife with larceny. On my return to town I go to the little man on the ground floor of the Grand Arcade and have my knives elegantly engraved with  Bev (but in a more elegant and flowing font).

That was possibly the second most exciting part of the week - getting the knives  I mean, not getting them engraved. The day before that we get our uniforms - excitement plus! Group by group we traipse downstairs to the corridors outside the Training Kitchens where Mary from Arrow Uniforms is struggling to maintain order and her composure.

The chef tutors (Toby and Trevor), sticklers for correct uniforms and presentation, explain the reason for each piece attire.

Hat - white, more accurately a skullcap - covering your hair. If you have long hair, it must also be in a hairnet or tied up in a bun. If you have a beard, wear a beard net. Yes, I know! but then think about it - how many chefs do you know with long hair and beards - Marco Pierre White aside? Purpose is clear - no-one wants hair in their food.

Neckerchief - white, must be properly folded and sits outside the collar of the jacket. Properly folded means just like a regular tie, but tuck the trailing edges back up into the knot. Clever really. Perhaps doctors could think about doing the same thing so their tie ends don't trail across patients promoting cross infection....Purpose - apparently neckerchiefs used to be worn under the collar to soak up the sweat, but now have become part of the uniform because....well, because they look cool!

Jacket - white, loose fitting, double breasted, long sleeves, white buttons. Loose-ish to keep a bit of airflow; double breasted to give you two layers of protection from splashes and scalds; long sleeves to help protect you from splashes and burns; white buttons because - I don't know why -  they come with black and we replace them. The buttons pop out easily for jacket laundering but also so you can rip the thing off if you somewhat carelessly catch yourself on fire.

Apron - white - are you detecting a theme? tied at the front and then folded over the tie. Purpose -gives a layer of protection in addition to your pants, and by folding over the tie you remove the chance of catching the bow on a saucepan handle or ladle.

Pants - black and white check, cotton, drawstring waist. Purpose - light cotton for coolness in the heat of the kitchen and well, imagine a kitchen full of cooks without pants.

Shoes - black, leather, solid upper, rubber soled for non slip. Purpose - protect your feet from hot spills, dropped knives, pots, pans.

Aside from what you must wear, it is also about what you must NOT wear. No jewellery,  no visible piercings, short nails and no nail polish. Jewellery heats up in the kitchen and can burn, harbours bacteria and can slip off into food. Similarly, nail polish can flake off. I must admit I do cringe when I see Peta Mathias plunging her beringed hands into food.

So as you can tell, it is all very fashionable and glamorous! At this point they remind us there are reasons for each piece of attire and aside from professional presentation it is about safety and hygiene: this is not a fashion parade - as if! You won't be seeing a photo of me in my kit any time soon.

The mundane part of the week is a seemingly interminable journey through the Handbook material that we could all read for ourselves - although clearly many can't, don't or won't, so we are talked through it. Our group of about 17 now - you'll recall I'm in exotic Novotel - joins with Ibis - also 17 or 18 - for theory sessions. The two chef tutors tag team the teaching. Inevitably, someone asks a question the answer to which we have already been told two or three times in two or three different ways.

We also get our textbooks  - The New Zealand Chef - which is our Bible for the year. The tutors set a short familiarisation test in which we must use the index, find various references and recipes, and change quantities by quadrupling and halving recipes. Toby tells us  that one day in the Training Kitchen he instructed students to use half a recipe to make a dish. As he was walking around checking progress he saw one student's product was looking most strange. Had he halved the recipe? Yes Chef. He used the first half of the listed ingredients.