With Patrick just before graduation
I'm not by definition a "picky eater," but by virtue of my Midwestern American "meat and potatoes" upbringing, the only meat acceptable for consumption comes in the form of beef, poultry, or pork and of course it comes pre-cut and neatly wrapped in plastic at the supermarket.
So it's safe to say this past year studying at a French cooking school has been an adventure in both eating and cooking and has challenged my notions of what I eat and where it comes from. A few of the more memorable dishes I've learned to prepare include frog legs, escargot, rabbit, duck, venison, lamb shanks, pate, mussels, monkfish (officially the ugliest fish on the planet and often sold headless for this reason), and skate.
Honorable mentions include beef tartare, veal cheeks (yes, the cheeks), calf's liver, aspic (think of it as beef flavored jello), bone marrow custard, and fish mousse.
We also prepared sweetbreads, which sounds delicious until you realize that sweetbreads are actually the thymus gland/pancreas of a calf... I'll spare you the visual but if you're curious, there's a particularly appetizing one here. And on our last day of Phase II, we learned how to cook parts of the animal other than the muscle -- like the gizzards, the brain, the stomach, and the feet.
I may not be jumping at the chance to order calve's brain anytime in the near future, but I'm definitely more open-minded when it comes to ordering and preparing foods. My new favorites are beef tartare, mussels, and veal cheeks.
Posing with my parents
(and my new certificate) following the ceremony
In addition to a newfound love for mussels, there is a lot more I will take away from my experience at culinary school -
techniques like how to shuck an oyster or boil sugar to softball stage without a candy thermometer (which, believe it or not, involves sticking your hand into a pot of boiling sugar),
principles like how proteins react when exposed to different temperatures,
food safety and sanitation like how not to kill someone with your cooking, and even
food history - did you know that before the 18th century, potatoes were believed to be poisonous?
With my parents at the luncheon buffet
that was held at the school after the ceremony
And at the same time, there is a lot I have yet to master - like sauces in general, which, despite my efforts, still manage to come out too strong, too weak, too thick, or too thin for my liking. We were reminded at the commencement ceremony last week that the word "commencement" means beginning. At LAC, I feel I have built a solid foundation but still need the building blocks of experience and hard work to take me to great heights.
That said, I will just have to turn to Ratatouille for inspiration, and remind myself of its motto Anyone can cook!
But more specifically, the critic Anton Ego's realization of the true meaning of this phrase after seeing that the cook behind the ratatouille dish he was ravishing came from none other than a rat:
In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.
Since I was born the year of the Rat, maybe this is a good sign. :)