Cooking Up a Curriculum

In many ways, I’ve been learning how to cook my whole life. As a kid it was helping mom make crepes. In high school it was working in an awesome deli churning out delicious reubens, piled high with kraut. In college…well…um…I guess I focused more on the liquids. In the few years after college, it was experimenting in the kitchen with Meredith as we struck out on our own. And in the past few years, it’s been cranked up a notch as we explored food more intensely through our own cooking and travel. I’ve learned so much and become a really good cook, but as Orange Door has grown and become the main focus of our professional lives, I’ve decided it’s time to approach my culinary education more formally.

For reasons too numerous to dive into in this post, I ruled out going to culinary school this past fall. I’m not saying ever, but it definitely isn’t right for the moment. With this decision made, I spent time in December cooking up a culinary curriculum. I wanted a system that would ensure that I exposed myself to a ton of new techniques and dishes, and that would expand my technical ability as a cook, as well as my creative side. Here is what I came up with.

Each month, I am:

  • Focusing on cooking out of two cookbooks.
  • Conducting twice weekly four to five hour “culinary labs” in which I cook from these books as well as organically explore techniques that surface during the month.
  • Reading two additional cookbooks, besides those that I am cooking from.
  • Watching something educational or inspirational from the world of gastronomy.
  • Working at least one day in a restaurant.

For example, the plan I am executing in January looks like this:

 January

Cookbook Focus

Modernist Cuisine at Home, Bilet & Myhrvold

The French Menu Cookbook, Olney

Reading Focus

The Food Lab Cookbook, Lopez-Alt

Ad Hoc at Home, Keller

Watch

Chef’s Table Season 2, Chef’s Table France

Stage

Townsman for whole hog butchery

 Whole Hog Butchery at Townsman - Thanks Chef Jennings!

Whole Hog Butchery at Townsman - Thanks Chef Jennings!

 

And, our first week of culinary labs looked like this:

Lab #1:

  • Modernist Cuisine: Sous Vide Brown Fish Stock, Bell Pepper Soup
  • Technique: Curing egg yolks two ways, simple and complex
  • Technique: Turning artichokes
  • The French Menu Cookbook: Braised Artichoke Bottoms

Lab #2:

  • Modernist Cuisine: Pressure Cooked Crustacean Stock, Pressure Cooked Butternut Squash Arborio Rice
  • The Five French Mother Sauces: Bechamel, Espagnole, Veloute, Hollandaise, Tomate

This system will probably change a dozen times over the coming months, but it has been a really nice plan to start out with. We are learning a ton, having a blast, and making delicious food along the way.

What do you think? Would this work for you? How do I make it better? Share your thoughts below!