How to be a more like a chef in your own kitchen
10 clever tricks
that will earn you some respect, and teach a bit of French at the same time
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First, who´s in charge of your kitchen ? Who´s the boss? That´s what chef means, quite literally translated from French. Chef de cuisine means chief or boss of the kitchen. So why not be your own chef de cuisine in your home kitchen.
So don´t hang around waiting for instructions, you´re in charge!
1. Get in the mood when shopping
When shopping, you can learn a lot about classical French cooking by looking at the French product names. Ask for bouillon not stock cubes. Bouillon is just the French name for dried or dehydrated stock !
2. posh little bites
Looking for puff pastry cases – ask for bouchées. Bouche is the word for mouth in French, and bouchées are just mini bite size vol-au-vents really. Get confident and use the term again when you´re serving any little bites to eat… offer your guests some bouchées !
Whilst you´re at it, buy or make beignets, not donuts. Beignets are just French style donuts, deep fried the same way but made with choux pastry so they´re lighter and fluffier than a donut texture. It means fried dough ( fritter) in French. Outside France, you´ll find them more in places like New Orleans.
I have to admit I don´t bake much because of the carbs and sugar I can´t have, but I love the idea of a healthier version of these heavenly wee pillows covered in fairy dust so I´m going to have to find a way to make them… I feel a food journey starting !
3. Make special Sunday sauce
Serve a jus not a gravy with your Sunday roast. When I was younger I used to think a jus was a bit thin. So say jus if it´s thin, and say jus lié if it´s thicker, like I like it !
To thicken it, don´t reach for the Bisto ! Make or buy some demi-glace or glace syrup to stir into it. Or simply déglace the roasting pan to get some nice juicy pieces (called the fond) to thicken it. Want to know more about that browning / searing technique that makes your food tastier ? Then brush up on the Maillard technique here.
4. Make your time, and tasks sound more valuable
Do mise en place (like a good commis chef), not prep. This is my absolute favourite French term, and, my favourite thing to do. Chopping and preparing everything and putting them in little bowls ready to put a nice meal together.
5. You´re probably doing it already – clever you !
You probably already know about batons and juliennes, but when you skin and chop tomatoes for a recipe, having taken the seeds out first… did you know that´s called a concasse – so elevate that menial job ! Say you´re making tomates concassées. Or, like a chef, ask someone else to do it. The verb concasser means to crush, or in culinary terms to chop up roughly.
How to do it.
Score it like the picture, then blanche it ( i.e. part cook by dropping it into a bowl with boiling water for 30seconds ). A chef would then cool it in ice water, and peel. Cut into quarters to remove the seeds, then dice.
SIMPLE RECIPE: tomato concassé side dish
Courtesy of the chefs at the famous EHL school of hospitality
400g tomatoes – diced
black olives – chopped
2 shallots + 2 garlic cloves – chopped
Thyme – 1 sprig
- Heat the olive oil over moderately high heat, toss in the chopped garlic, shallots and thyme and cook till shot.
- Add the diced tomatoes, olives, salt & pepper.
- Cook for 20mins on a low heat.
Here´s another one you´re probably doing already. When you roll that basil or lettuce or cabbage leaf up and slice it finely, did you know you´re making a chiffonade ! Makes it easier to handle and cooks it faster. Believe it or not, this was my most favourite secret childhood hobby doing this with leaves in the garden where no-one could see me !
6. Waste not ! Smooth it out and re-present it.
A chef is always having to make the most of the ingredients he has, and save costs where he can because the margins are so small (on top of the initial investment the daily operational makings are only typically 3-7% … if you´re really lucky!).
So if your family say they don´t want another chowder after you´ve got all the ingredients in. Even worse, you´ve already made it ! Try blending it and call it a bisque and let them try something ´new´;)
Maybe this isn´t technically correct but maybe it will get you started on the bisque learning journey.
7. Use blue
Look more professional, and use blue waterproof plasters on cuts on your hands, rather than the flesh coloured ones! I find it so hard to get decent flesh coloured plasters anyway these days and these are waterproof. Spot the newbie by the number of blue plasters they have on their fingers. Why are they blue ? For practical, hygiene reasons. So that you can spot them quickly if fall off (into the food!) of course. Click the next picture to see.
When a kitchen knife drops… the cooks will try to catch it, the chef will jump out of the way !
A chef´s favourite tool is probably his knife. This is our favourite chef knife, but it´s a very affordable alternative. Professional restaurant kitchen knives are so unbelievably sharp that the cooks can regularly cut themselves easily. That´s one of the reasons they use these magnetic strips to store them – you need to know where your knives are at any given time, and be able to reach quickly for them. Apart from making your kitchen look very cheffy, they´re also a fabulous way to save space, prolong the life of your knives – way better for your knife than knife blocks !
8. Delegate with style
Don´t just ask the kids to do the washing up – give them the big job title of ´plongeur´ which literally translates to ´diver´ but in a restaurant it means ´dishwasher´ . They really do have to dive into a deep sink of dirty pots, and wear waterproofs and wellies.
A good plongeur will practically lick all surfaces clean walls, ceiling and all. It´s a dirty job but one of the most important ones. I always felt this was one of the most important roles to get right in the restaurant. We had a most brilliant guy right till the end.
9. love it or hate it
Convert any marmite ( the yeasty spread) haters, and keep everyone happy with this new version. Use the word marmite when referring to your soup or casserole. It´s such an old term, and like lots of other French cooking terms that defines a meal, it´s also is the name of the cooking pot too. In fact the British yeasty marmite spread was named after it because the jar ( fat at the bottom ) looked like a traditional French marmite dish.
Did you know that the most all purpose Le Creuset dish is also called ´the marmite´.
Traditionally though it was an earthenware pot with little handles on the side and a lid. More like the one below. So I researched how this pot is used and found Korean / Japanese uses too, and this incredible piece that I just want to show you. I know at least 2 people close to me that would love this and it has unlimited cooking applications – you can even put it straight on the hob, or in a fire ! Click the picture to see the details and in more colourways.
Look out for more double-meaning names like this. Casserole in a casserole pot. Tagine in a tagine pot. Let us know in the comments if you have any more examples.
10. Use the eight-six code
If you´ve run out of an item, or if the family asks you for something particular for dinner, and you don´t have it… just 86 it. !
In a restaurant, when chef has served the last of an item… 86 is the shorthand way of saying there´s none left, nil, zilch. So without any confusing explanations 86 leaves no room for misinterpretations or error and the waiters know as quickly as possible not to take an order for it. ( sounds easy right ? )
It can also be used as a way of saying ´no permission ´ to someone. If a person has been 86ed they´re not welcome. So go ahead and 86 whatever, or whoever you like. Feel the power !