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10 Things I Learned From Culinary School

Written by Alison Barnett on Tuesday, 20 March 2012. Posted in Tips And Tricks

When we heard of Alison, a kosher-keeping student in a non-kosher culinary school, we were intrigued. We asked her to tell us about her experience and share some of tips that apply to home cooks! - CookKosher


Hi my name is Alison, I am a Jewish day-school grad from Columbus, Ohio enrolled in a non-kosher culinary school. I did this because I want to learn EVERYTHING about food! Crabs, lobsters, pork, shellfish, shrimp and all other forms of treif as well as non treif. I want to touch it, cook it and learn about it! Even if we cook something from kosher ingredients, it is always in non-kosher pots and pans and therefore is forbidden for me to eat. My rabbi told me I could taste my assignments as long as I don’t swallow anything, but I can’t get the full flavor unless it hits every taste bud on my tongue, not the easiest thing to do. I pretty much avoid it and, instead, practice with kosher versions of the food at home.
So why am I putting myself through this? Why don’t I just go to CKCA or the Jerusalem Culinary Institute, both kosher culinary institutions?
Since I was a child, I wanted to go to culinary school, and I promised myself that WHEN I went, I was going to experience everything, within the confines of halacha. I wanted to increase my knowledge of all aspects of the kitchen.
I can't eat anything in class, and that's not fun (especially when it goes from 6pm to 10pm without break) but that's life as an observant Jew, and my goals are worth the sacrifice. Before orthodox Jews goes into the secular world, they have to be strong in what they believe and have a good grasp on the halachot pertaining to what they are doing. The things I have learned and cooked with, thus far, are amazing; I am now getting up close and personal with foods I never thought I would touch or even see without being behind a television screen or display case.
My goal is to use what I learn to make kosher food as expansive as possible, in appearance and taste. So here are the top ten things I’ve learned, as they relate to the kosher homemaker:
1) Read Recipes – Before you begin a trip, you have to know where you are going. Are you able to ride a bike there? Do you need to drive a car? The last thing you want to do is start your journey and realize that you don’t have the tools to get to your destination! Read your recipes thoroughly and think about all the steps in the recipe. Do they make sense to you? Maybe you need to adjust the ingredients and skip or add a technique. Plan ahead and you won’t make a wrong turn!
2) Good Knife – Ever cut into a pineapple or onion with a dull knife? Not only does it come out uneven and take forever, it also leaves your kitchen a mess. If you slice onions with a sharp knife, the sulfur doesn’t break as much, causing you to tear less!
3) Use Salt – Have you ever heard someone say “No one makes this like my mom!” The difference between a home cook and a restaurant is often salt content. If high blood pressure doesn’t run in your family, your mother probably seasoned her food with salt. So don’t be afraid, a little salt goes a long way!
4) Pre-heat Your Pan – Food you cook sticks to your pans? Don’t give up! This is one of the most common mistakes in cooking. To prevent sticking and ensure a nice golden color on your fish, meat, chicken or tofu, make sure the oil in your pan is sizzling. To test, sprinkle a few drops of water in the pan; if it pops, you can start sautéing or searing. But be careful! Too much water can lead to oil popping in your face.
5) Experiment! – You never know what new trendy dish you will come up with. Don’t get down if you mess up, it happens to everyone, just keep on cooking and you are bound to come up with something tasty! This is just one way to have fun in the kitchen, and experimenting with food is how the best recipes are created and invented!
6) Who says you can’t have it all? – Don’t let allergies, dislikes or Pesach keep you from enjoying what you love or want to try. A lot of food items can be replaced or replicated. Eggs, milk, wheat… you name it, there’s always a substitution.
7) You get what you pay for – So buy the best produce you can. If you pay for old tomatoes you get an old tasting tomato salad. The fresher the better! This doesn’t mean throw old produce out. Fruits and tomatoes can be made into sauces, and herbs can be made into flavorful herb oils to put on top of roasted vegetables or salad. Aging vegetables make a wonderful vegetable soup!
8) Cook's Best Friends – Immersion blenders and food processors are great short cuts and make a huge difference for home cooks and chefs. Have you ever grated your potatoes and onions by hand for a meal of 20? Unless you enjoy grating the potatoes and tearing from the onions, I recommend investing in a food processor. Even the cheapest one will get the job done quicker and more efficiently.
9) Kitchen Safety – Know what to do in situations that could arise. An automatic reaction to a fire is dousing it with water, but you should never put water on a grease fire (remember tip #4)! Keep band aids in your kitchen for minor cuts and burns. Don’t let potential hazards in the kitchen stop you from cooking. Everything you do in life has its hazards, but being aware of these issues prevents them from happening in the future.
10) Reduce Sauces – If you have leftover juice in your pan from searing or baking marinated meats, put it on the stove and reduce the juice to a delectable sauce. There is a lot of flavor in the sauce and reducing it to a gravy consistency gives the dish an added dimension that will make your guests wonder why you don’t work in a restaurant.

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About the Author

Alison Barnett

Alison Barnett is currently enrolled part-time in the Institute of CulinaryEducation (ICE) in New York City and works full time at the OrthodoxUnion. She is one of the only observant Jews in this non-kosher culinary program and wants to demonstrate that an observant Jew can do what he or she is passionate about within the realms of Jewish law. Alison started her blog www.alibabka.com in July 2011 to showcase her passion for cooking and to teach that anyone can cook with a little direction, the right tools and patience. Alison is originally from Columbus, OH and currently resides in New York City.

Comments (7)

  • OvertimeCook
    21 March 2012 at 04:27 |

    Sometimes I dream about going to culinary school...even if just for a day! Excellent tips- thank you for sharing!

  • skcm0137
    21 March 2012 at 05:16 |

    Overtime Cook - Most culinary schools offer seminars on different types of cooking and baking. All you have to do is call one thats relatively close. They also have vacation excursions where you go to a farm or vineyard thats a bed and breakfast. There are so many opportunities if you really want to learn. Heck, I give workshops and tastings all the time.

    A few other tips:
    1.) use kitchen shears or scizzers (sp) to cut up a chicken. It saves you money, buying the whole chicken, and simplly gives you an alternative by using smaller or larger sections.

    2.) save some pasta water in your fridge, it has starch in it, and can add an extra something when you need to use water in a recipe. It can be meat, dairy, or parve. Becasue the pasta is generally flour water salt eggs and vegetables would be parve. Also, if youre making your own sauce, or heating sauce from a jar, if you heat up the sauce then add some pasta water, you generally get a better sauce that tastes like you have been working on it all day long.

    3.) measure all ingrediants first. use measuring cups for a liquid measure, and use a scale for dry. You might find that your recipes will turn out better just by doing this method. Most recipes are written that way.

    4.) heat serving plates in the oven before putting hot food on them, the food will stay warm longer.

    5.)Know your conversions from cup measure to ounces. It makes everything easier to read and put together.

    6.)If you have children, and you think they are ready, let them use scizzors to cut up chicken meat, deli meat, herbs and anything that you think they can help with.

    7.)If something sticks to the pan and is still there when your cleaning up.. fill the pan with water and bring it to a boil. let it full boil for about 5 minutes, then shut it off. by the time the water has cooled, the bits should spray/wipe/scrub right off.

    8.)and last... RELAX, ITS ONLY FOOD. :)

  • smartcookie
    21 March 2012 at 13:38 |

    Regarding kitchen safety #9: In case your oil in the pot does start to burn, pour tons of salt over it, this will douse the flames quickly. This worked for me. Lesson: If your doorbell or phone ring, you should either shut the flame (gas) or stay put (near your pot).

    • alibarnett
      21 March 2012 at 19:59 |

      Salt definitely works! The best option is to smother it with the lid of the pan, but Baking Soda and salt are also good options as well as a dry chemical fire extinguisher. Grease fires do not want to be messed with! Thanks for posting that option!

  • MindySchaper
    25 April 2012 at 01:32 |

    Thanks for the tips! Culinary school sounds like fun. I like the last tip, of reserving sauces. I don't cook meat, but I'll definitely use that idea. Thanks for the article!

  • sarah787
    02 December 2012 at 20:33 |

    Hi. I am a senior in high school and I am aspiring to become a professional baker and pastry chef. I live in Long Island. I know that there is CKCA to learn, but just like you, I want to learn everything but instead of culinary I want to pastry. I want to go in depth in my culinary profession and I feel that CKCA isn't right for me. But I am not sure about the non-kosher part. I need advice on what to do to pursue my dream next year. I was looking ICE, Institute of Culinary Education to learn pastry and baking and do the food business course as well, but then the fast that its a non-kosher school. I don't want to make crucial mistakes along the way, but I don't want to give up my dream. Can you please help me out and inform me what you think I should do, since you have gone through the delema that I have. I need to know soon since next school year will approaching soon. Thank you.

    • alibarnett
      26 June 2013 at 23:11 |

      Sarah787, you can email me at alibabka@alibabka.com.
      I would be happy to answer any of your questions and speak to you.

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