May 27, 2006

Speed 1

How My Cooking Has Changed : part 1

"Don't take shortcuts!", chef Bryan Polcyn urges the crowd at Barbara Lynch's Butcher Shop as he nears the end of a sumptuous 3-hour demo/banquet/book signing of Charcuterie . He's making a chocolate paté, into which he's mixed the pulverized pralines that he just made with gentle care. "Take the bowl off the mixer, take a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Don't do this on the mixer. Don't take shortcuts."

This is the silent but essential difference between cooking for joy and being a pro. In the professional kitchen, everything is about speed because everything is about cost: food cost, labor cost, turns. Pros need to take every edge and every shortcut they can get away with. But they must not take any shortcut that will be caught, a shortcut that will reveal that this dish was hurried or cheapened or careless.

Cooking at home, cooking because you want to cook, shortcuts are something else entirely. Doing things right can make sense, even if nobody will know. Your kids may not care whether the shallots were rough minced or brunoised or just run through the Cuisinart. But you'll know. Like that medieval stonecutter, you know what's in back of the food, you know whether the prep was right.

And that's why you're in the kitchen tonight, and not in a restaurant or grilling a steak out back on the Weber.

You're doing this because you want to. Don't take shortcuts: that's not why you chose to be here.