Do You Have What It Takes... to Be a Master Chef?
Wherever You Live, There is Probably a "Master Chef"
In 1990 (yes, it was THAT long ago) Franc Roddam had the brilliant idea of broadcasting a competitive cooking show—and thence MasterChef was created for viewers in the United Kingdom. That series ran from 1990 to 2001. The original concept was updated and revived for broadcast on the BBC in 2005. In 2009 it was again re-developed for an Australian audience. Since then the “MasterChef” theme has gone wild, being re-formatted and produced in over 40 countries.
The USA version premiered in 2010 and has been renewed for a 7th season.
So, What Exactly Is a Master Chef?
Well, in the United States, the certifying body is the American Culinary Federation (ACF). Their requirements are
- graduation from a accredited culinary institute
- the ability to pass a rigorous ACF exam
- serving 5 years as a Certified Culinarian (CC)
- passing the test for Certified Sous Chef
- three years in that position
- passing the test for Chef de Cuisine
- three more years in that position (which is also supervisory)
- testing for Certified Executive Chef (CEC)
- several more years of experience plus ongoing education and testing (written and practical)
- two recommendations from Certified Master Chefs
- Application for and passing of the Certified Master Chef test (AND there is a $3,000 fee for the examination!)
I’m pretty certain that qualification for the television broadcast is not quite as rigorous.
However, if you have watched the show I am sure that (like me) you have been amazed at the demonstrations of professional knife skills, the lightning-quick fish filleting, and the artistic plating of food—by everyday people.
And so I ask you--do you have a better-than-average understanding of cooking methods? Do you have a grasp of culinary terminology? And the bottom line--do you have what it takes to be a Master Chef?
Just for fun--let’s try a short quiz and find out.
Could You Be A Master Chef?
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So, How Did You Do?
Are you ready to apply for "Master Chef" in your area or would you like to learn more about these cooking terms and methods? Here is a brief explanation of each of the topics that were addressed in the quiz.
Pie dough/crust/pastry is the combination of three simple ingredients--flour, water, and fat. The fat can be shortening, lard, butter, or even olive oil. Although each type of fat renders slightly different results, my experience is that how the ingredients are handled is the key to whether or not pie crust is flaky or tough.
The culprit in the grand scheme of things is the gluten in the flour.
What is gluten? Simply put, it is a protein that binds together the molecules in the flour. Kneading dough gets those proteins working, joining hands and getting sticky--which is exactly what you want when preparing bread dough or a pizza crust. Your perfect bread should have structure, height, a few air holes, and certainly chew. But pie crust? No, you want delicate, buttery (or butter-like) tender flakes. So when making pie dough a delicate touch is required so that the gluten remains lazy.
This video from Allrecipes.com will show you how to achieve a perfectly flaky pie crust.
Your Best Choice for Fluffy Mashed Potatoes
Gertrude Stein told us that "a rose is a rose is a rose", but a potato is not always a potato. Basically there are three cousins, but each is different from the other.
Waxy potatoes are perfect for potato salad. They cook up soft yet hold their shape. In-betweens are your go-to potato for boiling or making hash browns--your Yukon Golds. (By the way I love their buttery taste and appearance.) And then there are the starchy potatoes--big, bold Russet potatoes. Russets appear in the steak house as a huge baked potato topped with sour cream and chives. They have a loose/fluffy texture; not only do they make perfect baked potatoes, they also create the most creamy, ethereal mashed potatoes you will ever taste.
When cooked starchy Russet potatoes fall apart and absorb butter and cream in a Heavenly way. Any other type of potato will give you a gummy, gluey, sad mash. So when you want to create homemade mashed potatoes, always reach for the Russets.
"Using the brown bits on the bottom of the pan to add flavor to a sauce." Sounds scary, doesn't it? But I'm sure you've done it before; you probably just didn't know it had such an impressive name. If you have ever made gravy (...not from a packet) you have deglazed. If you have sauteed some onions or other vegetables and then added a splash of broth, you have deglazed.
Just a few things to keep in mind:
- Brown bits are yummy. Black (burnt) are and will always be bitter and nasty. Just like over-ripe bananas, there is no reverse aging process when the char has gone too far.
- Pour off most of the fat before adding the liquid.
- Turn the heat up and add in cold liquid.
- Use a sturdy spoon or spatula to scrape up those yummy bits from the bottom of the pan. As soon as they have melted into the liquid. turn the heat back down to a simmer.
Baking vs. Roasting
Is there a difference between baking and roasting? Not really. We tend to think of "baking" in terms of preparing flour-based foods--bread, cakes, pies, and cookies. And roasting refers to the cooking of meats and/or vegetables by exposing them to radiant heat. That works for me.
However thekitchn.com came up with an interesting definition that I also agree with and will pass on to you here:
If you're cooking food that doesn't already have a solid structure, but will after it's cooked — like muffins, cake, bread, and casseroles — the proper method is baking. If you're cooking food that has a solid structure — like any type of meat or vegetables — no matter the temperature of the oven, you'll roast it.
What Is A Roux?
Roux (pronounced “roo”) is a thickener for soups, sauces, and (be still my beating heart) Shrimp Étouffée. It's not a acomplicated process--just combine equal amounts of flour and fat. When you cook them together you create a stable blend that will provide lump-free body and substance to your food.
There are basically four types of roux--white, blond, brown, and dark brown. The difference is the amount of time the flour and fat are heated together; white is cooked for the shortest time, and dark brown cooks the longest.
White roux is the base for your homemade macaroni and cheese; a blond roux is commonly used to thick cooking juices and create gravy, brown or dark brown roux provides a deep, nutty flavor to the aforementioned étouffée and file gumbo.
What Is Barding?
For years cooks have known that wrapping some meats with a blanket of fat will keep them moist and flavorful through the roasting process. This practice has been revitalized with the current bacon fad.
Poultry is the food most commonly barded because it tends to dry out during the cooking process--think of barding as an automatic basting system.
How to Bread a Chicken Cutlet
Do You Want More?
So did you learn anything today? Are there other cooking techniques or terms that puzzle you? If I get enough feedback, I will do another installment of this hub.
© 2016 Linda Lum