Blogs > Cooking from Scratch

Chef Stacy believes that cooking from scratch and using the best ingredients are the secrets to preparing delicious and memorable meals. She has created dozens of classes for the home chef and teaches students how to master culinary techniques and recipes in just one session. Read on to see what she's dishing up for The Oakland Press today....

Friday, June 4, 2010

That's Hot Soup, Stacy Sloan

I’m not a baseball fan. In fact, I hate baseball, unless there’s a fireworks display at the end of the game. Then I hate it less. That being said, one would have to be living under the proverbial rock to have missed out on this week’s controversy surrounding Jim Joyce and the Detroit Tigers.

If you have been under the rock this week, here’s the run down: a baseball player whose name I don’t care to google right now, was about to have a ‘perfect game’ when the umpire, Jim Joyce, made a call that “robbed” him of the opportunity. Once Joyce learned of his mistake after watching the replay, he quickly and emphatically admitted his mistake and apologized profusely for the error.

Apology notwithstanding, hundreds, if not thousands, of irate fans took to the internet and started Facebook groups like, “Fire Jim Joyce”, “We Hate Jim Joyce”, “Jim Joyce is a &*@#”. You get the idea. A website popped up, aptly and cleverly named, And, if that weren’t abusive enough, a minority of really fanatical sports enthusiasts sent death threats to the guy’s family.

What does this have to do with cooking, you ask? I’ll tell you: It has nothing to do with cooking except for the fact that in life, we all make mistakes. I’ve said it before, and I hate saying it, but I only say it because I think it’s true – “cooking is life”. You can draw all kinds of parallels to life from your experiences in the kitchen. Cooking has it all, sweet success, dumb luck, impressive accomplishments, disappointing misadventures, and sometimes, abject failure.

Mirepoix Cooking School classes run smoothly. Every once in a while, we have our issues, but, for the most part, things move along quite nicely. I get questions all of the time from people about cooking and I notice that at the root of some of their questions is this insidious thing called fear.

My favorite question is, “how long do I cook it?” My answer is, “until it’s done.”
“but what if I burn it?” is the follow-up inquiry. So what if you burn it? It’s just food. You won’t burn it if you PAY ATTENTION. You won’t burn it if you CARE. You won’t ruin it if you don’t abandon good sense. Does this make me sound like a snotty chef? Sure it does! But that’s not my intention.

Here’s the lowdown, almost all chefs feel that way, and here is our reasoning – take the Mirepoix kitchen, for instance. The Mirepoix kitchen has 6 identical Viking dual fuel ovens. They are absolutely gorgeous and I love using them. But guess what? They all perform differently. Does that mean Viking makes shoddy equipment? NO! It just means that maybe some of the ovens need to be calibrated sooner than others, or perhaps one oven gets more use than another.

So, if our 6 identical ovens cook things differently, what do you think the oven in your kitchen will do? Ovens aren’t perfect, “life” isn’t perfect, and neither are you! Cooking is about the experience. It’s about learning how to be flexible, how to trust your instincts, how to use good judgment, and how to learn from failure. Cooking is about accepting yourself where you are and practicing until you get to the next level. It’s about trusting yourself and being present. Sounds zen, huh?

Secretly, I love it when people screw up a recipe. When someone screws something up, they generally feel embarrassed or frustrated. But I think it’s the best teacher. I was a first year culinary student when I cut the tip of my thumb off in Breakfast Pantry class. I remember it vividly. I was working in the corner station of the garde manger area, slicing baguettes for sandwiches that would be served in the Professor’s Pantry at Schoolcraft College. I made several cuts and then got distracted. I allowed my left thumb to sneak out to the side and sawed the tip off with my Wusthof serrated knife.

Stupid mistake. I NEVER did that again.

I was a second year culinary student when I was charged with the task of making a batch of corn chowder. I moved quickly through the recipe and finished cooking it down. The next step called for a quarter of the soup to be pureed. I took out the portion I needed and put it in the blender (this too, I remember vividly). I was standing in front of the line, blending soup, going about my business, when all of the sudden, the lid blew off and hot, molten, sticky corn soup glued itself to my face.

My classmate, Kevin Penn, said something supportive like, “that’s hot soup, Stacy Sloan”. My chef, (James Hanyzeski, CMC) made me sit in the office with a towel full of ice pressed to my face, and had the receptionist call my mom. This was embarrassing.

So I learned something – when using a blender to puree a hot liquid, don’t fill the blender more than half full, and always use a towel and hold the lid down. I caution our students to keep their thumbs tucked back when using their knives and to stand back with an ample supply of towels when using the blender.

When I was in my early 20’s, older people liked to ask me, “so, what do you want?” Their line of questioning referred to the types of men I wanted to date or the types of jobs I wanted to have. I never knew the answer, but I knew something more important – I knew what I DIDN’T want!

I knew I didn’t want to date a jerk, I didn’t want to date cheap guys, I didn’t want to pay for my own popcorn at the movies, and I didn’t want to apologize for who I was. I didn’t want to be poor. I didn’t want to clean the fryer at 5 Lakes Grill. I didn’t want to work nights, and I didn’t want to do fine dining.

The only reason I knew these things was because I did all of that stuff and figured out that I HATED it. I like to work backwards – figure out what you don’t want – that will help you figure out what you do want.

The same applies to cooking. Most people, when making a recipe for the first time (this is especially true for novice cooks) might be successful on the first attempt. Most of the time, this success can be attributed to luck. You might be lucky again, but at a certain point, unless you have a pretty good grasp on the basics, you didn’t learn that skill; it was more like a fluke.

However, if you’re new to the art of sauté, and you allow your sauté pan to get too hot and you scorch the oil before you can even add your vegetables, you’ve learned a very valuable lesson – don’t do that. Is it a loss? No, it’s a lesson. Now you know what NOT to do, which is more valuable sometimes (in cooking and in life) than doing it right the first time.

The good news is this – at the end of the day, it really is just food. If you screw it up and burn some croutons, the chances of someone starting an ugly Facebook page with your name on it is pretty small. Forgive others and forgive yourself, and most importantly, keep trying.


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November 24, 2010 at 9:10 PM 

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