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Mother sauces? Stocks?

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
I have owned and operated successfully now for over 3 years. I am extremely hands on, got a wonderful staff, know my food, liq, labor costs and have a good understanding of my business which I care passionately about.

To give you an idea of my commitment on top of regular day business I expo 5 nights a week, know when the reduction is scorched, know when the shanks are bang on, know when the batter needs more beer etc etc.

The question I have is...where do I start in learning fundamentals of being a chef?

Should I concentrate on the mother sauces and knowing them like the back of my hand? Stocks? Confits?

I work in the business 80 hours a week and don't have the time to start in school. I have the experience on my doorstep and they have ideas but thought I would ask a larger audience to get your opinion.

Do you have any advice?

It would be much appreciated.

Thank you kindly.
post #2 of 17
Within your time constraints, I would just hope that your chef you have knows what he is doing, and try to learn from him. Be very careful not to come off as the nosy owner, but rather someone who is genuinely interested in learning. JMHO.
post #3 of 17
I'd say if you were hands on then do it like any other kitchen newbie. When the chef needs to make stock, ask him if you can eat the marrow, er, I mean, roast the bones. :D
post #4 of 17
Thread Starter 

Eat the marrow!!

Thanks Kuan. I have been sent for the long weight at neighbouring restaurants in my day. Been there mate. ha ha
post #5 of 17
80 hrs, is that it? Nah just kidding. You can watch and learn while on the job, but you can also read too....

One of most intelligent, well written books on stocks, sauces and the like is "Sauces" by James Peterson. Gold mine of information in there. If that book is not on my nightable at home, it's in the john. Escoffier is old, but there's still alot of valuable information in there. Never let anyone tell you that a flour thickened sauce is inferior to a cream reduction sauce. In terms of calories, cost and flavour, a well prepared flour thickened sauce can beat a greasy cream reduction any day. Escoffier is still relevent, just have to use your imagination and "tweak" things a bit though. Start off with those two books and it will give you a good base to build on. CIA's "Professional Chef" is pretty darn good too, as is Pauli's "Classical Cooking the Modern Way.

Hope this helps
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #6 of 17
Foodpump is dead on....just add "On Food and Cooking" by Harold McGee and "Culinary Artistry" by Dorenberg and Paige (sp?) and you have my "go to" list of books. And not for nothing...."The Joy of Cooking" has a recipe for everything. Maybe not the best but a really good starting point at least.
Not being able to afford the CIA I went online and bought all of their textbooks. Obviously not the same as going to school but you get the information nevertheless.

Just taste every step of the way, not just when it's finished. You will start to figure out how flavor evolves and develops.

Keep those fires burnin'
Keep those fires burnin'
post #7 of 17
great suggestions from foodpump and GF, I was going to make similar book recommendations. I'd order The Professional Chef right away without even thinking about it. I don't have that Peterson book, but sounds like I'll have to get it, thanks foodpump. I also like cookbooks from good restaurants and chefs I respect, in addition to these textbook type books.

BTW albadusk, if you're ordering from, which is a good way to do it as it's cheaper and you can fit a few mouse clicks into that busy week versus a trip to the bookstore where they'll be out of stock... There is a "Jump to Amazon" link at the top of the cookbook reviews page and in a few other places. If you use that link, a commission will benefit cheftalk, no cost to you.

Another book that just crossed my mind that you might like is Julia Child's Cooking with Master Chefs. I was thinking it's perfect for your stage of learning, as it has enough text to be "teachy," (Julia has edited it for a home cook) and a nice cross section of recipes from great chefs. It's in paperback, not too expensive. Since you raised the subject of sauces, a couple nice sauces in there that come to mind are Charlie Palmer's Pepper Seared Venison Steaks with Pinot Noir and Sundried Cherries, and Robert DelGrande's Filets of Beef in Pasilla Chile Sauce.:chef:

I don't have this book, but GF mentioned Culinary Artistry, those authors also have a book called "Becoming a Chef." Sounds like it might also be a useful one for your purposes, maybe someone who's familiar with it could comment.

here's a link to the link to Amazon
post #8 of 17
Thread Starter 

Thank you

Thank you all very much for all your feedback.

I will def get my hands on these books and get to work.

Looking forward to the challenge.

Again, thanks a lot.
post #9 of 17
Jump on in hands on is the best place 2 start ask all kinds of ? dont think they would mind there boss 2 have as a 2 go guy when in the weeds and if thats what you are pationet about then just do it you will have fun i have cooked for over 16yrs and i love 2 trade knowledge with the new kids on the line i work hands on all stations every day @ work :D
post #10 of 17

I'm glad that I found this site...

  1. I'm in my 2nd quarter at the Art Institute and ran across this site while doing some research. I am working on a paper about stocks and mother sauces and found myself on this site. I think I'll check out some of the books that were suggested, I'm sure that they will help me with my paper. Good luck to you albadusk, I hope everything works out for you.
post #11 of 17
You know, another good book you could add to that list would be Kitchen Confidential. After I read that, my passion for this industry grew by leaps and bounds.
post #12 of 17
The single best book for classical cooking is Pelliprat's large, illustrated text, published under a variety of names.

That having been said -- making mother sauces, especially the stock based sauces, then making the sauces that are several generations down is an extremely time-consuming and expensive proposition and not appropriate for every restaurant.

For instance, the "classic" demi-glace starts with Espagnole. Espagnole tastes like s**t on its own, and does more than get you half way to an intermediate sauce. Do you really want to go there? Modern interpretations skip the Espagnole, start with stock, and just reduce away -- not only modern, but far less expensive, and probably how your chef does it anyway. In the meantime you need to check out Julia Childs on "semi-demi-glace."

In terms of modern restaurant practice a lot of this stuff is highly theoretical and impractical anyway. If you want to learn how to cook the sort of food that was popular in pre WWII France, your education is incomplete without an exploration of "classical" cuisine. But be aware you're spending a lot of time to learn a bunch of stuff (which I learned and can do), but you'll never use. Besides, a lot of that stuff is not what people want to eat anymore. Nouvelle and California Cuisines taught us to simplify, a lesson that shouldn't be lost.

Plus, of the five meres, you and/or your chef probably already have a solid grounding in four of them: bechamel, veloute, hollandaise/mayonnaise, and tomate. If you're interested in the elaborations, well they're only elaborations. You can do it with a recipe, you don't need a lot of class work. That leaves espagnole. Skip it and learn the semi-demi glace. You'll nail it on the fourth try at the latest.

All of this presumes you know how to use a "French wire" whisk, how to add butter for structure, how to pay attention, and when to use arrowroot instead of corn starch. The rest is mostly just stock and recipes.

BTW, I agree with the "flour" proposition and raise to a whole bunch of thickening agents -- including corn starch, arrowroot, butter, oil, egg, potato starch, tomato paste, and so on. .

post #13 of 17
Get yourself some whites, put on an apron, and tell the chef you want to learn. If he's worth what you're paying him, he'll teach you.
"Hunger is the best pickle." -- Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac
"Hunger is the best pickle." -- Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac
post #14 of 17
I can't offer too much advice, but one thing that I know is harder than it looks is making perfect cuts. I think we all can do a rough dice, a rough julienne, etc. But try to make perfect squared dice--it is much harder than it seems. Until I saw my chef do it (and do it quickly) I thought a dice was just making squarish cuts. I didn't realize that perfect cubes were possibly when done by a great chef.

Lets not also forget that a julienne also has specific measurements (not just very thin slices). Symetrical rounds. Batonnets. Chifonades. Etc. By practicing your cuts, you will also make a lot of mise en place to then use in making your stocks. Which you can then use to make your sauces with. etc.

So from my POV, start with cuts. :bounce:
post #15 of 17
I am in a very similar situation to you, only difference is, I don't have a chef to learn from, I am completely on my own. I have learned from books, TV and of course the internet. It really depends on what style of cooking you do, the size of your kitchen and in which direction you want to go. Learning is the easy part, putting it into practise is much harder, especially if you are busy. Everything you do must be tailored to suit your business and it's facilities. If you have the means and the desire then go for it.
post #16 of 17
i recently ordered a couple that were mentioned in this thread, waiting for them to the meantime are there any other suggestions on books or material to get ideas and recipes for the mother sauces???
post #17 of 17
It is worthwhile to learn the fundamentals of French cuisine, but keep in mind that they are not the only great food culture in the world. The most valuable asset in the kitchen is your common sense. In the beginning, I would not worry too much about the proper size fancy-named cuts than about the overall quality of your product from start to finish. A junk tomato is still junk even after it is peeled and perfectly diced. I believe this to be the common element of great chef, french or not. Still, you need to be familiar with the jargon that comes with the trade.

Learn from a multitude of professionals. Classical French trained chefs will be enthusiastic about classical french. Same applies to the East-West guys. Or South-West. Or North-West. And us New Englanders. Personally, I get most excited at the local farm stand where you can pick up the product and hold it lovingly while you imagine about how its going to be prepared later that evening... all before you even pick up a knife.

Some reading material:

The CIA puts out a book called “The Professional Chef”. This book will provide basic information about all aspects of kitchen work. Tools, cuts of meat, aforementioned fancy-named cuts, principles of baking, sauteing, roasting, braising, so on...very valuable to have on-hand as reference material for all of your staff.

Someone else has already mentioned James Petersons, “Sauces”. This is the bible of sauce making. And I agree that the “Mother Sauces” were great back in Julia Child’s day. There is a general expectation for you to know them if you are in this business and it will provide a foundation for the scientific laws of sauce making.

Modern sauces are more about lighter purees, chutneys, compotes, pan sauces and so on that work to tie in the individual elements on your plate. Instead of treating a sauce like a blanket, it should be more like holding your lover’s hand. And sometimes a nice roasted vegetable stock will work to replace that high carbon, expensive, labor intense demi-glace. Try adding a touch of sweetness and acidity to a savory item rather than enriching it with something even more savory (Roasted Fig and Tomato BBQ to top the Filet for example). Instead of Bearnaise I like to make a lighter, foamy egg emulsion with subtle base flavorings that enhances whatever items are on the plate. Get creative, that is the fun part of our job!

“The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by M. Pollan. Outstanding read. A must for all food professionals. It is alarming at how disconnected we are with how our food is raised or produced in America. This book picks up and brings you well beyond “Fast Food Nation”.

I love Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel.

And if you are like me and like to look at lots of pretty pictures, anything by Charlie Trotter. Seeing food that sexy really puts you in the mood to make sexy food.

Most importantly, have fun!!!

Have a wonderful journey.
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