It's a fallacy that chefs are culinary geniuses who are temperamental because they must concentrate on highly complicated techniques.
The fact is they deal with fundamentals, "the simple things that are anchored in our upbringing," said Fritz Sonnenschmidt, a master chef and dean of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA for short), the Harvard of cooking schools.
"If you know how to make one sauce you can make any sauce," he said. You can make good cooking simple and easy to understand if you first master the classic techniques of cooking, Mr. Sonnenschmidt said during an interview at Washington's Occidental Restaurant. He was on a national tour to promote the CIA's new cookbook, "The New Professional Chef" -- the fifth edition of a blockbuster volume published by Van Nostrand Reinhold of Manhattan.
Each basic cooking procedure has simple, natural measurements and rules that can become instinctive to a well-trained cook, he said. But, he added, some of today's chefs make what is really simple look hard.
"There's lots of cloak and dagger stuff and simply making a show going on in the gourmet business," according to Mr. Sonnenschmidt. And some of this hocus-pocus gives the
impression that only world-class chefs can achieve masterpieces.
Not since 1974, when the last edition was published, has the cooking professional had a uniform guide to American cuisine, he said. And this new edition stresses mastery of basic techniques rather than spectacular food gymnastics. Every recipe was tested before being incorporated into the cooking guide; monumental is the word for the results.
The newest version of this culinary bible is a 6-pound, 848-page book with nearly 1,150 photos and 900 recipes selling for $49.95. It is designed, Mr. Sonnenschmidt said, to catch up with the "revolution" in U.S. kitchens and in the restaurant trade that has been under way for almost 20 years.
The original printing of 40,000 volumes has been distributed and a second printing is planned. Included is a section (for the fat-free 1990s) intriguingly labeled "techniques using a small amount of oil."
The new cooking guide is classic in approach and "follows in the footsteps and the sure ways of Escoffier," the great 19th century master who simplified and classified major cuisines, he said. But that doesn't mean that the official culinary arts are immune to change, according to Mr. Sonnenschmidt.
"New concepts come into play all the time," he reported. "The fact is American cuisine is getting away from packaged food and going back to the organic. Things are getting simpler, too. Today it's more a question of how much you can take out of a recipe and still make it good."
In addition, people are asking for more recipes using fresh fruit and vegetables, he said, because fresh produce markets are proliferating.
At the same time, he said, there are little finesses professionals must master, such as "You can't use a European potato recipe exactly as written, for the European potato is firmer and starchier than the American."
Chefs are now experimenting with new vegetable and fruit menus and are de-emphasizing traditional heavy sauces and use of cream and butter in cooking. The book repeats this modern litany: "Fresh fish and shellfish have made inroads on the position held for so long by beef in the 'all American' menu of steak and potatoes."
What has happened is both a blending and an enlargement: American cuisine "has been elevated from an interesting potpourri into a world-class cuisine," said Jeany Wolf, a CIA spokesman.
Among novelties in the book is a new concept of food preparation that stresses planning for cooks. Called "mise en place" in the French culinary tradition, the fancy name involves programming knife skills, common seasonings and flavoring combinations as well as techniques of mixing and shaping. With proper mastery of mise en place "you can prepare fresh food in the same time it takes to reheat prepared food," Mr. Sonnenschmidt said.
The new book's range is encyclopedic. It tells you how to make a good cup of coffee and guides you into a tasty dish of smoked noisettes of salmon with horseradish beurre blanc. It includes step-by-step, color-illustrated lessons on grilling, sauteing, steaming and stewing, and extends to specific exotics like roasted potatoes with garlic and rosemary, sweet potatoes baked in cider and currants and cinnamon, and chicken saute Provencale. There's even a microwaved ratatouille.
About 100 chefs participated in preparing the book. The result is a uniform, simplified format requiring no expertise or unexplained foreign formulas. Even such basics as the structure and types of oranges and lemons are explained.
Mr. Sonnenschmidt is Bavarian-trained and, as a team member, captured two gold medals during the 1976 International Culinary competition in Frankfurt, West Germany. He is a co-author of "The Professional Chef's Art of Garde Manger" and "Dining with Sherlock Holmes."
Here are three recipes adapted from the new CIA volume.
Basic vanilla ice cream
Makes 1 gallon, serves 12.
1 quart milk
1 quart heavy cream
1 pound sugar
16 egg yolks
3 vanilla beans
Combine milk, heavy cream, 1/2 the sugar and the vanilla beans in a heavy-bottomed pot. Bring the mixture to a boil. Combine the remaining sugar with the egg yolks, and temper this mixture with about 1/3 of the boiling milk mixture. Return the tempered egg yolks to the boiling milk mixture and cook the mixture over low heat, stirring it constantly until it is thickened. Strain the ice cream base into a bowl and cool it in a bowl over ice. Split the vanilla beans and scrape out their interiors. Add this to the ice cream base. Process the mixture in an ice cream freezer until it is frozen. Store finished ice cream in the freezer.
Pork cutlets with wild mushrooms, crab meat
4 pork cutlets
salt and pepper
8 ounces unsalted butter
8 ounces white wine
heavy cream, as needed
8 ounces wild or domestic mushrooms, cut in uniform size
1/4 pound crab meat
baby carrots, if desired as garnish
1 teaspoon fresh herbs (tarragon or basil) or French fines herbes, such as tarragon or basil
Season cutlets with salt and pepper. Reduce the heavy cream by simmering it to thicken it. Clarify 4 ounces of the butter by heating in a heavy saucepan over moderate heat. Skim foam off the top of the heated butter. Ladle the clear butterfat into a separate container. Do not mix the milk solids on the bottom into the clear butterfat.
Add the cutlets and saute them in the clarified butter until they are nearly cooked through. Remove from the pan and keep them warm. Deglaze the pan with the wine and let it reduce. Add the reduced heavy cream and let the sauce thicken. In a separate pan, saute the mushrooms in the other 4 ounces of butter until they are tender. Add the crab meat and herbs and heat them through. Place the crab meat mixture on top of the cutlets. Add any accumulated drippings to the sauce. Reheat the sauce and pool it on a warm plate. Serve the cutlets on the pool of sauce. Garnish the dish with baby carrots if desired.
Poached salmon darnes
Serves six. The darne is the serving of fish that is cut at right angles to the bone, and then boned. This recipe demonstrates the use of the "mise en place" technique now considered essential to superlative professional cuisine. The bouquet garni is a small bundle of herbs tied with a string, used to flavor stocks, braises and other preparation. Common herbs used are bay leaf, parsley and thyme in small amounts.
6 (10-ounce) slices of fresh salmon
1 quart or more of court bouillon or vegetable stock (recipe
1 bouquet garni
2 or 3 lemon slices
2 cups of lemon buerre blanc (recipe below)
Have the store trim and debone the slices of salmon or trim them and remove all bones. Place them on a fish poaching rack. Bring the court bouillon, bouquet garni and lemon slices to a bare simmer. Lower the salmon into the court bouillon. Monitor the cooking speed carefully. Cook the salmon until it is barely cooked through; the flesh should still hold together. Remove the darnes from the court bouillon and blot them briefly, if necessary. Serve them on heated plates with the lemon buerre blanc.
Lemon buerre blanc
Combine 2 ounces of shallots, 1/2 cup of white wine, 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of cider vinegar and reduce until only the shallots remain. Add 1/2 pint of heavy cream and reduce slightly. Gradually whisk in 3 sticks of unsalted butter.
Combine 2 1/2 quarts of water, 1/2 cup vinegar, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/2 pound sliced onions, 6 ounces carrots, pinch of dried thyme and 1/2 bunch parsley stems in a large pot and simmer for 50 minutes. Add a grating of fresh peppercorns and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Strain out vegetables, strain, cool and store properly.
Tips from master chefs
Here are some food preparation suggestions from "The New Professional Chef:"
* Alcohol-based extracts can lose their potency if they are allowed to come in contact with air, heat or light.
* Butterflied cuts of meats are ideal for grilling or sauteing.
* Chicken filet pieces should be sauteed, grilled or poached in shallow liquid.
* Shrimp that has been boiled or steamed in its shell will be moister and plumper than shrimp that has been peeled and deveined before cooking.
* Liquid marinade should contain three parts of oil to one part vinegar, fruit juice, wine or beer.
* Thick soups, especially those made with starchy vegetables or dried beans, may continue to thicken during cooking and storage.
* If beads of moisture appear on meat while it is broiling or grilling, it's time to turn the meat over.
* Sauteed food should be tender to start with, before cooking.
L * Steaming allows food to retain most of its natural juices.
* Boiled or steamed vegetables are generally refreshed in cold water immediately after they are properly cooked.
BY- Carleton Jones