Over the past two months, I’ve learned so much from my apprenticeship at Hugo’s, one of Portland Maine’s top restaurants. During my time in their kitchen, I’ve consistently observed them doing some simple but effective things that I’ve since brought home to my own kitchen and am excited to be able to share them with you:
Keep a neat and clean work station.
Place damp towels under your cutting board to keep it from slipping.
Have at least 2 cutting boards. One for meat and chicken and one for veggies.
Have an extra towel close by in case you need to wipe down the knife or the cutting board.
At home, I’m finding I’m more efficient in the kitchen and have less of a mess when I’m done cooking. Well, maybe you should ask my husband about the mess, as I’m not the one that does the dishes. J
Mise en places - This is a French phrase, which means “putting in place”. Or, the Rachel Ray method.
Grab everything you need for the recipe, including the pans and cooking utensils first before you start preparing.
Once food is cooked, you should have mise en place for plating as well.
At home when I’m cooking up a recipe, I clean, chop and prep all the ingredients before I start cooking. I sometimes do it all the night before or earlier that day if I know I only have 20 minutes to get dinner on the table for my hungry family.
Don’t waste anything - In the French Laundry Cookbook, Thomas Keller explains how difficult it was to watch some of the animals being slaughtered, which explains why some people are vegetarians. But if you choose to eat meat, like myself, you should respect the meat by using all parts of it. This doesn’t just go for meat, it’s also nice to save produce scrapes for soups and salads as well. I’m not talking about using the core of an apple, but if you only need the scallion whites for a recipe, save the greens for later. If you roast up a chicken, save the bones for a broth, the insides for gravy, crisp up the skin and use as a serving vessel and the fat (aka schmaltz) to cook with. After learning this from my apprenticeship experience with Hugos, I’ve been more apt to cook with schmaltz and bacon fat to boost the flavor of what I’m cooking and not waste anything.
Try different combinations - Some people get in the habit of always pairing the same things like seafood with lemon or peanut butter with jelly. Think outside the box and you’ll be surprised on what you come up with. This was very relevant to me when the Hugo’s chef had me assist in making a nori (seaweed) crab fritter (fried dough) and served it with a grapefruit mayo. It wasn’t lemon, which you would traditionally think would work, but grapefruit, another type of citrus that very well complimented the crab amuse. (An amuse is a single bite appetizer)
Balance - This technique is by far the hardest to conquer but important to know. When I say balance, I’m talking about flavor balance- sweet, salt, acid and heat/spice. This is primarily used when you’re making the marinade, gravy, sauces and or rubs. It doesn’t necessarily mean what you are putting on the plate. For example, I was making a Greek yogurt dip for veggies this week and it seems really tart to me. I already added garlic, onion, dill, salt, pepper but it needed to come together more, so I added sugar. It helped balance the flavors so that all the flavors melded together without one standing alone.
Next time you’re in the kitchen remember to keep it clean, keep it together, keep all of it, keep an open mind and keep it balanced.