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La Technique : Tournage

Day two of class was more interesting, but much faster. On day one, Elle said to me “This class is five hours long. What are we going to cook for five hours?” I can tell you now that those five hours go by incredibly fast and you need not worry about getting bored in class. Today there would be running around with hot pots, lots of pans and lots of yelling by the instructor… “We’ve only got 10 minutes left. KEEP IT TOGETHER.” I felt for the Hell’s Kitchen contestants. It’s hard to be in the middle of cooking and cutting and then having to respond to what the chef is saying.

Our first demo was on artichokes. I was excited about the artichoke demo because these little spiky guys always scared me a bit. No, they aren’t that complicated, but I always stayed away from them. We prepared the ‘chokes the traditional French way, which means throwing away all the leaves (something our Californian chef claimed as sacrilege – the leaves are the best part) and trimming the whole thing down to the heart, making sure to use a lemon to coat the exposed sections as you work so that the ‘choke wouldn’t turn brown from oxidization, something that occurs very quickly with this veggie.

We cooked the ‘choke in a dans un blanc, which basically means in a pot of acidic water (lemons) with flour, oil and salt. You do this to keep the artichoke as white as possible. Supposedly the flour kinda bleaches the veg, but I’m sure you could probably skip it.

While the ‘chokes cooked, we learned about tournage aka. the scorn of all cooking students. Tournage is basically fancy Taillage. You take the veggies and this time, SHAPE them into uniform pieces. The shape is basically a little football, its size determined by another French word. We spent our time on Cocotte, a football about 2″ long. Many students spend days and days tourning veg.
Ideally, your veg will have seven sides when you’re done and take you just a minute to do. This is actually a decently tough skill (our assistant chef told us to think of Tournage as a life skill – something to value over the course of your life OR maybe it means it might take a lifetime to get down – I’m not sure which) and we spent probably two hours tourning carrots, turnips, and potatoes. It does get a little easier with time and here I was a little impressed by my teammate who kept coming back to work on our technique any time she had a free moment, this the same girl that literally bolted out the door at 10:30 the class before.

We also learned a few more cooking methods. We glaced some pearl onions, meaning to boil in a little bit of water, butter, salt and sugar until half-cooked and then burn off the water and caramelize the butter and sugar into a nice blond or brown sauce. We also rissoleed some potatoes that we had tourned earlier in the night.

Rissoler is a process of taking the tourned potato into cold water, bringing to a boil and immediately taking off the heat. At that point the potato is ‘set’, meaning it won’t turn brown. Once you dry the potato, you saute it in just a little oil until it is golden brown on all sides. The better your tourning, the easier this is to do. Once golden brown, you can take the potato off the heat and set aside until you’re ready to serve. It’s stable now, but not fully cooked. When you are ready to serve, you put the potatoes in a pan with a little butter (butter seems to be a theme with these French) and roast until they are done.

At the end of night we cooked all of the above and some other veggies with techniques we learned the night before (a l’anglaise – in boiling salted water and a l’etuve – in a little water, butter and salt:boiled then sauted). Trying to do all this at the same time is when things started to break down. All ingredients are supposed to be cooked separately, but when 20 minutes in and Elle and I still hadn’t found an open pot of water and the chef yelling at us to finish up, we pot all our veggies in together, in a pot that hadn’t reached a boil yet. One assistant seemed to notice right away and I was chided for doing this. “Do you remember why we cook things separately?” Of course, I did but I was running out of time. I just said “ok” several times and she went away.

Tonight was also special for another reason. It was the last class for one of the diploma programs and they were doing their final right outside our classroom. For their final, each student has to prepare two courses of an eight course meal for a panel of ‘special’ judges. Tonight’s panel included David Chang – the owner of a very popular porkfest of a chain here in NYC and a place I’m particularly fond of, despite accounts by many that it has gone downhill. It is still damn delicious. Other chefs of local and international importance – and therefore people I am not familiar with – were there as well and we watched as they tasted each course, conversed quietly amongst each other, drank a little wine and dealt with all of us who get staring out the windows at them as this all occurred.

Watch and learn how to properly “tournage” from the chef-in-training:


One Response

  1. hey tim and kelly. love reading about your adventures in NYC! Tim, I can’t wait to have you make us dinner again with all your new culinary skillz! sounds amazing. I miss you both!


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