5 Culinary Skills to Take With You Wherever You Go
What it takes to successfully run a kitchen and produce a quality food product may differ depending on who you ask. Knife skills are crucial – whether working in a restaurant, catering business, or private chef operation – but so is scaling recipes and evaluating food cost. Additionally, any chef should know how to emulsify a dressing, but the same could be argued for calculating macro and micronutrients in today’s increasingly health-aware world.
So, what are the most important culinary skills every food professional should know like the back of their chef knife? We asked five of Fort Worth’s most prestigious chefs to share what they believe is the top culinary skill every chef should have that they can take with them wherever they go.
Mise en place
The French culinary phrase literally means “put in place,” and it’s the foundation of many professional kitchens when it comes to the setup and organization required before any actual cooking.
For Jenny Castor, chef and owner of Luckybee Kitchen, mise en place is especially important for a chef who does almost everything on her own.
“In any kitchen, the ability to have proper mis en place benefits time, food cost, organization, communication, teamwork and sanitation, just to name a few,” say Castor, who’s built a reputation for her elegant dishes and high-end dinner parties she caters from her boutique food truck.
“I also think it allows the chef to concentrate more on technique, hence making more complicated recipes less intimidating,” she adds.
Technique and presentation are high on Castor’s list as the talented chef is lauded for her bright and visually appealing dishes that turn heads at events.
At the Culinary School of Fort Worth, mise en place is taught with several principles, including organizing equipment needed, preparing ingredients, and cleaning as you go.
The various types of cooking methods are collectively referred to as technique. They range from broiling to grilling and sauteing to roasting. Jon Bonnell, chef and owner of Bonnell’s Fine Texas Cuisine, Waters, Buffalo Bros., and the newly opened Jon’s Grille, says knowing technique allows a chef to flourish in their own creativity.
“At home, people learn one recipe at a time and follow instructions from start to finish. In culinary school, we teach technique where students learn the proper way to sauté, grille, steam, braise, smoke, stew, fry, and more,” Bonnell says. “If one can master these techniques and learn how to apply them to different cooking situations, then the entire world opens up.”
Traditional, modernist, and sous vide cooking techniques are all covered in the culinary school curriculum. Bonnell says knowing these techniques backward and forward lets chefs create their own style.
“One recipe at a time is a great way to cook for friends,” he says. “But learning all cooking techniques opens up the door to cooking for a living.”
“Intricate” and “refined” define finesse, and it’s what chef Juan Rodriguez, owner of Magdalena’s catering and supper club, says is needed by staff in all types of kitchens, no matter the role held.
“You need it to cut, cook and plate dishes; you need it to work around your coworkers in a tight space and move through a busy kitchen, and you need it in the way you talk to guests or your employees,” says Rodriguez, whose lengthy career includes TV appearances on Food Network’s Chopped and Bravo TV’s Top Chef.
“Not many people have it,” he says. “It comes with experience.”
Because The Culinary School of Fort Worth program is hands-on from start to finish, opportunities to practice finesse in the kitchen abound, from prep work to plating and presentation.
While not considered a skill exclusive to the culinary industry, communication is what chef Lanny Lancarte says is crucial for chefs in any type of kitchen. The owner of Righteous Foods and great-grandson of the famed restaurateur, Joe T. Garcia, Lancarte says solid communication along with teamwork are the most importants skill to possess in a kitchen.
“If you are willing to delegate or trust someone to do the leading, the process is a lot easier,” he says.
The ability to keep learning
Regardless of experience or educational background, the ability to keep learning is important in the culinary industry, says chef Marcus Paslay. The restaurateur owns Clay Pigeon Food & Drink, Piatello Italian Kitchen, Provender Hall, and an upcoming fourth concept, Walloon’s, a seafood-focused American grill set to open along W. Magnolia Ave. this summer.
“Approach your career as an extension of your education,” says Paslay. “Always push yourself to learn new things about the craft and better ways of doing what you already know how to do.”
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THE CULINARY SCHOOL OF FORT WORTH
Most schools can teach you the techniques of cooking and baking but The CSFTW excels at preparing you for the real-world kitchen. With our small class sizes and chef instructors who are intentional with every student, you will receive more one-on-one instruction and insight. Our school boasts in preparing students to exemplify excellence in their culinary community. We are a small, unique school that focuses on the student’s needs and we take great joy in seeing our students succeed in the culinary industry.