I “came to” in the school’s elevator, not remembering the subway ride at all: experiencing something like that highway hypnosis thing where you don’t remember driving home, but there you are, safe and sound. I had been terrified all morning, afraid of being outed in this cooking class for how much I don’t know. I had made a decision to not mention that I am a chef. It was only a 3 day intensive class. I didn’t think we were going to have to reveal too much about ourselves.
I walked in to the cooking lab to find a bunch of students – women mostly- standing near or sitting on wooden stools around the work area. Everyone looked nervous. No one looked interrogative. I took what felt like the first breath of the day and found a cozy wallflower spot in the back near the coats. Suddenly the door in the other side of the room swung open and in sauntered a middle-aged, openly gay man, with a Rogaine pompadour – patchy but styled. He welcomed us by explaining that tardiness would not be tolerated. We wouldn’t have much time to cover a lot of material and we needed to be as on time as possible. “Prompt prompt prompt!”, he sang, and then, as if it had been staged, a slender, damp woman stumbled through the door. It had started to rain and she had gotten caught. Our teacher was not impressed. He snorted, she whimpered. Class began.
I have been afraid of school as long as I can remember. It merges my social anxiety, with my inability to understand things that are taught auditorily, and the fact that I’m not a proficient reader. It’s actually impressive I’ve managed to get as far in life as I have, considering.
I’m not a stump though, unable to input more information. I like to learn. I want to learn… so last summer I enrolled in the Techniques of Fish and Shellfish course at a The Institute of Culinary Education. Working as a private chef, you can become freakishly attached to dishes that you know will satisfy and impress every time. It’s important to shake your repertoire up and step outside your comfort zone. I knew that if I learned even one new outstanding dish, it would be worth it.
The class was a success. I conquered some fears and learned some new things. Other than the moment when a fellow student said “Chef!” to get the instructor’s attention and I accidentally responded, my chef status was never revealed. Everyone just thought I was being funny. Our teacher did get a tad bitchy when he saw me deftly peel a mango with a knife. He had set aside specific time to teach us that skill (with a potato peeler). He loudly accused me of growing up on a mango plantation, which I did not contradict, though the upper west side of Manhattan is as far from a mango farm as you can get.
It wasn’t my class to make a scene in.
It was his.
He was a great teacher though and I highly recommend any of the classes they teach at ICE.
My issues of being discovered a fraud were not overcome- because, of course, they never will be. I persevere.
I think this was the best thing we learned in the class. Smoking things at home can seem really intimidating but is actually incredibly easy and impressive. I serve these for cocktail parties on homemade gaufrettes (waffled potato chips) and crème fraiche. Full trays become empty ones like magic.
Cured Lapsang Souchong
Tea Smoked Salmon
- 1 cup Lapsang Souchong tea leaves
- 2 tablespoons chopped ginger
- ¼ cup clinantro
- 1 (3 inch) cinnamon stick
- 12 whole cloves
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 pound salmon fillet, from the tail section, with skin attached
- In a small mixing bowl, combine sugar and salt together.
- Line a 4-6 inch deep pan with aluminum foil and spread the tea, ginger, cilantro, cinnamon and cloves across the bottom. Place a steam tray over the tea mixture and place the salmon skin side down on top. Sprinkle the salmon with the sugar and salt mixture. Cover tightly with aluminum foil.
- Over medium heat, heat the pan so that the tea mixture “smokes”. Once you see the pan start smoking, turn off the heat for 5 minutes. Turn the heat back on to medium until smoke appears once again. Turn off the heat and let the salmon sit, covered, for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the salmon from the pan.
- Slice fish into thin slices and serve on gaufrettes or toast with crème fraiche.