Four Weeks In and What Have I Learned?

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          Man that was intense! Four weeks in and it has absolutely flown. It has been crazy but definitely an experience I have learned so much from.

As I try to compose this article on a timeless Sunday afternoon my brain and body are finally starting to recover some of their lost vigour. I feel like I have just run a marathon; exhausted, but like I could take on another one in the morning! Luckily for me, I am. With the next two months of the Professional Training Certificate beginning apace tomorrow morning (with cooking for one hundred people no less) I thought this would be a perfect time to look back on the One Month Course and take stock (pun intended) of how it went for all of us.

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           From the beginning, the course was obviously very thought out. Each day all of the ingredients were there and ready for us. Nothing was ever missing and if it looked like it was the problem was soon fixed. A lot of planning had also obviously gone into the layout of the course. There was a very natural incline in the required skill level and attention to detail required as the weeks went on. What started out with steak and potatoes, became pasta, became gnocchi, became sushi. It was always challenging but nothing came from left field. Nothing felt too extreme or too outlandish.

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          The range of topics we covered was incredible. It is a fantastic way to get an introduction to so many different world cuisines. A lot of techniques I had never tried before turned out to be a lot more accessible than I would have thought. Gnocchi in particular is something I would try again in a heartbeat. It really broadened my culinary knowledge in a way I hadn’t expected. One of the things my mind kept coming back to was the relationship between modern and classic techniques. Like the very old style of egg and cream and flour based sauces as opposed to simpler reduction sauces that are more popular now. This was also reflected in the variety of special guests we had in. James Burke came into us from Cornucopia and talked us through some of the dishes on his menu. Like the raw vegan chocolate tart. Then Stephen Gibson from Pichet came in. I know he was a particular highlight for a lot of students, myself included. He was incredibly charismatic and engaging with a lot of practical, restaurant based advice. We get another few days with Stephen in the next few weeks so I will be talking about him again.

Mediterranean Gnocchi
Mediterranean Gnocchi

The biggest help though has got to be the consistent support and guidance from the Cooks Academy tutors. They are a fantastically diverse group of people. Talking to the group over a pint on the final day of the course it is clear that the most useful information usually came from tutors tips while you were working on the food. Little bits of advice on how to hold a pan, or serve a dish or make stock, really proved invaluable to us. Anecdotes about life in the restaurant trade both shocked and enthralled us to this rock-star lifestyle. My personal favourite though is the “At home I just….” these are always nice to hear. When considering training for something like this you tend to put the chefs up on a pedestal but they are still real people, with real working schedules, with families to feed and spouses to placate. Being reminded that they cheat sometimes too, makes it all worth while.

The Boys Table, Aka: Testosterone Towers
The Boys Table, Aka: Testosterone Towers

          As I said a few of us went out for a drink on the last day. Everyone was in flying form after their exam, regardless if it went well or not. Talking to some of the people it was clear that the main, underlying quality that everyone got was a new level of confidence when it came to food. A really strong, adaptable, base layer of food knowledge that we could use to help us learn more and truly develop as cooks. If you are a home cook, looking to get a leg up on the other team at the monthly bridge club dinner, this is definitely the course for you. It will take you from standard home cook up to the next level. Giving you grounded culinary education with an edge of “this is how the Pros do it.” However if you are someone that is looking to go into cooking and restaurants professionally I think the three month course will be far more suited to you. The one month just doesn’t have the intensity to imitate the professional atmosphere. It’s a case of numbers as well as content. There will only be three of us in the three month course. We are going to go through topics at a much faster pace. There will be a lot less explaining. A lot more relying on the knowledge we already have to take us a bit further. The next two months are going to be some of the most challenging in my either my culinary or educational career. It’s time for Big School. 

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~ Mark O’Brien

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