This past week at school was full of new kitchen experiences for me (see pics below). Never before had I butchered and cooked a rabbit, made a souffle, “turned” a mushroom, made mousse out of chicken, or prepared Julia Child’s signature dish–boeuf bourguignon. I definitely had never even seen so much veal before in my life! The rabbit was a little gross when it was staring up at me on my cutting board, but somehow it all turned out just fine.
But that’s the beauty of cooking. You don’t need to have previous experience with a specific dish in order to do it well. You just need to know some basic principles, use logic, and have a confident sense of adventure. Instead of thinking, “I’ve never cooked rabbit before; I can’t do that,” you can think, “I know what it means to brown meat and have used an oven before; I’ll give it a shot.” And then you learn. One of my new friends here described the kind of cooking she’s used to in Italy: “there are no rules, you just have to do it and be passionate.” In everyday cooking, I think there’s a lot to be said for that philosophy.
For now though I happen to be in the land of food rules, and I actually do need to memorize a long list of recipes (down to the gram!) by the 16th. But I have a hunch that in the long run, learning the ropes of classic French cuisine will lead to more creativity and freedom in the kitchen. As with many skills, it seems like you start out with a lot of guidance and structure and it seems awkward, but as you get more experience, the reasoning behind the structure begins to make sense. Then you feel freed rather than hindered…and can even add your own flair. That’s what I’m hoping for!