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Even Chefs Make Mistakes Part 1


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I’m about to tell you an embarrassing confession.   Earlier this week I was dipping cheesecake truffles into melted chocolate. I “invented” a double boiler using a bowl and a pan filled with boiling water to melt the chocolate.  I placed the bowl on top of the pot of hot water and waited till my chocolate melted.   As I waited, I went to finish up other preparations for my recipe.  Washing dishes, I began smelling a mixture between chocolate and plastic.  I turned around, and there was my plastic coated metal bowl melting all over my Calphalon pot.   “Holy Shnikey!”  I ran to remove the bowl from the pan to prevent more damage, but it was stuck.  Literally fused together.  I sulked in my embarrassing mistake and wondered how could this happen?  I am a good chef!  After all, I just graduated culinary school and started working at a hoity-toity restaurant in Manhattan.   While I do have more common sense than this, I made a mistake.  It happens.

Chefs make mistakes.  No chef was born great, they all had to acquire skills.  But, like every position, these skills have shortcomings.   Chefs feel their best when they serve a completely satisfied customer.  Thomas Keller, one of the greatest chefs in America, was quoted as saying “When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy, that is what cooking is all about.”  There is no perfection in cooking, or life for that matter, but we can strive for our best and make ourselves and other people happy along the way!

With all the deep stuff out of the way, we can now focus on (more of) my WORST mistakes of all time!  These are skills I have learned by way of mistakes.  I hope to never make them again, and prevent you from ever making them in the future!

1. Don’t Start With a Cold Pan

It’s so disappointing when we “sauté” onions, peppers and mushrooms and they turn out soggy, when were really striving for them to be sweet and caramelized.  We have all been there and I know I’m not alone on this mistake!  This stems from impatience and a need to just “get that job done.”  In order to get those beautifully golden, the pan and oil must be hot before you throw the veggies in.  Drop a touch of water in the pan to just give off a soft sizzle and this is your cue to sauté’ away!

2. Burn Baby, Burn

Getting a pan hot is crucial to the sauté process, but make sure not to get it TOO HOT…

I was home for Sukkot last year and was all ready to show off my awesome culinary skills to my friends and family.  On the menu: braised lamb shanks!  I fired up the stove, which happens to be electric, got my pan smoking hot and added the oil to begin caramelizing my vegetables and lamb.  My sisters and mother were watching me like a star on the Food Network and I was explaining step by step, including making sure the pan is hot.  As I poured the oil into the pan a huge fire ball shot up.  As it burned, my mother ran for the baking soda, I ran for a lid, one of my sisters screamed, and the other one clapped.  The fire, thank G-D, ended up disappearing quickly without the use of the lid or baking soda.  That day I learned, gas stoves are VERY different than electric stoves.

Know how hot your stove, ovens and grills are.  Have you ever made a cake that said it would take 1 hour to bake, but in actuality it took 30 minutes and was unevenly baked?  Your oven is too hot!  Have you ever grilled something that said it would take 3 minutes on each side, but took you 15 minutes on each side?  Your grill is not hot enough.  Knowing these temperatures help you cook safely and correctly and not cause any unwanted, although thrilling entertainment!

3. The Perfect Peak

Flat meringues?  Welcome to the club!  That is until I used this awesome trick.  Start whipping your egg whites and sugar in a separate bowl (not plastic) in a double boiler over hot water.  This takes away the need for cream of tartar or any stabilizer and will make your egg whites nice and fluffy and will keep a stiff peak.  Whip the egg whites till sugar dissolves.  This should take no more than 5 minutes.  Remove bowl from double boiler and continue beating till stiff peaks form.

Stay tuned for part 2, tomorrow, the mistakes never end.


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About Alison Gutwaks


Alison Gütwaks is a graduate of the prestigious Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. After many years of experience in the culinary world working as a chocolatier and sous chef, Alison, originally from Columbus, OH, ambitiously made her way to New York City where she received her BA from Touro College and graduated with a degree in Culinary Arts from ICE. As part of attaining her degree in the Culinary Arts, she trained as a sous chef in Solo Restaurant. Alison is former Chef and Event Planner for Celebrations Kosher Catering in East Hanover, NJ,and helped spearhead the opening of the catering company by contributing her innovative and fresh ideas. She recently moved back to Columbus and is currently working as the recipe developer for OSEM, an Israeli based company. One of the things that made her different than most of the other students in culinary school was that she was an Observant Jew and kept the laws of Kashrut. In April of 2012, She was interviewed in a front page cover story in the Greater New York section of the Wall Street Journal showcasing her blog AliBabka and explaining how she was able to graduate from ICE and strictly uphold Rabbinic Law. Keeping kosher in the culinary world has pushed Alison to be extremely creative by substituting ingredients and coming up with new takes on classic dishes. She believes that anyone can cook with a little direction, the right tools, and a whole lot of patience.




2 Responses to Even Chefs Make Mistakes Part 1

  1. So true about not starting with a cold pan, same goes for a cold oven, I am often so impatient, but really see better resultes when I wait it out.

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