If you’re curious about the tricks, the techniques, the few simple tools that can make your plates look as if they’ve been prepared, assembled and garnished by cold-blooded professionals, take Anthony Bourdain’s kitchen quiz. Bourdain, a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and author of Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, is currently executive chef of Les Halles in New York City.
1. Of all the knives in the world, which one do you REALLY need?
A. Utility knife B. Ginsu knife C. Chef’s knife
2. How can I make those cool designs with sauce that I see in expensive restaurants? What kind of space-age technology allows Bobby Flay to make his plates look so exotic?
A. Special ladles B. Ballistically designed spoons C. Plastic squeeze bottles
3. How about those elegant swirls on my dessert plates? How do they do that? What equipment do I buy?
A. A carnival spin-art machine B. Sable-tipped paintbrushes C. A toothpick
4. What about tall food? How do they get that food to stack so high and so neatly? What do I need?
A. A metal ring B. Marine adhesive C. A degree in engineering
5. That’s not enough! I want my food higher, taller, bigger. How can I do that?
A. Whip in air so it looks fluffier. B. Balance it all end-to-end, and hope for the best. C. Garnish with sprigs of fresh herbs and a gaufrette potato.
6. What the heck are gaufrette potatoes, and how do I make them?
A. You don’t. Buy them, silly. B. Carefully cut them with a very sharp knife. C. Use a cheap mandoline.
7. How do chefs cut such perfect, thin and uniform julienned vegetables?
A. Years of training B. A mandoline C. Incredible knife skills
8. What do professionals have in their kitchens that I probably should have too?
A. Secret recipes B. Indentured French cooks C. Shallots, reduced stocks, fresh parsley and herbs
9. How should I obtain chopped garlic for pasta sauce?
A. By hand-peeling, and slicing or chopping it fresh B. With a garlic press C. By buying the pre-peeled and chopped stuff in jars
10. About ten years ago, I bought one of those fully stocked spice racks filled with dried herbs and spices. Are they still good?
A. No B. Yes C. It depends
11. It seems like too much trouble to make stock every time I need a sauce. What do I do?
A. Tough. Make stock every time. B. Buy prepared base and add water. C. A couple of times a year, make a big batch and freeze it in small increments.
12. My Caesar salad dressing tastes too sharp and garlicky. How can I mellow it?
A. Use less garlic B. Leave out the garlic C. Roast the garlic before use
ANSWERS 12. C. Roast the garlic before use. Roast the garlic in the skin. When soft, squeeze it out of the skin and use. The result will be much mellower and sweeter.
11. C. A couple of times a year, make a big batch and freeze it in small increments. After fully reducing the stock with a little wine, freeze it in ice-cube trays. When you need some to fortify a sauce, simply pop out a cube or two.
10. A. No. They aren’t good and never were. Those tiny jars of herbs and spices taste like a stable floor. Buy herbs and spices fresh, in small quantities. Grind or crush pepper and spices to order. To grind spices, either smash with the bottom of a pan or grind in a small coffee grinder used only for that purpose.
9. A. By hand-peeling, and slicing or chopping it fresh. Use fresh garlic. Slice thinly — like in Goodfellas — or chop it fresh. Always do it by hand. That garbage that comes out of a garlic press is not food. Ditto the vile sludge in jars.
8. C. Shallots, reduced stocks, fresh parsley and herbs. Indentured cooks are handy — but professionals really use a lot of chopped shallots in their sauces and a lot of whole butter (never margarine). They always have plenty of reduced veal, chicken, and fish stock on hand (or in the freezer), and they garnish and flavor with fresh herbs and parsley.
7. B. A mandoline. You don’t think we cut those by hand, do you?
6. C. Use a cheap mandoline. Buy an inexpensive mandoline (not the musical instrument). Create the gaufrette (a waffle-cut potato chip) by slicing the potato on the serrated attachment, thinly, twisting the potato 45 degrees with each alternating slice. Deep-fry until crisp.
5. C. Garnish with sprigs of fresh herbs and a gaufrette potato. After carefully piling the meat and vegetables on top of artfully shaped mashed potatoes, for instance, simply jam in a sprig or bouquet of fresh herbs, and a long, thin gaufrette chip. How hard is that?
4. A. A metal ring. A simple metal ring or cut-down length of PVC pipe. Fill the ring with, say, mashed potatoes, tamp it down, and slip off the ring. Pile the rest carefully on top.
3. C. A toothpick. Drag a simple wooden toothpick through rings or lines of sauce (which you’ve applied with the squeeze bottle). Just mask the plate with a thin layer of sauce, apply the rings or lines of contrasting colored sauce, and drag the toothpick through. Easy, huh?
2.C. Plastic squeeze bottles. The simple plastic squeeze bottle — the same one you see filled with ketchup at the roadside burger joints — is all you need to make designs that look complex.
1. C. Chef’s knife. All you really need is a good professional-quality chef’s knife. You should be able to perform almost any kitchen task with that one blade. Professionals usually carry one chef’s knife — and maybe an offset serrated knife for bread or tomatoes. All those silly utility and specialty knives are generally useless.