My announcement that I had enrolled in culinary school was met with an equal mix of high-fives and incredulous stares.
"But why would you do that when you're a writer?" "Do you honestly want to work as a cook?" "That's so exciting, you can be a food writer!"
Because I wanted to get into the culinary world. I did, actually, want to work as a cook. Many intelligent women actually manage to pull this off brilliantly every day and they aren't derelicts. And yes, I sort of wound up a food writer. Unintentionally, but still.
I spent the summer before starting culinary school working for a mammoth catering company on Long Island. There were some things I witnessed that I was not proud of--cooking in mass production is never a pretty sight--but I also learned other important work habits that proved invaluable both in and out of the kitchen. Maintain a sense of urgency, work clean, know how to prioritize, be precise, do it right the first time.
By the end of the summer I had found my way around a knife, and that September, I confidently marched into The French Culinary Institute, thinking I had this in the bag.
The first day of class we worked on knife skills. Our chef-instructor showed us the different cuts we were to practice--the juilienne, the brunoise, the macedoine, and so on. I was proudly whizzing through each cut, putting into practice what I'd learned that summer. The chef has even commented on my success, and deep down I felt highly satisfied with myself.
You know that saying, "Pride comes before a fall"? There's a reason people say that; there's a reason why that actually gets passed down through generations. I soon found out why.
We were working on mincing and I had a pile of parsley on my board. I looked away for a second. One second--or the amount of time it took me to realize that I was missing a fingertip. I cut the top of my finger off. On the first day of school. Before our lunch break. What am I doing here?
After rushing to the bathroom, avoiding passing out, and dissuading my chef from sending me to the hospital, I realized that I instinctively threw the other part of my finger into the recycle bin. I couldn't even get sorting the garbage right.
If taken to the task of creating a litmus test for how badly I wanted this, cutting a finger off was the way to quickly figure it out. I returned to class, silently digesting a wedge of humble pie.
But today I didn't make pie. Today, in an effort to redeem haughty herb-mincing, I made gremolata. And my hands are still in tact.
Gremolata is a condiment made of fresh herbs, lemon and garlic. Although it can be made with a number of herbs like cilantro or mint, it is classically made with flat-leaf parsley. Gremolata is most often served with osso bucco (veal shanks), but also lends bright flavors to steak, seafood and vegetable dishes.
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
zest of one lemon
1 T. olive oil
pinch of salt to taste
Combine the ingredients and set aside until ready to serve.
Simple roasted lamb chops are a perfect springtime dish to showcase this humble, but, worthy condiment.