Rustic Vegetable Soup

I’m surprised our morning hygiene class keeps my attention because it lasts an hour and a half. I learn that a chef’s responsibility is not only to make great food, but also to ensure food safety. When ingredients are delivered to a restaurant, the chef must first check for freshness and quality, and then strategically store those ingredients to prevent dangerous bacteria from developing.

Mayonnaise is the one that most often gives people food poisoning because it is egg based, which makes it dangerous on its own. At home, we snuggle mayonnaise up to its condiment friends in the refrigerator door—the warmest part of the refrigerator—creating a perfect environment for bacteria that often culminates with someone’s head in the toilet. The back of the top shelf is the usually coldest part of the refrigerator, so always stash fragile ingredients there. By the end of class, our newfound horror of food contamination has each of us vowing to abide all hygiene rules.

Mayonnaise is the one that most often gives people food poisoning because it is egg based, which makes it dangerous on its own. At home, we snuggle mayonnaise up to its condiment friends in the refrigerator door—the warmest part of the refrigerator—creating a perfect environment for bacteria that often culminates with someone’s head in the toilet. The back of the top shelf is the usually coldest part of the refrigerator, so always stash fragile ingredients there. By the end of class, our newfound horror of food contamination has each of us vowing to abide all hygiene rules.

It’s less of a cooking lesson, and more of a chopping lesson. It seems mundane, but Chef reminds us, “You must learn the scales before you can play music.” I suppose dicing carrots, zucchini, and tomatoes are the do-re-mi. As Chef chops, he explains that a serrated knife, or bread knife, is the most dangerous because if it cuts you, the wound is uneven, which makes getting stitches more difficult. In last year’s class, a student cut his arm so badly, he severed veins and nerves and could no longer use his hand. Though these knives make cooking more fun, they’re sharp and dangerous.

 As the soup simmers, Chef tells us that students always ask, “How long, Chef?” He cautions us never to inquire, as the response will always be, “for a certain amount of time.” Ingredients, ovens, and humidity are always different, so we must learn to feel, smell, and taste the food to know when it’s done.

Three hours of demonstration, and four pages of notes later, we’re ready to head into our practical lesson, where we’ll recreate Chef’s vegetable soup. The chef assigned to our ten-student class is not the hot-tempered chef I had imagined: He is immediately warm and welcoming.

In about three hours, we finish our soup and present it to Chef. I don’t think it tastes like much, but he disagrees and remarks that it’s parfait! After each lesson, we get a grade, which will be averaged into our final score. Today, I got off easy.