30 Easy Things You Learn In Culinary School

What you learn in culinary school cutting different types of food. Slicing Green Onions

Today’s post is all about the skills you learn in culinary school. Easy practices you can start today and immediately improve your cooking skills.

Have you ever followed a recipe to the letter and it just didn’t come out the way you had hoped? We have all been there. And we have you covered. Some skills take time and practice to master but others are simple!

Professional chefs and successful home cooks weren’t born that way. They learned basic kitchen skills and practiced. Then they built on those skills. With a little dedication to learning and practice you can become a better cook too.

If you are thinking. I’m a home cook? Or I’m a horrible cook. Why is this important? Unlocking the secrets of professional chefs and their training is key to creating better meals for you and your family.

Easy things you learn in culinary school that you can learn to become a better cook. A chef with three students making cupcakes.

Do you need to learn how to cook for 300 people in an hour? Probably not. So, you don’t need to go to culinary school.

Unless that is your dream. And if it is? Good for you. Culinary school taught me many great things.  And we will cover those below.

Home cooks, still with me? Learning the basics will increase your confidence in the kitchen and help you put better food on the table for you and your family.

Culinary School students start with basic techniques. The student practices those techniques until they master them. And then they build on each technique until a student can make a finished dish. And then they start the process again. And practice, practice and practice.  What are those basic cooking techniques or basic cooking skills?

How to Read a Recipe

This sounds really simple. And you are probably thinking…I’ve been reading since the first grade. The idea behind learning to read a recipe and understanding the steps you need take is critical to kitchen success.

Reading the recipe allows you to prepare everything you need in advance. Maybe you need hot stock to make risotto? You can have the stock heated and ready to go before you need it. Or maybe the recipe calls for eggs at room temperature? You can plan for that before you start cooking and avoid surprises.

You have a much better chance of having a good end result if you understand all of the steps involved before you start cooking.

As your confidence in the kitchen grows, you will begin to realize that a recipe is just a guide. Ratios of ingredients and various cooking techniques that are proven to work together. If you grasp this concept and learn you will begin creating your own recipes without even realizing it.

Have you ever read a recipe online and then read the comments? The people commenting always talk about the substitutions they make that suit their families tastes that are outside of the recipe? That’s what I’m talking about. If you have ever done this and it was successful? You just developed your own recipe.

The Importance of Mise en Place

Mise en Place is French for “to set in place”. This term refers to gathering all of your ingredients. And prepping the ingredients so they are ready to be added to the dish before you start cooking.

Having all of your ingredients ready to go means you are not stopping the cooking process to dice an onion or measure seasonings. Implementing this process also ensures that you don’t leave any ingredients out.

A Sharp Knife is a Safe Knife

A sharp knife requires less force or pressure to cut food. And less cuts. Less cuts, less force and proper knife handling techniques result in fewer injuries in the kitchen.

Have you ever had a knife slide off the food you were trying to cut? The knife was probably dull. Learning to sharpen knives or purchasing a knife sharpener is a great way to improve safety in the kitchen.

Basic Kitchen Tools

Culinary students learn about basic kitchen tools and how and when to use them. For example, you wouldn’t use a French knife to peel an apple. When to use a slotted spoon. Or a loaf pan versus a cake pan. While some tools can be interchangeable and used for many tasks other tools are more efficient, provide for more even cooking and in the case of knives safer.

How to Boil Water

Surely, I must be joking right? But yes, it is very important to have a knowledge of temperature and the stages of a boil to be successful at cooking everything. This includes eggs, pasta, sauces, the list goes on.

 Have you every cooked pasta and had it come out gummy? There’s a reason for that, read our detailed post on How to Boil Water to find out why.

How to Cut Vegetables

You will spend a lot of time learning how to cut vegetables. Why? Because learning to cut vegetables the same size will ensure they cook at the same rate. And for raw foods like salads the presentation will be better and we all eat with our eyes before we even take one bite.

Learning how to chop, dice, slice and mince vegetables confidently and quickly takes a lot of practice but you will improve over time. Here is a great article on cutting different vegetables if you would like some additional information.

Handsome chef dressed in white uniform decorating pasta salad and seafood fish in modern kitchen

How to Cut Up & Truss a Whole Chicken

While you can easily find cut chicken in most grocery stores you can save a little money by buying a whole chicken and cutting it yourself.

And when you butcher your own chicken you get the backbone. Why would you want the backbone? The backbone is filled with flavor and perfect for making chicken stock. Here is a great video on How to Cut up a Chicken.

Trussing a chicken is important when cooking a whole chicken to make sure everything cooks evenly. If you don’t truss a chicken too much hot air can circulate inside the breast cavity and the breast will dry out before the legs and thighs are cooked.

Here is a great article on how to truss a chicken.

How to Make a Stock

Making your own chicken stock (or vegetable or beef stock) to use in sauces or soups is really simple. And the flavor of homemade stock beats the boxed or canned varieties hands down for flavor.

You can make homemade chicken stock with either raw chicken parts or a leftover carcass from a roasted chicken. Add celery, onion, carrots and parsley and simmer on the stove. For detailed instructions read our future How to Make Chicken Stock Post.

Bouquet Garni

Bouquet Garni is a staple in French cooking. The bouquet garni is little bundle of parsley stems, thyme and a bay leaf tied together with string or wrapped in cheesecloth. The bouquet garni is added to soups, stocks, stews and roasted meats to add flavor. It’s important to note that you always remove the bouquet of herbs prior to serving.

While traditional bouquet garni uses the herbs mentioned above you can expand this concept and add other herbs and spices like rosemary, whole peppercorns or star of anise.

How to Make Sauces

Knowing how to make a simple pan sauce can elevate your cooking and take a simple dish from boring to amazingly memorable. For detailed information on the key sauces and techniques for making sauces check back for our Ultimate Guide to Making Sauces.

The Importance of Heating Your Pan or Skillet Before Adding Food

Preheating the pan before adding food prevents food from sticking and ensures that you will get a brown crust or crispy texture. Always preheat your pan before adding oil.

How to Tell When Oil is Hot

Why is it important to know when the oil is hot enough to cook in? When food is added to cold oil the food will absorb the oil and you will have a greasy finished product. Heating the oil too much can cause your food to burn on the outside and be raw on the inside.

Oil will glisten or shimmer when it is hot.

The Four Effects of Heat on Food

150º F – starches will begin to gelatinize. What does this mean? In cooking or baking the gelatinization of the starches is what creates the crumb like texture in cakes or breads.

165º F- proteins coagulate. The simplest example of protein coagulation is of an egg going from a liquid state to a solid-state during cooking.

 212º F – moisture evaporates. In cooking this is when the water in the food evaporates and begins to dry out.

320º F – sugars caramelize. This can refer to making caramel from sugar or the process for caramelizing foods. Onions are a good example.

Fat is Flavor

Fats add flavor and texture to your food. Think of butter on green beans or sour cream on a baked potato. You don’t need a lot, but a little ups the flavor profile of most foods and fat helps us know when we are satisfied or full.

Sugar Balances Salt

An example of this is tomatoes. We frequently salt tomatoes to bring out their flavor. But when we make tomato sauce, we add sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes and a good tomato sauce requires both salt and sugar.

Acid Balances Fat

Think of having your salad with just plain olive oil. It wouldn’t be very good would it? Adding a splash of vinegar or lemon juice changes the oil to something delicious.

How to Use Herbs and Spices in Cooking

Knowing what spices to use and pair together is a skill that is acquired over time. Also knowing when to use fresh herbs versus dried can make or break a dish. While you could use dried basil in a classic bruschetta recipe it wouldn’t be nearly as good as the flavor of fresh basil. Alternatively, fresh basil would not work well in a long cooking stew recipe.

Learning how to make a chicken stock
boiling of chicken soup with seasoning vegetables in steel pan on glass ceramic cooker

The Three Cooking Methods

There are three cooking methods and its important to know the differences. The Dry Heat Method, The Moist Heat Method and Combination Cooking.

Dry heat cooking is cooking without any moisture. Circulating air and direct heat cook the food. Think of toasted bread or a perfectly seared steak. Dry Heat Cooking Methods include Grilling, Broiling, Roasting, Baking and Sautéing.

Moist Heat Cooking methods rely on the presence of liquid or steam to cook the food. Moist Heat Methods include poaching, simmering, boiling and steaming.

Combination Cooking Methods involve..you guessed it both dry and moist cooking methods. Combination Methods include braising and stewing. These methods are perfect for tough cuts of meat.

Learn to Use Salt Properly

Taste everything throughout the cooking process and don’t be afraid to add salt. Salt brings out the flavor of food and makes it more enjoyable.

The Importance of Good Cookware

Not necessarily expensive cookware but cookware that heats evenly is really important to getting the best results. We almost always use cast iron in our kitchen. It’s inexpensive, naturally non stick and easy to clean and maintain.

Use a Thermometer

Thought thermometers were only for roasting meat or making candy? A good kitchen thermometer is an easy way to ensure you are cooking foods to the right temperatures and cooling foods properly before putting them in the refrigerator or freezer.

Hot Plates, Hot Food. Cold Plates, Cold Food

The best example of this has to be Ruth Chris. Your steak is still sizzling when they bring it to the table because they heat the plates. Cold plates for salads are a must.

Some Food is Better if You Make it the Day Before

Many foods are better if made ahead. We have all experienced the second day effect. It works for all sorts of dishes. Think of spaghetti sauce or soups and stews. According to the Institute of Food Technologists flavors continue to be enhanced by chemical reactions in the food that continue while to food is in the refrigerator.

Don’t Throw Anything Away

Wasting food is wasting money. That last celery stalk, carrot or half of an onion is perfect to add to chicken bones to make a stock. That half a bell pepper or handful of mushrooms? Could become a savory omelet for tomorrow’s breakfast.

How to Make the Right Recipe Ingredient Substitutions

No baking powder? No problem use baking soda and cream of tarter. Click here to see our post on Simple ingredient substitutions.

The Importance of Letting Meat Rest

Meat needs to rest after cooking to allow the juices to redistribute into the meat. If the meat is cut to quickly it just runs out over the plate. If allowed to rest it will stay redistribute into the meat to provide a juicy succulent cut of meat.

Baking is Essentially Chemistry

Baking is chemistry in action and requires precision. Measure your ingredients carefully and if possible weigh the ingredients for the best results. If you love baking check back with us for our post on tips to become a better baker.

How to Stock your Pantry with Key Ingredients

There are a handful of ingredients that if you keep stocked in your pantry you will never go hungry. Examples are: eggs, pasta, oils, vinegars, flour, sugar, salt. For a more detailed list check back for our post on Keeping a Well-Stocked Pantry.

Clean as You Go

Does the kitchen look like a war zone when you are finished cooking? Learning to clean as you go makes cooking a much nicer experience. Because honestly, who wants to cook, have a nice meal and then face a mountain of dishes? Don’t know where to start? We are creating a post on How to Implement a Clean as You Go Cooking Strategy.

Presentation is Everything

We eat with our eyes before we even pick up a fork or a spoon. Take the time to plate your food or serve family style where everyone makes their own plate.

Things You Learn In Culinary School Conclusion

While you don’t have to use every method on this list of what you learn in culinary school there are simple steps you can start doing today and see an immediate improvement in your cooking. Like reading the recipe all the way though, practicing Mise en Place, or heating your pan to the right temperature before adding food. Doing any of these things or all of them will improve your cooking. Did I leave something out? Tell me in the comments as we are always looking to improve our content.

Happy Cooking!

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30 Easy Things You Learn in Culinary School

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