Le Cordon Bleu News, 05/05/2009
“Bonjour tout le monde,” Chef Bruno Stril announced at the beginning of each of class. “Bonjour Chef,” replied, in a not so uniform manner, all fifty or so students.
Chef Bruno Stril, the head of Basic Cuisine, taught most of our demos. He spoke to us in calm, gentle, flowing French, and a translator would follow putting his words into English. Each class he would cook a dish from beginning to end and explain the various techniques in cooking, as we followed along in our recipe binders, taking extremely detailed notes. We followed Chef Stril’s every move in order to mimic the process in a practical class, which was to follow.
It wasn’t until lesson number nine that we were faced with a very peculiar flower bud, the artichoke. I had eaten marinated artichoke hearts on salads before, but had yet to prepare one myself. They were very large, the size of a softball or even larger, with thick green leaves that looked more like shields stacked on one another. As the chef picked up the first one to demonstrate its preparation, I made sure to pay very close attention.
Chef Stril started by ripping off the thick stalk at the artichoke’s base, which didn’t seem to want to come off at all, and discarded it. Then, he took a pairing knife and cut around its side, turning it as he went to expose a bright yellow interior. He finished by cutting the top of the artichoke off, and trimming any leftover green showing. What was left of the once softball sized sphere was now only a thin yellow disk. The chef rubbed the disk all over with a halved lemon before he started on the next one.
Chef Stril advised us that the acid from the lemon would prevent the artichoke from browning. Like apples and bananas, artichokes when cut, will begin to brown and discolor. When these plants are bruised or cut, phenolic compounds and enzymes from damaged cells are exposed to oxygen. The enzymes oxidize the phenolics and the damaged cells discolor. In acidic conditions, such as when lemon juice is rubbed on the damaged cells, the browning process is greatly slowed down.
In my practical class, I followed the chef’s every move to a T, from ripping off the stalk, to rubbing it with lemon. I, however, did the process with far less finess than the chef. When I presented it to Chef Stril, he looked it over and remarked, “Pas mal,” or not bad, with a slight grin.
Following the chef’s direction, I put the artichoke in a “blanc,” which is code for water with some salt, lemon juice, and dissolved flour then brought to a boil. This method is meant to help keep the artichokes from discoloring while cooking. When the knife slid through easily, I knew it was ready, and removed it from the “blanc.”
The final step is to dig out the flowerets, or tiny needle looking hairs from the disk’s center. I found it best to try and ignore the sheer pain of holding the burning disk that’s just come out of the scalding liquid. If there’s something Chef Stril likes, it’s hot food on a hot plate, so there’s no opportunity to wait for it to cool.
We used the artichoke as a cup for other vegetables, and served along with a roasted chicken. A few weeks after the first artichoke endeavor, we cooked artichokes again. This time, however, the process seemed much more instinctive. Using what Chef Stril taught me, I now know how to take a huge spherical green orb, and reduce it to a small yellow disk, without any browning.
Online blog of Stephan Lublin: Myspace.com/thefoodcoma
To read "Taste Everything", also written by Stephan Lublin, please click here