ARE YOU A klutz in the kitchen? You are if you have to serve your mashed potatoes with a gravy ladle, bake cakes that refuse to come out of the pan or forget to offer the salad sitting in the fridge.
Even professional chefs have days when dishes don't come out 100 percent perfect. What is their attitude about this? Do they feel like klutzes in the kitchen? Six pros share their secret thoughts.
Jacques Pepin, cooking school teacher, food consultant and personal chef to three French presidents says:
"You can recognize a professional cook not by his perfection in the kitchen but by his recovery rate. Cooking is really the art of recovery.There are lots of mistakes in a professional kitchen. It is impossible to control everything. But no one should know a mishap has occurred by the time the dish reaches the dining room."
By way of example, French-born Pepin, now of New York, who authored the highly regarded cookbooks, "La Technique" and "La Methode" mentions a chocolate roulade dessert (filled cake roll). The cake portion overbaked and was too dry to roll without breaking. So, instead, he cut it into strips, put chocolate cream in-between, around and over the layers and presented it as a layer cake. Says Pepin, "It tasted the same; only the shape was different."
When Jim Haller, cookbook author and chef/owner of Portsmouth, N.H.'s Blue Strawberry Restaurant, recently goofed in the kitchen, he had a television audience of 125,000 watching. Haller, a regular on the New England area syndicated TV show "Good Day" broadcast out of Boston, Mass., had prepared what should have been a crown of asparagus with a potato filling. On this particular morning, the potato filling was too moist. When he turned out the vegetables, the asparagus went ka-plop. He could hardly keep it a secret; the TV talk show cameras were focused close-up. Says Haller, "Viewers loved it. It made me more human.
But advised this food pro, "You should never announce before dinner what you are serving because if it doesn't turn out, you can call it something else."
Haller says he doesn't have too many mishaps in his kitchen but never frets about it. "I'm able to accept it as a challenge and be happy with it," he says.
Another Chef Haller, Henry, executive chef at the White House, doesn't exactly agree. "Maybe a disaster in the kitchen of the home cook is not to be taken seriously, but, of course, you'd expect a professional to take it seriously," says Haller, explaining that the professional chef's livelihood depends on his rate of success in the kitchen.
Henry Haller has special pressures in his kitchen. Not only is he expected to turn out quality preparation in large quantity service for formal dinners given by the First Family, but also he must wrestle with tensions of cooking to rigid time schedules and serving food to some of the most important people in the world.
"Fortunately, we never have disasters in the White House kitchen," he says, adding mischievously, "I don't mean to say everything comes out 100 percent perfect every time; sometimes it is only 90 percent perfect."
Cooking school teacher and cookbook author Madeleine Kamman, a Frenchwoman who says she doesn't want to add to America's insecurity in the kitchen, comments, "Of Course, you're bound to blow it once in a while, so why get aggravated? Life is too short. Put your brains to work for you to use the disaster in something else." Example, if a cake doesn't rise enough, use it as the base of a raisin and nut pudding.
"However," chides Kamman, who has moved from Boston back to her native France to set up a professional chef's training program in Annecy, 25 miles south of Geneva, "if you learned to cook properly with techniques emphasized, you can avoid this. You can look at a recipe and know before you start whether something is going to be wrong with ingredients or procedure."
John Tovey, cookbook author and chef/owner of Miller Howe Country Inn in England's Lake District, quips, "Oh God yes!" I've had mistakes in my kitchen. Once a roulade of smoked haddock rolled off the table onto the floor! I picked up the pieces, placed them in ramekins, topped with cheese sauce, bread crumbs, browned and served." (Tovery says his kitchen floor is immaculate.)
One of the grande dames of cuisine, Simone Beck of Provence, France, a cooking school teacher and co-author with Julia Child of "Mastering The Art of French Cooking" says she is beyond disasters in the kitchen, but over the years, she says the most frequent distress of her students involved sauces that went awry.
How good are you at avoiding kitchen jams? Here are 10 mishaps and 10 sweet endings. Try to match them up. Answers follow. Give yourself 10 points for every correct answer. If you score 80 or above, you're no kitchen klutz. If you score 50 or less, you probably are. MISHAPS
1. The cookies you baked are too hard to eat. Now What?
2. The bacon in your frying pan got so curly, it could pass for hoop earrings. Next time you:
3. Those banana, pear and apple slices in your fruit sald turned dark brown. Next time you:
4. Your friends tease that your cakes have only half the calories because half of your cakes always stick in the pan. Next time, you:
5. That cheddar cheese in your fridge hot hard as a rock. Now what?
6. Your egg whites never whipped as much as your tried. How come?
7.A funny thing happened to your spaghetti dinner on the way to the table. The noodles clumped together in the pot and now you can't get them apart. Next time, you:
8. Your hollandaise sauce curdles. You remember the high price of butter and:
9. The brown sugar is solid as a brick. Next time you:
10. Your tomato salad platter looks more like tomato soup. NEXT TIME YOU:
1. Grate it to use atop vegetables or casseroles.
2. Grease the pan unless the recipe instructs you to do otherwise. After it comes out of the oven, let it sit for five to 10 minutes, then remove.
3. Brush lightly with flour before frying. [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
5. Place them in an air-tight container overnight with something from which they can absorb moisture such as a glass of water; do not put them directly in the water!
6. Slice vertically rather than horizontally.
7. Remove from package and store in an air-tight container.
8. Remove container from heat and quickly plunge container into a container of ice and beat briskly. Speed is of the essence!Next time, prepare over a low flame. Of course, you should be using a double boiler.
9. Add one tablespoon of cooking oil to the water, before boiling.
10. Your mixing bowl and beaters weren't free of grease. Even the tiniest amount can do it. (Yes even butter is considered a cooking grease.) Scoring:
1(five); 2(four); 3(three); 4(two); 5(one); 6(ten); 7(nine); 8(eight); 9(seven); 10(six).