“Just like becoming an expert in wine–you learn by drinking it, the best you can afford–you learn about great food by finding the best there is, whether simple or luxurious. Then you savor it, analyze it, and discuss it with your companions, and you compare it with other experiences.”
Hello and welcome to An Uneducated Palate.
It’s not an easy task to teach yourself to be a great cook. You can follow a recipe, master a technique, and watch all the Food Network programming in the world, but if you’ve never tasted a perfectly cooked version of the dish you’re attempting to cook, you’ll never really know if you’ve got it right. A glossy photo in a cookbook can guide you visually and a well-written recipe can teach you the steps, but neither one can convey the sensory qualities the finished dish should have – qualities like flavour, smell and texture.
Case in point ~ Blackberry Clafoutis. Traditionally made with cherries, clafoutis is a classic French dessert, and since I’m a bit of a French food fanatic, I wanted to give it a try. I found a scaled-down recipe-for-one that swapped blackberries for cherries, followed it exactly, and baked it in the oven for about 30 minutes, until browned and puffed. It tasted very good but the texture surprised me. It was a bit spongy and wet inside, like a soufflé or pudding. Maybe I should have cooked it a little longer. Maybe not. What is the right consistency for clafoutis anyway? I have no idea because I have nothing to compare it to.
Proper seasoning is another very important piece of the palate puzzle, and almost impossible to learn from a cookbook or television show. Most professional chefs agree that it is the key to creating truly memorable food.
Case in point ~ The French Chef. In almost every episode, we see Julia standing at the stove with one hand behind her back, the other holding her tasting spoon, and speaking in her very distinct voice, she instructs us to “taste it very, very, VERY carefully!”. I’ve performed this tasting ritual many times, just as she instructed. (I’ve even tried placing my left hand behind my back to see if that gesture held some magical power), but without a reference point, I still have absolutely no idea if the seasoning is correct.
Developing your palate is such a vital part of culinary training that it’s built into the curriculum at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Students there attend demonstration classes in the morning where they watch the teaching chef’s techniques in detail. The demonstrations then end with a tasting. In the afternoon, the students must recreate the recipes from the morning’s demonstration, with only their notes and their palates to guide them. These aspiring culinarians even carry little tasting spoons tucked into special pockets on the sleeves of their jackets so they always have one handy!
I’m not a full-time culinary student and I don’t live in France, but that doesn’t mean I can’t become a superstar in my kitchen! There are still plenty of opportunities to develop my palate (as well as my talent) by learning from culinary professionals, in professional grade kitchens around the world. Come along with me on a culinary adventure as I explore a variety of cooking classes and styles, demonstrations, workshops and maybe even some intensive boot-camp style programs. I’ll also be checking out fresh food markets, gourmet food shops, restaurants, food and wine festivals, and conferences looking for new foods and flavour combinations to help me create new taste memories. And when I’m not out exploring, I’ll be in my kitchen cooking because…
“…no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”
My culinary journey began in earnest on September 24, 2011 when I boarded a plane for Paris, France and embarked on the trip of a lifetime!
If you’d like to come along on the adventure, I’d love to have the company. You can subscribe here to receive notification of new posts by email, or use the social media icons at the top of the page to follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest.