Fitting and Kitting
August 30, 2002

Classes haven't started, nor has orientation taken place, yet I feel like today was my first day at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. At nine o'clock, I had my first meeting with accounts payable to take care of the money issues for the first quarter, and then I was escorted down to the basement by Ted to meet Jerry. Ted and Jerry are the so-called "Mushroom Men" at CSCA, who are in charge of all purchasing at the school. They are the guys we go to when we start running out of Arborio rice or lard. They are also the guys that gave me all this cool stuff. What a haul I made today! I now have a pair of black-and-white checked chef's pants (elastic waistband to allow for the eleven pounds, thank you very much), a CSCA tee shirt, a black embroidered baseball cap, and chef's jacket that is now being embroidered with my name. That's only what they gave me to wear. I have a black and blue canvas/nylon messenger-type bag embroidered with the school name to carry my gear back and forth, a canvas roll-up kit carrying/storage device, and Madeleine Kamman's recent The New Making of a Cook, which is the size of my Riverside Shakespeare. Now for my favorite part: the equipment. Let's start with the knives. Currently, I have three of them, a 3.5-in. paring knife, a 5-in. boning knife, and a 9-in. bread knife -- all Wüsthof. Once we can take them each for a test drive in lab, we have a choice of one of the following chef's knives: an 8-in., a 10-in., and a 10-in. wide. Jerry told me they want each of us to determine which length we prefer based on which one we feel most comfortable wielding. Very sensible. Mathra's mother is very petite and she told me she personally couldn't handle any more blade than the 8-in. she has, but she also mentioned that Sarah Moulton is very little and easily manages her 10-in. blade. Sarah Moulton's television countertop was also scaled down for her size, just like Julia Child had hers scaled up. The roll-up kit is bursting with a few things I already have, but wouldn't want to bang up in lab, and a whole passel of brand new and foreign objects. What do you think of that word, passel? I like it. For some reason I always think of a passel as being a mass of hair all snarled together -- I don't know why.

Two squirt bottles in the shape of drive-in diner ketchup and mustard bottles for dabbing and squeezing out decorative squiggles of balsamic vinegar or raspberry coulis.

A microplane with a handle which will come in handy when I get seized by the impulse to zest or grate everything in sight.

Pastry wheel: Jerry told me this was for cutting lengths of pasta. Making my own pasta, something I have feared ever since I got my acceptance letter. I mean, you have to make that bowl in the middle of a pile of flour and crack eggs in it -- it looks so easy, which convinces me it's really not. For all intents and purposes, this is a pizza cutter.

Two pastry bags and eight different decorating tips: Of all the items in my culinary tool belt, these probably scare me the most. I just don't know if I have it in me to do all those dainty flowers and curlicues. I'd like to think I do but somehow I think I'm more comfortable stirring up a stew or whisking aioli.

Silpat: I think this also has something to do with pastry. Jerry told me it could be used as a cookie sheet. It's a very thin, rubberized mat. I'll let you know what happens with it.

Cake comb: I want to call this a "coxcomb" but I won't. This falls into the category of Being Afraid of Pastry Items. It's a triangle with three different grades of teeth on each side, and it's used for combing the sides of cakes to make those ski tracks you see.

Pliers: I saw Jacques and Julia use these to pull bones out of a fish. It seems pretty tedious to do it yourself when you can get your fishmonger (do we even have fishmongers in the United States?) to do it for you, but I'm going to learn how anyway.

Trussing needle: I think this is for stitching up fowl once you've stuffed them with all sorts of goodies. Or it's in case your hem falls down while in the kitchen and looks unsightly.

Aspic cutters: Aspic, ugh. I know it's attractive and you can shape it into all kinds of things, but I really don't want to eat something that squishy. I'm not even a Jell-O fan. Too much like snot.

Plastic scraper: According to Jerry, this wide, flat, blunted piece of thick, white plastic is for scraping down the sides of bowls.

Metal pastry scraper: This looks like a very wide, very square blade with a hand grip at the top. I believe it's used for hashing up pastry and pasta dough -- it looks pretty lethal.

Melon baller: I can only think of Chandler in "The One With The Lesbian Wedding" when he says, "Hey, why does he get to ball a melon and I'm stuck dicing?"

Finally, a meat thermometer, wooden spoon, whisk, measuring cups and spoons, peeler, and pastry brushes in two different sizes -- all of which I have used before and even own, but it's nice to know I now have back-up stuff to bang around.

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