The other day I opened up a small package on my doorstep to find a copy of 101 Things I Learned in Culinary School by Louis Eguaras. This small volume contains no recipes, only snippets of wisdom and random information. A little research told me that it was part of the 101 Things I Learned series, a collection of gift-type books that share tidbits of information based on a single person’s experience as they go through one of a handful of academic programs, such as architecture school, film school, or fashion school. Curious, I dug into the book to find out exactly what I was missing by not attending culinary school (which is, by the way, a long-term dream of mine).
101 Things I Learned in Culinary School
As I mention above, 101 Things I Learned in Culinary School is small. Measuring in at about 7″ x 5″ and 200 pages, you could easily get through this book in an hour – if I’d timed myself, I’d say that I got through it in an afternoon between doing laundry and cooking dinner. Each page contains only a few sparse sentences and an accompanying drawing, and while the book shares some interesting facts here and there, I was disappointed to find that it was written at a level I’d surpassed long, long ago in my home-style culinary education.
Take, for example, tip #75 on marinating food at room temperature. The book says:
Marinate foods only in the refrigerator, as colder temperatures retard bacterial growth. Also, never make a sauce out of marinade that was previously used on raw meat, poultry, or seafood, as it will contain bacteria from the uncooked product.
Well, yes, that’s pretty common knowledge. In fact, unless you’re completely new to the kitchen, you’ve probably got a fairly solid understanding of cross-contamination; at the very least, you know to not let meat sit out at room temperature for too long or eat anything that’s been in contact with raw meat without the proper heating to kill any bacteria.
Tip #55 promises to show the reader how to keep salad dressing from separating. It goes on to explain the idea behind emulsification, but stops there. There are no instructions on how to emulsify fat and liquid – just a vague sentence recounting a few potential emulsifiers, giving readers no details on what to do with them.
Then, take the explanation of specialty knife cuts given for tip #11. While the explanations of bias, chiffonade, and rondelle are useful for someone unfamiliar with knife skills, the drawings leave a bit to be desired and would likely confuse an unwitting home cook.
While much of the book seemed to be fairly elementary, there were some things I did learn. Tip #28 explains that leaving lobsters in a cooler of ice water will result in drowned crustaceans once the freshwater ice melts. As well, tip #88 briefly touches on the protein content of different flours, and while this topic could (and has) filled an entire book in and of itself, I did learn that semolina flour contains a form of gluten that is not as elastic as other wheat flours, making it ideal for making pasta.
That said, tip #78 explained that the leaves of the tapioca plant contains cyanide, and are therefore poisonous. I wouldn’t count this as terribly useful information unless you’re living on a tapioca plantation, though I suppose it would make for interesting, if inane, dinner conversation.
- There’s some good information here for beginning cooks who know nothing about cooking. At all.
- While most of the information contained within 101 Things I Learned in Culinary School isn’t new for those with a good deal of experience, learned cooks and chefs will enjoy the pithy quotes and the occasional bit or unknown, arcane knowledge.
- Odds are you will find one or two tips that you weren’t aware of and might find useful.
- Valuable information here is sparse at best. Professional chefs won’t find this book useful at all, nor will serious home cooks interested in attending culinary school, which, given the title, appears to be the readership this book is trying attract.
- Short informational bits could use a few more sentences to become truly useful – the foundation is there, but the delivery falls short.
- It feels like the author ran out of interesting wisdom halfway through the book, and had to fill the rest with common knowledge (see the above snippet on marinated food at room temperature). After further inspection of the series, this seems to be par for the course.
The Final Verdict
101 Things I Learned in Culinary School is a cute little book that might make a nice gift for someone wanting to learn how to cook. It would also be a fun stocking stuffer for pro chefs, who might find it entertaining. Overall, it’s not going to teach you any groundbreaking facts or techniques – but for an afternoon read, it’s a probably worth the price of admission.