How to Braise your Grandpa

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A few years back I was teaching at a culinary school. I was an adjunct instructor for the kitchen lab. They used to hire chefs for a four-week block to teach students new trends and menu items from their restaurant. I was trying to give back to the old school that I attended; I wanted to show the instructors what I had learned since I had been gone.

I did not graduate with a culinary degree. Instead, I received a BA in Philosophy — that is why I still cook. So I was hoping to return and show just how far I had come to the instructors whose classes I had either dropped out of or failed.

Another Fine Young Cannibal
  • Another Fine Young Cannibal

I loved teaching culinary students. It was great to see the diverse group of people learning the great craft of cooking. But I did not feel like I had left my mark. I had no great wisdom to pass on, or so I thought.

Fast forward almost six years and I am at the Flying M downtown waiting for my double-shot mocha and I run into a disheveled looking young man in a chef's jacket. We begin to chat and we realize that I was his instructor for a short while. I vainly asked him if he remembered anything that I taught him.

“Well…” he said. “I remember one thing. You taught us how to cook our families.”

By the look on my face, he knew I was confused. He went on to explain that in a lecture to my kitchen lab, I was trying to explain how to cook different cuts of meat. Fatty chunks, sinewy cuts, young tender cuts, etc. I guess I told them to think about their families and how they would cook them.

Old and grizzled grandpa? Braise him. A lot of connective tissue needs to be broken down to be edible. Plump Aunt with good marbling? Roast her. She will self baste. Young tender brother? Quick saute.

I was trying to tell them all how to analyze a cut of meat and then cook that meat with the proper technique. My lasting moment for a former student was not exactly what I had in mind. No earth-shattering revolutions, no mind-blowing transcendental experiences, no introduction to Platonic forms, not even a quick overview of the categorical imperative from this chef.

“Great. I taught you how to be a cannibal,” I said.

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