In a recent interview on Esquire.com, Wolfgang Puck commented on chefs' well-roundedness -- or surprising lack thereof. "You have many anxious chefs who know how to cook twenty recipes really well, but they don't have a good foundation for other things," he said. Kristen Cofrades, who, along with her husband Daniel, is co-chef and co-owner of Early Bird Restaurant in Westminster (which I review this week), is doing her best to shore up this foundation.
As an instructor at Johnson & Wales University, Cofrades spends much of her day teaching freshman and sophomores the finer points of sauteeing, baking, frying (both deep-fat and shallow), grilling and roasting, not to mention how to make stocks and sauces, arrange food on plates, and understand enough ingredients and flavor profiles to circle the globe -- something she does every nine days in International Cuisine.
That's right: In just nine days she covers menus from twelve to fifteen countries, with lucky students from other classes eating the food her students have prepared (earlier this week, it was Middle Eastern and Greek night).
One thing Cofrades can't stress enough, both to students and home cooks, is patience. "I stand behind [students] and say, 'Patience is a virtue,'" she laughs. A good crust on protein is impossible, for example, if you give in to the urge to prod and nudge. "Let [protein] go in there and sit," she urges.
But all the patience in the world won't correct other common mistakes, so she graciously shares tips on how to avoid those, too. "Make sure you heat the pan first, then put oil in it," she says. "Pat down the protein to dry it and not add excess water, and don't overcrowd the pan." Also, never, ever use a lid.
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Remember to give Cofrades a silent shout-out when tonight's dinner comes out better than ever.