I consider myself to be a pretty good cook. Despite the fact that I recently burned some quinoa (glass stove tops are hotter when the oven is on!), I know my way around the kitchen. As a dietitian, I am trained to know foods and their affect on the human body. In college I was required to take a several food classes that primarily taught me the science behind different cooking methods. I was, however, never formally trained on culinary techniques. Most of my chopping and seasoning skills were learned from my family, cooking classes, or self-taught through food blogs and online articles. Knowing how to cook is important and something I think everyone should know how to do. Cooking brings us closer to our food so we are more familiar with what we put in our bodies. We appreciate something more when we spend time making it.
While I have a passion for making delicious and nutritious meals, another member of my family is actually a trained culinarian. My sister, Allison Lyon, recently obtained her associate in occupational studies degree from the Culinary Institute of America in New York. I had the pleasure of attending her graduation ceremony. After 2.5 years of very hard work, she is now very knowledgable of various cuisines, flavoring techniques, constructing meals based on acidity and texture, seasonings, and knife skills. Her schooling taught her organization, efficiency, cleanliness, and fine dining production and service.
We had some time this weekend to sit down and she answered a few questions for me, from the perspective of a professional culinarian. It is one thing to understand nutrition and which foods are healthy, but to prepare a meal can be another challenge altogether.
Why is it important to know how to cook?
“Everyone needs to eat, so knowing how to cook will always provide you with a job. Cooking helps make you be self sufficient and more adventurous because you try new cuisines and new ingredients. It is important because if you are good at cooking, you are good at time management and organization, which is mise in place. This is the chef’s motto for “everything in it’s place.”
What is the best advice, both personal and technical, that you received during your training with CIA?
“The best personal advice was to go after what you want and the money will come later. This is for those of you who may be interested in pursuing a culinary career but are scared about the amount of work for little pay. The best technical advice was to taste your food while you’re cooking. You need to taste as you go.” Thank you Allison for sharing this advice, I personally am terrible about this! But you truly do need to know how things taste to end up serving a truly delicious meal.
What is the best meal you ever made?
“Last year, I participated in a 15-week long externship in Dunkeld, Australia working for the Royal Mail. The most memorable meal I ever made was for members of the committee for the world’s best 50 restaurants came in to eat. I was the one making all the desserts to present to these famous people. The most memorable dish I ever made came at the end of my externship, when the chef wanted to develop new desserts based on concepts he decided. One of the concepts was chocolate and beet root; the other was pumpkin. I was in charge of trying new flavors and textures and determining ratios of ingredients that would develop into the standard recipe to be used for the rest of the season. The first dessert was a custard with beet root blood clots. It was chocolate sorbet with beet root powder and mint leaves. The second dessert was a pain perdue, like a French toast. It had cooked butternut squash circles, a pumpkin seed brittle, pumpkin custard, and smoked maple ice cream.”
What is your favorite thing to make in your spare time for personal use?
“Definitely bread, but specifically honey milk buns that are a copycat of Texas Roadhouse recipe.” You can find that recipe HERE.
What is the best piece of advice you have for people who are just now learning how to cook?
“You don’t need to go out and buy all new equipment and fancy gadgets. Start with what you have, but be sure to have a good chef’s knife. Don’t be afraid to fail when trying new recipes, because even the greatest chefs have burnt food or over-seasoned something. Failing is the only way to learn.”
Is there anything else you would like to share about cooking to an audience interested in nutrition?
“You don’t have to cook everything in butter to make it taste good. For example, roasting vegetables with a little bit of oil and spices is great because you still get the oil you want from butter but a different and rich flavor.”
While we may never agree about the amount of salt necessary to cook with, I’m very proud of my sister and can’t wait to see where her culinary adventures take her! To learn more about her time while at the Culinary Institute of America and to follow along on her new journey to Blackberry Farm, you can find her HERE. She first began her blog when she started at the CIA.
Now go sharpen your knives and familiarize yourself with your kitchen! Don’t be afraid to get a little messy and work with your hands. For those who are new to using a knife, or want to improve their technique, you can find some pretty good videos HERE.