An Inside Look at Mentorship within the Culinary Department
By Executive Sous Chef Tobias Burkhalter
Culinary knife skills are fundamental skills that each and every chef must have in his/her basic repertoire to be successful. Any chef in the world can tell you endless stories about learning new knife skills; hour upon hour of standing in the kitchen by yourself cutting what seems to be endless amounts of carrots and potatoes, just to have the executive chef come by and tell you that your cuts look horrible and he wants you to start over again. With your head down and blisters on your tired hands, you begrudgingly start all over again, working for hours to reach perfection. Not until you have mastered the most basic levels of knife skills were you promoted to the next level of learning even more advanced knife skills and finally Tournée (a free-from vegetable cutting technique).
Every year we, in The St. Regis Aspen Resort culinary department, welcome students from all over the globe to expand their culinary skills during their time interning here on-property. It is an exclusive opportunity for these students to learn about the culinary trade in a more hands-on fashion, working alongside professional chefs to improve their skills. A while ago we decided to hold weekly mentoring classes, lead by our chefs, to help increase each student’s knowledge of different culinary subjects. Subjects include everything from food safety and basic knife skills to basic cooking techniques.
I personally decided to lead the class on basic knife skills for our students this season. The class focused on the most useful of culinary cuts, which we use in our kitchen on a daily bases. I also taught the students about fine julienne, julienne, fine brunoise, brunoise, and medium dice cuts during the course of the class. The class began with four eager students, a fifty pound bag of Yukon gold potatoes, cutting boards at the ready, and knife for each student. After 30 minutes we evaluated all of our work, made adjustments and continued for another 30 minutes. The two main skills I was looking for were consistency of cuts and proper knife technique. After the 30 additional minutes, we again reevaluated our cuts and made additional adjustments. By the time the class was dismissed the students showcased some quality culinary knife skills and most of their cuts were on point.
Proper knife skills are only learned by repetition. Every day they slowly improve with practice, until you have mastered them all. All you need is a sharp knife, some potatoes and the personal determination to achieve the best knife skills possible. Don’t give up; your hard work will pay off in the end.
Executive Sous Chef
The St. Regis Aspen Resort