Perhaps you are familiar with culinary terms and can identify each item on your plate, its preparation, and how each component is made. You would certainly be impressive to me. But what if you’re curious about food, and you want to be able to impress people, but lack the vocabulary to describe the things you eat or choose from a menu. In the back of the house at Vita Nova we get very familiar with particular culinary terminology, not only because we have a test on it at the end of the semester, but also because understanding cooking methods, knife cuts, and basic recipes is crucial to our success in the kitchen. As discussed in the article “Culinary School: Pros and Cons of Culinary Education” from The Eater, this type of education balances learning the important fundamentals and vernacular of cooking that is expected in a professional kitchen, but may not be taught there. Since this is the last week that I will be in the back of the house, soon to switch sides to the front (wish us all luck!), I thought it would only be right to give you a little insight into the details of the food you eat at Vita Nova.
Have you ever noticed the brunoise of carrot in the beurre blanc sauce on our grilled swordfish with smoked tomato brodetto and spinach risotto? Probably not, because it’s so tasty you might have eaten it all before you could even realize how many words in that sentence made no sense to you. The beurre blanc is a classic French sauce that is basically a reduction of white wine mixed with butter to a velvety consistency. (Although that’s not even one of the 5 mother sauces or any of their “small sauce” derivatives, which we also have to know.) We add carrots and shallots that have been cut into cubes about 1/8 of an inch by 1/8 of an inch: that’s called a “brunoise.” If you look closely, you’ll see perfectly tiny cubes of carrot for just a touch of color and texture. “Brodetto” directly translated from Italian is “some type of bouillabaisse” which translated from French is “a rich, spicy stew or soup made with various kinds of fish, originally from Provence.” Our version is not very spicy or really a soup, but rather a smoky tomato sauce with a touch of cream to go excellently with our fish. Still, the more you know….
You may also be pleased to compliment the chef on the duck confit served with our porcini mushroom ravioli and sage. To “confit” something means to cook it slowly and preserve it in its own fat. That’s what makes the duck so tender and flavorful. It’s also boosted with a bit of duck “glace”: made from the reduction of stock. This dish is chopped with a “chiffonade” of fresh sage. This term literally means to thinly slice or shred leafy vegetables, but you cannot deny how much better “chiffonade” sounds. These fancy French terms are put into practice as a whole lot of delicious flavor, texture, and color, but they certainly sound impressive and are useful concepts to understand and be able to execute in a professional kitchen. Whether you’re a student reading this, yet to tackle the behemoth that is “Dinner Lab” (don’t worry- we work together, have clear instructions, and all those words are in a packet to study from), an Alumnus reminiscing on the amazing experiences of your college days and wondering what we’re up to (did you remember all the terms?), or one of our guests, hungry for some delicious food, great service, and interested in supporting our program (thank you, we could not have this without you), I hope you enjoyed reading and are excited to both use this culinary vocabulary and notice it on menus everywhere. There’s a lot more where it came from.