No matter if you are beginner in the kitchen or an expert cook, taking a culinary boot camp can be an incredible experience. This past weekend, I attended the Biltmore Culinary Academy for a three day boot camp. The group of 8 participants ranged from seasoned cooks to novice beginners (for example, my friend, Ellen, had never even cut an onion before). The three days were some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time and I learned a great amount in the process. Here’s a recap of my experience:
On day one, we learned about the importance of “Mise en Place”, or in other words, “everything in its place.” We practiced how to organized and properly set yourself up for cooking – a very important key to success in the kitchen!
On the first day, the entire class participated in the making of the day’s meal. Day one's menu consisted of Roasted Vegetable Soup and Sauteed Shrimp over Roasted Vegetable Slaw.
To start, we focused on our knife skills – including all vegetable cuts from large dice to julienne.
Large Dice: 3/4″ x 3/4″ x 3/4″
Medium Dice: 1/2″ x 1/2″ x 1/2″
Small Dice: 1/4″ x 1/4″ x 1/4″
Brunoise: 1/8″ x 1/8″ x 1/8″
Fine Brunoise: 1/16″ x 1/16″ x 1/16″
Batonnet: 1/4″ x 1/4″ x 2″ long
Julienne: 1/8″ x 1/8″ x 2″ long
We practiced our knife skills on onions, carrots, zucchini, red bell pepper, tomatoes, and potatoes. Specifically, we created batonnet cuts for the roasted vegetable soup and julienne cuts for the roasted vegetable slaw.
After we cut all of the vegetables, we perfected how to de-vain and butterfly jumbo shrimp (I'll spare you the photos from the de-vaining).
Day one’s recipes focused on roasting and pan-searing. I couldn’t believe the end result! The meal looked and tasted like it the came from a 5-star restaurant, as opposed to a group of amateur cooks.
The recipes for seared shrimp over roasted vegetables slaw and a side of roasted vegetable soup can be found below:
Recipe: Roasted Vegetable Soup
Recipe: Pan Seared Shrimp over Roasted Vegetable Slaw
I was exhausted after a long day of cooking but extremely excited for day two.
I woke up this morning excited to attend day two of boot camp. Today’s focus was cooking with tender cuts of meats, and vegetables, as well as dry cooking techniques including grilling, broiling and roasting. Day two’s menu consisted of:
In our groups of two, we were assigned a specific dish. Ellen and I were assigned the Pan-Roasted Blacked Sea Bass and Crisp Green Bean & Pecan Salad. We gathered our fixings and went straight to work!
We created a rub out of 6 spices and coated the fish on all sides before pan-searing the fillets.
We also developed the Crisp Green Bean & Pecan Salad. To do so, we marinated shallots, blanched the green beans, made the vinaigrette from scratch and plated the salad. It was as easy as that!
The green bean salad was the perfect pairing for the amazing Pan Seared Blackened Sea Bass! I was pleasantly surprised how easy this meal was and was by far my favorite dish of the day! This recipe will now likely become a staple in my healthy dinner selection.
Everyone seemed more comfortable and confident on day two after perfecting a few techniques on day one. The boot camp did a great job of introducing certain skills at the beginning of class and then allowing us to utilize these skills throughout the class.
You can find the recipe below for this perfectly spicy and satisfying dish:
Recipe: Pan Seared Blackened Fish Fillets
Recipe: Crisp Green Bean and Pecan Salad
I hadn't even completed the third and final day of the Biltmore Culinary Academy Boot Camp and I was already looking forward to attending another class. Day three's focus was working with tough cuts of meet (beef, chicken and seafood), cooking with grains and perfecting wet cooking techniques including steaming, submersion cooking, braising and stewing.
Here is an overview of day three’s menu:
As on day two, each group was assigned to create a specific dish. We were assigned to Sautéed Chicken Curry and Pine Nut Couscous. I’ve never been a big fan of curry but it was fun to experiment with something I typically wouldn’t cook at home.
We started by ‘shopping’ for all of our ingredients and getting “Mise en Place.”
We added all ingredients to a medium-large pot to start the curry. At the same time, we sautéed the chicken separately and then added it to the curry sauce and let it cook via the submersion cooking technique.
Meanwhile, we developed the Pine Nut Couscous as a side to the main dish. The dish was a big hit and even though I'm not a big fan of curry, I really enjoyed it! If you like curry, you should definitely try the recipe below.
Recipe: Sautéed Chicken Curry
Recipe: Pine Nut Couscous
One of the greatest things about participating in the culinary academy was not only how much I learned but also meeting some incredible people. Although Stella from Ohio was one of the more experienced participants, she was so humble and gracious to help everyone in the class. We all got to know each other as we worked closely in the kitchen.
We were fortunate to have a wonderful instructor, Chef Jeannette. I know she will be someone I’ll keep in contact with forever. She was a wonderful instructor and made the boot camp an extremely enjoyable experience.
Whether you are a beginner in the kitchen or veteran, I encourage you to grab some girlfriends and go spend a weekend in cooking school. I will continue to work on perfecting my skills and look forward to attending another boot camp in the near future!
Have you ever done a cooking class or boot camp? Have you ever wanted to?