The Book and The Cook Fair at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in 1999 was a memorable moment. My mom and I walked into the exhibit hall to an overwhelming lineup of tables with representatives from restaurants, catering companies, new products, and culinary arts colleges. Located on the sides of the hall, small stages were set up for cooking demonstrations; however, the highlight of the event was an appearance from Emeril Lagasse on the main stage.
That year, I started contemplating my future and where I’d be attending college; after The Book and the Cook Fair, I was sold. My mom and I left that day with a bag full of information from culinary arts colleges, and I finally knew what I wanted to be “when I grew up.” One thing led to another, though, and my talents for drawing and painting became a more logical focus, as I had opportunities to receive scholarships from local schools.
Though I never became an artist OR a chef, I still make both activities a hobby, but always wonder what would have happened had I taken the culinary arts route seriously. Last fall, I attended a 6 week series of community classes at the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in University City. Though the classes are non-credit and won’t make you an Iron Chef overnight, I learned valuable cooking basics – information that every chef knows like the back of their hand. Taught by Restaurant School instructors, each session followed a method of cooking, which we reviewed in a book from the school that now sits proudly among my other cookbooks. Not only were we allowed to keep this useful cooking manual, the classes ended with each student taking home a meal they had made that evening. It would have been nice to have something to show off my talents when I came home; however, the delicious meal never made it that far – I always devoured it on the car ride home.
Sautéed Chicken Breast in Orange Dijon Sauce
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Approximately 1 cup, flour
Salt and pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 medium shallot, chopped
1 cup, Orange Juice
2 tsp., Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp., brown sugar
2 sprigs, fresh rosemary
Heat olive oil in sauté pan. Halve chicken breasts to create two thinner cuts for each piece. Season each with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Sauté each until golden brown, and remove from pan. Drain some of the oil from the pan then return to burner. Add shallot and cook 1 – 2 minutes, until soft. Add orange juice, mustard, brown sugar and rosemary, and reduce over medium heat. Once mixture is thick and bubbly, add chicken breasts to reheat. Place finished chicken on plate and spoon sauce over each piece.
This is one of the many great recipes from the book I was able to keep from my Introduction to Culinary Arts class at the Restaurant School. Each chapter is dedicated to a method of cooking, and the one above can be found in the chapter about sauces, which is the highlight of this dish. The sugars in the orange juice and brown sugar work together to add sweetness, and when heated they thicken the sauce. The Dijon mustard contributes a tangy factor that works well with the sugars. My favorite flavor in the sauce is the fresh Rosemary; heating the sprigs in the sauce allows the fresh flavor to infiltrate the thick, syrupy liquid.
This recipe, like the others in the book, is basic yet covers many of the fundamental cooking techniques a chef would learn in their first semester at a culinary arts school. My experience in Introduction to Culinary Arts was even more valuable than the information the book carries, and I hope to take another one in the future. Even though my plans to one day be professional chef never came to life, I appreciate the opportunity to learn from them through the community classes at the Restaurant School.