Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Culinary arts lesson #1: There is no escaping Zoo 113.

On Saturdays, I attend the Fundamentals of Culinary Arts classes at the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAHM) in Quezon City. I'm listing a few things I'm learning (aside from how to cook the fine-dining-restaurant-way, of course) as I attend school, lest I forget them.

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I opted not to take the infamous Zoology 113 course at the University of the Philippines Los Banos back when I was in college. It's a course on comparative vertebrate anatomy and it involves dissecting cats. I couldn't possibly open one up since I have cats as pets at home. I chose to take courses on human physiology and psychology instead.

Many years after not choosing to enroll in Zoo 113, ignorance doesn't sound as blissful anymore. On the second day of culinary arts class, I found out that I have to know the anatomy of the cow; on the fourth day, I learned that I have to study the anatomy of the pig and of the sheep too. If that isn't vertebrate anatomy, I don't know what that is.

But here's the thing: I'm supposed to learn the anatomy of these animals because I have to know which meat cut is suitable to what dish. For instance, Thai beef salad uses beef tenderloin, the most tender part of the cow because it supposedly has less connective tissue and is less involved in the movement of the cow. If I were to use meat from the cow's legs, the salad won't have the proper texture the salad needed. On the other hand, knowing the anatomy of the animal also helps in determining how to carve the meat before serving. Knowing the position of the bones on lamb gigot is essential in carving to avoid waste of meat. If I were to cut the meat in the wrong direction, I won't be able to maximize the number of servings because some parts of the lamb leg won't be of the right size or shape anymore. Then there's pork loin. With the bone still stuck to the meat, it's pork chop; without the bone, it's just pork loin. For dishes like cordon bleu, the position of the fatty layer should be correct before the meat is butterflied (thankfully the butcher can do this!). 

Learning anatomy of animals is good, I found out, especially when it's all taken in the context of food.