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Kitchen Academy! by Kristi Oltman

Our Kitchen Academy class starts out with the kids trickling in. They start their day by answering the question of the day (What is your favorite after-school snack?) and washing up. We chat a bit about their day, how they answered the QOTD, and what we’re going to do in our class. When everyone has arrived we are ready to get started. 

This past week was Burgers and Fries.

We start by peeling our potatoes and cutting them into long strips. (Did you know that french fries are not names after their country of origin, but by the method of cutting a vegetable into long, thin strips?) It takes some effort to carefully cut even strips. Then we submerse them into water to release some of their starches so they won’t be as heavy or soggy.

While they are soaking we prepare for our burgers: we mix together our meats with some salt and weigh them into equal amounts before making them into patties. The meat is squishy and slimy and it’s hard to wash off in the sink afterwards. We find extra-warm water and an extra dose of soap are necessary to remove all the residue. We then cut tomatoes, prepare leaves of lettuce, and set the buns on a tray for toasting.

When our french fry oil is ready we carefully transfer our first batch of fries into the pot. The oil immediately bubbles dramatically. We learn to be careful placing the potatoes into the oil because the oil will splatter if we aren’t slow and gentle. We let the oil cook our fries for a couple minutes before we scoop them out to drain on a cooling rack. While we are cooking a second batch of fries we examine our first batch: they are still pale, but are now floppy and when you break them open, they are soft like mashed potatoes inside. They taste bland because we haven’t salted them yet.

When we finish frying the rest of the fries we raise the temperature of our oil for a second round of frying. This time we are browning and crisping our fries. Now when we remove our fries from the oil, they are a deep, golden brown color and crisp in texture. We drain them on a second cooling rack and this time season them with some salt which melts into the hot oil on the fries. After a couple minutes of cooling we sample a few for “quality control”. They are so good: warm, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and salty.

After our fries are done, we place them into a preheated oven to keep warm and add our burger buns to toast up a bit. Now it is time for the burgers. We place our patties into the hot pan. They sizzle nicely. Some of the students want to make “smash burgers”, but for this class, we are just letting them cook without disturbing them so that they develop a nice crispy crust on the bottom instead of sitting in their juices. 

While we wait, we set up our burger assembly line: plates, our toasted brioche buns, crisp iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced tomatoes, a bowl of our hot fries, and some ketchup.

When it is time, we flip our burgers over and examines that crust that was able to form. We insert a meat thermometer into one of the burgers to track it’s progress for doneness on the inside. The temperature quickly rises from the hot pan. When there’s just a few degrees to go we add slices of cheese to our burgers and put a lid on the pan. The lid is made of glass and we can watch the hot steam from the burgers swirl in the pan and watch the cheese melt around the edges of the burger. When that happens, we know our burgers are done and carefully remove them from the pan: dramatic strings of cheese trailing behind.

Everyone plates their burgers to their preferences and tests out their work. Their efforts and patience were worth it. They critique their work. The burgers and fries are delicious: warm, crunchy, juicy, salty. They discuss that their thickest of fries didn’t fully cook through, the thin ones are extra crispy. As the students finish up with their plates, their conversations turn to what we’re going to be making next week: the long-awaited steak and mashed potatoes.

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