As a personal chef and caterer, I get asked a lot of questions by my clients. What’s the best way to cook item x? How do you clean item z? How do you know it something is ripe enough to eat? And many more. But the one I get asked the most is….
What it the most important tool in a chef's kitchen?
When I started culinary school many moons ago, I would have answered my knife. I mean have you ever tried cutting something with a spoon?
Later in my career, I would have said good shoes. You’re on your feet for 16 hours a day (or more sometimes), and the right shoes can make the world between being able to get up the next day or literally rolling out of bed because everything hurts.
But in all honesty my personal most important tool is not what you think...
While mechanical tools like a knife or protective equipment like a good pair of shoes are must haves, to me, the most important too in my kitchen is…my palette.
No matter how comfy your shoes are, or how sharp your knife is, it’s your sense of taste, otherwise know as your palette that for me is make or break in a kitchen.
We all have one and it’s something that you have been developing since birth. For a chef, we take it one step further. We taste, compare, train and continually develop our palette’s, so that we can bring you the very best culinary experience.
During COVID, I delved into MASTERCLASS and of course watched all the cooking episodes first. First reason was some continuing education, second was to see what makes other chefs tick. The one that stuck out the most was Massimo Battura and his explanation of why a chef’s palette is their most important tool. As a 3 Michelin Star chef for his restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy.
The introduction to his first session talked about how his palette is his favorite and most important tool in the kitchen. “My palette is something that is talking to me – it talks to me all the time about flavor, about the feeling, about what an ingredient is saying to me. You have to be connected with the mental palette that is talking to you.”
What is the main function of your palette and food?
Your palette is how your decide if something is sweet or salty, sour or bitter or earthy (umami). It is what you use to figure out the texture and composition of food while eating.
In simpler terms, it’s what helps you decide if you love something or not. You are not stuck with the palette you have. You can train yourself to broaden your like and dislikes in a very simple way.
How do you improve your palette?
There are several ways in which you can broaden your palette to include a more diverse food culture, that don’t mean having to go to school or work in a restaurant.
First thing you can do is try new foods!
Don’t be afraid to grab something that looks a little different than you’d normally grab in the store or the farmer’s market. My husband and I pick up something new every week to try, just to keep us on our toes.
Second, eat slower.
Eating has become a secondary action for many these days, we don’t actually stop and really take in what we are eating. Slow down. when you take a bite of something, feel it’s texture. Does it remind you of something? How does it feel to bite into it? This is called mindful eating. Not only can it help develop your palette, it also has a tone of health benefits when you just take your time. For more on mindful eating, here is a great article from Healthline.com.
Experiment with your food. Try new combinations of ingredients. My favorite book I keep around is called The Flavor Bible (there is a vegetarian version as well). With so many ingredients out there, I have found this book really helps bring things together a little easier. Some pairing will be a huge success and have you wanting more, and some…well let’s just say they fall a little short on expectations. But, that’s okay, it’s how you learn what works and what doesn’t. These books are great guides for helping developing flavor profiles and trying new things.
Cleanse your palette.
When trying similar items, have something close by that will neutralize the previous foods components. Some widely used items have a tart or citrusy flavor like grapefruit or pineapples. Other choices could be sorbet, apples or even pickles.
So what are you waiting for?
Get out there and work with the most important tool you can have in your kitchen, whether it’s a professional setting or in your home. At least, in my opinion anyway. Until next time… stay hungry friends!