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TIPS FROM COOKING SCHOOL PROS

By Joe David

NEW YORK, 30 JANUARY 2009 — Sometimes just a simple tip can make the difference between success and failure in the kitchen. The world's best chefs have the luxury of trial and error when it comes to perfecting their recipes and techniques. Luckily, many of them - with cajoling - can be persuaded to share a secret or two. Herewith, seven seasoned pros offer their advice on how to kick your culinary efforts up a notch or two.

Poaching food in vacuum-packed plastic bags at even temperatures below simmering is a new cooking technique that has been gaining some popularity in America. The technique called sous vide (French for under vacuum) requires special equipment that will maintain a safe low temperature for long periods of time. One of the benefits of such cooking is that it locks in flavors and juices and breaks down stubborn meat or vegetable fibers. The payoff is a truer taste, enhanced significantly by whatever seasoning added to expand the flavor. - Chef Marianne Cushing, Peju Province Winery, Rutherford, California.

It is important to keep in mind that food changes in flavor the longer it lives. Too much of one ingredient might be perfect during the cooking stage, but can be totally overwhelming after it's been refrigerated for awhile. Therefore, one must bring to cooking an easy hand and adjust the flavors slowly, adding the final touch before serving. - Culinary Director Lisa Lavagetto, Ramekins, Sonoma, California.

One way to give food an elegant twist is to make your salsa with roasted tomatillos instead of tomatoes and to serve the salsa in hollowed cucumbers. Other tricks and techniques include using citrus juices and zest for flavors in lieu of salt; serving mashed cauliflower as a substitute for mashed potatoes; and arranging the food artfully as Thai people do (for example, turning a tomato into a rose garnish for a platter.) - Chef Abigail Hutchinson, Jekyll Island Club Hotel, Jekyll Island, Georgia.

Established rules for pairing wine and food can be broken. What you garnish your food with often determines the wine you need. Food flavors change with each new ingredient, and sometimes untraditional wines may pair better with the food than the traditional wines. Matching the right wine and food, when done successfully, is a delicious moment for everyone. It is then that the meal sings and suddenly you understand what all the fuss is about. - Nancy Krcek Allen, Chateau Chantal, Traverse City, Michigan.

Good stock is the foundation for creating successful sauces, soups or stews. It should always be prepared from scratch, and once it is brought to a boil, the heat must be reduced to a simmer for 5 or 6 hours. Boiling or simmering stock too long will change the flavor. A chicken stock, for example, should have a light chicken and herb flavor. Never add salt to it. - Jill Prescott's Ecole de Cuisine, Asheville, North Carolina.

For scoring duck, you should have the duck as cold as possible. It is recommended that you place it in the freezer for 15-20 minutes to firm the fat and make it easier to score. This tip applies to cutting anything fatty such as bacon or salt pork. - Chef Steve Learned, The Balsams, Dixville Notch, New Hampshire.

For the perfect burger, purchase freshly ground beef with a medium fat content (22 percent). Frozen meat or meat with less fat will have a dry texture. When forming the burger, shape it into a ball, then flatten it gently with the palm. Avoid over packing. To maintain juiciness don't cook beyond medium. - Chef Hugh Carpenter, Hugh Carpenter's Camp Napa Culinary, Napa California.

Joe David's writings have appeared in numerous publications including U.S. Airways ,Go, Chile Pepper, Hemispheres, and more. He is the author of four books. His fifth book Gourmet Getaways, will be published in April 2009 (Globe Pequot Press).

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