No one can dispute the beautiful rusticity of a carrot or a potato in its natural, whole state. Yet when vegetables are formed into the geometric, elegant shape of a tourné, an ordinary fine dining experience leaps from the ordinary to the extraordinary. A tournéd vegetable is an assured signifier of a chef’s skill, and in Chef Instructor Ted Siegel’s Tourné Workshop five lucky Culinary Arts students took our first step, or first carefully carved slice, towards mastering the challenging art of the tourné cut.
And why is the tourné cut so important, some frustrated students like myself, might ask? Chef Ted had plenty of anecdotes and encouraging stories to throw our way. Even though this classic, seven-sided, precisely angled shape might seem outmoded, it is still seen today on the plates of the world’s top restaurants, and Chef Ted shared stories from former students tournéing their way to success to prove it. With not a single one of Chef Ted’s vegetables destined for anything but a perfect tourné, it was hard to believe that he ever struggled through his knife skill sessions when he was a student, yet his stories of eventual success bolstered us along.
Our kitchen was sparsely garnished with nothing but piles of carrots, potatoes, turnips, and a few zucchini and yellow squash for this concentrated effort towards improving our knife skills. Oh, and a single egg. This unexpected addition to our classroom setup was to be the key introduction to Chef Ted’s demystification of the art of the tourné. He opened the lesson by demonstrating with a plastic knife, how to graze along the contours of a simple egg and encouraged us to practice at home with an egg while watching TV to encode this movement in our muscle memory. Rather than zipping through the quick, decided motions of the tourné cut, Chef Ted patiently guided us through his method for mastering the mechanics and geometry of this knife skill.
Practice makes perfect, and even though my vegetables might still be unfit for sautéing for service, I now know the steps and key ingredients to working my way to tourné triumph. I have already planned out my week-long TV agenda.