French Onion Soup — Two Years Late

So I was teaching a knife skills class at Williams-Sonoma today (quick shout-out to all the beautiful peeps who came out, especially Rosie), when I got to the part about knife safety and proper guide hand technique.  As I was explaining the right way to do it, I couldn’t help but hearken back to that fateful day in the fall of 2014 when, as a first-semester student at Midwest Culinary Institute, I didn’t do it the right way.

It was week 6 and a beautiful Saturday morning in early October, and we were eyeball deep in stocks, soups and mother sauces.  Among other items on that day’s production menu was the classic French Onion Soup, and I was totally jazzed about learning how to make it.  I was humming along at my station, all burners firing as I boiled things, simmered other things, sweated aromatics for a stock, and, most importantly, lovingly caramelized those beautiful onions for my soup.  I was chopping veg like a ninja, totally in the zone, when it happened — I very suddenly learned a vivid object lesson about maintaining one’s focus on proper knife technique.

When the expletives died down and I realized that I had not, in fact, lost the tip of my left thumb (but came rather too close to that for comfort), I set about seeking someone to apply first aid.  My chef was accustomed to such mishaps, but before wrapping me up he could not resist the somewhat ghoulish urge to snap a couple pics of my mortally wounded digit on his smart phone.  “You’ll want these later,” he told me.  “It’s a good cut,” he told me.  Then it was off to Urgent Care to get stitched up by a doc who evidently had been trained by the Viet Cong — incredibly painful stuff getting a lidocaine shot under one’s thumbnail.

Anyway, it healed in due time and I was back in class the next week, but the worst part of the whole experience was not getting to complete my cooking that day, especially the French Onion Soup.  Over the weeks and months that followed, in true Robert Frost fashion I found that way leads on to way and the road not taken remains forever so.  Okay, maybe a bit overstated, but the point is that I never got around to making that soup recipe — until today.  It was good but not the best I’ve had, but nonetheless the catharsis was thorough and the closure is complete.  I no longer feel like less than a true cook.  I can now get on with the rest of my life.  I finally made the French Onion Soup — two years late.




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