Inevitably I have a conversation with nearly every chef that comes to work with us as well as the students who attend our cooking classes here at NORMAN’S. It has to do with a cooking term called "carmelization".

It is one of those skills that defy perfection for quite some time. In fact, many people think that they are caramelizing "just fine, thank you", but they aren’t. They are typically either cooking too fast and burning or cooking too slow and sweating.

Neither sounds tasty does it?

I was reading an article on the subject of physics the other day and the gentleman writing the piece was discussing the winter sports of skiing, sledding and skating. He illustrated that these three sports were examples of a type of classic mechanics that he reduced to what I found a unique term for those activities. The term he used was "friction". The way to enjoy those sports was to control the friction. You wanted to go fast, but not too fast.

It is precisely the same in cooking with the act of bringing food to a perfect degree of carmelization.

Let’s get a pan, some fat and some food and hit the slopes!

I have started a trillion recipes and zillion dishes like this. Have some olive oil and butter ready. Have some vegetables like onions, leeks, carrots, celery and garlic ready too. Now heat a heavy bottomed pan and add the oil and butter. When the butter begins to melt add the vegetables and stir well to coat them. Now listen to them, watch them and guide them occasionally by moving them around the pan as the friction and heat do a tango of hug and release.

Sounds simple, right? But it just isn’t.

Did you ever see a trick and decided it would be easy until you actually tried it yourself?

I remember a boyhood buddy being really good with a bullwhip. He could make that think crack! The day he showed me his prowess he did about 20 times flawlessly. CRACK! I was dying to try my hand at it! Finally he handed the length of rawhide over to me and stood back. I carefully lay that whip back behind me, just like I’d seen him do, and then I flung my arm forward with all my might. CRACK! Right across my backside! Of course I just kept trying and he kept laughing. I hadn’t learned yet how to control the friction.

Such is life, carmelization and bullwhipping.

Copyright © by Norman Van Aken, 2001

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