Teaching real 'knife' skills

For those who aren't sure how hot that serrano chili pepper is once it hits the soup, remember this: The seeds aren't what make the pepper hot; that's been a misnomer for years. What gives the pepper its heat are the veins inside it — at the base, not the tip.

So if you don't want whatever it is you're cooking to be too hot, just cut a small vein out of the tip and you'll be OK.

As for pomegranate, if you want to look cool around school, just buy a few pieces of fruit at the grocery store, roll them around on a hard counter top to "juicen them up," then stick straws in the top of them.

Newport Harbor High School students received these and other tips in culinary arts last week in a two-day presentation given by Miki Hackney.

She's the executive chef for Melissa's, a fruits and vegetables distributor based in Los Angeles.

Janet Dukes, Newport Harbor's food and culinary arts instructor, met Hackney at a recent symposium held by Les Dames de Escoffier International and was so impressed by Hackney's abilities that she invited her to class.

Hackney taught the students how to hold knives properly so they don't cut their fingers.

In between her hands-on instruction, Hackney also enlightened the 30 students on the culinary profession.

"Get ready for 16-hour days if you want to be a line chef," she said, adding that a career as a chef isn't the only option.

There are many other job opportunities in the field.

For example, if students decide to go to culinary school, they can become restaurant critics or use their skills to help restaurants reinvent themselves, a recession-era trend.

Peppered in between the career talk were real life cooking skills, including a few that some culinary aficionados might love to know.

For example, learn the exact size of your palm and thumb. You can use the hand as a measuring tool.

"I know that my thumb yields about a tablespoon of ginger root," she said.

"The size of your thumb," she added, "is usually a tablespoon of something. If you put salt across the thumb, it's about a tablespoon. The point is, you don't have to become reliant on certain kitchen measuring tools. For baking you do, but for cooking, you don't."

Freshman Katie Kirk said she learned a lot from the class.

"I think I want to be a chef," she said. "Or maybe I'll get into some form of business management."

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