Never Stop Learning, and Other Lessons from an Amazing Chef

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Classes and education are a good idea for everyone.

People should never stop learning through life, no matter their education or experience.

When I was a young teen, attending the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, NY, I had Chef Albert Kumin as a pastry and chocolate instructor. He was extraordinary for a few reasons. The first reason was his knowledge, skill, and craft as a pastry chef. He had apprenticed in Switzerland, opened Windows on the World in the World Trade Center, served as the pastry chef of the White House during the Carter Administration, and opened the French pastry shop in Epcot in Disney World.

Chef Kumin knew the science of baking. He was creative, and his real-world experience was nothing short of stellar. When he talked desserts, he would often speak of making thousands of each item. But his chocolate work was like nothing I had seen before. He could sculpt, mold, make candies, and assemble garnishes with chocolate.

Chef Kumin was also kind and patient with students. He really seemed to love to teach.

When he opened a school in Bedford Hills, New York (the International Pastry Art Center) I used my vacation time to take every class he taught over a period of several years. I still have the notebooks of recipes in my kitchen, and I'm so glad I made the decision to learn more from him. I could have easily stopped taking classes because the CIA gave me a wealth of education for cooking and baking. But I chose to learn more and I am so glad I did!

The best lesson I learned from Chef Kumin (besides how to make all of the pastries) was to always understand the science of the ingredients with which you are working.

Every recipe always came with a lecture about the ingredients and their food chemistry. We learned the four steps for chocolate tempering and how the crystals are formed by the manipulation of temperature. We learned about the gluten content of flour. We learned about how sponge cakes are aerated. We learned about the effects of temperature on creaming.

If everyone took the time to learn about the chemistry of the foods they were making, cooking would be a breeze!

Chef Kumin also had a fix or a workaround for every problem in the kitchen. If your cookie batter broke while you were adding eggs, then you simply heated up the mixture so that it would come back together before you added the flour.

If your chocolate was too warm, you could cool it on marble.

Now, some things could not be fixed and you had to throw them away and do them again. Crystalized sugar is one example. Burning something is another. Yet during all these lessons, Chef Kumin never lost his temper. Mistakes were lessons for culinary students. I remember using this mantra as a pastry chef and manager and the outcome was that my employees were never afraid to try something new or to admit a mistake.

Read deeply, never stop learning, don’t worry about mistakes, and make every dish as beautiful as you can.

Chef Kumin passed away at the age of 94. He never stopped working. Here is a tribute to him:

As an extra bonus for members, I've created a handout with a recipe for his Irish Soda Bread. It's ready for you in the post Chef Kumin's Irish Soda Bread.

And as a special treat for you, I've summarized some of Chef Kumin's best lessons in a new printable handout. I hope you like it!


And here are some other fantastic cooking resources...

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