I had nightmares about soup long after I left the restaurant.
As a line cook, I was responsible for making one or two a day. I'd be fine each morning until I had to use the kitchen's professional blender.
A blender is arguably the professional cook's most important tool (after the knife). When I first used our machine, I was astonished at how easily it transformed chunky vegetables into smooth puree. I investigated and found that the brand we used boasts a 3 peak horsepower engine. Make no mistake: this means nothing to me. (Blending vegetables takes as much work as a horse pulling 100 pounds of coal ore out of a mine shaft 220 feet deep in one minute?) But what did resonate was another number: 240, the miles per hour its blades spun. Now that I could visualize my celery root being pummeled by a car driving at warp speed, I realized this was one serious blender.
Yet one of the kitchen's many blenders was faulty. Its motor wouldn't start fully, then would suddenly burst with energy ... which meant soup all over my coat. The thing had a mind of its own. But which one was it? Grabbing a blender from the cabinet was like a game of Russian roulette.
Thus began the nightmares. I'd start to puree and end up scalding my face. Or I'd puree without incident, but holes would magically appear in the pan as I poured in my soup ... and I'd end up with scalding burns on my feet. So you can imagine my hesitance to whip up soup in my own kitchen - until my friend presented me with an immersion blender for my birthday.
One of the first things I learned in culinary school, after the slightly ridiculous technique of tournage (how to carve a vegetable into an oblong football-shape that is "aesthetically pleasing" only to French culinary instructors) is that every basic vegetable soup involves the same components and the same procedure:
1. Sweat out aromatics. Depending on the kind of soup, this can include a combination of onions, garlic, shallots, leeks, celery, and carrots.
2. Add and sweat out the pièce de résistance of your soup (the celery root, the sunchoke, the cauliflower, the mushrooms, whatever you choose).
3. Cover everything with stock.
4. Add a bouquet garni (a cheesecloth bundle of herbs and spices).
5. Bring to a boil, then simmer until everything is mushed-out. (You want to be able to take a fork and completely pierce the toughest vegetable).
Once you feel comfortable with the basics, you can mix and match flavors at will, adding milk or cream to certain vegetables (cauliflower or celery root) and a kick of alcohol to others (mushroom, leek).
In a small kitchen like mine, the immersion blender is a miracle worker: it's small, easy to clean, affordable, and comes with so many attachments a girl doesn't know what to do first. Whip? Blend? Chop? I was so excited when I opened it I almost whipped my toothpaste. (It was bedtime.)
The first time I used it, my friends and I went to the grocery store in search of ingredients for something quick, warm, and filling. We returned with the makings for cauliflower soup, and not an hour later were happily enjoying piping hot, smooth goodness accompanied by cheesy bread. We couldn't have been happier.
The next night, thrilled at my seemingly effortless success, I invited my boyfriend over for mushroom soup, following the basic guidelines. As he walked in and I looked up, having timed his entrance so he could admire my new tool in action, my hand moved and mushroom puree ended up on my jeans.
Maybe it wasn't the faulty blender after all.