A bowl of mashed potatoes is served with salt on the side.

Salt and Pepper

Adriano Piazza shares lessons of simplicity and balance from life as a Culinary Arts student at ICE LA.

A dual U.S.-Italian citizen, Adriano Piazza moved to California (where he spent all his summers) after studying food, wine and beer in Italy. Adriano enrolled in the Culinary Arts program at the Institute of Culinary Education's LA campus to add a hands-on, well-rounded education to his theoretical studies. Here, he shares one of his first lessons.

Adriano Piazza studies Culinary Arts at ICE's LA campus.
Adriano Piazza studies Culinary Arts at ICE's LA campus.

I moved to the United States from Italy just a couple of years ago and I can say I have studied food my entire life, from growing up in a country where food was central to everyday life to studying at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont. I’ve tasted thousands of spices, enjoyed pairing young wines with old recipes, and encountered many new foods along the way. Beyond that, as a student at ICE, I have come to realize that simplicity is where greatness lies.

As many chefs and cooks would agree, if I could only have two spices in my cabinet, I'd choose salt and pepper. Salt is so engrained in our lives that even today, we go to work to get our “salary,” which literally means “portion of salt,” derived from sal in Latin. Pepper, originating in India, has a history that spans more than two millennia. A spice that was used to pay back kings and emperors, we now grind peppercorns without much thought. Since day one as a culinary student, the recurring conversation in our class has been how to train our palates and how salt and pepper play such a fundamental role in recipes.

“It’s bland!” or “it’s too salty” are two of the most common comments I heard during my first days as a Culinary Arts student at ICE. Learning to strike the proper balance and taking my time to taste everything, I quickly understood how a grain of salt could turn a simple dish into a mouthwatering experience or a not very pleasant one. For me, cooking has been like learning to walk again.

A grain of salt could turn a simple dish into a mouthwatering experience or a not very pleasant one.

Pomme purée, commonly known as mashed potatoes, made me realize the importance of the right amount of salt. The recipe directions are simple: cube and boil the potatoes until they are just tender, heat some heavy cream and butter, mix together, and adjust with salt and pepper. Never would I have expected my biggest challenge to be those three little words, “salt and pepper.”

I remember spending way too much time cubing my potatoes and checking them every minute to be sure to deliver the best I could. I remember whisking the cream and the butter, and finally adding the salt and pepper. Happy with my product, I plated my potatoes and set my dish in front of my chef-instructor. I was so confident in my skills that I had no doubt such a basic recipe would come out perfect. To my surprise, I watched the chef taste it and say, “It is bland, refire!” I could not stop myself from replying, “no way!” Then I tasted the potatoes and I shook my head, turned around and started all over again – with a smile on my face, as I had the chance to improve upon something.

When I did it again, I was more conscious of how important every step of the recipe was. I no longer underestimated the importance of that last step, which is so easy to overlook compared to the detailed instructions for cooking the potatoes. The chef-instructor taught me to treat every step as the most important, regardless of my preconceived notions – and to taste everything before presenting it.

That’s what I love about ICE: even the simplest recipe can teach you something, even the slightest detail can change everything because that balance weighs as much as a grain of salt.

Study seasoning, balance and more essential cooking skills in ICE's Culinary Arts program.

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