Award-winning chef Frank Terranova, an instructor at Johnson & Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts, recently stopped by Johnston High School to offer his insight – and cooking – to Elizabeth Reale’s French students.
Terranova pulled out all the stops for Reale’s class, setting up and firing ratatouille right in front of them. He explained that the origin of the popular dish’s name remains a partial mystery.
“They can’t figure out where the ‘rat’ came from,” Terranova said, adding that the tomato-based dish is perfect for vegetarians and vegans. “The ‘touille’ is the classic French to mean mix up. I can’t find it anywhere on the computer, and it wasn’t from Disney’s cartoon character.”
His visit was part of an in-house field trip for Reale’s French students, who had the opportunity to ask the renowned chef questions about certain vocabulary words, food preparation and cooking and techniques.
He walked them through the technical definitions for puree and julienne, the latter of which has a specific dimension for cutting – one-eighth by one-eighth by two inches long. Terranova also offered his take on demi-glace, a dark sauce that translates to “small glaze,” and gave a behind-the-scenes description on its production.
“Picture getting five gallons of chicken stock or beef stock, OK, reducing it down to maybe three quarts. Know how many days that takes?” Terranova said. “As the pot reduces you keep moving the pan smaller. What we end up with is ‘demi,’ meaning half or small, and ‘glase,’ meaning glaze … You put it on an item, it looks like a thinned out maple syrup, but very, very highly intense labor.”
While their early lunch was cooking, Terranova provided some background on himself and information about the industry. He said he started cooking from a young age, growing up in an Italian household, and has worked in myriad places since high school. He said he has developed tomato sauces for Ragu and traveled the country working with food science companies.
That hard work has paid off for Terranova, who has received 13 American Culinary Federation medals and won the ACF National Seafood Challenge and Cook Shack National Smoking Competition among other accolades.
According to his JWU page, he was also awarded the College of Culinary Arts’ Escoffier Award “in recognition of my contributions in inspiring future culinarians.”
“The business is not just set up for a cook. If you go to culinary school, or you want to be in the food business, you can be a writer, you could be a food stylist,” he said. “Everything you see on television’s done by a food stylist. You may like to write. Food writing has become huge. The information highway because of the computers has caused this. They didn’t have it when I was your age, it was minuscule at best, but now it’s getting bigger.”
Terranova said his daughter went to the University of Rhode Island and now works in the food science industry, with her background in seafood “because we’re the Ocean State.” He said a job of hers in Boston required her to smell and taste products.
At this point, Terranova was preparing the crepes he brought for the class as dessert. He said they are very sweet and call for high amounts of sugar and butter, but moderation is key across the pond.
“Europe – Italy, France, no matter where you go – their portion size is minuscule at best,” Terranova said. “Some of the places you go in the United States, the restaurants, they just bulk it up and they wonder what the problem is. How much can you eat, if you think about it?”
He said that amounts to an important distinction between Americans and Europeans – the former live to eat, while the latter eat to live.
“We Americans, because we have access to food 24/7, I will travel a lot with food companies,” Terranova told Reale’s French students. “If I land in a city, I land in Chicago, I had a pizza delivered to my room at 3 o’clock in the morning. That’s the way it is. This food business, it expands. Anything that has to do with food. You can find anything.”