Reflections on Culinary School.

It can’t believe it was 10 months ago that I walked out the door of my house, absolutely scared to death for my first day of culinary school.  Look, I didn’t even know how to correctly wear my uniform – I have my neckerchief on totally wrong!  

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Almost exactly one year ago, I took the biggest leap of my life and quit a very stable, salaried job to go after my dream.  I never ever would have done it if it wasn’t for Casey pushing me and encouraging me through the whole process.  Leaving my job and Cincinnati was absolutely terrifying, but I know now that it was the right decision.

Casey and I had fun today, talking and thinking back to how different life was when we first moved here and started our school programs.  He reminded me that I was so anxious about my first orientation session that he ended up coming with me, just to settle my nerves.  While I was walking into the school in my culinary uniform for the first time, he was sitting across the street at Starbucks with his laptop, just in case I needed him.  :)

The next day was the first day of school, and I was still petrified.  I thought everyone there would be budding Top Chef contestants, and that I would be the only clueless fool in the corner, trying to figure out how to sharpen my knives.  Thinking back to that day, I can honestly say that I don’t even know that girl in the picture (above) anymore.

Over the course of ten months, I got to have so many amazing experiences – things that most people probably never do – meet Master Chef Martin Yan and Cake Boss Buddy Valastro, learn to fillet fish and break down a half a cow, work in a meat locker for 9 days, carve an ice sculpture with a chain saw – the list goes on and on…

I thought that I was going to school to learn to become a better cook.  But I ended up in so many more roles than I had imagined.  I was a bartender…

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A dishwasher…

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A pastry artist…

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A maitr’d and manager…

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An ice sculptor…

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A waitress…

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And of course, a chef…

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And even though I spent all morning and afternoon cooking, I never got tired of it and always wanted to do more.  Every night, I tried to apply what I had learned that day hoped that it carried over into my cooking at home. 

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Going back to school as an adult is a strange experience.  When I went to college from 18 to 22, I was much more concerned with my friends and our fun than I was with my classes and my future.  The second time around, at age 28, I was determined to do things differently.  I was intensely focused on my academics and performance, and assumed that as a commuter student, I would probably get good grades but not really get to know anyone or make any friends.

Boy was I wrong!  By nature of the structure of the classroom schedule, I spent all day in one small room with the same group of 20 people for 3 months at a time.  In fact three of us had all 10 months together – every single day.  It would be impossible to not get to know anyone, and I did just the opposite – I m
ade friends that will last a lifetime. 

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My closest friends from culinary school range in age from 18 to 39, and we saw each other through major ups and downs this year.  The good, the bad, and the ugly – we worked it out over the burners and the cutting boards, and had one hell of a time in the process.  I can definitely say that this was the year in which I laughed the hardest…

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Tomorrow, I will graduate and earn my Culinary Arts degree – something I never would have dreamed of just a few years ago, when I could barely boil water.  My graduation begs the often-asked question – what’s next?

I wish I had a better answer for you than I do, but I’m still figuring out the next piece of my journey.  I am searching for places to do my culinary internship (which will most likely be this fall).  My hope was never to own my own restaurant, or even to be a Chef.  Eventually, I’d like to find an outlet to work with people and teach them that healthy meals can be simple and easy. 

In the meantime, I hope to put in a few years working in vegetarian kitchens with experienced chefs – there is so much more for me to learn!  This summer, I am back to working at Blynk, until we figure out where we will go next.  We moved to Charlotte for school, and with both of our programs finished we have no reason to really stay here once our lease expires. 

Casey is looking into PhD Math programs, and I am looking for vegetarian job prospects – we’re looking as far to the left as the west coast, and as far to the right as Washington, DC!  I am crossing my fingers and saying a few prayers that good things come our way.

As culinary school comes to an close, it’s crazy to think of all that I’ve learned in such a short amount of time.  In the end, I learned more about myself than I did about cooking.  I found out that I am a really hard worker, and that I can hang with the boys even when I (secretly) feel intimidated.  I learned to believe in myself, and that I am capable of anything I choose to work hard to achieve.  I learned that it’s never too late to make a big change, and that life is meant to have many different starting points.

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On my first day of school, I was so terrified that my husband sat across the street and worked from Starbucks, just so that I wouldn’t feel alone.  Tomorrow morning, I will walk across the graduation stage and get my diploma all by myself – because as it turns out, I’m pretty strong on my own.