This week, I had a friend send a photo to me that really made me stop and realize how I have grown as a person within the last year. In this photo, a year ago this week, I was beginning one of my most daunting tasks at The Culinary Institute of America- the start of Culinary Fundamentals, or as us CIA folk say- “fundies”. As many of you know, with goals of working in Food TV and Food Media, I came to the honest conclusion that attending for culinary or baking and pastry arts was simply not for me. The Hospitality Management degree was a perfect match, as I get the foundational background of the culinary world through just a sampling of hands-on classes.
A year in to my degree, it was time to take my first of four culinary courses. I remember being so completely nervous the week leading up to the course. I know it sounds absurd to be that worked up over making stock and sauces, but I knew I was in for a lot more than that. As much as I adore food, part of the reason I was driven away from the practical side is the stressful environment many kitchens entail, school being no exception. From the moment you walk in, you are looked up and down to ensure your nails are perfectly trimmed, your socks are the correct color, your neckerchief is tied properly, your uniform is crisp white, your toque is pristinely pleated, and your hair is out of sight. When you step foot in the kitchen until the minute you leave, your mind is racing and constantly planning your every move. Absolutely every action you make is calculated, every cut you make is precise, and every move made is swift. Adding an extra level of intensity, we were in a non-air conditioned kitchen with no windows in the dead heat of summer. Oh, and add in 20 ovens set at 400 degrees all day. I vividly remember walking out every day drenched in sweat and extremely tired. Working in a kitchen is no joke.
As the weeks began to progress, I adapted to the environment and really felt myself thriving. Yes, I was stressed, and tired, and sweaty, but at the end of the day I was doing what I do best- creating. I surprised myself in many ways during the course of that class. I learned so very much about more than just cooking, but rather communicating and problem-solving. I shined when I was given a task and had the freedom to complete it. I built confidence and felt very comfortable in my surroundings. I left that class prouder than I could’ve ever imagined (and sweatier).
From there, I went on to several more kitchens and bakeshops, each one teaching me more than the last. I am happy to say that the culinary curriculum of my degree is over, and I made it out alive despite my many thoughts saying otherwise. While I am no longer intimidated by that caliber of excellence in a kitchen, I am certainly reassured that I did make the correct choice for myself in pursing my Hospitality Degree. I have the upmost appreciation for my peers in the Culinary and Baking/Pastry Programs, and I am grateful I was able to work in that environment firsthand in order to gain the knowledge needed to be able to understand the hard work that goes into creating excellent food. It has deepened my understanding and led me to a new appreciation of food itself. I am a firm believer that the kitchen can teach you so much about life. It is through my experiences in kitchens, that I have learned some of my biggest lessons. Making something from scratch and having it be enjoyed by others is an unexplainable feeling… this feeling being the exact reason many even enter into this profession. So as I sit here and look at this picture of myself with sheer pride on my face a year later, I can’t help but feel proud.