I am now a little over a month into my journey with the Culinary Institute of America and I am still at a loss on what I am feeling. Actually, I take that back, I know exactly what I am feeling but am at a loss for what to THINK about what I am feeling. The last three weeks have been a jumble of frustration directed at the school and more importantly at myself. I still have not figured out what I am doing (or not doing) that fills me with such angst. I liken the sensation to that of knowing about impending danger. It’s that state of heightened awareness. I have been dealing with it by delving deeper into my studies but more often than not, I lie comatose, unable to sleep as my mind spins.
Academically, this block was much easier than the last. From 8:30-10:30am, I had my Product Identification course; basically a crash course in all things vegetable, fruit, spice, herb and diary. We had a tasting every day that focused on a particular family/group of food. We easily sampled over 100 different foods in 14 days ranging from milks/cheeses to potatoes to mushrooms. While the class was informative to a degree, I wasn’t enthralled with it. I found the instructor not be engaging. For me, a class (or any learning environment) begins and ends with the instructor and for some reason this one didn’t grab me.
I got the feeling that he was annoyed with the class. I can’t quite place my finger on it, but it was almost as if the class’s mere presence was infringing on his time. Aside from that, his presentations were canned from the CIA’s main campus in NY. I don’t know the protocol or how much lead way he has to add his own flavor to courses, but I got the strong inkling that he did not prepare his own PowerPoint slides. His lectures were actually read from notes a majority of the time and often did not match up to the course syllabus. Maybe I am expecting too much or my years at Stanford tainted my perceptions, but I feel cheated.
If I make the effort to read assignments, do my homework and come to class prepared I feel the instructor should do the same. It’s frustrating to feel that an instructor views their interaction with a class as an afterthought — a necessary evil of the teaching process. I can’t say with certainity, but I sense that many of the Chef Instructors at Greystone take the job to have a semblance of a normal life. The grind of the kitchen wears a person down and the notion of a steady check with normal hours with minimal headache proves appealing. I get the strong sense that the students are at the center of the educational equation at the CIA.
I would hope that anyone entering the teaching profession has a passion for sharing knowledge — a spark — that drives them to educate others on what you love doing. My best teachers weren’t the smartest nor the most gifted, but they sincerely wanted students to succeed, grow and prosper. I didn’t see that from this instructor. I may be wrong, and sincerely hope I am, because I have the same instructor for my next block of courses, Meat and Seafood Fabrication.
You know what this means?!? Yuppers, I officially enter the kitchen come Monday. This also means that I shift need to readjust my schedule since I am now in class from 2:30-8:30pm moving forward. This new schedule is seriously going to cramp my mid-afternoon naps, but I also hope that it snaps me out of my funk since I will now be in my feet for 6-8 hours a day running around the kitchen.
My other course was Food Safety taught by Mr. F, a food safety professional in the Napa community. He was the opposite of what my other instructor was regarding passion. This man seriously loves food safety and all the horrors that go along with it. This man has a personal story for every awful, gross, and vile thing you could get from food. Botulism? He has a story about a baked potato causing paralysis.
Listeria? A tale of a woman having a miscarriage due to a hot dog.
Salmonella? A saga of an entire wedding party knocked to their knees due to bad chicken cutlets.
From 11-2:30pm we were regaled with story after story of food safety gone awry. Sadly, Food Safety straddled either side of our lunch break. Needless to say, each day my class went into lunch paranoid, ill to our stomaches and horrified at the prospect of finding a band-aid in the salad bar or getting some horrible food borne illness. However, in three weeks, I learned more about food safety, proper hygiene in the kitchen and cleaning protocols than I ever thought I would. For that reason, I temper my annoyance that on the last day of class rather than review for our exam, we were treated to multiple YouTube clips of various cooking shows. But even with that, I scored a 96% on my ServSafe Manager exam! For that, thank you Mr. F……..
I enter my third block of classes unsure of where I stand with my CIA education. I love my classmates. They are a group that makes me smile. When I walk into our classroom I am excited to see them. I genuinely care for them in a way that I didn’t think I would and I think that bond will grow (albeit may be tested) as we enter into the kitchen. Yet, everything else about my CIA experience strikes me as bland, flat or frustrating. So I need to decide what motivates me and focus on that in this next block. I just hope that whatever it turns out to be, it is enough to fuel me through two years.