Making It Official…..

I am going to keep this short and sweet.  After some soul-searching and some really hard thinking, I have decided to withdraw from the Culinary Institute of America.  Over the last few months, I struggled to find my niche at the school and the greater surrounding community.  The CIA possess an abundance of opportunities for its students and provides a level of hands-on education that many of classmates found enthralling.

I did not.

However, my time at the school is one I will treasure less for the education and more for the amazing students who I was surrounded with every day.  If anyone is curious where tomorrow’s culinary leaders are being made, take a trip to St. Helena, CA and talk to some of my classmates.  I respect their passion and their drive. I envy their focus and determination and wish I could bottle and drink it myself.

What is next for me? A little down time to lick my wounds, recenter my focus and then get back on the saddle to see what is out there. The Partner has been fantastic in all of this and has been a bedrock of support.  Aside from being cute, he is amazingly wise. As I lamented to him on feeling like a failure because I was considering leaving school, he said “You are not a failure. School isn’t always  learning about what you like. It is also learning about what you don’t like, what your limits are and what is important to you as a whole. Sometimes school isn’t about learning the skill, but about getting to know yourself.” Deep stuff huh?

So with that, I am closing the door on one thing and seeing what lies behind the next. Just like 2010 was full of surprises, 2011 appears to be just as packed full of twists and turns.

Practice Makes Perfect……

My back aches.  My fingers  marred with knicks.  Burns cover my wrists and forearms.  And my shoulders have permanently connected with my ears.  I am nearing the end of my Skills One-Kitchen Basics class and it can officially be said that it has kicked my behind from here to China and back.  This is the first time in my life where I have felt defeated, elated and satisfied in the span of six hours.  Each day starts with lecture in a classroom for about 30 minutes, then we move into the kitchen where we are placed into groups to complete a set of assignments dealing with stocks.  From there, we complete our knife cut drills and proceed into our individual work that we present to the Chef for a grade.

I have been very upfront that by nature nervous when it comes to my kitchen skills.  From the very  beginning, I have doubted whether I could hang with the “big dogs” but I am happy to say that for the most part I have held my own.  While I may not be a “natural” in the kitchen, I have worked diligently on my knife cuts, slowly raising my scores and increasing my speed to where I am able to cut several cups of julienne, diced, brunoise and minced vegetables in under 40 minutes.  To understand where I came from, I started three weeks ago barely  able to cut a half cup of three vegetables in an hour.  I am far from proficient and am still in awe of certain members of my class who sail through these knife trays with time to spare.  Honestly, one person in particular who I will call “Milo” has amazing knife skills.  His cuts are precision and simply beautiful to look at – he is my inspiration and where I aspire to raise my level.  However, he is never 100% pleased with his scores and has on several occasions questioned the Chef on why he did not get a perfect “10”.  I respect that he believes in his work to the degree that he will argue its validity.  I, on the other hand, am normally just quite proud to finish all my cuts and to not have lost a finger.

If you read the blog often, you may have noticed that I have posted several inspirational quotes in the last few weeks.  I find that these quotes are almost mantras that I say in my head as I am doing my knife cuts and assignments.  The above quote from Aristotle is profound in its depth of meaning and simplicity.  I have seen the fruits of my hard work.  I  have challenged and pushed myself to do better.  When I have not pushed myself to the point where I thought I  could not go, I did not achieve superior results.  I now know that I am stronger than I was yesterday, yet I still have more to go.

I have tried hard not to compare myself with my classmates because their journey is different from my own.  The barometer I set to measure my success needs to be based on my own goals and mandates.  I won’t fool myself into thinking that my work is stellar, but I know my attitude towards my work exceeds my own expectations.  I have found a zen and contentment that I believe comes from putting it all out on the table every day and holding nothing back.  It’s exhausting and draining, but then I never assumed culinary school would be anything less.

A Famous Man Once Said….

One of my favorite quotes is by Albert Einstein…….

A poster of this quote hung in my room all through junior and high school.  Whenever I faced a challenge or a question, I could not answer, I would look at this quote and think “nothing is impossible if you can think it”.  And with that, I would set my mind to finding some creative way to solve my issue.  While I was not always right, I always found a solution.

This week I entered the Teaching Kitchen at school and found myself faced with a set of challenges, both external and internal, as I began my foray into our Skills One course.  Skills One is part of a core set of cooking fundamental courses designed to drive home the basics of cooking methodology, form and technique.  This is a polite way of saying that we spend the hours a day doing knife drills that would make a grown man cry.  Brunoise, dice, mince, alumette, & concasse are all terms that I thought I knew before walking into class, but in the last three days I have come to know intimately.  I have the nicks, scratches, cuts and sore wrists to prove I have been on the front lines battling a mountain of vegetables.

I have been improving steadily but then I started at the bottom of the class, so I had no place to go but up!  However, as I completed my knife tray today, the above quote sprang into my head.  I don’t know why, but the quote lodged in my head for the remainder of class as I completed my onion soup and cleaned.  It stayed with me on my ride home and as I stood in the shower trying to get the knots out of my shoulder.  And then it hit me…….

I have done nothing to stoke my imagination in school.  It has been facts for the last 2 months straight.  I have done nothing to fuel the creative side of me that drove me to apply to culinary school.   It’s one of the major reasons why I have been so unhappy with my experiences so far at the CIA.  I am not stoking the creative flame….and it’s dying.  So I need to find some creative outlet in school if I am really going to be the best chef I can be.  I will never be a fantastic knife technician or probably the best cook for that matter, but I can set a table like no one’s business and dress a plate that would make Martha Stewart slap her momma (metaphorically speaking of course…).  I need to be creative and right now, the lack of it in my life is eating at me, sapping my energy and really putting a damper on my time here at school.

I came to school to learn but I also came to think, daydream and imagine.  It’s about time the CIA gives me the room to be me.  And if they can’t….well, I will cross that bridge when I come to it.  Until then, I have the week off from school.  I am going to recharge my mind, body and soul.  A little trip to SoCal and maybe a home project or two…..it’s gonna me nice!

Graphic courtesy of Qwickstep.com