Culinary School First Quarter Impressions / by Anne

shallots Culinary school has been like a blistering teenage crush.  I'm driving home either yelling "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" for something I did, or singing joyfully to a cheesy song at the top of my lungs.  There's lots of angst.  Learning sure can be uncomfortable.  And there's lots of longing: thinking, writing, and reading about food can be an exercise in melancholy.  When will I get a chance to try cooking all the delicacies from Chef Gregg's lectures?  When will I fly across the country or the world to try that restaurant? 

I even got that longing on one of the first days when Chef Gregg asked us to go around the room and say our favorite comfort food.  A room full of strangers revealed what satisfied their souls the most.  Suddenly, we knew each other better--and were yearning for ice cream, or a bowl of noodles, or a Greek salad.

Actually, culinary school is also like a reality TV show.  Our class has distinct representatives from different walks of life and ages.   Each person seems ripe for a one- or two-word nickname, based on our backgrounds and idiosyncracies.   Guess who I am: Mom.  Do I love that? Not really.  But I get it. 

Our differences do make for some interesting interactions.   Some people have "found" each other and formed alliances, and others can't bear each other.  There was a serious "No you didn't!" moment with two women who came close to taking it outside over something tiny--because they apparently dislike each other so much. 

With the amount of gossip that mills through the school, you just know that the near-catfight story got told over and over for weeks.  Seems like people are constantly talking about each other.  Nothing is private.  We're all completely nosy.  "What's that?  What are you eating? Can I taste it?  What did you get on the  sanitation quiz?  What did they say?  Are they coming?  Did they pass?"  Everyone's into each other's business. 

To add to the reality TV vibe, there's the turmoil caused by attrition.  The loss of some of our classmates due to life changes, or, more painfully, flunking, really hurts.  We had become like a wacky family, and now people are getting voted off the island.   We started with 28 and have lost nine people since.  This is typical in the program, I hear.  We'll end up with about half the number of students as when we started, apparently.  Since we lost seven of the people on the last day of fall quarter, there's no telling what it will be like next quarter with the remaining 19.

I do know that second quarter will be a hit-the-ground-running situation.  We're in charge of making lunch for all the culinary students, so the theme of the quarter is "quantity cooking."  Really, it will be "quantity cooking for a tough crowd."  As everyone is developing their palates, they're quick to criticize what they eat.  Myself, I liked the food fine, but I was always critiquing it. 

I remember three distinct times that I was really excited by the food I ate at Student Lunch.  Two of the times I went to find out who was responsible so that I could give them my compliments. Next quarter I will aspire to do that well (even if nobody comes to find me and rave about the food).

We'll rotate through stations each week (such as entree, starch/veg, butchery, sushi, breakfast, etc.).  We will sometimes be assigned dishes and other times need to supply our own recipes.  So, during this winter break I've been collecting recipes that are easily prepared for large groups.  Hello, Swedish Meatballs

There's the temptation to get creative, but being fussy is not the nature of quantity cooking.  My friend and I were lamenting this, being foodies, but there's going to be lots to learn about techniques behind creating food in large quantities while still making it taste great.  Anyway, I'm looking forward to this challenge.  My inner Italian grandma is pleased as punch.  Mangia, mangia!  Let's go make big vats of sauce!

All in all these first three months have been intense, tiring, and fascinating. Even at its most exhausting, though, I didn't want to be anywhere else.   I wish I could get paid to go to culinary school.  That's how I feel right now, anyway, after one quarter, right at the end of our restful winter vacation.  However, after many years of being a student and a teacher, I've never looked forward to going back to school as much as I am looking forward to it now.  That's gotta say something.