I am a culinary student currently enrolled at The Culinary Institute of America. My writings are in no way sanctioned or censored by the school and are solely my own opinion. I'll be blogging about Basic Techniques, Basic Food Knowledge, as well as some of the tips and tricks I've picked up at school and elsewhere. However, the main focus of the majority of my posts will be my experiences and views of the life of a culinary student. My intention is to enlighten the course for future students and give a glimpse of what it’s like to be a student to the curious.
With that I present to you "The Question".
There is one question that constantly burns in my brain whenever I meet a brand new student who seeks a career in the food service industry. It's one I’ve asked a million times and probably will continue to ask till the day I die. It encompasses the very essence (at least in my eye) of what makes that first step toward this giant lumbering beast we call the food service industry.
So, why culinary school?
The answers are as varied and sometimes strange as the students who answer. Some of my favorites and not-so-favorites have been:
"I saw chefs on the food network and thought 'hey, that’s cool'"
"My parents wanted me to do it"
"I have no idea."
"I like to eat."
Now some of these have made me cringe in the past, but as the years have gone by my skin has thickened to the answers. But honestly , not thick enough to withstand the pain of hearing the most frequent replies of "I like to eat"'s and "..blah blah Food Network Blah Blah.."'
This has caused me great concern as the numbers of these answers seem to only increase along with the enrollment numbers at culinary schools across the country.
Do these students really have any idea what’s in store for them?! Do they have any clue of the hours, the sacrifices, the life they are choosing to lead?!
After digging and digging I find more and more students have a general idea yes.. thank god. Thanks to books like "The Making of a Chef" and even "Kitchen Confidential" (two books I guarantee you will find on almost every student's desk on move in day) have shed a small light on what awaits them in these hallowed halls.
But I feel the need to remind those students of what awaits outside the walls.
A friend once gave me the best possible analogy for the industry I have ever heard, and probably ever will hear ever again
"You know Little Shop of Horrors right? you know the plant.. Feed me Seymour Feed me!.. that’s the business. It starts by taking drops of blood from your finger, and before you know it your feeding it whole bodies just to shut it up!"
He couldn’t be more right, its a beast.. a monster of many heads that would sooner eat you and an army of small children then bend to anyone’s will.
But if your thinking about attending culinary school, and thinking about a career in a professional kitchen I will tell you this.
There is no job that I have done or found that has given me more joy, more happiness, and a sense of accomplishment then this job. There are days when I debate leaving my knives rolled up forever and never stepping foot in the kitchen again, there are weeks when I wish the chef who seemed hell bent on making my life a living hell would die a horrible death just so I could sleep better that night. But I will tell you, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
The culinary field is changing dramatically; it has already in the last 10 years. The old school of sauté forks in your thigh and boiling hot pans being tossed at you down a line from a chef who speaks a totally different language is beginning to disappear altogether.
In its wake stand the next generation of food service professionals. Trained in culinary schools and weaned from the Food Network and Top Chef to drive the next phase in culinary evolution.
If you’re debating coming here and doing this, the best suggestion I could give you is. Think about that question So why culinary school? And think about it long and hard and honestly.
If you can honestly say "Because I love what I do" then you come prepared, you come humble, and you come ready to be beaten to a pulp. And you come ready to stand up the next day, look that chef with hunger and, like Oliver Twist say
"Please sir, may I have some more?"