By The Foodist
One of the sadder sides to Culinary School is when one of its body falls to the wayside.
Like a contestant cut from one of America's oh-so-beloved reality cooking shows, it seems that one minute they are there and in another, their bags are packed and they disappear.
I returned from class yesterday to find a classmate of my stream (Stream being all the students who embody the group set to graduate at the same time, Bakers and Culinary) standing by the window next to the elevator in my dorm hall.
She turned and saw me and gave me a little smile "I’m leaving " she said.
I had talked with Jac(kie) about leaving before. After returning from extern she was uncertain if culinary school, heck, cooking in general was right for her. I didn’t know her all that well, as the group I returned to school with following extern was not my original group, so I tried to offer the best unbiased advice I could.
I told her then that she was almost done, just 5 months left, and she was probably better off sticking it out and finishing. She would then at least have a degree and a foot in the door.
I saw her a few days after that and she told me she was going to try to stick it out. A month later I saw her again, She mentioned how relieved she was to be in the kitchen classes and out of the classrooms, and how her group made her experience bearable. I was glad to see her stick it out, hopeful that in the end it was the right choice for her.
So now I was taken aback by her decision to leave. I asked what had changed and if something had happened to change her mind and so drastically. Her response was that it took her 30 minutes of convincing herself to get out bed that morning to go to class, and then never made it out the door to do so. She just wasn’t happy.
It happens, it happens at all colleges. The choice to leave, I hope, never comes easy but from what I could see she was making the one that was best for her.
I talked with her for a short while as she packed her things. She asked me if I thought she was making the right choice.
"Jac, I can’t tell you if your making the right choice or not. It’s your life and your choice to make. If it takes you 30 minutes to convince yourself to get out of bed and do something that doesn’t make you happy, then hell don’t do it. In the end life is far too short to not do what you love"
Then she said she was worried about her parent’s reaction and what she was going to tell them.
I tried my best to reassure her that if she talked to them they would eventually understand (I hoped). And I told her to just keep in mind that even though she may be leaving now, there was nothing saying she could never come back.
This is something I knew to be true personally. I left my first culinary school in much the same way she was leaving now. Frustrated, stressed, worried sick, and generally unhappy. It was some time later while I was laying lines for an electrical company that I realized how much I missed the kitchen. Soon I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. That’s when I knew where I really belonged. Kitchen life makes me happy. That's it.
I told her she had to find something that made her happy and to do that. It may not be cooking and she may never have the same realization that I had, but I hope that one day she does realize what’s going to make her happy and goes for it.
Like the old saying about soldiers goes, so it goes for cooks.
When you’re a cook, you’ll always be a cook. If you love food, that love never fades. Burnout and stress happen to the best of the best, but if you’re a cook at heart you will always be a cook.
I wished her luck and left her to her packing. She said she would stop my room before she left to say one last goodbye.
Later that night I was walking with my roommate overheard her roommate talking to two guys in the hall. "Yeah she just packed all her stuff and took off." she said.
The three seemed confused, and almost disgusted. It was like hearing all the talk that happens when someone walks out on a shift.
I smiled a little, because I was the only one standing there right then to know why she left, and I know she left to be happy. And I smiled because I knew that years from now the ideals and lessons she learned here won't just fade away, but remain with her in the years to come. My hope is that they serve her well in whatever she chooses to do.
It’s in that thought that I believe good cooks exist inside and outside professional kitchens. Whether she returns to a professional kitchen at some point or just enjoys cooking at home for family and friends, the time she has spent at school and in a kitchen will never leave her. I know Jac loves good food, we’ve talked about it before, and I know that some part of her still loves the kitchen but doing it professionally isn’t the path for her.
Still, I can’t help but hope she does finish at some point, -if for no other reason than to say she did it- and that maybe good cooks never die -they just leave quietly.