Day 101: 19 days left of school and what I’ve learned in a nutshell

19 Nov

For many years in my life, I never stopped to smell the roses.  Everything was about forward momentum and running with that momentum: full speed ahead, no regrets, little reflection.  Over the past couple of years, especially, I’ve really wanted time to slow down as I know it’s speeding up and that’s the joke on all of us. I’ve wanted to make time to reflect, and I’ve wanted to make time to just be.  Why do I want these things? I think it’s because I realize life is precious and short, and that I haven’t figured it all out yet.  Going to culinary school was about the same things that I’m always about:  trying new things that get me excited about life and trying to be the best at them.  But, this school and cooking journey has been about a lot more than that.

Even though time did not slow down and in fact I know Father Time sped up over the last 6 months just to piss me off, this journey has been a lot about reflection and just about “being” some nights.  Like Thursday night, for instance.  I was in my kitchen, all by myself, making dinner for myself and thinking about how fun it was to be able to do this. I don’t know that I’ve ever known contentment or that I would admit it if I did because that word always seemed synonymous with complacency for me.  And, I never want to be complacent.

But, I was content and full of happiness to be doing what I was doing in the moment – not looking forward or backward, just feeling confident and almost effortless at what I was doing, and enjoying the simple pleasure of making delicious food. What a luxury!

So, after just “being”, I decided to reflect about what I’ve learned over the past 6 months.  There are sooo many things that I can think of, but I’m going to write the first 10 things that came to mind.  They are not all the most important, nor are they in any particular order.  I just want to write them down because some are so simple I can’t believe I had to go to culinary school to learn them. Some are not directly related to what I learned at school but rather what I learned about myself during this past 6 months.

1) Every kitchen – home or professional – needs a chinois (fine strainer).  I don’t know how I ever made refined sauces without them.  They’re not that expensive. Get one.

2) If I’m going to be a professional chef, I need to find an exercise regime that compliments that.  As an example, I have weak wrists and I have some neck issues. So, I need to be committed to developing strength in my wrists, hands and forearms, and I really need to do yoga (frick!).  As Carnet knows, I hate yoga.  It’s painful and I’m not into someone talking in a groovy, calming voice as if I’m about to throw a fit if they spoke normally. But, stretching and maintaining a great posture is super important if you’re going to be on your feet all day and leaning over something most of that time. And, the reality is, the sun salutations are a great way to keep your posture and your muscles in great shape. Ughh.

3) You need a good partner in the kitchen and one in your life if you’re going to be a successful restaurant chef.  If I ever open a restaurant, I will be looking for that amazing chef de cuisine.  That person will need to be a rock star in the kitchen just as I plan to run a rock star restaurant.  And, being an amazing chef/restaurateur takes enormous amounts of time, so who helps you at home and in your personal life?  Your amazing partner, of course.  I’ve got that. Thanks, Carnet!

4)  The chef instructors at FCI are among the finest you’ll find anywhere and if I had my choice of any school, I’d choose FCI again.  A good friend once said to me, “Those who do, can. Those who can’t, teach.”  I knew he meant that as a compliment because he told me that when I quit teaching to go do something else.  But, I never really believed that was true. I was a lawyer before I was a teacher, and that’s exactly why I got the opportunity to teach – because I knew my stuff.   The FCI instructors know their stuff and most of them are incredible at imparting that knowledge – not just in “book” instructional ways, but through stories, anecdotes, and by throwing out the book (and recipes) sometimes in favor of what really works.  I’m impressed and I will use them as life long resources.  Thanks, guys!

5) Culinary school is so much more fun if you throw yourself into making friends with the other students with whom you work most closely.  As cheesy as this sounds, I know a few of my culinary friends will be my friends far into the future.  We text about the good food we make at home, we send pictures of the same, we talk about staging and externing and the awesome and painful things that come along with doing those, we help each other in the kitchen, we don’t compete (at least not yet), we go to drinks, we critique restaurants we visit either together or separately, and we check in with each other to see how one another is doing.  It’s like family, but only better.  Kidding, kind of.  I feel so lucky to have met the people in my class.  It has been a blast. Tomas’ hilarious singing gets me laughing every day.  I will always seek out a Tomas in the kitchen from now on 🙂  Laughing is super important, especially when under stress. It puts things in perspective.

6) Sharpen your knives!  I can’t believe I ever worked with dull knives.  Yes, it’s true – a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one.  I’m embarrassed to stay I still don’t have a professional knife sharpener, only a steel.  But, at least I do the steel and it makes such a difference.

7) Lucky  #7 is similar to lucky #3, but it’s an ode to my partner.  I could not have done any of this without you.  Thank you a million times for encouraging me, supporting me, pushing me, critiquing my food harshly even though you know I want smack you when you do, and for loving me.  You are amazing. MFMMMA!

8) The Vita-Prep is essential home kitchen equipment for any chef who thinks she’s serious.  There are so many expensive and crazy gadgets out there, but  VitaMix, Vita-Prep is the best blender you’ll ever buy, and hopefully you’ll only need to buy one (unlike some $30-50 blenders that don’t blend very well and that have broken on me within the first year).  It has industrial power and is super fast. I sound like an infomercial.  If you have the money, just do it.

9)  Cook in as many different kitchens as you can under chefs who share, share share. Simple enough, right? I think there are a lot of brilliant chefs out there, but I want to work with and for the ones who say, “you should take every one of my recipes” and then teach you how to make them (yes they are out there and I’ve worked for a few).   I will work damn hard for those chefs any day.  Old school ways teach humility, sure, but I’m not content to sit back and patiently wait for someone to take an interest in teaching me while I prep and work on garde manger for years in one place.  I want to jump right in, learn as much as I can, and keep pushing forward.  The chefs who help with that are confident in what they do, are passionate enough to share, and they understand that it helps the profession overall if they partake in turning out more artful, skilled chefs who in turn help them bring more nobility to the profession (nobility meaning grandeur and magnificence).

10) Cooking is about “endless reinvention”, one of several guiding principals and words that Daniel Humm and Will Guidara from Eleven Madison Park ( use as inspiration.  I like these two words a lot and not just because they were used to describe Miles Davis who was one of the greatest jazz minds ever.  To me, it is the essence of what great chefs should strive to do – constantly reinvent themselves, their food, their restaurants. I hope to constantly push the limits of my creativity with food and making people happy eating my food. I hope to never find a limit to my creativity.  Endless reinvention.

Speaking of Daniel Humm and Will Guidara, they are even more impressive when you hear them speak together, like several of us from FCI did last night.  These guys are true complimentary partners in every sense of the word and they get it.  Will mentioned that one of the secrets to their winning formula is giving all of their employees a true sense of ownership of the business, which I learned when starting and working for start-ups.  It’s good to see that restaurateurs and amazing chefs are now thinking that way, as well.   Can’t wait to see what these two guys continue to do in the future!   Oh, and if you want a really beautiful recipe book in which they promised all recipes have been tested and re-tested, buy their cookbook.  I did and I’m already thinking about what recipes I’m going to make from it (and likely change a bit) tonight.

One Response to “Day 101: 19 days left of school and what I’ve learned in a nutshell”

  1. Jocelyn November 20, 2011 at 3:39 am #

    It sounds as if you have had an incredible experience at the cooking school. So glad it came out the way you wanted.

    Looking forward to you having a restaurant here sometime in the future!!!


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