Courtesy of cityguides.msn.com
Yesterday was my first day of class in my adult culinary degree program at Johnson & Wales University. I know you know, I've been talking about it endlessly - about the knives I would receive, the uniform... about taking the tour of the kitchens and being near tears because I just felt so strongly that that was where I was supposed to be.
I arrived on Sunday morning at the ghastly hour of 6:45AM. But I was as excited and chipper as a 4th grader on her first day of school after summer vacation. My uniform was bright white and crisply ironed, my face free of makeup, just as the rulebook specified. I had my orthopedic shoes, my notebook at the ready and my pens tucked neatly in my sleeve pocket. I was greener than I had ever been in my entire life at anything. I had no idea what I was in for. (More after the jump.)
See, I did go to orientation last Wednesday. But orientation covered mostly university policy type issues - who to contact to drop a class, how to log into university email. They did not orient me for being dropped into a restaurant-style kitchen, face first with only my enthusiasm to keep me afloat.My current class is Stocks, Soups and Sauces. Up until this point, stock was something that came in a box or a can, like so. I was aware that it had to be created somehow before it was put into the box or can, and that many people did this themselves. But it wasn't something that I concerned myself with. Why not take a little help from Kitchen Basics, here?
Yeah, not so much. Stock is made with bones. And in my team's case, brown beef stock, or fond de brun beouff (because everything is in French), is made with giant, meaty dinosaur bones that first have to be browned. This was not the only thing I didn't know. It was a 12 hour day of lessons in my ignorance and it was humbling. Sure I cook! I have a food blog! But cooking at home with my music, and my glass of wine, and my cat sitting on the table watching me is an entirely different animal than cooking in a culinary classroom. Did I say already that it was humbling?
The morning rolled by relatively smoothly. Our instructor lectured on food safety and proper handling. She gave a demonstration of knife cuts and decribed the procedures for making stock. I learned lots of kitchen French very quickly, and I was eager to get started. But first we went to lunch. The process at JWU is for the students in kitchen labs to go to lunch in the dining room, where a dining room class would serve us our meal. This alone takes getting used to. I'm a turkey sandwich or microwaved left-overs kind of lunch eater. Here's what I had for lunch yesterday:
1st Course: French onion soup
2nd Course: Seafood crepe
3rd Course: Roasted duck with potatoes and spinach
4th Course: Mushroom salad
Weight Watchers would not approve! In the weeks to come, I'll have to learn how to taste the courses rather than devour them. The food was amazing. After lunch, we were in production mode. It was time to stop talking about stocks and soups and make them. This was where it got chaotic and far more difficult than I ever would have dreamed possible. You're in a brand new environment, putting into practice information you received 20 minutes ago, and you're doing it with people who have varying amounts of experience. I asked tons of questions, made tons of mistakes and nearly lost several fingers. (I didn't Mom, I didn't even cut myself!)
By the time I left at nearly 7PM, my back ached, my feet were blistered and my brain was overflowing with information. But I continue to remind myself that even the most experienced, world-renowned chefs had a first day. And what sets them apart is that they went back for a second. And maybe on day 2, they weren't quite so painfully green.