Culinary School: Level 2

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[infobox bg="bluelight" color="black" opacity="on" subtitle="Week 5: Level 2"]Adventures in Culinary School[/infobox]

Well guys, I survived my first month at The International Culinary Center.  I'll be honest - this program is no walk in the park, and I absolutely love it.  The dish photographed above is my Seared and Braised Duck with Orange Sauce (it was delish).  Here's my takeaway from Level 1 and completing my first 4 weeks...

Schedule:

  • Just like any restaurant job, the schedule at school is grueling.  I'm on my feet for over 6 hours everyday, running (actually, walking swiftly) through the kitchen classroom like a madwoman, handling the sauce that's about to boil over with one hand and clearing my station with the other.  It's very challenging from a physical stand-point and I've grown accustomed to not being able to sit down all day long.  My ugly clogs I've mentioned help a lot due to the support.
  • I better be on time, or else I face the wrath of Chef V.  In fact, I better be there early to get my station prepped because once the day officially begins we begin immediately.
  • No days off.  If you skip a day you lose points that affect your grade and ultimately your ability to graduate.  You can make classes up but you don't get the points back.  So, no days off.  I had Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve, and New Years Day off last month.  That's it!

Food:

  • You cook on your very first day, which to me was very exciting.  I also got all of my tools - from a bad-ass set of kitchen knives to practically every other necessary tool you can imagine.  They come in this black briefcase like bag and I carry them around with me when I'm there.
  • The first couple of weeks are basic, but this is not "how to boil water" if you catch my drift.  We are learning classic French techniques that are applied to different recipes constantly.  Much of it has to do with different ways of cooking vegetables, to preparing proteins for cooking, stock and sauce making.  If a recipe now tells me to cook my pearl onions "glacer a blanc" I know exactly what that means and get to it.
  • The food is overwhelmingly delicious.  Butter and salt.  That's all I'll say.
  • Before starting my program I made the decision to only allow myself 2 bites of completed dishes (I have to taste-test throughout also) in an effort to keep the pounds at bay.  Because everything is so rich, and because we constantly face a time-crunch, I'm actually doing this successfully.  In fact, I've lost weight since starting the program.  Turns out going to culinary school is the best diet ever.

Professionalism:

  • Everything about The International Culinary Center is exquisitely top-notch.  The school is training students to be first-rate chefs and while the day to day can be grueling, it's for a reason.  Students are held to an incredibly high standard because working in a world-class restaurant in New York City or Paris will expect the same from the first minute you walk in the door.
  • I used to be terrified of my uniform - the chef's jacket, neckerchief, skull cap, apron, checkered pants, and clogs - but now I love it.  It's a sign of the chef, and absolutely everyone at school wears one.  I change into it everyday upon arrival as the Health Department forbids traveling in your whites.
  • The students and staff here are courteous team-players.  Everyone wants the other person to succeed, because at the end of the day we all work together and one person's mistake reflects upon the entire team.  We truly are a family at The International Culinary center, so much so that the lunch prepared for the entire student body and staff by Level 4 students is called "family meal".

Tests:

  • When starting a month ago, I hadn't taken a written or practical exam since graduating from UCLA in 2008.  Imagine my shock when I realized I was expected to kick-ass on multiple written tests given every couple of days during my first level.  I honestly had forgotten how to study, ha.  No worries though, I got A's on all of 'em. ;)
  • Apart from written tests, you're expected to pass a final exam that's both written and practical before moving on to the next level.  My Level 1 final was on Monday this week and we did everything from talliage to tournage (those damn cocottes are getting easier, I will say), along with cooking specific dishes for Chef to judge.  I was super nervous when first starting, and was incredibly careful not to chop off a finger during the first 30 minutes while my jitters subsided.

In general, despite the hard parts of going to culinary school I'm officially obsessed.  I'm thrilled to get out of bed everyday with passion and excitement.  Level 2 continues with more difficult and complicated recipes and techniques, constantly building upon what I've already learned.  We worked with venison yesterday and I believe today is veal.  Here's to delicious food, good people, and finding your passion!

Xo,

L