Culinary School Confidential: The Decision and Orientation

 I’ve been holding back a teeny, tiny piece of information – next week I start culinary school. For the next six months I’ll be enrolled in the French Culinary Institute’s daytime, Classic Culinary Program.  My life just went through a big upheaval with the move from LA to NYC, so why not upend my career as well?

This is obviously not a decision I came to lightly.  I started mulling over the option of culinary school a few years ago as one of a rotating wheel of daydreams I’d consider whenever I was feeling bored at my job or felt like I was hitting a wall.  When we went to Australia, I told myself that I was going to take the time to “find myself,” as people on foreign adventures often tend to tell themselves. The closest I came to an epiphany was that I decided that I wanted to be paid to eat and travel.  Not exactly practical.  

Last year while we were back in LA,  I got back into production and most of time I really loved it. It’s crazy times, but a brand of crazy I was o.k. with.  Still I couldn’t help feeling that for me, production had a shelf life.  Moving to NYC kind of forced me to think about what I really want. I was starting over again anyways, so if I really wanted to make a change, this seemed like the time to do it. Maybe getting to be paid to eat and travel is unlikely, but I kept thinking that I’d at least like to be professionally connected to food. I mulled it over and over, wavering back and forth, and one day the answer was just there. It just rose up out of my consciousness and surprised me on day during yoga class.  I really do want to go to culinary school, and I’d like to bring everything together and work in food media. It could be in a variety of capacities, whether it be in television, magazines, developing food apps, or in a test kitchen.

It’s true the careers in food are just as difficult and competitive as the entertainment business. However, in the entertainment business (food media aside) I was really only interested in production.  On the other hand, if food media doesn’t work out or if I change my mind, there are other things I’d be interested in doing. They just all happen to involve food, so I feel like I’m gaining options.

Taking the time off to make this decision here in New York, where everyone is intensely involved in climbing their particular ladder, was kind of interesting.   Since LA’s defining industry is the Entertainment Business, and the Entertainment Ladder is so nebulous and ever-changing, if you occasionally need to take a timeout  (or if one is forced on you) every now and again to recalculate and shift gears, no one really thinks much of it.  Here in NYC, whenever I’d tell people I was taking time out figure out what I want to do, I would get looks of utter confusion.  If I picked one story and told people either that I worked in production or that I’d decided to go to culinary school, all was well.  People would kindly start to tell me about their contacts in that industry and offer to make introductions.  However, ‘not knowing’ seemed to be state that people did not know how to process.

Nonetheless, I’m very thankful for the timeout. It really gave me the chance to get comfortable with my rather expensive decision and make sure that it’s what I really want.  I even got the chance to reconsider. A couple of friends helped me get a few production jobs when I realized that I now really needed money to help put towards school.  As before, I had a great time working on them, but now I really felt like I was ready for a new path.

Many friends were not surprised when I told them of my decision. One friend even said, “Oh, I could have told you that.”  (Next time tell me!) In truth, food has become a bigger and bigger preoccupation over the past few years. I always liked cooking, but I would give myself more and more projects just to see if I could do them.  Writing reviews for yelp proved to not be enough – I wanted my own blog.  While I rarely shop, Greg and I will splurge on dinners out – perhaps a little too easily and too often.  I’ve even set up a savings account specifically to set aside money to eat at expensive restaurants.  And if you’ve eaten out with me lately, you know that my need to take pictures of everything I eat has nearly become a compulsion.

I began the process of checking out schools and ultimately decided on the FCI. (That comparison and decision process will the subject of a future post.) Now, the time has finally arrived.  Today was my orientation and I begin on Tuesday.

Treats served at today's orientation.
I’ve been told that the first two sections, during which students learn tons of terminology, knife skills, and techniques, are extremely grueling.  I’ve also been told that there will be moments during these sections where I will rue my decision and might feel the urge to cry and tear my hair out. I’m hoping that my inherent nerdiness will at least help me out with the academic portions. Supposedly, however, after I get through those sections, things start to get really fun.

I am a little concerned about knife skills. My hands are TINY (when Greg’s niece, Cara was eight, her hands were already bigger than mine) and I’ve had carpel tunnel in varying degrees for years from spending all my time at the computer, so I’m a little worried that speed and strength will be an issue. I guess I will just have to practice more. As a cook, my bad habits tend to be to use too much heat, overcook, or burn things. I’ll have to be careful to work against those tendencies. I’m also a bit of a klutz, so I really don’t want to think about what my hands will look like when it’s over. 

I’m a little scared, but mostly I’m really, REALLY excited!  I’ll be sharing my experiences here, and I hope you’ll follow along.

I’d also like to give a huge THANK YOU to Greg, who has been hugely supportive through this decision process.

The Before Picture. My tiny, scar-less hands nicely done for a wedding this weekend.
This is also the last time they'll be manicured for a very long time, 
as we're not allowed to wear nail polish  lest it should chip off into the food.
We're thinking of keeping a scar and burn tally as I move through the program.

Once I get my kit on Tuesday, I’ll give you a glimpse of some of my new toys.


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