Fun fact: I went to culinary school! I have a Bachelors in Hospitality, Food & Beverage Management and an Associates in Culinary Arts – from what feels like a whole other life almost now. That’s me in the picture below, in my senior practicum course of my culinary arts program!
It’s funny because I think my time in the military prepared me well for culinary life. There’s a lot of similarities, such as the “rank structure” of a kitchen, the very high stakes energy of cooking on the line, the fire, the knives, the uniform and dress code standards, and the “work hard, play harder” mentality that was so pervasive in each.
Culinary school and restaurant experience brought me some great things, but the best thing was undoubtedly the people … I met such talented people! From my classmates to my Chef instructors, these people were just steeped in creativity and they could literally make some of the craziest things out of (seemingly) everyday ingredients! I was in awe of these people around me and I loved learning from, and beside them. I met people who shared the same passion for food and drink that I did – who I could go on crazy restaurant outings with and eat adventurously. These friends literally shared blood, sweat and tears with me. We had long (boozy) nights creating menus, fabricating a whole chicken, and practicing our knife cuts. We faced funny moments (like cutting out fish eyes) and stressful moments, such as mountains of dishes that seemed to never end. We saw each other stab ourselves (accidentally) with carving tools, cut our fingers with knives, burn our forearms relentlessly, and sweat like we’d done a full day in the gym. The kitchen is not a place for the lazy, those without passion for the work, or the faint of heart. You better be ready to WORK and work well under pressure.
Culinary school not only taught me how to cook, but it taught me about taste. I learned about balancing sweet/salty/sour etc and how to season something to bring OUT the flavors, instead of changing them altogether. If you enjoy cooking and experimenting – get yourself a book called The Flavor Bible – seriously, it will bring you flavor combinations that you didn’t expect and never knew you needed. I used to use WAY too much salt in my pre-culinary life…now I use next to none, and only to enhance.
I learned about innovation and technology! I had never Sous Vide something before – I didn’t even know what it was! I had never thought of Molecular Gastronomy! I was all of a sudden using math, chemistry, artistry, design and more – but in ways that I enjoyed. I was making concoctions that somehow turned liquid into tiny, beautiful pearls full of flavor! I was tricking my mind and my taste buds by creating foods that LOOKED like one thing but tasted like another…I felt like a tiny, terrible little Willy Wonka.
I didn’t realize it at the time – but I also was learning how to be less wasteful. How to care for an ingredient and use all the parts of it. How to make food from scratch, with a little creativity, and not let something go bad in the fridge or cupboard. I learned how to better nourish my body, and provide healthy food to my family and friends. I learned how to be patient (more patient I should say), and to not rush the process. I learned how to clean up after myself more and how to safely operate in a kitchen environment.
I may not have stayed in the Culinary profession – but I have such deep respect for it. I love seeing all my Chef friends who are creating and succeeding in so many ways! From coffee shops to pop ups, all the way to Michelin star restaurants, they are sharing their passion and their cultures in a truly meaningful way! They are feeding not just stomachs, but souls. They are providing not just meals, but experiences. They are making sensory memories for people that they may only experience once in a lifetime. They are deepening the pallet of the world, one dish at a time – and I am so excited to see the culinary future!
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