Thursday, January 17, 2008

In The Beginning

Sometimes you are the last person to see the path everyone around you is sure you ought to take. So it is for me as I have at last enrolled in a culinary program for professional chefs at The French Culinary Institute in New York. I am beginning a course that meets in the evenings, from about 5:30pm until 11:00pm three nights a week, every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday night from now until the end of October. I don't have any specific plans for a career change at this point; I am not frustrated by my current work or dissatisfied with my employer. But the chance to take this first step to more seriously explore something I am clearly passionate about and dedicated to is an opportunity that I should not pass up during these first few months and years that I am lucky enough to live in New York with no larger responsibilities in life.

This blog will be dedicated to food and cooking, and will last for as long as I last in the school and maybe ultimately in the profession in some capacity. Graduates of the program I am beginning wind up in a variety of roles in the food business. While many work in restaurant kitchens and become chefs, every year the school also places graduates as writers and editors, food stylists and marketers, personal chefs for corporate executives, and television show producers. For now, I don't have any of those things as goals, and I don't rule any of them out. I just want to take the first step and see if it leads anywhere. It is possible that in the first few weeks, I'll learn that food preparation at a professional level in a disciplined environment is not my thing, and if so I'll leave the program and reclaim as much of my tuition as I can. But I don't expect that: the more I have been around the school and talked to people in it, the more my uncertainty about the costs being justified by the benefits melts away.

Yesterday I had orientation at the school, mostly covering some basic procedures and rules and getting an overview of the services and facilities available. Like every school, they have a student affairs office, an advising office, a library, and a lot of extracurricular things you can get into. As you walk around the school during the admissions process, you notice that in the same way that hospital staff always use the title "doctor" when speaking of a physician, everyone in the school uses the title "chef" when they speak to or about an instructor or visiting chef. As we passed them in the hallways or classrooms, the guides who accompanied me throughout the admissions process never said "Hi" to them -- they always said "Hi Chef" instead. I have heard that you are told on your first day of class that you should always address the chefs with their title, and that "Yes, Chef," and "No, Chef," are the appropriate responses to straightforward questions addressed to you by an instructor. I have stolen this instruction for the title of this blog. I mean it to convey a sense of respect for the school, the instructors and the profession, and a sense of discipline in both the learning environment and the kitchen environment, but anyone that knows me will recognize that I also mean it to convey a bit of a "Yeah, riiiight" element of skepticism.

I begin class on Saturday night, with several hours of cutting vegetables into a variety of mostly small shapes with precisely specified dimensions. If I manage not to cut off the fingers I use to type these entries, perhaps this blog will continue sometime next week.

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