Life as a Culinary Student

I've known what a 'plate' is for probably over 25 years now. Circular, flat-ish, usually white, but not always. Malcom Gladwell suggests we need 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, and by doing some back of the napkin math, I can confirm I've reached that mark when it comes to using, and generally knowing about, plates.

 So last month when Chef yelled "Kyle, grab me a plate!" during one of his demos to the class, I was more than a little disappointed in myself when he looked at what I had grabbed for him and responded "...that's a BOWL!"

OK, it was a flat-ish bowl to be fair, a bowl very close to a plate on the bowl <-> plate spectrum, but a bowl, nonetheless. I quickly corrected my mistake to prove to the class that my level of common sense was at least slightly above ground zero.

Culinary school has been like this (for those tuning in late, here's the why behind the choice to attend). Some moments where I'm riding high on the "I'm really getting this!" feeling, and others where I'm failing miserably at things that any person (with or without culinary schooling) should be able to do with ease (quick side note: meditation is making a huge difference in allowing me to stay grounded when I make mistakes--an unexpected place for its benefits to pop up, but I can definitely tell the difference between the days I do and don't Headspace in the morning--if you haven't tried it, do it!).

The most recent comparison I can make to the process of learning to cook in a professional kitchen is that of when I learned to program a few years ago. The lows are low (especially when you find out after hours of debugging you're only missing one character somewhere), but it makes the highs so very high. Da Vinci once said "the noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding." Nailed it, Leo (though it's hard for me to believe he ever came across something that he didn't understand immediately). 

I'm about a month and a half into my 6-month culinary program. Here's what that looks like in terms of the things I'm learning:

A typical day looks like this:

  • 5:30am Wake up (assuming last night wasn't too late), Headspace
  • 6:00am Gym (one floor above me in the doors. Going to do a separate post soon on this unique living situation)
  • 7:00am Breakfast, read news sources on Feedly, cold shower
  • 8:00am Leave for school from Midtown
  • 8:30am Arrive at school in SoHo, change in locker room, gather and measure ingredients for day's recipes 
  • 9:30am Chef's roll call
  • 9:30am-12:00pm Cook the day's recipes (process: watch Chef demo a few steps, go to stations and do it, repeat) 
  • 12:00pm-12:30pm Lunch (either what we just finished cooking, or cooked by the Level 3 students volume cooking)
  • 12:30pm-3:00pm Back to cooking
  • 3:00pm- Once or twice a week: guest lectures in the auditorium, otherwise activities including but not limited to: exploring, meeting old friends and new people, sampling the NYC food scene, taking online classes.

Now that I'm in Level II, the externship doesn't seem too far away. I'm starting to get excited about where I'll be able to work. I'm targeting a Michelin one-star restaurant cooking New American food. That narrows the list down to 10 or 15 chefs for me to reach out to one by one: "Hi, I have little to no experience, but please let me into your kitchen. Regards."

I've also been thinking a lot about what will become of me after this whole adventure ends. The current thought is to try to be a product manager at a food-related startup--somewhere where these unique experiences will allow me to add unique value. Vague enough for ya?

Also, here's some fire.