One Year and Counting

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It’s official I have been out and about in the culinary real world for ONE whole year. Time has flown by (seriously, what day is it?!) But exactly one year ago I took my final cook tech exam at the Natural Gourmet Institute before being sent on my way into this insane, intense, passionate, terrifying yet rewarding industry. ‘Post-grad’ life has been one for the books as I go through waves of inspiration and self-doubt trying to establish myself as a cook.    

 

Can’t Take the Heat

Working in a kitchen is nothing yet everything I expected. Through popular media the life of a professional cook is glorified as a passion driven career where you do what you love every day and take pride in your final product. Sprinkled with the horrific examples of the angry chefs and injuries that cooks subject themselves too every day.

Now, I was a culinary school graduate with no idea what to do next. Keep cooking? Find a ‘normal job’ in marketing? I was lost. I convinced myself I could make it as a cook. I knew how to poach an egg, braise vegetables, make bread and break down a chicken. I could do anything, right?

Wrong.

My first externship after school was 3 weeks of realizing I was not cut out for the job. I worked Garde Manger (salad and cold appetizer station) at Cookshop, a farmers-market driven restaurant serving amazing American fare. I had never worked in a restaurant and had no clue what I was doing. I was lucky the chef even let me on his line! Day one, I learned how to read tickets… yes, I really knew NOTHING. I was there to assist the cook who ran the station. I helped prepare ingredients, pick herbs and watch and learn the rhythm of making hundreds of salads while plating beef tartar, shuck oysters and pipe filling for deviled eggs. Needless to say, the first week was an overwhelming disaster. Luckily the team at Cookshop was so helpful and supportive. I am sure I caused more trouble than help but they always smiled and moved on to the next order. By the end of my three weeks I was shucking oysters (with minimal injury) and making salads without being ‘sent back’ by chef.

To be completely honest I thought my time in a kitchen was going to be over after my externship. I thought there was no way I could run my own station. I just wasn’t good enough. But with a little advice and a huge push I decided to give it another go and work at Cookshop’s sister restaurant Vic’s.

Fast forward, I have now been at Vic’s for just under one year! To say there was a learning curve would be a massive understatement. I showed up with a nervous and bruised ego, to run the garde manger station on my own (luckily, no oysters). The beginning was rough, riddled with tears, burns and a little yelling every now and then. Everyday was a blow to the ego, a “what the F*** am I doing here kind of a day.” But yet again, the team had my back. Everyone was eager to help and encouraged me to keep going.

Then it started to fall into place. Shifts became less hectic, I could set up my station in time without running out of prep, I could plate desserts and salads at the same time. I was feeling confident, until BAM I was promoted to the next station… hot appetizers. Stuck in the middle of the open kitchen so every diner could watch me under pressure. There was a lot of, ‘the vegetables are under salted,’ ‘the carrots aren’t hot,’ ‘there’s no shine,’ ‘the vegetables look dry,’ ‘Emily, I missing 6 corns, 3 carrots and a farinata!’… aka a flash back to my first month. But if there is one thing I have learned through this processes is that if you keep your head down, try your hardest and build a sense of confidence you can get through the push.

Now, I have moved onto my 3rd station… I can’t believe it. I still stumble over tickets and cause a mess of the kitchen but I am learning. Every day I put in my best effort, try to understand the ins and outs of the kitchen, soaking up any information given to me. That is a part of the rewarding side of the job that leaves you yearning for more, if you push yourself hard enough you can achieve radical results.

Long story short, popular media hasn’t quite nailed it. They forget to portray the crazy hours, never seeing your friends that live outside of the restaurant, holidays in the kitchen and constant self-doubt. They leave out the family you build when everyone is pushed to their limits, the power of a team and the intoxicating feeling of getting through a rough night. And they forget the strength of the people you work with, who work 21 hours in a day to make ends meet without ever complaining. It’s not easy, not always fun but there is something that makes it worth it.

 

In Other News

Through the ups and downs of my year in the kitchen I have considered quitting, looked for completely different jobs and thrown myself into new hobbies in order to alleviate the pain of everyday kitchen life. Which has left my posts and inspiration for The Fresh Slice non-existent the past few months. (Oops.)

In my social media absence, I did add a few new exciting projects to the books. I completed the second level of sommelier classes at the International Wine Center. Wine has always been a place of interest for me, especially in its connection with food. I was thirsty to know more, expand my understanding and verbiage of international wines and how to accurately pair them with food. Knowing next to nothing walking through the door, except that I love Savion Blanc, the next 9 weeks were whirlwind of information and tastings of amazing wines. The class was incredible. It provided a broad spectrum into the wine world, explored new grape varieties, trends in the market and of course food pairings. Now, I am not on the path of Master Sommelier (yet) but I am excited to share some of my findings with you in future posts.

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Lastly, I have taken on a new side hustle with This Pie is Nuts. A local gluten free, vegan and paleo company making individual pies and granola. The company was created by the amazing Diana Pappas who has single handedly grown the business for the past 2 years. All of our products are entirely out of the nuts, seeds and dried fruit. Basically, the most nutritious pie out there. With new and exciting plans in the future we are working to build This Pie is Nuts into something big. Keep an eye out, or take a bite and order online.

So woop there it is, the whole crazy, exciting, intimidating and wild year is over but one thing has remained the same… food is still the passion of my life. From cookbook lined shelves to restaurant hopping through NYC I am still hungry and I can’t wait to see what I can bring to you this year.

As the great once said, “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interest in it.”- Julia Child.

 

  

Culinary School : Month One

Exhausted, sore, perpetually full and loving every minute. I officially have one month of culinary school under my belt. I am learning more than I ever expected, from knife skills, the importance of quality ingredients, proper cooking techniques and new flavor profiles. 

Just like the first day of high school or college, your first day at a new job, culinary school is no different. I laid out my outfit the night before, slept a total of 20 minutes and attempted to Google search the class roster. To say the least the nerves were kicking in. The first day was “syllabus day,” understanding the lay of the land in an attempt to prepare us for the whirlwind experience ahead. 

Once the jitters faded away, uniforms on and knife set in hand, shit got real. Every day we were flooded with information, starting with the basics of identifying different foods and how to work with them, to basic knife skills and proper food handling. In the beginning, all 14 of us were silent as we awkwardly found our way around the kitchen, shy to season with salt or deviate from the recipes we were given. But as the weeks progressed we warmed up to each other, our environment and the idea that our feet will always be sore and our stomachs full. (I mean how are you supposed to know if you are cooking something correctly if you don’t try everyone’s attempt at the perfect vegan burger? Or chocolate soufflé?!).  To say the least, the past month has been thrilling, inspirational and better than anything I could have expected. 

Why Culinary School?

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Before I break into the nitty gritty, it is important to understand the driving force that led me to culinary school and The Natural Gourmet Institute. Food has been a source of energy, inspiration and love throughout my life. I grew up in a large Mid-western family whose idea of holiday traditions and celebrations was nothing shy of an all-you-can-eat buffet. I quickly learned my way around the kitchen by watching and spending time with my mom and aunts and learned how to handle a grill by watching my dad. These family and food-filled gatherings were a place of laughter, love and happiness. Understanding at a young age that food brought people together, inspired me.

My desire to test my creativity in the kitchen escalated as I entered high school. It all began when I decided to bake cupcakes, cakes and cookies to surprise my friends on their birthdays but very quickly grew into something more. I found myself straying away from cookbooks and coming up with my own recipes – ones I would sneak into the kitchen late at night to test out – instead of sitting in my room studying.

By the end of my senior year, I was torn between applying to college or pastry school. After countless hours of research and debates – internally and with my family, I decided to put my passion on the back burner and head to San Diego for college. While in school, I further defined and redefined my passion for cooking, baking and the food industry. I sought out internship opportunities at small to medium sized companies within the industry. Over the course of my college career, I interned for DairyChem, Chuao Chocolatier, Beach Bum Foods, Yelp!, a food-marketing agency Sterling Rice Group, and The Patachou Foundation. Each experience was amazing and taught me more about food, health and food culture than I knew possible.

Beyond my internships, my relationship with food continued to change as I struggled with my weight and began experiencing digestive health problems. I started researching nutrition and alternative cooking methods in order to improve my health. I tried everything from juice cleanses to gluten free, vegan and raw diets. All of which would make me feel great for a few days, until the weekend came and I’d binge on cocktails and late night grub with my friends. After beating myself up week in and week out, disappointed with my semi-conscious decisions and the way it made me feel, I decided to make a lifestyle change that would enhance my life. I came to peace with the idea that health is a balancing act of eating to fuel your body and your soul. For me, that means following a primarily vegan diet full of vitamins, proteins and healthy fats, while maintaining an open mind to alternative diets, new foods and various ways to think about nutrition. As a result, I have cleared my mind, loosened my waistline and amplified my drive to step into the food industry.

Before I knew it college graduation was around the corner… missing the kitchen and hungry to learn more about the foundation of the culinary world I decided to apply to a culinary school. However, I needed a school that shared my passion and outlook on food as a source of nutrition and healing. The Natural Gourmet Institute is a primarily plant based school (in NYC), focused on teaching the fundamentals of culinary technique, nutrition and sustainability to enrich the culinary landscape and change the way we think about food.

I created The Fresh Slice as a way to share my experiences, knowledge and recipes with others. So follow along on Instagram at @TheFreshSlice and check back here for even more insight and inspiration. But most importantly, I’d love to hear from you – so feel free to ask me questions and share your experiences in the comments below or on my Contact page, but most of all bon appetite!