Thursday, April 10, 2008

Reflections on Day Eleven at Oregon Culinary Institute

It's officially been two weeks since school started, and though my intention was to write every day, clearly it's been a bit of a hectic adjustment. But it's started to feel like a pattern, finally; every day, we have two hours of lecture starting at 9AM followed by three hours of "lab" work in the kitchen. Most days just fly by, especially once we get into the kitchen, and oftentimes we're under the gun to finish our projects at a certain time. We've been going into major detail in tasting, trying to flesh out every aspect of every food we touch and manipulate. I've found this to be the most helpful - taking the time to write and talk about tastes, aromas, textures, colors, presentation, etc.... I mean, how often do you sit down to a meal and just scarf it down because you're hungry? I notice now that even outside of class, when I'm out dinner with friends or something, I'm mentally taking notes about presentation, flavors, mouthfeel, seasoning, etc... it's kind of startling.

I feel like I've been storing a bunch of thoughts up, and since they are scattered all over the place, I think observations via bulletin points will be helpful here. Apologies in advanced if this seems incoherent; I had a very late night last night and am running on four hours of sleep and buzzing off a mug of incredible chai made by one of my chef instructors.

Things I'm very happy about:

-Even though a lot of the information in the first two weeks of class has been stuff I've gleaned in the past from reading tons books and articles on food, food history, farming, and cookbooks, as well as working in restaurants, it's been refreshing and enlightening to see everything in the light of "real world industry" terms. Everything has value, monetarily (and I might even say emotionally) speaking, and we're learning to put all this information in context to running our own businesses. One of the reasons I chose to go to culinary school was to learn how to successfully run a business in the food industry in a nurturing environment (without feeling thrown to the wolves, that is), and I feel that even though it's early, we've already getting into all the aspects of cost to profit ratio, customer satisfaction, contemporary menu trends, local vs. non-local product, and all the other things that may affect running one's own business.

-Speaking of nurturing, our chef instructors are brilliant. They're collectively a wealth of knowledge, and they've made class lighthearted and fun, but at the same time don't coddle or hand-hold either. They know when to push and when to let us be, and I'm definitely building confidence because of it. Even hearing, "Nice work today, Ingrid!" from people I respect makes such a difference.

-Speaking of confidence, the change in my (and the whole class') comfort in the kitchen from day one to day eleven is pretty remarkable. I admit I was really nervous to be put on the spot to create something under the gun for people who know a hell of a lot more about cuisine than me, but with some positive encouragement and small successes daily, I find myself thinking, 'Holy crap, I could actually do this!'

-Here's where I may sound full of shit, but I really mean the following: You can truly feel the love around Oregon Culinary Institute. The instructors respect each other so much, speak very highly of each other, and even when they differ in opinion (which happens all the time, understandably, as food is ultimately subjective), it's always in a positive light. It's clear that they're learning as much from each other as we are from them, and what's better, the mutual respect between students and teachers is palpable. Not to sound like one big love-fest or anything, but it's pretty much my dream school environment.

-My classmates and I are working better and better together. Even though we're all at different levels (experience, age, schooling, whatever), we're all in the same boat at the end of the day. Don't get me wrong, it's not perfect; I've had my bitchy moments, as has everyone else, so we're not all happy-go-lucky all the time. But more often then not, when I find myself grumpy or tired, my classmates are there to lighten the mood and give a helping hand, and I'm trying my best to be better about that with my classmates as well.

Things I'm not happy about:

-I've gained a small tire around my belly from eating so much and so well in class. Just today we got two plates of the most decadent turtle fudge brownies from the Baking and Patisserie students. Those brownies basically saved my life, because I had a cup of coffee on a mostly-empty stomach mid-morning to wake up and by the time I got into the kitchen, my hands were shaking from the caffeine as I was attempting to julienne carrots. One bite of brownie and I was calmed down again. Of course I didn't stop at one bite. I had two whole brownies, for the record. Ok? OK?? I'm staring at my belly now and I just want to yank it off my body. Either I need to take up jogging, or I'll just wait for the spring rain to let up so I can ride my bike more. Ugh. Ah well, there are definitely worse things in life. One can't really be that unhappy about turtle fudge brownies, is all I'm sayin'...

Things I'm doing differently after just two weeks:

-I feel like I'm getting faster, I'm cleaner, more efficient, definitely more observant, asking more questions, watching my peers, and I now know the difference between a rutabega and a turnip. Heh.

It may seem a little early to say so, but here goes nothin': After two weeks of school I've determined that going to culinary school was one the best decisions I've made in my 27 years, second probably only to having my surgery.

Much more to come, and I hope to be better about writing on a daily or at least tri-weekly basis.


LadyConcierge said...

It's really cool to hear about this - something a lot of us foodies have contemplated at one time or another. Love your blog. -LC

ingrid said...

Thanks for reading, Lady Concierge! And thank you for the sweet comment. Great blog too, btw :).