Inside Culinary School: Three Essays on What It’s Really Like.
Essay Three: Looking Back on the First Year
I have been attending The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) since August, 2015. At first, I thought “this is going to be easy, because I love cooking,” only to realize that there is a lot of hard work that goes into being a chef. There were many things for which I was not prepared when entering the CIA: cuts and burns, angry chefs yelling in my face, sleepless nights trying to memorize ratios, and constant demands by my instructors. There are good experiences, too, like seeing a chef’s smiling face when you do well, a happy customer commenting on something that you made, and the critique of classmates to help improve upon certain skills and techniques that you learn in class.
Every great chef of today, and in years past, has needed to start out somewhere. My entry into cooking began at the age of eight. It was the first time I was allowed to cook anything on my own, simply a box of macaroni and cheese. Since then I’ve wanted to learn anything I could about cooking, and in my junior year of high school I joined a culinary vocational program and realized I really wanted to do this for the rest of my life. I would suggest to prospective culinary students to take some classes on cooking, or if you are a high school student, join a vocational program if possible. If you are an older person interested in the culinary arts, take classes at a local community college. This way you make sure you want to invest money and time in your career before spending too much of both and regretting the decision.
The typical day in the life of a first-year culinary student varies with the day of the week and how far along one is in the program. First-semester students are in culinary fundamentals, learning the classical techniques of cooking. The second-semester classes include: meat and seafood identification and fabrication (breaking down of different animals and seafood), modern banquet cookery (plating and buffet style techniques), a la carte cookery, and high volume production.
A la carte cookery provides the most realistic restaurant experience in the school. The chef yells out an order, and students make the food as directed. The last class of second semester, High Volume Production, is the hardest. Breakfast class starts at 3:30 a.m., lunch class starts at 8:30 a.m., and dinner class starts at 1:30 p.m. In each period your class is expected to serve at least 600 students. It’s demanding, but provides a solid foundation for the challenges to come in school and in the real-life world of commercial kitchens.
First published August 2016