Category Archives: Background and General Food Thoughts

Food & Drink Events and Conferences for 2016

Food Styling prop tableFood Styling Workshop at Eat, Write, Retreat 2012

For several years now, I’ve hosted pages on this website of NYC Food & Drink Events as well as one featuring Food & Drink Conferences. Each of these is updated on a rolling basis, so that the information is as current as I can keep it, given when events and conferences are posted and when my schedule allows me to spend a few hours at the computer at home working on these pages.  With some delay, allowing me to relax from a hectic 2015 year-end, here are links to the pages updated for 2016:

NYC Food & Drink Events (updated continuously throughout the year, with the current month as the lead)

Food & Drink Conferences (updated throughout the year)

Here’s a link to a post that I wrote in 2013 about some of my favorite conferences from 2012, many of which are also being held in 2016.  I also list a few of my reasons for attending conferences and what you can gain from participating in them.  Although I might not be attending as many of these events as I have in past years, I still think that they are a valuable personal and professional resource.  My hope is that one day my budget for taking part in them will come back so that I can go to them once again.  In the meantime, I look forward to hearing about everyone else’s adventures on the conference and event circuit.

Buon appetito!

The Passing of a Food-Loving Friend

For months now, I’ve been meaning to put up a post to explain the extra-long hiatus on which the blog portion of this website has been.  I’ve been updating the NYC Food & Drink Events page and the Food & Drink Conferences page, but I haven’t pulled out the computer to do any other longer-form content.  Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts have been the primary way to keep up with my food and drink adventures in the city.  Since moving to working in the culinary industry full-time several years ago, instead of just writing about it, long vacations have been hard to come by, as have been all those extra hours I’d spend cataloging photos and writing posts.  I’d hoped to catch up on posting (and even to write the mea culpa post about not posting) over this holiday weekend.

Gorgeous Yorkshire PuddingYorkshire Pudding, a part of my family’s annual holiday dinner with Roast Beef & Horseradish Sauce, recipes which my friend liked so much she used it at her holiday table, as well

Instead, I have to write about one of the saddest, most upsetting pieces of news I’ve ever received.  On Wednesday evening, I had a call from a friend to inform me that another very good friend of ours had passed away suddenly and without warning.  This person was one of the biggest champions and supporters that I had for migrating my career path into a culinary direction and of this blog, which she shared often on her own social media streams.  She was my foodie wing-person trekking to markets, food fairs, restaurants, wine bars, pubs, all kinds of places just to check out what was going on in the city.  She kept probably at least as keen an eye on the NYC food scene as anyone in the media or blogging world did, and she was always my “outside the industry” / civilian food-lover checkpoint for any new fad or idea or gourmet, artisan, locally-sourced something-or-other. Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti 2

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti, from a friend’s annual New Year’s Day Party, which we both attended this year

Out of respect for her family’s privacy, and, in some ways, my own as well, I will not post her name.  We, her friends, are still stunned and at a loss to understand how we will never see her again at one of our parties, a hollowed-out bread bowl filled with Spinach-Artichoke Dip or a plate of Pickled Shrimp (from some Junior League Cookbook) in hand.  She was always a fan of the culinary classics and loved entertaining and get-togethers, bringing her friends together just to enjoy being around each other.  She’d taste tested so many recipes and is woven into so many posts on this website, that I’m not sure that I can even link to all the stories on these pages that include her.  Her insights and feedback were invaluable.  We didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but we could agree to disagree on what we liked and didn’t like food-wise and in other areas.

SmorgasburgSmorgasburg, just one of the many food markets that we explored together, along with Hester Street, New Amsterdam, the Brooklyn Flea, and others

This news is so fresh that it’s still really, really difficult to believe that we’re not bantering back-and-forth about the Peas in Guacamole brouhaha that was in the NY Times this week.  I can’t imagine that we’re not at this moment trading phone calls and texts about how and where we’re going to coordinate watching tomorrow’s fireworks display over (yay!) the East River, as well as what to consume while watching said spectacle.  I don’t know who is going to traipse around with me to check out the seasonal markets or help me to cross off all the places that we’d made a list of to try, in search of our new favorite eats and drinks place to recommend to friends and family.  We had so many great excursions in this city yet to do and always had more of them to add to our wishlists.

Blood Orange MargaritaBlood Orange Margarita from Colonie, one of our go-to places

Dear, sweet, friend, you are missed so much by all who knew and loved you.  No one can believe that you left your place at our table so soon, never to return.  Last night a small number of us pulled together to share wines and food and to try to comfort each other in our loss.  It was a tiny way that we could start to reflect on what the world will be like without having you there to share our meals, drink various beverages, tell stories, and join in the laughter about everyday life here in NYC.  May you be enjoying a glass of a well-chilled, crisp white wine (or a Rosé, as it is summer) and a plate of plump, briny oysters, one of your favorite combos, wherever you are.  We will wipe away the tears and find an opportunity, soon, to gather together to do the same for you, in your memory and in your honor.

BOE SignBOE Tasting Room, another favorite place to grab a glass of wine, plus a plate of oysters

We were still raving about the now-gone 2007 Merlot that we’d had on one of our first visits there

Brooklyn Eats!

Brooklyn Eats entryBrooklyn Eats! at the Pfizer Building

Last week, The Summer Fancy Food Show, the major industry food expo was held in New York City at the Javits Center. I’ve covered this event for several years, talking about some of my edible finds and scoping out potential trends that I saw (as well as just noshing my way around the display of culinary treats for a few days). This year, I decided to focus my attentions a bit more locally.

Brooklyn Eats check-in tableCheck-in table

Brooklyn Eats! was held the Friday prior to the main conference, sponsored by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, focusing on food artisans and entrepreneurs that are making NYC such a hotbed of gastronomic creativity.  The first one of these expos was held last year.  I think it flew under the radar of folks a bit, from what I heard.  This year, it seemed better promoted, bringing out a steady pack of food industry people, buyers, writers, and retailers.  The BCC also assisted those exhibitors who wanted to take part in the SFFS, too, helping them to register and set up their booths, so this project helps entrepreneurs not just in their community but also in the larger, more competitive specialty food market.

Bacchanal Sauce - displayBacchanal Sauce – check out this fiery condiment!

Brooklyn Delhi - displayBrooklyn Delhi – spruce up your meals with these tangy-spicy relishes

There was no shortage of great food products to sample at this event, either.  As I ate (and drank) my way around the tables set up at historic Pfizer Building (the event venue as well as the site of production kitchens for some of these companies), I was struck by a few interesting aspects.  Yes, there were plenty of new, intriguing products to try.  At the same time, what made me the happiest to see was that many of the folks whose foods I’ve tasted over the years are still in business.

The Jam Stand - no-sugar jamsThe Jam Stand – look at their new lo-sugar line

City Saucery - saucesCity Saucery – check out their expanded product line and new, larger jars of their sauces

Not only that, many of them have grown and are thriving, adding new items to their product lines and venturing into other areas.  Quite a few have gone from the markets like the New Amsterdam Market, Hester Street Fair and Smorgasburg to brick-and-mortar locations.  They now employ full-time staff and also mentor other budding culinary start-ups.  Many of the founders of these businesses also participate in panel discussions and at other events to discuss in the ins and outs of creating your own food items and brands, offering tips, advice, and resources to those who are thinking of breaking into the industry.

Liddabit Sweets - displayLiddabit Sweets – follow them to see where they’ll be opening up their new store

Robicelli's - displayRobicelli’s – drop by their shop in Bay Ridge

While I don’t have any idea of the dollar amounts that these activities contribute to the NYC economy, I do know that they add invaluable services and grow the resources of the city.   It’s exciting to see the continued success of these hard-working folks.  Of course, getting to eat delicious things is a bonus for the rest of us, too!  I definitely think that our foodscene has improved and grown due to their efforts.  Check out the slideshow below to see what other great treats I found at this event.

Buon appetito!

A Holiday Gift List: Chef Version

Rock Center TreeThe Rockefeller Center holiday tree – photo taken after getting off a a gig working a tree lighting party

For the past several years, I’ve combed the markets, trekking to most of the holiday ones in the city to look for unique food-themed gifts to suggest to folks for their loved ones for the season. This year, I’ve worked my first busy season as a chef, balancing daytime shifts as a prep cook in a catering kitchen and evenings working as an events chef for large and small parties and dinners. I’ve been spending lots of hours on my feet, in front of stoves and convection ovens (some of them portable ones), and many hours playing everyone’s favorite games: “can I fit just one more sheet tray on the already-packed speedrack in the walk-in” and “how can I crawl into the back of the walk-in to get the 1/2 dozen eggs that I need without breaking any of them or having something fall on my head.” Yeah, it’s been crazy lately, but I’m actually loving (almost) every minute of it (getting a nice, big, new sheet tray burn on my arm last week wasn’t so much fun).

Burn on armBurns – the not-fun part of kitchen work

I have been getting home just in time to clean out my uniforms and chef’s jackets from one day’s gigs and swapping them out with clean ones for the next day, pass out, get up, make and drink coffee #1 of the morning, shower, and head out for another 16- (or so) hour day. It’s a different kind of energy in the kitchen from when I worked in banking. Then, I could barely muster enough strength to make it to Midtown for 7:00 a.m. conference calls once a month. Now, I am in the kitchen at 7:00 a.m. almost every day, checking in with the lead chef on  the day’s prep list and what my tasks are on it, and moving through everything as quickly as I can. I know the bus schedule by heart and can time the MTA drivers’ arrival (M96, you’re almost bang on time every day, almost, except for when you really screw up.).

Leckerlee gift containerThe only holiday gift I’ve bought this season

This year, I haven’t made it to any holiday markets except for the Columbus Circle one, which I stopped by on the way home after working a 12.5-hour, triple shift day (prep plus two events), and I just happened to be in the neighborhood. I passed by the stand for Leckerlee and Sandy Lee’s fantastic, seasonal (really), Lebkuchen. She’s super terrific and her product just captures all the warmth and flavors and feel of European holiday markets, which I really miss (mostly because walking around with a crêpe in one hand and mulled wine in another has got to be one of the best things in the world to do at this time of year). She also now has these lovely holiday tins and makes her creations in a mini-version, which would make the perfect hostess gift. Add in some (spiked) eggnog, and you would kick off the celebrations on a very good note.

Tree on sidewalkHoliday tree seen on my way home from work one day

So, with this crazy, hectic time of the year in mind, here’s my real holiday gift list for my fellow food industry professionals and busy-season culinary elves:

1.  Sleep

Everyone is running a little short of this these days.  (Even though this conflicts somewhat with accomplishing #6.)

2.  A chance to sit down at some point during the day

I snarfed family meal standing up one day and didn’t even get anything on another couple of days. There are also days when I get on the bus or subway to go home and realize that I haven’t really sat down in 12 or so hours.

3.  A walk-in that actually holds all of my prep work so that I can see it all in one place and find things

See above. I’m not joking about this. The freezer is even more packed. Drives me crazy when I know I made a couple of hundred mini crabcakes and then someone comes to me during the hectic few minutes we are packing everything out to go to an event and says that they can’t find them.

4.  Ample prep space for everyone to work

I was putting together mini-burgers on sheet trays balanced on the top of hot boxes last week, as we’d maxed out on our prep space.

5.  New music for the prep kitchen.

After hearing the same playlists day-in, day-out for the past several months, it is getting really old. How come no one lets me put my iPod in the speakers?  (although I’m not sure that the guys will get into Dee-lite’s “Groove is in the Heart” or the B-52s or The Clash or The Jam as much as I would.)

6.  Adequate power source to prepare food for service

Another no joking item. I worked a gig in the past couple of weeks where I blew out the fuses as the organizer hadn’t figured the power set-up out for us to set up the equipment to get the food heated in time to serve it. At another gig, I had to plug in ovens on opposite sides of the room to avoid blowing the power.  Please figure this out before you ask me to cook someplace; it’s not fair to the chef or, more importantly, to the client and their guests who just want to have some food.

7.  My own personal knife sharpener

No, really, I want someone who can expertly sharpen my knives on call when I need them done, which seems to be just about every other day lately. Oh, and said person has to be able to work between midnight and 5:00 a.m., which is when I’m sleeping, and to return them to me in time for me to work the next day.  Or maybe what I need is a Knife Kit Genie who can sharpen my knives, clean out my knife kit, and organize everything in its proper place for the next time I need it.

8.  New kitchen clogs

O.K., this might be just for me, but I really need new clogs at this point, as I realized only after standing for so many hours back-to-back recently to return home with aching knees. My old ones are completely shot at this point. Maybe I could use them as gardening clogs if I had a garden or was more adept at trying to keep even houseplants alive.

9.  A way that I can be in two places at the same time 

I’ve been pulling extra prep kitchen shifts while fielding calls to pick up gigs as an events chef, which I’ve had to turn down, as I was already booked. I still haven’t figured out how to clone myself to take on all that extra work. It really hurts to pass that up, especially as it will slow down after this month.

10.  A couple of days off to spend time with my friends

I feel like all of my relationships are on life support these days, and heaven knows when I’m supposed to get holiday cards and shopping done this year. I don’t even have time to do my fallback of making cookies or toffee. The number of times that I’ve cancelled on folks because I am too tired to be coherent is reaching a new record. Make a few days off back-to-back, and I might even be able to file all of my paperwork and get my recipe notes organized.

And, most of all, a very prosperous, safe, accidental fire-free, burn-free, and delicious 2014 for everyone!

Disclaimer: I wrote this in about 15 minutes after pulling another 60-70 hour week and the day after working a second double in about as many days and going in on my day off to work in the prep kitchen, so it might sound a bit loopy and disjointed.  I’d finally managed to get a full night’s sleep last night for the first time in two weeks.  I plan to sleep a lot when I’m at my parents’ house over Christmas, that is if my two little nephews let me do that.

Buon appetito!

Should You Go To Culinary School? Part 4 – Some More (hopefully) Helpful Advice

KB in chef's whitesMe, in my student uniform, on the very first day of my Culinary Techniques course

This week, as the one-year anniversary of my enrolling in the professional Classic Culinary Arts program at the International Culinary Center occurred, I put together some of my thoughts and takeaways from my time spent as a culinary school student. These posts grew out of several conversations I’ve had with people who have approached me about my experiences and insights as they consider pursuing this step in their careers. Someone else actually told me that I should write a book about my experiences. I’m not sure about that! My hope is that this information might be useful to anyone exploring the possibility of a more formal education, rather than just going straight into a restaurant kitchen, as a way to enter a career working with food. Here’s some more (hopefully) helpful hints that I picked up about being a culinary school student.

KnivesThe Culinary Student Starter Kit – you will add to it

Take care of your equipment. Keep track of it and label everything in it.

This is your knife kit, the arsenal that will carry you through your classes and your practical exams. Take care of it. You know what? All of your classmates and all of the other students in your program have the same set of utensils in the same carrying case. Label your knives and your kit. If you leave it someplace or forget to lock it up in your locker (this does happen, believe me), it makes it easier to return it to you if you’ve put your name, address, and phone number on it.

suppliesBack to school supplies

Add notebooks, pens, highlighters, and index cards to your equipment list, too.

Remember this is school. There will be exams, quizzes, books, papers, projects, etc. just like in a regular academic setting. Your chefs might also require you to keep your recipes on notecards rather than to bring your books into the kitchen each class. A small notebook and a pen will also be helpful to have in your pocket to jot down hints and tips for how to get those instructions on how to prepare the dishes that you have to replicate for the chef.

Sharpies & Cake TestersCake testers and Sharpies – stock up on these

Add cake testers and Sharpies to your culinary equipment list.

While your school-issued knife kit has most of your classroom needs, you’ll find that there’s a few other small things you’ll need to pick up here and there. Sharpies are invaluable for all the labeling you’ll need to do for that pasta dough you just made and put in the fridge to rest, the mise en place you prepped for the night’s service, and the terrine that the chef just asked you to let set overnight in the walk-in, where every other class stores their supplies. I seemed to be the human Sharpie dispenser in my class, as I went through lots of them when they were “borrowed” by my classmates. Ditto cake testers, which you can use to check the doneness of vegetables and other cooked items, as well. I swear I went through piles of cake testers. I should have bought a bright pink “Hello Kitty” one for class, that way none of the guys would have “forgotten” to return it to me.

BandagesYou might want to keep a stash of these on hand, too

Take good care of yourself.

As I said in a previous post, kitchen work is physically demanding. Having a solid pair of kitchen shoes is immensely helpful for your feet, knees, back, and overall body frame. I had to buy new ones 2/3 of the way through my program, as I was experiencing issues with my knees. It totally did the trick. I saw other students use knee braces and insoles to give them support along the way. As for those cuts, burns, and bruises that I mentioned, too. You’ll want to make sure that your medicine cabinet is well-stocked to help you take care of those wounds so that they heal quickly and don’t get infected.

Hairbands photoStock up on these – you will need plenty of them

There are few good hair days.

It doesn’t matter how much you spent on getting your hair done or how much you like rocking that cute new ‘do. Most days, your hair will be up in a bun or ponytail, shoved as best you can get it into your student chef’s hat (or whatever headgear you are required to wear). This applies to both long-haired men and women. When you take it down at the end of class or your work shift, it won’t look that much better, at least if you have really curly hair like I do. Good side – that chef’s hat can cover up the frizziest, messiest moptop on those days where your hair didn’t start out looking its best anyway.

Laundry pileYou’ll be doing a lot of laundry

You might want to keep extra clean uniforms in your locker, as well as deodorant, handcream, and a hairbrush.

Your instructors will be serious about your adhering to the uniform requirements. More than once, a classmate was sent back to the locker rooms to get a hat or a scarf before getting started on the day’s lesson. I worked a lot of extra volunteer shifts as a student, so I went through clean uniforms at a pretty rapid pace. I always managed, somehow, to keep at least one whole back-up uniform in my locker at all times (and I’d purchased some extra clean jackets), which got me out of more than one jam. Having deodorant, handcream, and a hairbrush in my locker was also useful so that once I got out of class, I could clean myself up and reenter the real world without feeling too disheveled and smelly.

Water BottleThere’s a reason that you get one of these at Orientation

Don’t forget to hydrate.

Make sure that you drink plenty of water when you are in the kitchen. It is very easy to forget to do this and to get very dehydrated before you realize it. Remember, this is hot work with lots of sweat involved. You’re pushing yourself and your body to get through your prep in time, get your station organized, and have the plates ready to put before your chef for evaluation or to place on the pass for service. After taking one of my practicals, having cleaned everything up, and put my knives away, I asked one of the chefs if I could step out to get some cool water from the fountain in the hallway, as I realized that I’d barely taken a sip of anything during the past several hours and was starting to feel the effects of not having enough fluids in my system. “Go. You know how I hate to do paperwork,” he responded with a light tone. (I wasn’t really going to pass out on him, I hope he knew that.)

Cream-filled bomboloniThere’s generally great snacks at the demos, like this bomboloni from Jacques Torres

Attend the chef demonstrations, extra lectures and workshops, and career services office events.

I’m not just saying this as a former director of student affairs and career services for graduate students (one of my many former jobs), but also because participating in these activities gives an extra dimension to your culinary learning experience. It’s also a great way to network (see below). I know that if you are doing a culinary program part-time while working full-time this can be a challenge, but it is definitely worth it to see if you can fit these into your schedule. The additional lessons in butchery netted me a “very well-done” on my mid-term exam for how I trussed my chicken. That probably also gave me some extra points on my final test score, too. Also, where else are you going to see Jacques Pepin break and fix mayonnaise, hear the stories about the legendary Lutèce from André Soltner, and convince Jacques Torres that his famous hot chocolate would be a perfect addition to his croissant demo on a cold winter’s day?

Gathering beforehandAll these fellow grads are now in my professional network

Look around the room at Orientation, these are your new professional colleagues.

Why do you want to go to this particular culinary school? Is it because there are alumni who graduated from there whose career path you also hope to follow? Is it because you want to tap into its fantastic alumni network so that you can get jobs at certain restaurants? You know when that networking begins? Now. Your classmates are one of your first sets of career resources in the industry. The other students in the program are as well, too, even if they aren’t in your class. Get business cards made for yourself as soon as you start your study program. You’ll need them and will start collecting other people’s cards, too, so that you can begin to create your professional contact base.

Level 3 final - wishboneBest of luck in your studies!
(this wishbone is from the chicken I made for my mid-term exam)

Enjoy! Have fun! Embrace this time!

As I was out and about networking at different events and letting people know that I was in culinary school, I heard from more than a few people how they wished they could go back and have that opportunity to repeat those days. Sure, it’s fast-paced, intensive, and challenging, but it’s also filled with great food, access to great food products with which to work, and amazing instructors who want you to share their passion and enthusiasm for this field (see Part 2 of the series). I found that chefs were very open about wanting to train their successor generation in the culinary arts and that they really want you to succeed, if this is where your heart truly lies. As the Italians say, “In boca al lupo!

Buon appetito!

Articles in this series:

Should You Go To Culinary School? Part 1

Should You Go To Culinary School? Part 2 – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Bloody

Should You Go To Culinary School? Part 3 – My Own Journey

“What I Learned in Culinary Techniques at the International Culinary Center”

Articles by course level:

“Wild Mushroom Risotto (Risotto ai Funghi)” – about a dish we made in Level 2

“International Culinary Center – Classic Culinary Arts Level 4 Buffet”

“International Culinary Center – Level 5 Working at L’Ecole”

“International Culinary Center – Level 6 Working at L’Ecole”

“International Culinary Center – Finishing Up”

“International Culinary Center – I Passed My Final Exam!”

“Graduation Day for the International Culinary Center”

Should You Go To Culinary School? Part 3 – My Own Journey

Starting to make the pastaMaking pasta at La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese

Perhaps it is a bit fitting that I’m writing this third installment in my “Should You Go To Culinary School?” mini-series on the 101st anniversary of the birth of Julia Child. Her love of French cuisine and her dedication to the making really delicious food has been one of the driving forces in my culinary life. The others have included my mother, from whom I first learned to cook, and the time I spent living in Italy (by the way buona festa to my Italian friends, as today is also Ferragosto). When people have approached me about whether or not they should pursue a formal culinary education, I share a bit of my own story and the winding pathway that led me to enroll at the International Culinary Center last August. I don’t know if it’s a tale of caution or woe or inspiration.

Meatballs & SpaghettiMeatballs & Spaghetti – one of the first cookbook recipes I ever made & still a family favorite

Making food for other people has always been a part of my life and of who I am. I learned to cook at a young age, as I would spend time in the kitchen watching my mother prepare our meals. By the time I was in high school, I was pretty much fixing dinner for the family most evenings. In college, I’d bake cookies as a study break and dole them out to the dorm floor (these cookies gave me car-borrowing privileges from a friend) and make dinners to share on occasion. It was then that I also started to get into making dishes from cooking magazines, rather than just simply reading the articles. After university, when I was living and working in Washington, DC for a non-profit organization, I’d spend time dreaming up dinner party menus and cooking up more of those magazine recipes.

Menu Card 1991Menu for a holiday dinner party – 1991

At the same time, I never thought about pursuing cooking as a career. It didn’t seem as though it was one of those things that you did. I didn’t know anyone in the industry, and any restaurant jobs that my friends had had were part-time waitressing gigs to help them earn extra cash while they were in school. The Food Network got started just about the time I headed to Italy to graduate school. From there, I finished up my M.A., found work in Europe, stayed there for a while, moved into financial services, and then embarked on that bumpy career ride, until I was let go in 2010, in the aftermath of the economic downturn.

Bag of VegetablesVegetables don’t give you a major client project at 5:00 p.m. at night to be finished the next day

All along the way, cooking was a hobby; it was my creative outlet, my release value from the stresses and dramas of my office jobs. I remember chopping up peppers after one particularly draining day thinking to myself, “At least vegetables don’t talk back to you.” Still, cooking for a job, to make culinary things my career, that was way outside of my scope or at least I thought it was. By then, I’d joined the legions of others and had set up food blog to capture my thoughts and recipes. The original idea was that this would help me to see if I really did want to migrate to a career working with food. This site has expanded quite a bit since that first post back in 2005, and now this website is about my getting out and exploring the local NYC food scene through events, markets, classes, and recipes with local and seasonal ingredients.

Books for CooksBooks for Cooks

I’d taken amateur courses for several years, starting when I lived in London. When I’d been living there, on my way home from work I’d walk by Prue Leith’s cooking school. It was the first time that it dawned on me that I could take courses in the culinary arts to build a stronger foundation for my skills. My first ever class was a demo about culinary techniques held at Books For Cooks. It was the first time I had been taught how to properly chop an onion. I instantly became hooked on taking classes and learning more and more about to improve my culinary skills base. From there, I took knife skills and culinary techniques classes at the Institute of Culinary Education, spent a week learning to make pasta at La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese in Italy, and dabbled in amateur food and wine classes at a couple of different places. Still, at the back of my mind, I always knew that there was more and that I wanted to go further.

As a career changer, I’d been looking at the job boards and had noticed that most of the food media positions I wanted to have required having gone to culinary school. I discovered that all the years of home cooking, reading, watching cooking shows, and amateur classes weren’t enough for me to break into this field. This wasn’t an easy decision for me to make. I’d first toured the International Culinary Center almost ten years earlier, but I wasn’t ready yet to spend the time or the money studying there. I also wasn’t convinced that this was the path I wanted to take with my life. This time around, after much soul-searching, another round of layoffs, declining prospects in my current industry, and bunch of other stuff, I decided that I was definitely ready to take this step.

Wine & Food Pairing lessonGetting ready to sample white wines

It was really after taking their Wine & Food Pairing classes and the Culinary Techniques course that I realized that the International Culinary Center was where I wanted to pursue my formal culinary education. As I mentioned, I’d taken classes several other places, but, for me, the ability to bridge from the Culinary Techniques program (very important to consider) as well as the very intensive and thorough nature of the course curriculum made it the right choice. As a student in the amateur-level Culinary Techniques course, was taught the same material as the professional students were in their Level 1 classes, was exposed to the time commitment, physical stresses, scheduling, recipes, techniques, methodology, and expectations (minus the exams and evaluations) that they were. It is really a wonderful course to take if you are looking to gain a solid foundation in classical culinary skills. After we finished that course, it became apparent to me that I wanted to go all the way and to enroll in the Classic Culinary Arts program. With the encouragement and guidance of my instructors in the amateur courses, I took the placement exam and joined my class in Level 2.

Diploma coverI did it – finally!

While it was a challenging, sometimes frustrating, often tiring route, I’m very, very happy that I stuck with it and decided to do it. Culinary school did, however, take over my life. There were days and nights when I wondered if I had made the right decision and why, at my mid-career era, I was putting myself through the tasks that could be more easily mastered by someone much younger and fitter than me to take on a life behind the stove. Still, making great-tasting food and watching other people enjoy and take delight in a meal that I’ve prepared for them, is something that I’ve always enjoyed, that I’ve always been passionate about. I’m looking forward to being able to do that for a long, long time to come.

Buon appetito!

Articles in this series:

Should You Go To Culinary School? Part 1

Should You Go To Culinary School? Part 2 – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Bloody

“Should You Go To Culinary School? Part 4 – Some More (hopefully) Helpful Advice”

“What I Learned in Culinary Techniques at the International Culinary Center”

Articles by course level:

“Wild Mushroom Risotto (Risotto ai Funghi)” – about a dish we made in Level 2

“International Culinary Center – Classic Culinary Arts Level 4 Buffet”

“International Culinary Center – Level 5 Working at L’Ecole”

“International Culinary Center – Level 6 Working at L’Ecole”

“International Culinary Center – I Passed My Final Exam!”

“Graduation Day for the International Culinary Center”