Why Cooking School?

I don’t know what they called Foodies before the word Foodies was coined, but I was one. I have been collecting recipes and cookbooks since high school. I had herbal concoction books (anyone remember Jeanne Rose’s Herbs and Things?) and natural foods books, and vegetarian epicure books even though I’ve never been a vegetarian. When I got a car that could drive more than 50 miles without breaking down, I started collecting location cookbooks — those regional cookbooks you find in the spinning racks of gift shops as you blow through Texas and Tennessee. Yes, I may want to make Coca-Cola Ham or Mayonnaise Cake one day; we’ll see.  Then I moved on to item cookbooks: The Lemon Cookbook, The Book of Yogurt, A Zillion Ways to Cook Chicken, etc., then historical cookbooks (Renaissance cooking, anyone? Historical Williamsburg?), and so on and so forth. You get the idea.

Bruise Juice, anyone?

So, it may seem obvious that I would go into the food industry, but I didn’t. I went into education. I spent a fair amount of time being a student, then teaching students. All the while the food industry rose up around me and took off running. The California style of cooking that I didn’t know was a style because I was from California where it was taking place, pioneered by Alice Waters and her restaurant, Chez Panisse, started changing the way chefs thought about food. What was niche moved to mainstream. Whole Foods rose to prominence and brought about a revolution in the way everyday Americans, not just industry chefs and food critics, thought about food. Gradually, the kind of cooking and food that interested me — fresh, local, simple but also interesting and influenced by other cultures — was showing up everywhere, and that’s when cooking school began to make sense to me. I didn’t want to be a fine chef. I wasn’t interested in rich sauces, or escargots, or tiny piles of precious foods stacked vertically. I was interested in everyday food. And while I enjoyed cooking, I was fascinated by baking. Baked goods are pleasant. They are inviting. They look comforting in their sameness, each one perfectly portioned, row after row. Get the ingredients right, get the oven right, get the baking time right, and it will happen. It’s like magic, but predictable magic; magic you can count on if you have the key. I like that. I like to look at a coffee cake and try to figure out how they made it, speculate about how to make it better, add more texture, add more interest. That’s my kind of puzzle.

And that’s how I came to go to cooking school. I was unhappy with the state of education and knew nothing was going to change anytime soon. Teachers are some of the hardest working people I know, but most people don’t believe that. How hard could it be to hang out with 30 kids all day, right? Hard. Really hard. And long. Very long. And lots and lots and lots of work, all the time: at night, on the weekends. I’ve never met a teacher who didn’t have something to grade or a lesson to plan at that very moment even though they were trying to forget it for the sake of not working all the time. I actually love being in the classroom, really enjoy the learning process and the challenge of presenting something new to someone in a way that makes sense to them, but I don’t like feeling overwhelmed all the time by the enormity of the educational machine and I don’t like the way people fundamentally refuse to value the people who carefully cultivate the minds of their children as human beings and future citizens of the world.

So, I found a program that had what I wanted: culinary classes integrated with small business classes for people who may want to open a food business. This school just happened to be at the community college where I used to teach as adjunct faculty several years prior, and their Hospitality and Culinary Arts Department is nationally recognized. Perfect. And now I am both a student and teacher. Again.

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