Carrot Soup: Simple Food, Amazing Taste

Carrot Soup
Carrot Soup

I had the day off from work today and decided to take care of two nagging things on my to-do list. I started off with getting my car muffler and exhaust pipe repaired and then made a trip to Trader Joe’s for groceries. I even managed to fit in a gym workout to burn off some of the excess calories from last night’s food orgy.

Fixing my car set the tone for the rest of the day. With the repairs setting me back over $700, my desires for food purchases were tempered and I was forced to be more cost conscious. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone and work on something new having been inspired by the Taste of Cambridge food festival I had just attended. I am currently reading The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen by Jacques Pépin, who’s cooking is deeply rooted in frugality and simplicity having grown up in war torn France during the second World War and have enjoyed his descriptions of simple classical French cuisine that he prepared as he learned how to cook. While thinking about what to get I also thought about Thomas Keller’s view on food as described in The Soul of a Chef: The Journey Toward Perfection by Michael Ruhlman and his view of food and simplicity, taking one ingredient and making it the very best it can be. Using simplicity as my inspiration and cost as my guide for food purchases I settled on an something I rarely eat let alone cook with. I chose a carrot as a foundation for my dinner and decided to make a simple soup out of it. 89 cents for a one pound bag of organic carrots was a deal I could not pass up.

The process for making the soup was was really easy and the result was absolutely amazing. The salt and pepper added to the intense and fresh flavor of the carrots. I felt like I could relate to and understand both Pépin and Keller making a simple dish that wasn’t muddled with too many ingredients and flavors, producing out of this world results with plenty left over to be enjoyed in the future alone as a stand alone meal or as a component of another. The steps I took for making the soup are outlined below. Enjoy!

Carrot Soup Recipe:

2 lbs. of carrots
2 cups water
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper

Soup Pot
Immersion Blender or Food Processor

Wash and peel the carrots and cut them into small 1/4 inch pieces. Put them into a pot. Add 2 cups of water or more if necessary so that the carrots are covered. Bring the pot to a simmer. When the carrots are tender, puree them with an immersion blender or in a food processor until they reach the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste ensuring that it is well mixed. Serve in a cup or bowl and enjoy hot.

Carrot Soup: Ready for Serving
Carrot Soup: Ready for Serving
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Taste of Cambridge 2009

Taste of Cambridge
Taste of Cambridge

Last night I attended the Taste of Cambridge food festival in Harvard Square. The event hosted at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge benefited two local children’s charities. It was my first food festival and certainly exceeded my expectations. I planned on attending with my friend Anthony, whom I had met in the Back to Basics cooking class at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. We were both really excited about the event and were slightly disappointed when it was postponed a week from last Thursday because of the weather. The warm summer evening last night more than made up for it as we enjoyed the event immensely.

Through the sea of people we traveled from station to station, plastic plate and beverage in hand, sampling food from restaurants from all over Cambridge. The atmosphere was electric with restaurants featuring their best and most innovative creations for people to try. I ran into my friends Jerome and Stephanie Picca, owners of Small Plates Restaurant in Harvard Square who were sampling a delicious gazpacho. I also ran into other friends I had not seen for a while; it seemed like everyone was there and having a great time enjoying and talking about food.

There were people from the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts as well as Le Cordon Bleu, the culinary school that is in the same building as my gym. I secretly envied them all in their chef whites and checkered pants. My thoughts wandered to applying to culinary school and thinking about if that’s what I really want to do and if it makes sense at this point in my life. I wondered if I would ever feature creations of my own someday at such an event as I walked around observing and sampling food to no end, breaking any semblance of the diet I try to maintain in exchange for culinary experience. The food was so good.

In between stations, we discussed making coffee, the differences between blade and burr grinders, stand mixer models, recreational cooking classes  and thoughts of applying to culinary school, true signs of culinary enthusiasts.

This was my first food festival, but it certainly won’t be my last as an  attendee and perhaps even some day as a participant.

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A Sign of Summer: A Trip to a Farmers’ Market

Kendall Square Farmers' Market: Tents
Kendall Square Farmers' Market: Tents

Summer is finally here. With the first sunny day in recent memory, I took a trip during my lunch break to the Kendall Square Farmers’ Market in Cambridge, Ma. It opened up a few weeks ago and I have been wanting to go, but wasn’t able to find the time during my work day until today. It’s only about a ten or fifteen minute walk and well worth it. It’s nice to see fresh, sustainable and locally grown vegetables from farmers coming from the surrounding communities. They are eager to talk, answer questions, talk about their farming methods and the in-seasonal vegetables at their stations. Bakeries, dessert companies and artisans also complete the scene adding to a really enjoyable experience. I picked up some really great looking golden and green zucchinis  that I’ll use to accompany a meal and to make bread as well as some lettuce for a fresh salad to accompany my often lonely meat creations.

Kendall Square Farmers' Market: Zucchini
Kendall Square Farmers' Market: Zucchini
Kendall Square Farmers' Market: Lettuce
Kendall Square Farmers' Market: Lettuce
Kendall Square Farmers' Market: More Greens
Kendall Square Farmers' Market: More Greens
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Food Inc., Where does your food come from?

Do you ever think about where your food comes from? Have you ever thought about how all of the different components of the meal you are eating came to be and what processes they went through to get to your plate? Have you ever looked at the perfectly cut packaged steaks or pork chop chops or chicken and tried to imagine the animals they came from and even what part of the animal they came from? Ever ask yourself where  that apple or orange you are eating in January grew and how it became ripe just in time for you to eat it? I know I rarely do, but as my new-found passion for food grows I know I need to ask myself these questions and man others.

Last night I did something I rarely do; I went to see a movie in the theater.  I went to see Food Inc., directed by award-winning filmmaker Robert Kenner and produced by notable food writers Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan who wrote Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma respectively and was given an impactful reminder to think about and appreciate the food that I eat and where it comes from. I read Schlosser’s book almost five years ago and found it eye opening. I expected more of the same and asked myself, “How bad could it be?”. The answer to that question was more shocking than I expected.

The film focuses on three aspects of food: industrial meat production and as presented the unsanitary care and inhumane treatmetnt of animals from birth to slaughter and then similarly the industrialization and scientific modification of plant based food and closes with the legal and economic impact of the food industry on the country and people in the industry, in particular the farmers illustrating an interesting dichotomy of subservient farmers  working with major food corporations out of greed or necessity and those who oppose the production practices of the major food conglomerates and pay the price for their insolence with legal battles or financial struggles and intense government scrutiny. It also brings to light the power and impact on government policy the multi-national corporations have and how corporate profits influence decisions that affect the food supply and overall our health. The food industry is no different in this regard from other major industries that politicians are concerned about, but it does have a major impact on our health and livelihood that other industries do not.

The film was definitely tough to watch. I’m sure I’ve enjoyed watching horror movies more than the absorbing the content of this film, but all in all it is best not to turn a blind eye when concerning what goes into your body. The inhumane treatment of animals, unsafe and unsanitary conditions of food production that were portrayed as well as the economic impact and destruction of people’s lives by the major food companies were very hard to take in, a striking reminder of how far we have veered from pre-industrial times and have been removed from our food source, buying pre-packaged meat, fruits, vegetables and other food products without any idea where they came from, how they got there nor their impact on the society and the environment. The idea that food no longer has seasons, allowing consumers to buy apples, pears  and strawberries for instance and different types of meat all year round is something rarely thought about regarding food, something the film’s producers hope will change.

I’ll admit, the film did portray an impactful yet somewhat one-sided view of an issue, yet it was still eye-opening and a great reminder for anyone and everyone to value where your food comes from. Beyond the gory images and gloomy tone of the film, clear messages were given that anyone can benefit from for a healthy life.

  • Know where your food comes from
  • Buy food that is in season
  • Buy food that is local and sustainable

While thinking about the sushi for lunch this afternoon I couldn’t help but think about where it came from. The realization that my once frozen fish, vacuum sealed in a plastic bag probably did not come from a beautiful bubbling brook, river, lake or ocean, but rather an overcrowded pool on an industrial farm, fed a diet of corn rather than food it would normally consume in its natural environment was an illusion shattering thought. The burger I ate for dinner the night before consisting of meat from a multitude of cows raised on overcrowded farms knew deep in their own waste started to feel a bit unsettling.

It’s interesting to see the trend of restaurants thinking more and more about their food, promoting locally grown and grass fed beef on their menus for instance. Some do this because it is aligned with their mission while others do it because of consumer preference. Americans are starting to care about what they eat.

Watching the film and thinking about my food from farm to plate reminded me of a discussion about Thomas Keller in Michael Ruhlman’s book, The Soul of a Chef and Bill Buford’s account in his book Heat. Each chef went through a process of discovery bringing them closer to the food source while also giving them a deeper respect for it. I’ve started to get closer my food sources participating in a Meat CSA with Chestnut Farms and look forward to buying fresh and locally sustainable food from farmer’s markets. My resolve definitely has been strengthened, and that’s the point of it all. The film promotes activism and participation of consumers in legislation about food as well as getting closer to their food sources, making healthy decisions and eating better one person at a time. I am glad I went to see this movie and hope to obtain more knowledge about the issues presented in it as I continue my culinary journey.

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Bartending Class – Week 2, Day 2

Today was judgment today. Well, perhaps it wasn’t that serious, but our last day of class would consist of a written exam and a live drink making test to determine whether or not we passed the course. I was feeling pretty confident after having reviewed my flash cards extensively and memorizing the drink recipes. I also reviewed our workbook thoroughly to try and pick up as much service and trade knowledge as possible outside of class. The class itself was very good at preparing me and the class for the exam and it was amazing how quickly we as students picked up bartending knowledge throughout this entire experience.
Anthony, another instructor for the school would be the proctor for the exam. We opened up with another round of drink drill to get us loosened up, helping each other along with drink recipes and making last minute service corrections. The pace for the drinks had increased as well as the combinations for and variations of the orders being shouted out. This was starting to feel real. Music was blasting, bottles were pouring and service started to feel like a reflex. I wasn’t struggling for recipes or with marrying the right glass to the drink being ordered and served.
When the drill was over we were given the written portion of our exam, consisting of three pages of detailed questions covering everything we had learned. I was surprised at how familiar all of the information was. Some of the reason for this familiarity would become apparent as I’ll explain shortly. The exam was a breeze and I finished quickly. The live drink exam was next.
When the next portion was set to begin I looked around and realized the class was short many people. Two girls who were there for the first half of the day didn’t come back for the live test. Others were complete no shows for the day. Where were they? Why take the course and not finish it? The reason for this would also become apparent by the end of the day.
With eight students left we were broken up into two groups of four for the evaluation. I was part of the second group and was taken to the back room. Anthony jokingly put on some entertainment for us on the television in the room, and as he left chuckling Coyote Ugly came on during the part where Violet (Piper Perabo) applies for the job. Anyone who has seen this movie knows that all hell breaks looks at this point. What was the message here? This was all too funny. Music started blasting in the other room as the first four students started their evaluation. Before we knew it, our names were called into the room as the other students went into the back room to be subjected to the movie torture we had just experienced. We got behind our respective stations, listened to the instructions Anthony gave us and went to work. He called out drinks and we made them, each person getting assigned different drinks for the test. Looking around the bar was like observing the line at a hectic kitchen. Orders were given out and promptly “fired” and served according to recipe with the appropriate garnish. The test was over in no time at all. The stations were cleaned up and we gathered in the main room. We all awaited the results to see how we did.
We again reviewed some bartending basics as well as tips for applying for a job. We then went over the details of putting together a resume and how to make it sound professional and not like a third grader’s. This was all very elementary stuff, but as I would soon learn, I was the oldest person in the class, or at least of the graduates. There was definitely an experience and maturity gap here. Many were not even 21 yet, and this was one of the first job talks they had experienced. Some didn’t even have resumes, and bartending would be their first or second job. My travel and food experiences made me better equipped for the class as I had learned a lot of the wine information, and I won’t lie, my drink experience in and since college also made me familiar with many brands, types of alcohols and drink combinations. While I never revealed my age to my classmates, it was an interesting revelation.
I passed the exam and was awarded my school certificate. I was so psyched and still am. The culinary school decision is still up in the air and will take considerable more thought, but I feel now I have a better idea of what it’s like to work in the industry under pressure producing consistent results according to a recipe.  The bar has similarities to the kitchen which I continually observed. The bar also to some extent has been de-mystified and I know I will never look at it the same.
Now that I have some bartending training and some recipes under my belt, I don’t want to lose what I have learned. I plan to explore some options which include planning and working some private parties and catering events to gain experience in the operation and execution of them while honing my drink-mixing skills. This is in line with my current thoughts for work after attending culinary school which would add food preparation for these events to my knowledge base and skill set.

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Bartending Class – Week 2, Day 1

Another day down, and another day closer to finishing my bartending class.  Today we were really moving. Jeff was our instructor again along with Chris, who I gather is a potential new instructor and was just observing as she did not interact with the class.

We started with a drink drill again, going over drinks that we had accumulated in our “arsenal” since the class began. I was a bit apprehensive as class started, wondering if I would remember what we had gone over last weekend. I didn’t have much time to study this week and was really surprised with how much stuck with me. The hands on learning in a realistic looking bar setting really helped put everything together. The music was pumping in through the sound system again and everyone got right back into the groove.

After the drill we talked about good bartending techniques and the amazing cash rewards some bartender’s have earned through the trade. A former instructor once made $1,700 in tips during one night of service! Almost $100 dollars of this amazing total came as a result of making one drink. A customer asked the bartender to make his favorite drink, one that many bartenders get wrong. The customer put a hundred dollar bill down and said that if the drink, a Planters Punch, was made correctly the bartender could keep the change. Playing the part of a dumb and clueless bartender in a joking way, the bartender “guessed” the ingredients and made a perfect Planters Punch.  He got to keep the change!

Two key lesson’s learned about bartending where these:

  1. The job of a bartender is to generate repeat business through his/her craft.
  2. When asked during an interview why you want to be a bartender, a good answer is “Because the harder I work, the more money I make”. You are not there for the people or to have fun. If you make money the rest takes care of itself.

The framing of the bartender’s trade through the lens of a business was interesting again and good to re-enforce. After all, despite your reasons for choosing this job, hiring managers are concerned about the bottom line, just like any other business.

After break we went over a new glass type which we would be using, the cocktail or martini glass.  We also went over cutting techniques for limes and lemons creating slice garnishes and twists respectively. Now we were ready to round out our knowledge with Martinis and Manhattans, often measures of bartending skill.

Martinis and Manhattans were surprsingly easy to make given the ingredients, but complex given the show and knowledge that is expected from the bartender. We breezed through variations and worked on some quick shooters before class ended.

As we cleaned up our stations we were reminded that we have a final that we must pass in order to pass the class and get our certificate. Visions of a culinary practicum came to mind. Jeff even made the comparison of cooking and bartending and discussed the necessity of tasting drinks to become familiar with their ingredients and interactions together in the real world.

The exam tomorrow consists of a written portion as well as a demo session where we will be asked to prepare drinks from memory, using the key steps for customer service and preparation. We’ll have to use the correct ingredients, combination method, glass types and garnishes. I’m looking forward to the exam and hope that I have studied enough. I know I will feel proud after passing validating my newly acquired skillset. Stay tuned for the results.

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Family Recipes: Cassie’s Peach Cobbler

Cassie's Peach Cobbler
Cassie's Peach Cobbler

As I have mentioned before, and as it has been noted by many others, food is a great way to pass down family history and convey a story. Last weekend, Cassie shared her mother’s recipe for peach cobbler with me so that I could make it at home. The recipe itself is simple, and yet what it evokes is complex and emotional. She shared memories of making it with her mom and the smells that would fill the kitchen as it baked, bringing me into her world and her family history, and now I have another recipe that I can incorporate into my own history and pass down.
One of the hardest things for me to deal with as I improve my culinary skills is inexactness. The hundreds of pages that I have read from various texts along with the countless hours of Food Network, Travel Channel and public television shows on food, as well as my basics class have already trained me to think in exact measurements and about cooking food as a science. The scientific approach to food is at odds with the pleasure of passing down simple recipes founded on intuition.
Cassie’s Peach Cobbler

6 Peaches
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk

9×9 baking dish

Cassie's Peach Cobbler: Ingredients
Cassie's Peach Cobbler: Ingredients

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees (F). Slice the peaches into wedges and place them into a buttered or non-stick baking dish. In a bowl, mix the flour, sugar and milk together until well mixed. Pour the contents of the bowl over the peaches so that they are well coated.

Cassie's Peach Cobbler: Prepared
Cassie's Peach Cobbler: Prepared

Put the peaches into the pre-heated oven for 1 hour or until golden brown.

Cassie's Peach Cobbler: Baked
Cassie's Peach Cobbler: Baked
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Bartending Class – Week 1, Day 2

Today’s class was taught by Mark, a self-described sarcastic and mild mannered former bartender with 25 years experience and a strong love for teaching. It started with going through our workbook and the review questions for the sections we had covered during our first session. After a quick review we moved on quickly and opened up with a “bar drill”, quickly creating several drinks that were taught yesterday; everyone was eager to get behind the bar to practice their skills. We were split up again with four behind the bar and four at the counter as customers. Drinks were shouted out, liquor (dyed water) was poured and things were really moving. We alternated with being in front or behind the bar as we practiced new drinks and our pouring technique.
We also focused on quality wine service, margaritas and tips for determining ingredients in a drink based on its name or key ingredients. For example, all cream drinks get Kahlua, all Russian drinks have vodka, any drink with south in its name gets Southern Comfort. The rules of it all are starting to fall into place.
Ever present in the back of my mind throughout the day and now is the comparison of making drinks and working in a kitchen producing food. We learned clever bartending tricks about how to utilize multiple ingredients at one time to make several drinks, how to mix drinks in a particular order based on their ingredients so as not to have to wash out our shaker as many times and how to properly garnish drinks based on clearly defined rules. Our goal was to increase speed and accuracy while minimizing waste all the while being consistent with our products. Time is money in the business and greater output yields more money in your pocket as well as the bars.
I have also observed that idealized bar without surly demanding customers and real money on the line is a great place to hone one’s skills much like the sterile kitchen of a culinary school.  Add in a few drunks, cash, credit cards and the checking of ids and this becomes a whole other ball game. The customer always makes a difference.
Getting comfortable behind a bar is like a kitchen. You learn your surroundings, where everything is kept and over time learn how to be more efficient. This class is way more fun than I was expecting and is really opening my eyes into the subtleties of the business, product, operations and great customer service. I bought the kit they sell, much against my desires knowing that they mark up its contents considerably so I can practice and improve my skills at home with pourers, shakers, mixing spoon and strainer.  Why didn’t I sign up for this course before?

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Bartending Class – Week 1, Day 1

On a whim and a aside from my culinary education I have enrolled in the Drinkmaster Bartending School in Boston and attended my first class today. Sure, we’ve all seen the movie Cocktail with Tom Cruise and thought to ourselves, “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to be a bartender?”.  Reality probably set in and for many and various reasons we assumed that bartending wasn’t something within our grasps.

While taking such a class may seem unrelated to pursuits in my culinary education, it actually has some pretty clear benefits to me and my desire to learn to cook. I signed up for the class a few months ago while reading through a book, Running a Restaurant for Dummies that I had purchased to learn a bit about the restaurant industry and its inner workings. I signed up with the thought of breaking into the industry and learning a bit about the front of the house operations through bartending or by acquiring the skills necessary to work small private parties or catering events. Bartending is much like cooking in that it involves taking orders, clearly defined recipes with occasional improvisation, fast, efficient production and interaction with a team. The money happens to be pretty decent as well which is an added bonus.

I arrived at the appointed hour and took the elevator to the 5th floor. The doors opened to a small hallway with slightly dim lighting. I walked through the door and was immediately welcomed by Jeff, our instructor for the day. I was given materials, a name tag, and signed in before taking a seat at a full-sized replica bar with bartending stations. The place looked really cool and felt like a real bar.

Once everyone was settled, the owner started talking to us about the school and its aim to teach people the core mechanics of the industry and how to be a great bartender. He introduced us to Jeff and left us in his hands for the day. After introducing ourselves, we were giving a brief overview of the basic bar setup and went right to work. This place apparently was going to be really hands-on, something I immediately became excited about. Music was pumped up to enhance the experience and provide some real life distraction. We were all jammin’ behind the bar with classic rock, raggae and current and familiar bar and club anthems.

All students in the class shared stations, switching back and forth, going over the basics of order taking, customer interaction, pouring, mixing and shaking and presentation. The pace picked up as our comfort level increased with drinks being called out in succession. I imagine this is what being on the line in a kitchen is like, firing plates and plating dishes for servers with consistent and attractive presentation. We were mindful of our workspace, the bar mise en place, putting back our bottles where they came from and keeping our space clean. I was really having a good time now. Everyone made mistakes, but as we kept moving it became easier to get over them. The operational aspects  and good business practices of a bar started to take form, as we honed our skills moving to what hopefully will some day be instinct.

The question on everyone’s mind at the beginning of the class of course was, “How do you remember all of the different drink recipes?”. It was great to know that you don’t need to know how to make every drink there is in the world, but rather the mechanics and the tools to be able to figure them out, along with some clever customer interaction techniques to elicit recipes for your first time. We learned bases and different combinations and substitutions. I started to make parallels with cooking and the differences say between a classic braise, fricassee or blanquette.

I left class feeling more confident than I ever imagined I would be after my first day. The mystery that shrouds bartending has started to break down into simple individual components. Much like what Chef Dowling said at the info session I attended at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, I am sure that when I am done with the class next Sunday I will never look at bartending or the drinks that I order while out the same again just like she said about food after taking the certificate or professional programs.

I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s class and the challenges and fun that I will experience. In just five hours I learned so much and know another five hours will increase my skills dramatically again.

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Info Session at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts

Today was a big an exciting day for me with respect to advancing my culinary skills. I attended an information session at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. I’ve been thinking in the back of my mind about checking out some schools and investigating further how far I want to take my studying and learning about cooking. I could never have imagined just months ago how deeply this interest would take a hold of me.

When I walked up to the school I noticed a different feeling. I approached more confident and at ease since I had already taken a basics class at the school and was familiar with the surroundings. I entered, took my seat and waited for the session to begin. Prospective students filed in, each inspecting every other person as I was, wondering what their story was, reason for being there, perhaps wondering if we would be in the same classes along with a multitude of other questions that ran through our heads.

The session was headed by Executive Director, Chef Roberta Dowling who founded the school 36 years ago. As she started to talk I was eager to learn more about the school. Interestingly enough, the tables were turned and each person had to introduce themselves stating their name, current occupation if any, and desired course of study.

She described the school as a kind of family, different from other larger institutions in the industry. The jovial and high-spirited chef made you instantly feel at home and you could just tell that she loved this school and what it offered its students. She described most student as career changers, those just out of high school atypical and assured us that people graduating from the program don’t go on to be line cooks. This was serious business for people with high aspirations and a love of cooking (which includes the pastry program as well). The program is modeled after traditional European-styled training, offers small classes with a maximum of 15 students per class, and a hands on approach, making everything from scratch; no pre-made dough or worse number 10 cans would be used here except for tomatoes of course when required. Students gained an average of 11 pounds through the program without question provided that you still exercised. Not so bad. Fail to keep up your exercise program and in an extreme case you could gain up to 85 pounds. Yikes!

Another unique advantage of this program is the flexible scheduling, allowing students to enroll in either a certificate program or professional program with flexible class days totaling 19 hours per week. This allows you to keep your full-time job and even take classes on weekends if that is what you choose; you pick your most convenient days and that’s your schedule for the program. Classes usually have 1 instructor and up to 2 assistants allowing for a lot of personal attention. The world was looking pretty rosy now. Everything was sounding great until reality set it.

Anyone choosing this program does so for their love of cooking. You would have to of course given the significant cash outlay and time commitment for any one of the programs. As she went into detail, the obvious differences from the recreational program I was a part of became even more obvious. Yes there would be homework. There would be required uniforms and class materials including a knife kit. The days would be long and tiring, and as any curriculum would have, there would be examinations.

To this point along with my 6 week Basics class and self-prepared meals at home have been studying leisurely reading and acquiring knowledge through books, while even taking notes. The culinary programs would have written tests as well as a required practicum, something I have never been faced with. This was the punchline you weren’t ready for. The gem missing from the catalog, brochures and web site descriptions.

For the practicum, students would be required to have obtained and assimilated all of the knowledge learned in class and through study at home. Then each student would arrive and find a table with cards equaling the number of total students in the class placed face down on the table. At random, they would pick out a card and find their assignment for a food preparation they would have to create with one big surprise (to me anyway); the card would have have the item to make written on it with the ingredients and the measurements, but a key thing would be missing, the recipe! Students would have to write out the recipe and then present it to the instructor. They would be graded and any major errors which would prevent the student from producing the item given would have to be corrected before they even entered into the kitchen. Students are also graded on their choice and use of equipment, mise en place and their final products and presentation. My heart started to pound. For the mid-term (final for the certificate program which is just the first half of the professional program) this is what was required? To make matters worse, as part of the final practicum for the professional program the process for examination is the same except that measurements for the ingredients are left out. You have to know your stuff and you have to know it cold. This is real culinary knowledge. After the initial shock to my system, I became excited again. 37 weeks of education would give me this knowledge.

Many thoughts began to form in my head. I had questions about which program was right for me and how much depth I actually needed to satisfy not only my curiosity, but my new found passion in the culinary world. What level do I need to get to? What are my real goals? Do I want to change careers or just enhance my culinary knowledge as a hobby?

At the end of our session, we were invited to sample some student cakes and to tour the kitchens. I had the brief opportunity to speak with Chef Dowling, a dynamic and warm personality, about her story. Her deep connections to cooking were immediately apparent. Her great grandmother a chef, her mother being a great cook came to mind quickly when asked how she developed a love for food. She was fortunate enough to experience transatlantic travel at a young age where she was exposed to a variety of foods enjoying many sights, tastes, and textures. She studied in Europe and from what I gather and observe seems to have modeled the school’s  program as a way to emulate her experiences with learning the culnary arts to her students.

While touring the kitchens were introduced to some students and got to see their amazing final projects. All were friendly, inviting, and proud of their projects. They had learned so much during their time at the school and felt well equipped to face the challenges of the professional culinary world. I was inspired.

We were also given the change to view student created portfolios, a program requirement. Each student is required to bring a camera to class to capture their progress and detail and show to the world what they are capable of producing and what they have learned. Each page turn of what could be described in some cases as mouth watering food porn further inspired and excited me. All of this is in reach.

As I do some soul searching, visiting other schools and learning about their  programs is probably a good idea even if they only re-enforce what I am not looking for.  I am favorably impressed with the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and feel fortunate to have the possibility of taking part in their unique and flexible program.

Over a decade ago I was making my first educational inquisitions. It’s funny how similar this process is starting to feel and how I am getting closer to a new chapter in my life.

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