I’ve had almost a year post-graduation to reflect on my experience of culinary school, and it’s almost been enough time to clear the weird post-school haze out of my brain. There was so much focus, angst, passion, apathy, tomfoolery, testosterone, and Sriracha sauce behind the scenes. Soon I hope to share useful or interesting info and ideas from school that I learned along the way but was too harried to sit down and jot out, let alone photograph.
But meanwhile, for today, here are a few pictures. I’ve had the joy of being “allowed” around campus with my camera. I hoped to give a sense of what life is like at Seattle Culinary Academy when people are in the zone. It’s a great school–in my opinion, the best one around here. I love the fact that we didn’t just learn traditional French cookery, although that was one component. Where else in the world would I have an intense, high speed opportunity to learn about and cook different cuisines around the world, from Japanese to Oaxacan to Middle Eastern?
Then, of course, there was the sustainability component. At school they had classes on sustainability in the world of food. This focus ranged from farm to restaurant to policy-building. The classes–and the instructors’ passion–were key to the quality of the program, in my opinion. They were inspiring and motivating. There were farm visits, growing our own greens in the campus greenhouse, and practicing nose-to-tail butchery (using the whole animal).
I know less of the pastry side of things because the program is separated so that you select culinary or pastry for your focus. I did have several rotations in the bakeshop (or as the culinary students called, it, Bakation. It really does have a balmy, dreamy vibe in there). However, my friends in the program liked it as well. It’s just a completely different experience, the two programs-within-a-program.
One thing that impressed me about the chef instructors is their desire to see us succeed beyond the program. In other words, if people needed a job they would definitely look to the instructors, who would help them find leads using their own connections in the industry. They weren’t just great teachers, they were mentors. People sort of gravitated towards their favorites. One of mine is pictured below, preparing for a modernist cuisine lesson.
It wasn’t my favorite part of the program, but we also did “Front of House” training (i.e., serving the guests/customers in the two restaurants the school runs). I used to wait tables, and how in the heck did I do it? I must have changed. Some people really do an amazing job of it, making it look effortless–they appear gracious, friendly, and thoughtful. I only hope that I appeared that way, but inside I felt awkward, physically uncomfortable, and grumpy. There is a real psychic toll that it takes, and I don’t even know why. Guests would be perfectly nice, and yet by the end of the shift I would be gasping to get out of my uniform like it was made out of lead. Anyway, I have a true respect for waiters that I only thought I had before. In my opinion, being in the kitchen was better, but front of house workers can make or break a restaurant.
One of my favorite parts of school, that I wish I could keep doing forever, was experimenting and recipe developing. What a fun job it would be to create new, delicious dishes out of a given palate of flavors. It would be a bonus if I could do this with healthy, sustainably grown, beautiful food. I’ve had a little bit of a chance to do that out of school for my various jobs, so that feeds me, so to speak.