As I write this, I am sitting in the school cafeteria, called The Egg, amongst tables full of friends who are eating and laughing in matching chef whites before heading back to their class. Some students are even going back to continue cooking the food that’s being served here in The Egg, which is the student cafeteria and open to the public. Tonight, they are serving options from all around the world to celebrate the start of the Olympics. There have also been several meals this week that highlight Black culinarians for Black History Month. This has been especially interesting because it introduces us to meals that many of us have never tried before. For instance, I had West African Peanut Stew for dinner one night and Coconut Rice with Fried Banana on another night, two entirely new dishes to me. Not only do they serve these recipes, but they share the names and cookbooks of the chefs, like Chef Edna Lewis, Chef Lance Brown, and Chef Jefferson Evans, who is the first Black graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. I greatly appreciate that my school is making a point to feature these ingredients and prominent figures in the culinary industry, as the history of food is deeply intertwined within the history and context of the Black community and would be utterly incomplete without these stories.
I am still in my seafood identification and fabrication class, but we have completed all the fabrication techniques. We learned three classic techniques: up & over, straight cut, and flat cut, as well as proper shucking methods for mollusks and how to clean shrimp, crab, and lobster. As I mentioned last week, my chef, Gerard Viverito, attended Winston Churchill High School when he was a teenager, and he and I have bonded over our shared knowledge of crab that comes from a childhood in Maryland.
After we finished our fabrication lessons, we moved on to tastings. For three days, we got to taste several kinds of oysters, clams, caviar, tobiko, shrimp, lobster, and various smoked seafood. It’s quite a luxurious feeling to be eating spoonfuls of sturgeon caviar at 7 am and being graded on how well you can describe how each complex flavor from one caviar compares to another. The raw clam and oyster tastings early in the morning were quite a bit less luxurious to me personally, as I don’t think my stomach was ready for that experience, but it was still a valuable lesson day nonetheless. I guess there are much worse things I could complain about than eating PEI mussels and littleneck clams for breakfast. All in all, it’s just another day in the life of a culinary student.