Before coming to culinary school, I never called myself a cook. I always loved to cook, but it felt wrong to describe myself that way. While at culinary school, I sometimes feel even less inclined to label myself a cook. That title will come when I’ve officially established myself in a kitchen job. Even more so, to be called a chef is quite a long way away, a symbol of authority reserved for only those who lead us, and something that my fellow culinary classmates and I realize we may never truly achieve. The chef-instructors at our school are incredibly accomplished; most of them have run Michelin-starred kitchens overseas and accumulated life-changing awards. So, when one of them tells you that, for just a moment during class production, “you actually looked like a cook,” your heart flutters, and it’s a feeling you carry with you all week.
I got that compliment after I made 100 portions of roasted root vegetables. When I was first assigned that recipe, I mistakenly brushed it off as easy. It wasn’t until after that class, staring at the blisters on my fingers from chopping over a dozen pounds of hard vegetables like turnips and rutabaga fast enough to make the deadline, that I realized why my chef warned me not to underestimate the difficulty of this task. Now, the blisters have begun to turn to callouses, and the recipes in class are only becoming more cumbersome, but the excitement that comes with the challenge is intoxicating.
As primarily a “home cook,” the lessons for cooking large-batch items in this catering class have been truly valuable. The work is undoubtedly challenging, and the payouts may not always reflect the level of labor, but there are reasons we continue to do what we do. Yesterday, the school held a lecture by alumnus Brandon Chrostowski, an honorable man who is worth googling, and he told us something that struck me deeply. He said that this work is for those who are comfortable with discomfort, and without this ability to thrive in discomfort, one cannot make it in the food industry. It reminds me of a quote from another alum of the C.I.A., the late and great Anthony Bourdain. He said, “your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” So, that is what I will continue to do. I will enjoy the ride and soak up every view I can get from this rollercoaster that is culinary school.