I feel as happy as I did in Rome! (only minus the incredible backdrop of a thousands of years old city)

Long Explanation:
I have been wanting to go to culinary school since I was about 12 years old and have loved cooking/baking/food all my life.  I have also been a major over-achiever since 3rd grade when they put me in a gifted and talented program because there weren’t enough Hispanic kids in it at my elementary school, yay quotas! These two things about me clashed 5 years ago when I started looking for higher education schools…of course I wanted to go to culinary school, but every culinary school that offered a bachelor degree (a necessity in my family) was way upwards of $40,000, a little bit out of  a do-able price range. Also, most did not offer the option of a major price reduction by way of scholarship. Regular ole universities, however, were offering me full scholarships+some right and left because of my National Hispanic Scholar status. So my parents highly suggested (i.e. practically forced) me to take one of the full scholarships and then promised they would help me follow my dream of culinary school and eventual chefdom after I had a university degree (business management)under my belt, which would act as a sort of “for a rainy day when there are no jobs” kind of thing. Of course, us being in a tight-knit Hispanic family and me not wanting to be disowned, I couldn’t say no and I knew it was the most reasonable choice anyways, so I suffered. Four years of Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business. It was hell on earth, or at least hell in the US, temperatures upwards of 120 degrees Fahrenheit, next to no campus shade, HUGE campus, no courses in realistic small business management, mass amounts of uninteresting jerkface people…then there were the business students…don’t even get me started. A few good things came out of going to ASU, Mike, a few awesome friends, some good liberal arts classes but overall it just wasn’t my thing and I couldn’t say I am very proud to have made it out of there alive and with my brain still attached-mostly. (Worst thing, they didn’t even send us off with “Pomp and Circumstance” during graduation, instead they played “Tonight’s gonna be a good night” while we were herded out of the stadium like cattle, I was NOT happy about that)

Now, with ASU out of the way and a bachelor’s degree under my belt (albeit in corporate business management instead of entrepreneurship), I am ending my first week at Arizona Culinary Institute tomorrow!

It is just the type of place that I have been wanting to go to, I was turned off by other culinary schools that were run by huge corporate entities…I mean, it’d be cool to have the option of moving to another city and having transfer credits, but I just was not completely enticed. It was really only a name that I was drawn to, and that’s essentially nothing, I mean, why do you choose a certain brand name over another? Because you’re familiar with it either because the brand has through personal experience made you appreciate it, or because you have seen the name somewhere (i.e. in advertisements) and associate certain ideals with that brand. Obviously I didn’t have any experience with the different schools, and this meant I needed more information. The big names (Culinary Institute of America and Johnson & Wales) were too far and too expensive,  required a commitment to a certain field, and CIA has a waiting list of 3 years? I think. I found Arizona Culinary Institute near me in Scottsdale and went on tour. It’s independently run by some great chefs with fantastic experience. It moves quickly (ideal for my situation because I didn’t want Mike and I to be spending too much time  -years- away from each other because I was in school) and I’ve always been a quick learner and am already fairly familiar with a lot of the content of courses in culinary school. It is comprehensive and even offers courses that other schools do not anymore. It has small classes, currently my class size is 13 people! And it’s a certificate program, meaning it doesn’t have the general education requirements of a degree system, meaning I don’t have to pay for stuff that I won’t need in the field. Also, in a practical sense, most chefs wouldn’t give a fuck if you had a degree, they just want to know that you can julienne properly or can accurately test a rare-cooked piece of steak with your finger instead of slicing into it while working on many other different tasks. I made a decision to suffer in the greater Phoenix area(even with Arizona’s backwards new laws) for another 1/2 a year to a year or so.

It’s been incredible. I am comfortable in my environment. I smile and nod, and not in the ‘not paying attention to you’ way, in the ‘I know exactly what you’re talking about’ sort of way. I am happy. It feels like everything fits and it’s an inspiring experience!

Here are a few quickish entries from the first three days of class:

Tuesday July 6th

The first day was just on the edge of being overwhelming. I felt like most of the stuff was just a reinforcement of how much I belong there. I knew almost all the names of the equipment and how to use them and what to use them for, which is more than I can say for most of the class. I need to be careful not to get too big of a head just because I am a little more familiar with things. I am a little worried about my assigned partner, hope she gets a handle on what’s going on. I had to take a long nap and then took too long on hemming pants with Bunny (one of the few friends from ASU I made) and homework, I had to get fili-b’s and went to bed late.

Wednesday July 7th

Today was really fantastic. Lecture was a little boring, we go pretty slow for my tastes. Though Chef said “Chef Naomi” in describing some far in the future possible scenario and it was the first time I’d ever heard those words so closely together, this definitely made me want to be goofy all day! Pronouncing the French brigade system stations made me happy too, I love pronouncing French words, poissonier, saucier, entremetier…wish I could learn French fluently, but fluent Spanish is more of a priority. Pastries for snacktime were ham and cheese croissants and blueberry jam danishes, they were amazing! Then it was lab time, I’ve been needing to work in a kitchen again, it just felt right working around people but not having to worry about what they were doing (too much). The knife felt a little funny because I’m not used to holding it properly and also I was a little tense so I think my hand started going numb. I’m going to have to work on getting the right handle on space since I’m left handed, I feel more cramped. I got a “Wow” almost immediately once I put down my tray in front of Chef Wolf, the feeling was incredible. I definitely love being recognized when I put in such a significant amount of effort. He said I should be very proud of my spread of knife cuts, especially my julienne. Not sure how proud I should be of cutting a ¼ of my finger nail off with a peeler…at least it didn’t bleed. Family meal was delish, Mexican food and crème brulee for dessert. Long ride home, thinking of car pooling with a couple of guys, but may not depending on what they think.

Thursday July 8

Today did the whole food safety thing for the seventh or eighth time in my life. Also it was vegetable cookery day. Simple stuff, most things I already do often in my daily cooking, steaming, blanching, boiling, saute/stirfry, pan-fry, deep fry, roast/broil. Then in lab we did some knife cuts, tourne was a bitch, it’s a 7 sided football shaped cut, then roasting peppers, blanching broccoli, zest and supreme an orange, tomato concasse, small diced celery, chiffonade spinach,  and finally glazed carrots. Everything came out great, the broccoli blanching water should have been saltier and that was the only criticism I had. I’m starting to get more comfortable with my classmates and decided on a broad project theme of heirloom vegetables with my class friend Saige, still need to narrow it down a bit though. I would have liked to do something involving liquers/liquors of the world, but she is still 18, also meat is off limits because she’s vegetarian.  Any suggestions?

Everything is awesome right now.