Culinary School Archives: April 8, 2004

A look back at my culinary school experience, then and now.

Days 3 and 4 (Skipped day two because it was a short whine about the pain and not being able to focus on class.  Boring stuff.  Beginning to think I should edit the dull stuff out.)

Day 3: Went and visited the Oral Surgeon this morning. He walked me through everything that the surgery would entail, as well as my sedation options. Since this is going to wipe out our savings, there's not much left for covering any unconsciousness during the operation… so I'll be numb, but coherent through the entire bone-scraping time. I'm hoping that the nitrous oxide hoses don't get in the way of the operation and can be used for more than just the numbing procedure. Oh, by the way, this is scheduled for next Thursday morning (the 15th). Whoopie. 

I forgot to give the numbers for the class size. On the first day, there were 8 people who were there, but not on the roll, and 12 people on the roll who never showed up. Physically, there were 21 people in class. And as of the today – we're down to 20. I'll try to update the class attendance total every Monday. 

The Job Services lady came in today to see who needed a job. I had already talked to her the other day and said that I'd be waiting another month before looking for a job – but I told her to open my files back up since I now needed to make up the cost of my surgery. 

Third day, third chapter, and getting ready for quizzes tomorrow on Sanitation and Nutrition. I'd like to study tonight, but for those who know my husband and I, you probably also know that every Wednesday night is "Game Night." No, we don't watch sports (the PVR records our hockey games), but we do play the evil and insideous game of DUNGEONS and DRAGONS…. whooooooo…. Anyway, that means I get to rush home, clean up and make sure the snacks are ready before everyone arrives. By the time everyone left – I was too tired to study (I have to be up for a 7 AM job). I'll deal with it tomorrow.  We still play D&D on Wednesday nights–yes it's sad, but fun.

Day 4: I got up early this morning (I was awake because of tooth pain anyway) and studied for Sanitation, did homework, and wrote a short essay on Shigellosis before heading out for work. Wish I could generate that kind of energy every day. Work sucked because I missed the last two days so I could visit multiple dental specialists, and everything was backed up by the time I returned (but I was thankful that I missed the net-conferencing debacle). I should have it all sorted out by Friday morning. Got to class early enough to do a run-through of my Sanitation notes with a classmate. I was nervous about this quiz because I didn't know how tough or easy it would be. All I did know was that for three days I've been cramming a lot of information into my almost middle-aged brain (and with painful distractions), and I wasn't sure if any of it had stuck. Well, it did. Other than some momentary confusion about whether the Lag or the Log Phase come first in the growth stages of bacteria – I think I did pretty well. And the extra credit question was easy: define aerobic, anaerobic, and facultative. Now ask me if I still remember what facultative means (or if it's even spelled correctly).

Did most of my studying for Nutrition during my lunch break. J.C. and I studied together to make sure that we didn't miss anything from studying our own notes. And again, the test was pretty easy. Was a little confused about the storage of glycogen, but answered it correctly anyway. And luckily I had just finished looking over the same information that was used as the extra credit question. Chef Carter's going to post our grades tomorrow. I know I did well, but I'm hoping for a perfect score. 

When I got home this afternoon, there was a message from Job Services. One of the restaurants that I had asked about (Limey recommended it as a good place to work) said that though they weren't really hiring, they still wanted me to come in and fill out an application. They know that I'm completely unskilled, so they probably need a new dishwasher… but that's where I said I'd start anyway. It's kinda funny… I once worked for D.B.M. helping ex-IBM employees put together their resumes, but I have no idea how to write one geared towards the restaurant industry. And when do you go in to apply? They don't have much of a slow time since they open at 5pm. I posted these questions on Chef2Chef in hopes of some assistance, so now I wait – at least until tomorrow and then I can also ask my instructor. I don't know if I've mentioned it or not, but Chef Carter is great. He's only been teaching us for four days, but I'm looking forward to starting my third class with him next week. Now back to working on homework.  I never made it to the restaurant to talk to anyone about a job. The company I was being laid off from decided that while they couldn't afford me, they couldn't function without me either, so they extended my contract as part-time for the next year. The pay was equivalent to what I would make at a restaurant working full-time and they were willing to work around my school schedule, so guess which one I chose.

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Culinary School Archives: Monday, April 5, 2004

A look back at my culinary school experience, then and now.


Today was my first day of culinary school. The first half of the day was spent introducing ourselves to each other and the instructor (Chef Michael Carter), followed by what he expected of us and our notebooks. Yes, notebooks are 25% of our grade. For the first six week period, I'll be studying Nutrition, Sanitation and Basic Cookery (CA100). There's also a Computer Science course, but they let me out of that one since I took a couple of programming classes a few years ago. The second half of the day was with Nutrition… and right now I have 8 pages of notes that have to be typed up for my notebook. Luckily, we're allowed to bring our powerbooks to class, so no more transcribing notes for me after today. And there's also a reading assignment and several workbook assignments as homework. My jaw and right ear are pounding away right now since the 'family' doctor pulled me off of ibuprofen this morning, so I have to get all my homework done before taking my prescription medication so I don't screw it all up. I ended up having to go to a specialist for a apicoectomy on my jaw.  I refused to take the pain medication I was given until after I was finished with class for the day because I couldn't think clearly while taking it.  At night, it increased the amount of time it took me to do homework from about one hour to five hours instead.  And I was still working part-time, so there wasn't a whole lot of free time available.

I've met a couple of classmates so far, and everyone else seems to be pretty cool – but we'll see how that goes. The most interesting part of today was roll call. There were about eight new students who were not on the roll… you'd think that would make for a larger class, but there were an awful lot of people on the roll who weren't there. Tomorrow I'm going to try to get a count of enrolled v.s. actually attending (my count for today was 21 there, no clue how many enrolled because I didn't think to count until he was finished calling names). 

And if you're waiting for an update on the 3Girls, I have bad news for you. I can't find them. Now that doesn't necessarily mean that they aren't there – but it means that only one is, and since they're not all cowering together – I can't tell which girl is there since I didn't look at them well enough to pick 'em out separately in a crowd. There are two possibilities, but I'm really not sure about either of them. Maybe the other two were just moral support during the orientation. 

I had forgotten how much work is involved in going back to school full-time, but based on today – I think I'm going to like it.  After getting through the apicoectomy and all the pain disappearing, I discovered that I made a much better student in my late 30's than I did when I was younger.  During this session I was content to be an A student, but later on I discovered something that had been missing from life… the need to be better than everyone else.  I had never been a competitive person–I don't know if that was a response to my brother and sister being highly competitive, or if I just didn't care about anything enough to feel that way. But for some reason in culinary school, it was no longer about getting an A, but about getting the highest score in class.  And that paid off for me later on.

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Culinary School Archive: Sunday, March 28, 2004

Another look back at my culinary school experience, then and now.


I attended orientation for new students at TCA Saturday morning. I was a little worried when I saw how many people were there, but I had forgotten that there are now three different class sessions going on: Morning, Afternoon and Evening. The day started with a Cooking Demo, and I really wish I could remember the Chef's name who did the demonstration since it was very well done and the food was great. I even picked up a pretty good syrup recipe in the process – ok, it was better than good – it was the best I've ever had (I'll be making it for my husband soon). Ha! Completely forgot about that recipe.  I have it written down in one of my many mini-notebooks floating around my office… I'll have to look for it soon as it was pretty tasty. 

After the demo, we were introduced to some of the faculty and to the history of TCA. They also covered the Rules and Regulations… lots of rules. From a school standpoint they seemed a little excessive, but nothing different from working for any company in the real world. I guess it's part preparation for the future and also a way to weed out some of the students who really don't care about cooking. 

There were some other things that were discussed, like attendance (a major part of the rules), the fact that we would lose an average of 15% of our class before graduation, career services and Student Government. Then we broke off into groups determined by which session we would be attending. Roy Perez was introduced to us as our Afternoon Chef Advisor. I hope that he isn't the type of advisor I had the last time I went to school… that one was impossible to meet with and useless when you finally pinned him down. There were about 17 to 18 student in my group and it looked like I was the oldest one there. There were also three girls who were very noticeable in my class. More about them later. We started with about 33 student enrolled in my class.  By the end of school, we had 17 students, and fewer than that completed the externship portion afterwards.  We had maybe 50% of the original enrolled students graduate from the program–not a very good record for our class, but we were breaking all kinds of records during out time at school.  The largest section of that group dropped out before classes actually started, some didn't make it past the first week, and the rest slowly dropped out as time went on. As for Chef Perez, I didn't see much of him until it was time to attend his class for Garde Manger.  He was probably my toughest instructor.

At this point, we were all set loose to visit different booths and watch more cooking demonstrations. The booths were mostly set up to take care of our paperwork, financial aid, and to find out more about student clubs and organizations. I watched some demos and also wandered around talking to some current students and some of the other advisors. Which brings up the 3 Girls (that's how I think of them). While trying to meet up with my admissions rep to take care of my uniform fitting, she had to keep running off to assist the 3 Girls at each and every booth… and we didn't have a chance to do the fitting until they finally left. When they weren't being assisted, they spent their time in a huddle in the middle of the hallway, practically attached at the hips. Being timid isn't a problem, but not being willing to do anything unless being held by the hand isn't going to get them far, especially in this industry. They're my guess for not making it through the program. I know it's rude of me to assume this, so if they actually DO graduate – and find out about my comments – they're welcome to slap me in the face with a baggie of warm chicken fat.  No face slapping here.  Only one of the girls showed up for the first day of class, and she turned out pretty well by the end of the program, although I may have been a bit tough on her in my blog when school first started.  No one will come looking for me based on what I've written posted because I never used my or their real names.  Unfortunately, that led to some forgetfulness on my part of what their real names actually were as I only remember my friends and those who really pissed me off.  It's driving me bugnuts trying to remember.

Up next time in the archives: My First Day of School

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Culinary School Archives: Friday, March 26, 2004

A note before I begin: For some reason, I went back to my old blog that I started when I decided to attend culinary school.  I posted about quite a few experiences I had as a student and what I thought I had learned from them.  I think that with all the current changes to my career and where I think I'm heading–it will be interesting to look back and compare.

An Introduction 

Terrified, excited and scared to death. That's the description of what I'm feeling right now. After 11 years as a Technical Writer and even longer working in the high tech industry, I'm ready to ditch it all and change careers. The thought of finding another job creating unread user manuals and documentation was more than I could handle. So I've decided to become a Chef. Yes, I'll be making less money, and I'll be going back into debt… but for once someone will actually USE something I've created. There are many other reason for this decision, but first and foremost is that I will be doing something I've always loved to do. (I DO love working in the culinary industry, but I missed the tech world much more than I ever thought I would.)

What worries me the most is the cost–$40K–for a degree in the Le Cordon Bleu program at the Texas Culinary Academy in Austin. I have a house and bills to deal with and working only part-time will barely cover that. But I'm going into debt anyway knowing that I won't be looking back when I'm retired and wondering why I wasted so much of my life doing work that I hated (I may be good at it – but being a technical writer in the semiconductor field just SUCKS). (Let's not start talking about my student loan right now.  It's tough, but thanks to my brilliant husband, we are ahead of schedule.)

I did a lot of research on culinary schools and careers, and then went and visited a few here in Austin. Someone at TCA took the time to give me a tour of the school, introduced me to some of the instructors, and sat me down and showed how all the classes were structured and what I would be learning in each one. I left knowing that I had to get into that school somehow… maybe it was the atmosphere or maybe it was just the sight of all those gleaming student kitchens. I'm a sucker for a big beautiful kitchen. Yes, attending a LCB program is expensive, but it'll give me the contacts and networking opportunities that I wouldn't have with another local school. And I need that boost since I'm starting out in this career later than most people (and it doesn't hurt that it also comes with an Associates of Applied Science). My husband is freaking out about the cost, but even he agrees that this specific school is the best choice for me at this time. It's funny, now that I've set all of this in motion, my friends and family are asking me why it took so long for me to decide to become a chef. Ummm, if they all knew this was the job for me–why didn't someone mention it 18 years ago? Or was this something I had to figure out on my own? 

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I started on this path from the begining instead of wandering all over the place trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Part of it bothers me because I've wasted so many years. If I had known that culinary training was an option, my career choices would have been different. And I definitely would have started at a cheaper school – Austin Community College has a pretty good program – or maybe I would have gone to Johnson and Wales on the East Coast. I don't know why it never occurred to me that you COULD go to school for it…. man, I must have been a stupid kid. But on the other hand–it might have also been wasted on me at that time. Now I know that I have to put everything I have into my education, and I also have the drive, ambition and single-mindedness that I was lacking in college. 

Tomorrow morning is Orientation at TCA and I'll finally get to meet my classmates and instructors. We were given a recipe to try and discuss there, and it was…. um, interesting. I'll talk about it tomorrow after I find out if it was a test or just crappy instructions. (It wasn't a test, and it wasn't a mistake.  Some people just shouldn't be allowed to write recipes.  I'll probably harp on this pet peeve quite a bit more as I update my archives.)

I still sometime wonder what it would have been like if I went to culinary school straight out of high school, but while I would have been so much further ahead in my career, I don't think I would have learned as much back then as I did as an older student.  Besides, there's a lot I would have missed out on that I'm glad I've learned. And while I now know more about the different culinary programs here in Austin and which ones teach which subjects better than the others for different types of careers paths, I don't regret my choice of schools.  Attending the Texas Culinary Academy was probably one of the best decisions I've ever made.

Next up: Orientation.

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‘Top Chef’ Dreams Crushed by Student Loan Debt

That's the title of an article in the Online Ledger by Kim Severson.  It kinda goes like this:

"Mr. Park wanted to be a chef. So like tens of thousands of other young people who grew up in the age of kitchen celebrities like Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse, he enrolled in culinary school.

Two years after graduation, all the “Bam!” has been drained from the dream. Mr. Park makes $10.50 an hour at a bistro in Austin best known for its French fries, trying to pay down his student loans. While he dodges phone calls from the bank, his mother helps him make his $705 monthly payments, almost twice his weekly take-home pay.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” Mr. Park, 29, said before starting another night shift at the Hyde Park Bar and Grill. “I put my degree on applications, and they make fun of me for it.” "

What Ms. Severson doesn't know, or doesn't care about, is that, in my opinion, Mr. Park is a lackluster cook.  How do I know this?  Because he managed to lower my grade in a class when I had him for a partner.  After that experience, I made sure that my class partners were set up weeks in advance to avoid dealing with him again.  I'd describe him as worse than lackluster, but he may have improved after graduation… maybe, but probably not.  And in school, he really sucked; once again, that is simply my opinion.    And I documented this in a few of my old culinary school posts.  Here are a few of them:

An introduction to my Partner from Hell
Good use for a saute pan
Wanna pan-fry his head…
I will never partner with him again!
Read the second paragraph
Read the second paragraph here too
Read the second and fifth paragraph

I finally got tired of even thinking about him by our third class and ignored him as much as possible after that.  Why did my name for him change so much?  At first, some of us at school thought that he was 'chemically enhanced', but it didn't take long to notice the strong odor of alchohol that wafted off of him almost every day. 

Now you're asking yourself, what does any of that have to do with crushing student loan payments that were completely unexpected?  They weren't unexpected.  I know he had to sign the same disclaimer that I did… the one that stated that we'd be LUCKY to make $20,000 a year after graduation.  And 16% interest on the loan?  <cough>STUPID!<cough>  You never sign something you don't understand, 'specially if money is involved.

My final and most important point is that many of us knew that culinary pay sucks when you start out, and for many, the rest of your career.  We didn't go to culinary school to become the next celebrity chef–we did this because we're insane–or passionate about food–depending on your point of view. But if Rick's work in the culinary field is anything like his work in many of his classes, I'm not surprised that he's having problems. He liked food, he just didn't seem to be any good handling it (yes, I'm still upset at him for dragging down my grade). I think the only thing I regret about culinary school is physically restraining one of my classmates when she was ready to slam Rick upside the back of his head with a frying pan. That would have been worth the money.

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