Monday, January 25, 2010

Day ONE.

Day one, lesson one, sentence one of textbook:"Scrupulous cleanliness is required both personally and within the professional kitchen environment."

-Oh dear.

This blog is about my journey as a culinary student at the French Culinary Institute by day, and an Upper West Side Convent cook and tenant by night.

My class is well into our second level and we are running/cooking full speed ahead. I spend the day with 23 other culinarians from the hours of 8:30am to 3pm, Monday through Friday. My chef, Chef Pascal, is a burly French man who spent his childhood in Brittany, France but has lived in New York for the past 20 years. This gives him a harmonious accent I like to call EuroYankee. It’s actually endearing; but maybe that’s because he’s good looking and really knows how to handle a pig...Anyhow, we spend most of our days scrambling for ingredients, watching his demos, and praying direction doesn’t get lost in translation. A tuned ear, lots of coffee, and a little determination have produced some really amazing dishes from my stations. Oh, and the constant peek-and-ask to the adjacent station to make sure we know what the hell’s going on.

I would like to highlight a few of my days as an FCI student. The ever-decadent seafood day: lobster killing and cooking for breakfast, mussels a la mariniere for lunch with fresh oysters and clams (just to shuck after eating to bide the time), and sauteed scallops for an afternoon snack. Day of Duck, The Veal Surprise, and the famous Organ Day*. I'm an adventurous eater, but kidneys, liver, sweetbreads, and tongue in one sitting is a lot of animal. There are so, so many more...Quick, quick: feel sorry for me.
*All names coined by me. FCI is not affiliated or in approval or disapproval of these names.

The convent life is an interesting one. I am entering an environment that has kept the same schedule and regimen for thousands of years. As much as you might think that it effects me, its actually just the opposite. Sometimes, I am like a wrench in their every movement when I'm around. A break in their solitude, an interruption in their communication with God. However, now that I have gotten to know their schedule and have learned to stay out of the way, I think they have grown to appreciate me and my presence in their world. I cook for them around three to four days a week. Weekends are much more relaxed, but weekday cooking gets serious. I am cooking all day in school and then return to the convent at 4:00pm and need to have dinner on the table for 10-20 people by 6pm. By the time I've de-robed of my coat and scarf, gathered my recipes and made it to the kitchen, its 4:15 and GO time. There have been some great successes and equally as great are the failures. I learn something every single meal I cook. Portion control, a strong hate for olives, EVERYTHING IS BITE-SIZE CHUNKS: OR ELSE, simple, delicious, etc. Sometimes the info is helpful, sometimes its useless. I'll get into the specific delivery of feedback at a different time. Outside the walls of the kitchen, I am getting to know the sisters quite well, and some of them are extremely interesting humans. A Julliard graduate, a research scientist, an artist, a former Yale Professor, and more. These women were pioneers in the continuing education of females and extreme successes in my eyes. I think I love them.

As far as the move to the Big Red Fruit goes, it really hasn't phased me that much (other than being ill for over two weeks in the beginning; I seriously thought I was allergic to the city). Part of this is because I haven't really had an ounce of time to embrace it fully, but part of it is that I truly believe that I am in the place that I'm supposed to be right now. You could take me out of the city and put me on the same path to culinary know-how somewhere else, and I'd still be happy. It doesn't matter if my day might be long, hard, boring, busy, confusing or normal, I can still sit down and reflect back on it and say, "man, that was f-ing awesome."

Between me and the sisters, a convent and a culinary school, the next few months/years/forever are going to be a wild ride.