Culinary School: A Panic

August 9, 2010

culinary school at midwest culinary institute

I was running hard against the dirt, my feet were pounding the ground, my fists were clenched. Everywhere behind me, dust was unearthing itself, flinging in the air and then falling back down in my tracks. My heart beat against my chest, steady like a drum, and then I heard white noise — static — and then nothing. I had been running but I hadn’t moved at all. I was wrapped in my own fuzzy blanket and the clock by the bedside blinked 6:30 a.m. It was time for another day.

Maybe the strange dream was an omen. When the evening rolled around and I was in my full culinary school uniform, my instructor delivered some stunning news. We’d be making chicken chasseur, sole au vin blanc, orange glazed carrots, parsley potatoes and spinach concasse. They’d all have to come out together and when we presented our dishes, our entire stations had to be clean. It was twice the amount of work we usually do and it seemed almost cruel. All at once, I became very aware of my hat and how hard it was squeezing my head. My coat felt thick and heavy.

Should I start the chicken first or the velouté? Or the demi-glace? I imagined splitting myself into six different people, each of us calmly carrying out a different task: chopping, whisking, searing. We looked so peaceful!

Realizing that I had just spent thirty seconds on this absurd fantasy, I became even more panicked. Everyone around me seemed to be moving and I was just starring at my cutting board, fixating on its grooves.

Thank God for my buddy, who is the friendly character you see up and to the left. I’m certain she was the stronger, more level-headed thinker of the two of us. “We could split up the sauces,” she offered, and “we could use the same pan for our fish.” “Okay,” I agreed, and then we devised a rough outline for the evening. We had no other choice and so we picked up our knives and we started cooking.

I wish I could remember the details that led to my finished plate a few hours later. I think my velouté turned out well but that I burned my carrots. I have a faint feeling that I whisked together some cream and egg yolks at one point. I’m fairly sure that I made several mad dashes to the dish tank.

I only know one thing for certain: that the best part of the evening was at the end when I got to take off my hat. My hair, which was molded into a very unpleasant bowl-like shape, untangled itself and finally fell free. My body temperature dropped. I started to breath.

I didn’t have a clue what just happened but I did know that in less than an hour I’d be tucked in my bed again. The thought of being wrapped in a fuzzy blanket seemed decadent and luxurious. “Oh please,” I prayed, “sweet dreams this time.”

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

FormeofCury August 9, 2010 at 4:30 pm

@Epiventures Been there, done that. You survived, that’s all that counts. And the shot of that pan is gorgeous.

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Epiventures August 9, 2010 at 4:34 pm

@FormeofCury Thanks for the encouragement. Good to know from one who has survived it too.

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ynq25335 August 9, 2010 at 5:02 pm

@Epiventures Culinary school is not for the faint-hearted. Defibrillator required sounds like? Good luck!

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Epiventures August 9, 2010 at 5:24 pm

@ynq25335 Defibrillator, yes. Or just a flare for the dramatic!

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Stephanie August 9, 2010 at 10:26 am

I second FormeofCury, been there, done that, thankfully survived it. Thanks for the beautiful entry and reminding me of the freak-out sessions i used to have before class and before I met my good friends who would split tasks with me to get everything out at once (I spent a lot of time in walk-ins just trying to breath). [=

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Barb August 9, 2010 at 4:13 pm

You rock. Thanks for the peeks into the world of culinary school for we wannabes who can only imagine.

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Bill August 9, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Keep up the great job Courtney, as a graduate of the program I know everything you are going thru. Just remember Mise en Place, and remember to just breathe and time everything out on your prep sheets. That really helped me.

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Courtney August 10, 2010 at 11:59 am

Thanks, Bill! :)

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