My First Stage

My First Stage

This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to stage at the number one rated restaurant in Dallas. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, “stage” is the French word for “intern,” or in other words, “I work for free.” The purpose is to gain experience in different professional kitchens. It can also be a prerequisite for a job in a kitchen. And most of the time, culinarians have no problem with free labor, so they welcomed me with open arms!

I arrived for my stage at 2:51pm and was immediately faced with the dilemma of which door to use. Yes, I understood that I was supposed to use the back door that leads to the kitchen, but there were like 12 different doors to choose from! The one without a handle was the one I was supposed to pry open…Luckily  a girl came out of it soon after I had finished searching for a way in, and she pointed me in the direction of the chef. After a very brief introduction to the sous chef and the chef de cuisine, I signed a liability waiver, and the sous chef immediately gave me a recipe to follow. A habanero-tomatillo relish. He showed me where the ingredients were, set me up with a cutting board, and then I pulled out my knives and got to work.

Unfortunately, halfway through brunoising the ingredients, I was told that it was supposed to be fine brunioise (mistake numero uno). So I changed my cuts and then had to go back over everything I had already cut. I also had to de-seed various peppers, but I was too nervous to ask for gloves, so I just did it with my bare hands…and then my hands had a nice slow burn all over for the duration of my stage (mistake #2).

While I was chopping my mistakes and worries away, more cooks started to arrive for their shift. Everyone was friendly but surprised to see a newbie in the kitchen. This was by far a veteran team as the newest member had arrived over a year ago, so they were wondering whose job was in jeopardy by this newcomer. After I introduced myself to everyone and explained my purpose for being there, everyone seemed very willing to show me around.

I would be assigned to trail the hot apps guy for the evening. The restaurant was on summer hours (6pm to 9pm) and because the majority of their clientele was off at their vacation homes in the Hamptons, the restaurant was slow. However, this allowed me to move around the kitchen during service and see all the stations in action.

I found out all of this information while I was still working on that first recipe that they gave me. Once I FINALLY got everything to the size they wanted, I cut more veg for the hot app station and then joined him on the line to prep for service.

The line is an open kitchen set up much like the traditional French brigade system. Sauté, grill, and expo down the left side, and hot app and hot app sauté/sides down the right, with sushi and desserts out front on the left or right where it is nice and cool. I got a brief tour of each station, complete with tastings of Coppa over at the sushi area and a medley of aiolis at the hot app station.

For the beginning of service, I stayed with the hot apps guy and saw lobster shooters and fried calamari being plated, and then directed my attention to the hot app sauté cook when she plated this beauty:ABhot saute 2

Because the kitchen was slow for the evening, I had plenty of time to chat with everyone on the line. The sauté guy had been “sauté-ing” for 16+ years at various restaurants, and he was unbeatable. I noticed that all the front burners were turned on high with a pan over each flame all the way around the line. That way, as soon as an order came in, their pans were already blazing hot and ready to go.

ABsaute
The scallops dish that comes from the saute station.

During a busy moment in passing, the grill station/sous chef slipped me a piece of heaven for me to try. By heaven, I mean a bite of the most delicious pork chop I have ever tasted IN MY LIFE. It just so happened to be a 20-24oz hunk of love from some magical farmers in Alabama, marinated in the house blend, wrapped in bacon, and cooked sous vide in a water bath for 4-5 hours before being finished by a kiss from the grill and a hug from the oven. IN.CRED.I.BLE. I have now tasted why they’re considered the number one restaurant in Dallas.

The hot app station was done by 8:45, the restaurant closed at 9PM, and we were gone by 9:15.

All in all it was quite an adventure and I asked to come back over my winter break in December to which they happily agreed! I would love to come back when they are busier and experience a longer night. Hopefully on New Years? We’ll see.

I did have three realizations though: 1) I need to pick up speed, 2) I need to focus more on precision, 3) I need to be working in a kitchen while I go to school. And I’ve really missed working in the kitchen while I was on break…I was so nervous for my stage, but the moment I put on that chef coat and saw myself in the mirror, I felt a million times more comfortable. So I will now walk away with this stage knowing that I am more prepared for my next one, wanting to do more, and even more willing to make this my career path. There are definitely moments where I start to doubt myself, but the Lord also blesses me with moments of absolute certainty that I am doing what He wants me to do.

Overall, this was a great learning experience, and I look forward to doing another one!

Be Bold,

Sig_Al

It’s good to be home

It’s good to be home

HELLO FROM TEXAS!

Wow it feels good to be home. And drive. And eat good Mexican food.

On my last night in New York, I went on a night hike with my friend Lydia and some people from the church we attend. We hiked a pretty steep and narrow trail up Mount Beacon in the dark and found our way at the very tip top with an incredible view. You could practically see all the way from New York City to Albany! There was also an observation tower that you could climb and get a better look.

When I arrived home, there was a pretty important letter waiting for me. I have spoken before about the challenges of paying for culinary school, and how I am predominantly relying on the Lord and a LOT of scholarship applications for all of it. Well, I got the bill for my second semester of school, and I had just spent the last few days calculating exactly how much I needed to find in order to pay for my second term. When I got home, there was an envelope with my name on it from the James Beard Foundation. And inside, was a scholarship that will allow me to continue my education at the CIA for my second term!!!! GOD IS GOOD Y’ALL.

I’ve been dealing with a lot of doubt and worry recently about whether or not I would be able to afford staying for my second term at the CIA, but this confirms it. I get to continue my dreams of going to school at the Culinary Institute of America. I will continue to rely on the Lord and work and apply for scholarships and more scholarships for the remainder of my academic career, however, the relief that comes with having my next term taken care of is truly incredible.

This was the biggest news that has happened to me so far on my time off from school, but be on the lookout for another update soon! Today is my mom’s birthday (Happy Birthday Brenda!) and tonight we go to dinner, tomorrow we have a girls’ day with Aunt Jeannie, next week is my birthday, and then I am staging at Abacus in Dallas. Stories will follow I’m sure!

Be Bold,

Sig_Al

ONE. MORE. WEEK!

ONE. MORE. WEEK!

Hello friends,

This week just happens to be THE LAST ONE until we get three glorious weeks off for “summer break.” It is a far cry from the 3 months I got at OSU, but I will take any amount of rest that I can get.

Last week, we had our midterm for Culinary Fundamentals. Technically, it was the final for Skills One. Tuesday was our knife practical followed by a 50 question (all short answer) midterm, and Thursday was our cooking practical. For our knife skills practical, we had 35 minutes to cut, chop, dice, and slice the following:

  • 2 tournes
  • 1/2 potato batonnet
  • 1/2 potato small dice
  • 1/2 potato allumette
  • 1/2 potato brunoise
  • 1 tomato lozenge
  • 1 onion julienne
  • 1 onion small dice
  • 1 shallot brunoise
  • 3 ea garlic fine brunoise
  • 1/4 bu parsley fine chiffonade
  • 1 sachet d’epices 

I finished in approximately 24 minutes. Sadly, I don’t have a picture from this day or Thursday, but starting from now on, we will be constructing portfolios of our daily culinary creations, so you will all get to see more of the food I’m producing in class. Thursday we had 2.5 hours to make:

  • 1 portion broccoli
  • 1 portion cauliflower
  • consomme a la julienne
  • espagnole
  • hollandaise
  • mayonnaise

My team and I were the first students to begin production, followed by the rest of the class in 20 minute increments. Time goes by a lot faster than you think it does, but fortunately I was able to complete all required items and present them on time to Chef K. As soon as my food was graded and I saw my mid-semester grade, I felt a huge relief. We are officially halfway through Culinary Fundamentals!

I also received some incredibly exciting news about a possible externship site. This will be taking place from January through May of 2017, and while I will wait until it is 100% guaranteed that this is where I am going, let’s just say that it might require a work visa and my passport…

In the three weeks of my time off from school, I will be returning to Texas for some much needed rest, especially mentally. These last few weeks have been especially taxing, so I am looking forward to some time away. I also am SO EXCITED to drive. I didn’t know I would miss the small luxury of driving as much as I do. This eagerness to drive also means seeing friends and family that I have not seen in a while in both Texas AND Oklahoma!! Lastly, I will be undergoing two stages (essentially you work for free in a professional kitchen for the day) at a restaurant in Dallas and another one in Oklahoma City. I’m sure I will have plenty to share from both of these experiences.

I am looking forward to coming home for a bit!

Be Bold,

Sig_Al

P.S. The feature picture is the downstairs dining room in Roth Hall. I did an event for my job in Functions this weekend called “Journey for Juniors.” Just so you know what a little bit of the underbelly of the school looks like.

For Frankie

At the beginning of the semester, my class was 14 students. Then 13. And now we are down to 11. My class did not expect to lose members so quickly, and definitely not in the way that we lost them. On Sunday, July 10, there was a car accident. 10 passengers. 9 injured, 1 killed. Four of those passengers were in my Fundamentals class. 3 were injured, and one is no longer with us.

Her name was Francis Gonzalez. And her lack of presence in our kitchen and our classrooms is still too fresh. She was quickly becoming one of my closest classmates and friends. Always full of joy, always kind-hearted. A lot of the times, she would catch me off-guard in the kitchen, asking me how my knife tray was when I was busy focusing on how I messed up. She was able to pull me out of a bad mood or make me relax so easily. Our chef always enjoyed quick and easy banter with her. Our academic professors enjoyed her comments.

When we walked into K-4 the Tuesday after the accident, the air felt heavy, quiet, and spacious. The stations where all four classmates usually stood were empty. No one could look at where Francis usually stood. No smiles, not very many words, just the hum of a kitchen full of depressed students trying to avoid the obvious extra space around them. In our academic classes, nobody sat in that row, no one could bare to make her absence more apparent.

So much gossip and people’s opinions surround events like this, and I think that adds to the hurt. Why does everyone feel the need to share their own thoughts on something they have no connection to? I don’t want to hear you joking about any of it. And I don’t want to believe what you’re telling me. I want to wait for the police or the school or anyone actually official or involved to tell me who was injured and who was gone. Keep your opinions and your gossip to yourself.

But regardless of what really happened, one person is gone, and 9 others’ lives are changed forever. All of the hurt and anger and frustration and unanswered questions should not make us turn against each other, but rather allow us to grieve the one we lost, and cherish the nine that survived.

My mind can’t seem to register that Frankie’s not coming back. It’s too difficult to believe that she is gone forever. Sometimes my eyes fill with tears and I have to stop for a second to have reality slap me in the face and twist my heart again. My relationship was cut off with Frankie too early; before I could form that truly everlasting bond of friendship. And that upsets me the most. We talked about our faith together, we talked about our families together, we talked about our future selves together. And then those conversations just got cut off.

It was a little harder to pick up my bible this past week. It was a little harder to get up in the mornings. It was a lot harder to go to classes. It was a lot harder to lead. Things in this world, I do not understand, and I never will. But I choose to give these feelings and this hurt to the Lord. Please lift up prayers for the Gonzalez family, the surviving members, their families, and our class.

Be Bold,

Sig_Al

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 things that changed when I came to the CIA

10 things that changed when I came to the CIA

Last week when I was sitting on top of Mount Beacon, I was filled with this overwhelming peace that at that very moment I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Not only in New York, or enrolled at the CIA, but also on top of that mountain at 6:30AM with new friends that have been pushing me more and more toward Christ. Only then would I have been able to sit back and enjoy His creation that was sprawled out in front of me. I began to reflect on my last few months at the CIA, and I have come up with a list of  10 things that have changed since I started culinary school…

  1. I wake up early. My academic classes don’t start until 8:45AM, but every morning I’m usually up between 6AM and 6:30AM, ready to head to the Egg for breakfast with my bible, journal, and devotional. I choose to start my day with the Lord before everything else starts to distract me from spending time with Him.
  2. I clean more. Now I’m sure my mother and Anna will enjoy this… I do laundry weekly because you HAVE to have clean chef whites at all times. I throw away my contacts in the trash every. single. day. I also make my bed everyday. I like to be organized academically, but now this need for organization has actually transferred over into other areas of my life. I am not here for “the college experience” or just to get an education. I am here to learn the tools and skills to become a successful chef. And you cannot have a clean kitchen if you have a dirty bedroom. You can’t have an organized prep list if your brain isn’t organized. Just think about the cleanliness of a restaurant’s kitchen the next time you visit their bathroom…
  3. I go to bed early. I don’t care if everyone else is staying up until 3AM partying every night. I have a meeting with the Lord in the morning that I don’t want to miss, so I will go to sleep early so that I can rise with Him. And we live right on the Hudson River; have you SEEN those sunrises? Incredible.
  4. I stopped procrastinating. We know what our assignments are for each week at the beginning of the semester. We can prepare for entire weeks at a time if we choose to. So I started saying no to Netflix, and instead I choose to complete my homework ahead of time. The CIA makes it very apparent that if you wait until the last minute to make your game plan for Fundies or don’t spend time practicing your knife skills, you will fail. Also, when you have $60,000 left of tuition staring you in the face, you start to feel the urgency of applying for scholarships. I have lists and spreadsheets and reminders of which scholarships I have applied for, which ones I have yet to apply for, and the deadlines for all of them. And I will stay on top of them.
  5. I started reading for pleasure again. This was something I have enjoyed my entire life, but stopped doing because there seemed to be no time between classes and studying. But upon coming here, I realized that I actually enjoy reading my textbooks. Did you know there was this stuff called anthoxanthins in cauliflower, and if cooked incorrectly, they make your cauliflower yellow and slimy or a pinkish brown color? Yeah, me neither…We also have a library on campus with one of the largest cookbook collections in the world. And we get 24/7 access to it. How can you not dive in? I want to learn as much as I can before I leave here. I don’t just want to memorize something to pass a test and then forget it later. So I consider reading for class as reading for pleasure. And then I pick up other books about chefs and read those. And then I go back to reading my textbooks. I’m currently reading Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman, and Fervent Prayer by Priscilla Shirer. I’m also readying my textbooks, Professional Chef and On Food and Cooking.
  6. I pay closer attention to what I’m eating. It’s no mystery that the food here is pretty good. So you can scarf down as much of it as you can with your 20 blue points each weekday and be on your merry way. You can also gorge yourself on the free deserts at EVERY MEAL and the endless plethora of free freshly baked bread. And trust me, sometimes it’s all too good to resist…But overall, I find myself trying to recognize new flavors and textures and colors and smells in the food I’m consuming.
  7. I tithe religiously. I don’t make very much money…they just implemented this new rule where students can only work 20 hours per week on campus…But no matter what I earn, whether that is from some generous person in the mail, or from my bi-weekly paycheck, I will give to the Lord, because He has already given me so much.
  8. I pray more. My biggest struggle is a constant fear of not being able to afford the $60,000 of my tuition that still remains in order for me to get my degree from this school. Do you know the feeling of having a large monetary sum stand in your way, and then taking a look at your bank account to see a much smaller amount staring back at you? HA. HA. HA. Maybe some of you do…but when your dreams are involved, it can be soul-crushing. So I pray. I pray day in and day out for peace over where this money could possibly come from, and I pray to stop the doubt in my mind that my God is not bigger than any financial burden that is before me. I understand that I don’t have to be here. I understand that I chose to come here and pay for this education myself. But I wouldn’t be here if the Lord hadn’t given me this opportunity, and made it possible for me to pay for my first semester of tuition. So why can’t He do that again? My trust is in Him.
  9. I learned to go without. In reference to the point above, I make sacrifices. I very quickly recognized my needs versus my wants, and I try to calculate my expenses accordingly. I rely on the rest to come from the Lord. No food on the weekends? Coincidentally, I found a church that provides breakfast and a family that allows friends and myself to cook dinner every Sunday. Coincidentally, there is either an event happening on campus that has food or an opportunity for me to go off-campus to get a meal. Coincidence? I think not.
  10. I stopped making plans. This one is huge for me. Yes, I have goals. But for the last 6+ months I have been obsessing over my future. Should I apply for the CIA? How do I pay for it? What if I can’t find the money? What if I fail? What if I’m not good enough to make it at this school? Why don’t I just get a job instead? WHAT DO I DO? I was so busy planning about the next step I should take, that I missed the Lord saying, Hey Allison, it’s going to happen. I just need you to trust in me. And now that I’m here, I don’t have anymore plans. It has been my goal for so long to get onto this campus, and now that I’m here, I don’t know immediately know what my next step is. And I used to worry about that next step constantly. But you know what? It doesn’t matter what my plan is because His plan will always be greater. If I pursue Him wholeheartedly, my goals and my life will align with His will, and that’s all that matters. So I will stop making plans on my own, and consider His plan for my life instead. And that opens up opportunities for spontaneity, like driving 2.5 hours to see a free concert of one of my all-time favorite bands. Or going on a sunrise hike that led to all these realizations.

    better relient k
    I GOT THE SET LIST!!

So now that I’m here, let’s see what else God has in store for me because MAN do I feel blessed.

Be bold,

Sig_Al

A laugh, a hike, and a hot dog

A laugh, a hike, and a hot dog

Happy 4th of July everyone! This past week has been spent in anticipation for this weekend. Not only did we get a day off from school, but a few of the girls from CCF (Culinary Christian Fellowship) and I have been planning a sunrise hike. And today we took off at 3:00am to do just that!

Before today, I spent Saturday night at a comedy club in Poughkeepsie.comedy club A fellow culinary student had a long-time friend that was performing in a comedian competition and we went out for moral support. While his set inspired some laughter, let’s just say that the majority of the other aspiring comedians should consider finding a different career path…

Sunday was the usual church and dinner at a family’s house with CCF, and then, IT WAS TIME TO HIKE. I’d never been so excited to wake up at 2:45AM in my life. We arrived to the base of Mount Beacon and promptly began our hike around 4:15AM with the help of flashlights and the very early light of the morning.

hike start
Our view of the still-sleeping Beacon, NY

The trail was about 2 miles roundtrip and completely uphill. Fortunately, there was a staircase at the beginning, but near the top, you were just climbing. Oddly enough, there was once a casino at the top of Mount Beacon with a train running up and down the mountain. The ruins of the place are still up there.

hike ruins
Random, no?

Once we reached the top, we were met with a breathtaking view of a sunrise filling up the entire Hudson Valley. My friend Maddy hiked with her guitar and supplied the hot tea, while Ryley provided the pastries for breakfast. We had ourselves a worship session at the top of a mountain for about two hours. SO lovely. Near the end of our time on the peak, we made some friends with other hikers who were attracted to the music.
hike sitting

We were finished with our hike around 8:00AM and then headed into the still-sleeping town of Beacon for coffee at Bank Square Coffee. Then we walked all around Main Street. We didn’t really account for the fact that it was 8:30AM on the 4th of July, and nothing was open…But we did find some cute stores for a later visit, including a Dr. Who-themed restaurant, and a punny bakery.

Now that we have arrived safely back to campus, I get to study for Food Safety and make 12 more tournes for class tomorrow. But first, I’m going to go enjoy a hot dog on this beautiful Independence Day.

Be Bold,

Sig_Al

How do you tourné?

How do you tourné?

In Culinary Fundamentals, you are required to complete a knife tray every day. There is a list of various cuts written on the white board at the front of the room, and you are given a time limit to complete every cut on that board with the various vegetables on your blue tray. Then, you present your entire tray to the chef for grading. It is a constant battle between speed and precision, and we recently added one of the more challenging cuts: the tourné. This little treasure is a 2-inch long football shape with 7 supposedly perfect 3/4′ wide sides on it. It can be done on a variety of vegetables, but the “Fundies” choice of veg is potatoes. Now while it may take the chef instructor approximately 28 seconds to crank one of these guys out, expect your first tourné to take about 5 minutes and look like a sad waste of potato bits. But don’t worry, tournés become part of your homework. Who knew culinary school meant being sent home with a bag of potatoes and being asked to produce 20 tournés to bring back to class with you? TOURNET

In other news, this past weekend was the annual Stars and Stripes weekend. On Saturday there was a fireworks show to kickoff the weekend and honor the veterans followed by a dance! I didn’t even know colleges still had dances! dance 2

Sunday was the day of the Burger Bash. A competition between teams of students for who can make the tastiest burger utilizing a patty blend of meat and mushrooms.

S and S 2
I forgot to take a picture of the burgers…

 

 

 

There are also booths set up by the residential life halls and clubs. Even though there is not active meal plan on the weekend (still a little upset by this…) there is usually something for students to eat whether it be an event, a family willing to have starving culinary students cook at their house, or dry mini wheats in your dorm room. Either way, I have always had food to eat, no matter how much.

On Monday, we had a “Special Project Day.” This meant that school was cancelled and guest speakers came onto campus for a presentation. This time, it was Dan Charnas and Michael Ruhlman who spoke on mise en place and how to apply this culinary concept to life outside of the kitchen. SPD 1

My last update to share with all of you is something I am very excited about! Each culinary class is required to elect a Group Leader. Their position in the kitchen is essentially the sous chef. The chef instructor will look to them to lead the rest of the students by hosting group meetings and supervising the preparation and organization of the kitchen each day. It is also up to them to make sure everyone is on time, prepared, and knowledgeable about the day’s material. This responsibility carries out through the remainder of our first semester and can potentially last until we leave for our externship. After a vote, I was elected Group Leader!

Group Leader
shiny, huh?

Upon hearing about this position during orientation and the beginning days of “Fundies,” I knew that I was interested. I am known to be one to look for leadership roles that will help me grow as an individual, and I gladly accepted this new challenge! To be identified, I was given a CIA chef’s hat pin to wear on the right side of my chef’s coat.

Moving forward, I am steadily chugging along in my academic and kitchen classes. In a few weeks, I will continue Culinary Fundamentals but start a whole new set of academic classes. Wish me luck!

 

Be Bold,

Sig_Al