I can’t believe that I am already finished with my first semester at the CIA! I already started Meat I.D. and Fabrication today, but before I study for Day 2, I decided to sit down and reflect on all that has happened this first semester. As I did this, I managed to narrow everything down to a list of 10 things that I learned during my first semester at the World’s Premier Culinary College (besides food).
10) Eating on the weekends can be a challenge when you live on campus. I have the base meal plan. It does not include any “gold points,” which can be used anytime, anywhere. Thus, I don’t have food on the weekends included in my meal plan. Am I going to pay more money to this school? Sorry, but no I am not. I don’t have an extra $300 lying around, and I’m not always on campus on the weekends. So I got creative: There are events on the weekends, and a bus on Saturdays to run errands and grab a meal. Sometimes you have leftovers from what you make in class, and you also make friends with people that have cars. If you are really lucky, you also find a family willing to open up their home on Sunday nights for you and your friends to cook dinner. Shout out to the Tartter family. Or you work, and they feed you family meal there. All different opportunities to overcome this obstacle. God will always provide.
9) Campus looks and feels completely different before noon, so don’t sleep the day away. It’s a waste of your time and a serious waste of money. You’re supposed to be investing in your future, not sleeping until class time, especially PM students who don’t have class until 1:30pm or later. And guess what, you can still function at 6:30AM. You can actually even be productive at that time! That’s why they invented coffee.
8) If you show up on time, you’re late. Pretty basic principle. I’m a former marching band kid, so I got used to “Mason Time,” my band director’s definition for time, which was 15 minutes early. Always. AND, be prepared. Be over-prepared if you can.
7) You have to take care of yourself. This includes fitness, sleep, feeding yourself, relaxation, and stimulation. In a class that sometimes last 15 weeks, you miss 5 days and you fail. In a class that lasts 14 days, you miss 2 days of class, you fail, regardless of the reason. So, you have take care of yourself. Get the proper amount of sleep, take vitamins, stay away from that friend with the flu, anything to ensure that you can make the most of this education. That also means taking some time to relax and enjoy everything that the Hudson Valley has to offer. You can get so much more out of your time here if you also seek opportunities to learn and explore off of campus.
6) Take advantage of what’s around you. The library, clubs, jobs, mentors, the farmers markets, NYC, the list goes on and on. All of which are opportunities to LEARN. You’re at SCHOOL, you’re PAYING to be here, so read as much as you can, taste as much as you can, see as much as you can. Every event/social/gathering/volunteering/job is an opportunity to meet people, make friends, and establish connections. And if you stand out for your work ethic in class, chefs take notice of that. They will help you anyway they can.
5) Lead with kindness not anger. Someone not pulling their weight in the kitchen? First, bring it up with chef and/or the group leader privately. Then, talk it over with that person if necessary. Do you know all that is going in on that person’s life outside of class? No. But it is our responsibility to treat others with kindness. They had to jump through the same hoops we did to get here, and while they may not have the same work ethic in the kitchen, they will either learn it now, learn it on the job, or figure out that this industry isn’t for them. But it’s not my job to shove that realization down their throats.
4) Procrastination is the enemy. There is too much to learn to put anything off. Classes last 3 weeks. You have to read and study everyday. And then you get tested on it in order to advance to the next class. You have to perform and give your all every single day. Things move too swiftly here for you to procrastinate. And, it’s college. So…studying gets you the degree…and the job.
3) “Yes, Chef.” It is heard all over this place, but we have to understand that this may not necessarily be the right answer all the time. If your class hasn’t finished their 100 tournes, and you start plating your food, the answer is clearly not “Yes, Chef I am ready for service.” And then, you have to be prepared for the onslaught of criticism for why you haven’t done what Chef asked. If you aren’t prepared for class, you didn’t bring your timeline or you didn’t sharpen your knives, you obviously can’t say “Yes, Chef, I can slice through that slab of raw meat no problem.” But overall it is the ultimate sign of respect, and it shows that you are competent and prepared when that is your answer. Regardless of circumstances, they earned the title of Chef, so you better address your instructors that way at all times. And, always reply when a chef is talking to you.
2) You don’t know until you ask. Do you not understand a cooking technique or a French term for something? Ask. Don’t know where you’re going? Ask. This also goes for opportunities. Within the first few weeks of being on-campus, I was asking students about jobs because I knew I needed one. And then one day, I saw the GM of Apple Pie Bakery Cafe, and struck up a conversation about doing a stage in the breads department; something I am extremely interested in. So I did the stage, and I got a job in Apple Pie as a culinary student. I also knew once I got here that I wanted to do my externship overseas, so I asked to see if it was possible. And it was. You don’t know what’s possible unless you ask.
1) It’s okay for things to not go as planned. We lost a group member in a tragedy this past semester. We had a lot of trash parties. I didn’t get an RA position like I wanted. Sometimes things don’t go as planned, but does that mean you stop? No. The days keep going, classes keep learning, and you’re still alive to take advantage of another opportunity. God still has a plan for everything, so my plan doesn’t have to be foolproof. That’s impossible anyways.
Obviously, this list could be much longer and more extensive. Did you know they taught about food here too? Kidding. But the all-inclusive list from above was weaved in and out with a vast amount of culinary knowledge. And no doubt I will learn more in semester two.