I Am … Cooked

Caroline & I

It all started with a bright-eyed, hansomely adorable French chef who, when saying “pear” it sounded more like “bear” and when describing the process of using a “moo-zaar” to start the vingear-making process, it took us a few turns to understand that we were discussing starting a “mother“. I remember the first night of culinary school, 1 short year ago. I remember the feeling of childhood excitement but also the intense worry and nervousness reminiscent of publicly reciting my thesis in a crowded audiotorium. I remember not knowing how or understanding why I’d gotten myself into that unaccustomed situation – why I’d decided to go to school for the third time or why I’d chosen to remove three nights of free time from my schedule. And today, I still don’t understand why I chose to go to culinary school, for I have a career, a great job, and was quite happy as-is. Sure, I do love to cook, but I can cook at home without knowing what a zabaione is and without knowing how to make challah from scratch.

Chef Pierre Pollin

But there was something missing. An urge to learn more. A desire to learn to make zabaione and challah, and who knew if I’d ever use that knowledge, and who cared. I wanted to know it. I wanted to experience it. I wanted an excuse to leave my work behind, if only after hours. I wanted to be taught by the best chefs around, and I wanted to accomplish a feat that had me transfixed from the start. I wanted to become a ‘real chef’. Just for the fun of it. And fun it was.

blueberry muffins gone bad

It all started with the bâtonnet: 1/4 x 1/4 x 2 inch cuts of carrots and whatever else we could get our eager knife-wielding hands on. And then julienne (1/8″) which, when cut into cubes becomes brunoise. And my least favorite – the tournée. Who, besides the French, really cares about football-shaped vegetables? I surely did not – my stews are just fine with cubes, please and thank you. But I figured it out long enough to pass the practical.

spice bread

And two quarters later, after Chef Pierre taught us to cook without measuring, to ‘taste & season’, and to adjust as needed, we entered the realm of baking and pastry. A class for the scientifically-minded (yes, me – on some days), we learned about yeast and gluten formation, and we learned the difference between baking sodas and powders, bread and pastry flours, the intricacies of baking, of measuring precisely, and of totally screwing things up. I managed to, with Caroline’s help, botch some blueberry muffins a couple of times, but we also made some killer bread, layer cakes, and pies along the way.

puff pastry from scratch

And although I never took the French bistro class, I did make that daunting zabaione and drizzled it over some summer berries. After all, what better time to learn how to make it than on your practical?

The final quarter consisted of lectures and a class about healthy cooking. We got to construct our own virtual business from name to business concept to timeline. I made a trendy bed & breakfast in Chicago called ‘Marmalade’. Along the way, I realized that virtual wasn’t so virtual after all – and if I had it my way, I’d open that B&B in a heartbeat. And I’d sell the mess outta some marmalade all the while.

mussel with kamut

I learned how to cook with grains I’ve never heard of. I learned more about gluten-free cooking and as productive as it was not, I learned how to make tofu from scratch. Chef Sara taught us that cooking isn’t always about cream and butter (although both are tasty), and she taught us with enthusiasm and a sense of humor that many instructors forget. To keep in tune with our failed blueberry muffins from baking class, we (Caroline & I – yes, joined at the hip in every class) also made it a point to muck up a tofu-based blueberry cake which looked surprisingly great on paper and smelled excellent in the oven. It appears blueberries are not our baking forte.

blueberry gluten-free cake and such

And maybe we won’t be making blueberry muffins or even blueberry cakes. Shoot – if we know what’s good for us, we will steer clear of those little berries from here on out – both of us! But we definitely will not steer clear of one another, for we’ve really constructed an awesome friendship along the way.

tofu from scratch

So yes, after 1 short year, after three nights each week of intense cooking, tasting and re-tasting, botching some recipes and near-perfecting others, and lecturing and testing, I am finished. I have my nights back and will be home before 11:15 PM every night of the week. I am a graduate – again. But this time, this time I went to school for me – not out of necessity, not out of urgency, and not with any clear idea of what I’d do at the end of this. I did it because I wanted to.

Some things never change 🙂


Classic Zabaione w/ Fresh Berries
Serves 2

1 lb fresh berries, your call
3 egg yolks
3 T Marsala or other liquor/liqueur (Madeira, Port, Grand Marnier, etc)
2 T water
1.5 T sugar

Divide berries into two serving dishes. Whisk remaining ingredients in medium metal bowl and place over larger saucepan of simmering water (don’t let bowl touch water). Whisk constantly until mixtures becomes thick and foamy, ~5 minutes if whisking briskly. Drizzle over berries.

*Chef Pollin pic courtesy of Maggie’s blog via Michael & Kenna’s blog

10 thoughts on “I Am … Cooked

  1. Michael and Kenna says:

    Lovely writing and summation of the program! Congratulations! I'll keep my eyes out for Marmalade….maybe you'll hire me to help you out once I'm finished at Kendall! 😛

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