Well I am finally back on campus after being home for a few weeks. While it was nice to be home and to see my friends and family I came to a shocking realization; going home was hard. I don’t know if it is like that for everyone, but it was for me. I looked forward to going home all semester because I needed a break from everything that had been going on around me and I thought being home would offer me a certain level of comfort. To a point I was right, it was comforting to be surrounded by my family and familiar sights…for the first few days at least. After the initial joy and excitement of me being home, everyone went back to their lives and that left me in limbo. I didn’t have work to keep me occupied, no school work that needed to be completed, and all of my friends were still in school stressing over their first-year finals. I had nowhere to be and nothing to do, with all the time I could possibly want.
To add to the mix, I no longer had a role in the house. Before I left for school I was the one who would take my brother to school in the mornings, I made dinner, did the grocery shopping and a million other minute tasks that I never thought of, but now all of those tasks have been taken over by my siblings or my mom since they’re the ones who still live there. It is an upsetting feeling to know that you no longer have a place or purpose in a space that you once felt so comfortable in. I would love to be able to say that I got used to it and found my place, but the truth is that I never did. I was home for three weeks and the entire time I felt like I was just floating back and forth, trying to avoid getting in anybody’s way.
I found things to keep me busy most days. I contacted my Chef from the tech school I attended during high school and she let me work in the kitchen for a few days, which gave me an outlet to expel some of my pent up energy. While in the kitchen I played around with a few of my own recipes and tweaked them a little here and there until I was satisfied with the results. I found out how to create bi-colored croissants and LOVED the results! A few problems occurred while working with the croissants so I decided that next time I need to lower the oven temperature, make the triangles longer so the spiral inside is more pronounced and do a lighter layer of egg wash. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to work in a kitchen for pure amusement and not because it was a class or for work. It helped to revitalize my love for being in a kitchen, getting to create new items and learn from my mistakes instead of learning from a PowerPoint. Eventually my time in the kitchen came to an end and I was back to searching for something to do once again.
I didn’t have to search too hard because I quickly found that hiking was a great way to spend most of my days. If I didn’t go hiking I spent a few hours at the beach reading, writing or doodling. Frequently when I went to the beach my brother joined me and it was nice to spend some time with him again. On those days when the weather did not cooperate with my desire to be outside, I spent the days with my grandma while everyone else was at work or school. Doing simple little things like watching a movie together made me really appreciate my time with her. One day I was lounging on the couch and she threw a package of chocolate chips at me and said “Wow! It would be such a shame if these weren’t used. Hmmmmm I wonder what they could possibly be used for?” I couldn’t help but to laugh. I got the hint clear as day, and asked her if she would like to help me make some chocolate chip cookies. Of course she said yes! I loved making cookies with her. She is the reason I got into baking and it was heartwarming to go back to where my passion all began; in my grandmother’s kitchen with her making a mess of flour next to me.
Near the end of my time home the days started to fly by and before I knew it, my mom and I were back in my car on our way back to Hyde Park. It was bittersweet leaving home. On one hand I was saddened to be leaving my family and friends again, especially after being able to see them daily for three weeks. On the other hand though, I was excited to get back to campus. I have new classes to begin, friends to see, and a job I love to return back to. It is odd to think how easily CIA has become my home just as much as my house in Brook Park, Ohio is. In Hyde Park I have a family of a different kind, but I love them just the same. I choose to look at the situation not as leaving home and going back to school, but rather as leaving my original home and going to a new home I have created for myself. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that I have a place to call home even when I am 500 miles away from Cleveland.
Remember to Smile :)
And with a final swipe of my student ID, I have clocked out of work for the last time this semester and at this time tomorrow I will be on a train heading home for three weeks. This semester was a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences. Academically speaking, I began and successfully completed my first kitchen class, finished my foreign language requirement after passing Spanish 2, created an entire employee handbook as my final project for Human Resource Management, and I took my first ever psychology class. While my classes definitely made an impact on me this semester, it was all of the events, programs and experiences that happened outside of a class setting that really made this semester so unforgettable.
My first semester on campus I didn’t really get involved in anything and I wanted to change that, so this semester I went forward with the mentality of saying yes to every experience that sounded fun or interesting. The first step I took toward putting myself out there was to look for stages. The concept of a stage originated in France (stagiaire is French for trainee or intern) and it is simply an unpaid internship for a set amount of time where a cook or chef works briefly, for free, in another chef's kitchen to learn and be exposed to new techniques and cuisines. I did two, one daylong stages in New York City over the course of this semester. My first one was at a restaurant namedilili. It is a Lebanese-Mediterranean restaurant located in New York’s Flatiron District. My second stage was at Dominique Ansel’s Kitchen in the West Village of New York City. Both of these experiences were eye opening in their own ways. At ilili I was able to experience desserts from a cuisine that I had never even tried before. It also opened my eyes to just how small and crammed kitchens in New York City truly were. My time at Dominique Ansel’s Kitchen was eye opening in a different way. The kitchen was still crammed, so that wasn’t a surprise, but my time there made me realize that I really wanted to go into plated desserts and not a bakery route. Until that point I still had some indecision about which path to pursue and that experience helped me to solidify my decision.
Another way I became more actively involved on campus was with Dr. JJ and Nathan. Both of these guys do amazing things around campus and I have had the opportunity to work with them multiple times. Nathan mainly does the large events on campus along with any of the SPICE programs. I had helped him organize and set up the Cook(ie) Off in December before Winter Break and I volunteered to help him again this semester to organize the annual Chili Cook Off on campus. Dr. JJ does more small-scale events around campus. This semester I helped him prepare the food for a few of his Comfort Food programs and at the end of this semester myself and a few other volunteers spent 10 hours with him preparing and serving food for his Late Night Breakfast program. I love working with both Nathan and Dr. JJ because I get to see different sides of event planning and I truly enjoy helping organize these events.
Along with classes and volunteering I also hold a couple of jobs on campus. I have been involved with the Catering department on campus since last September picking up random events here and there and last semester I also started working with the CE department so I could have more regular hours and it also allowed me to work in a kitchen, which I loved. This semester I also started another job at Post Road Brew House, and it has definitely opened me up to new experiences and possibilities. I never thought I would ever be trusted with so much responsibility and respect in a kitchen, especially not at 19 and yet here I am.
In those few rare moments when I am not running from class to work or vice versa, I have managed to get off campus a few times for some of the trips they offer through our Student Life department. On one of these trips I went to see my first Broadway Play and loved it. I am now looking forward to the next Broadway Show they offer; I am hoping it will be Lion King. We also went snow tubing, which was an adventure in itself, due to a few of the students getting sick along the way and my roommate flying out of her tube where she landed on an ice patch hitting her head pretty hard. And most recently I went rock wall climbing on St. Patrick’s Day. I have never done something that was so physically exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. I have a huge fear of heights and that was the hardest thing for me to get over, but eventually I got so absorbed in climbing that the height didn’t even faze me.
Overall, I would say that this semester has been a huge success. I have learned many things about myself that I never could have even imagined, and I have made so many amazing friends along the way. Opportunities I could have never expected presented themselves to me, and to the shock of myself and those close to me, I said yes to almost every single one. I am not saying that it easy to push yourself outside of your comfort zone but at least for me, it was definitely worth it. Now, I have three weeks at home to refresh myself and reconnect with those I love and then it is off to start my next adventure!
~ Remember to Smile :)
Push yourself and never stop
The first time I came to The Culinary Institute of America, I wasn't too sure how to feel. It was a weekend trip my mother and I agreed on making, one of her first attempts in getting me to agree on going to college. We drove the 12 hours, stayed in a questionable hotel, and arrived at 8:30am for a “Perspective Students’ Day” program they were offering. They had a registration table and a breakfast buffet set up outside the entrance to Danny Kaye Theater. We signed in and each grabbed a small plate of food. I remember I had a glass of orange juice and on my plate was some fruit and a small croissant. We entered into Danny Kaye and I’m looking around while following my mom to a seat when all of the sudden, my foot slips on the stairs and I’m falling backwards. I hear the glass shatter, I hear my mom swear and I feel the hard stone stairs slam into my ribs. I remember laying there for a second starring at the ceiling with people running over to me, trying to help me up. I am so embarrassed. All I wanted to do in that moment was cry and hide. My first moments on the campus of my dreams and this is how it began.
Skip a few months forward and it is July of 2017 and I am back on campus. This time as an accepted student! I am here for the weekend for an event called “Green and Gold Weekend”, it is the school’s way of getting students familiar with the campus and take care of things such as medical papers, safety orientation and activities to help everyone become friends. I am miserable the entire time. I start questioning if I made the right choice, if this is really where I want to spend the next 3 years of my life, and what kind of lies could I create to have my mom come get me. I spent the entire weekend by myself because everyone in my group made friends with each other right away and formed clichés and I was still trying to muster up the courage just to speak. I left that weekend feeling deflated and hopeless. I spent a few weeks questioning if I had made the right decision, but my mom and friends back home convinced me that it would get better and so I continued on.
Fast forward a little over a year and it is September 10, 2017 and I find myself standing in my new dorm room. I am terrified. My mom is trying to unpack everything for me, my grandma is cleaning the bathroom mirror complaining about how many Clorox wipes she was using to make everything clean, and I am just standing in the middle of it all trying to soak it all in. We eventually unpack everything, my two other roommates arrive and we get swept up in the excitement of it all. Jump to the next morning and I find out that my little brother was in an accident and was rushed to the hospital the night before. My mom is a wreck and is torn between going home to him and staying in New York with me for my toque ceremony, the ceremony where I receive my toque and become an official student at the CIA. It killed me inside to know that my mom wouldn’t be there to share in the moment with me but I told her to go home because I knew that’s where she needed to be. So I spent the ceremony with friends and stayed by myself afterwards as everyone took pictures with their families. I was excited to begin this journey but couldn’t help being sad that I was alone.
Jump forward again to September 23, 2017 and I am walking into my first job on campus as a server in the Catering department. I enter into Caterina de’ Medici for the first time ever, feeling as nervous as could be and debating if it is too late to turn around and run back to my dorm room. I awkwardly stand just slightly inside the doorway, hoping somebody would notice me and tell me what to do. No luck. After a few moments I step in further and get the attention of a girl and ask her where and how to clock in. She smiles and takes pity on me and walks me through the process. I get situated and we are setting tables, folding napkins, placing menus, all simple stuff. Then in comes a man who has way too much energy, is very smiley and introduces himself as Jason. I recognize the name from the email I received, asking for help for this event, which is what led me to registering to work this event. I go introduce myself to him. He welcomes me happily, gives me a quick run down of the event and is gone again. I quickly learned that this was just how he was, always moving, always happy and never short on words. The event kicks off and we are told it is a five course dinner with wine pairings. Problem: I’ve never poured wine before in my life. I get some very annoyed looks as I mention this but one of the guys who was serving gives me a quick run down of how to properly pour wine. I am thankful but terrified. Not even five minutes after learning how to pour wine, I am sent tableside to serve a table of eight. My hands are shaking, all I can think about is not spilling wine on anybody and I forget to even interact with the guests. I pour the wine and run. Success! I didn’t spill any wine and I survived. The night goes along and I begin to get more and more comfortable and I eventually ended up enjoying myself.
Finally, jump to now. It is April 4, 2018 and so much has happened since those first few moments I ever spent on campus. I have completed my first semester and am about to finish my second semester. I have continued to work for the Catering department here on campus and I love it! I have become close to everyone in the department, it led to me getting my current job at The Post Road Brewery, which has introduced me to so many new people whom I now call friends and has taught me many lessons. I work in the CE department and have also gotten close with everyone there as well. I now walk the halls and say hi to friends continuously. I know that if I have a problem, there are people here who care about me and are willing to help me. So many great things have happened to me since coming here, things I never could have imagined, and things I still cannot even fathom are yet to come. The whole point of this post is this; Keep pushing. I could have given up so easily at any point leading up to now. But I didn’t and neither should you. Nothing worth fighting for will ever come easy, and if it does come easy then you are not reaching far enough outside your comfort zone. Do the things that terrify you, that make you so nervous you’re not sure if you can keep going, and then push yourself to take another step; and then another until you are walking so effortlessly that you question why you didn’t do it earlier. When you get to that point, find a new goal and keep going. Never stop… That’s where I’ll be. I’m out pursuing my goals and seeing just how far I can push myself, I’ll see you there.
~ Remember to smile :)
My favorite class...
One of the first classes a Baking and Pastry Arts student takes here at the CIA is BIET, which stands for Baking Ingredients and Equipment Technologies. Culinary Arts students have a similar class that focuses on their equipment and ingredients used. It is a class solely focused on teaching students about the equipment they use in bakeshops and all of the different ingredients and how they work, where they come from, what their purpose is and how to utilize them, among many other things. Personally I loved the class. I was very fortunate in the fact that my class had a Chef that was extremely knowledgeable and cared deeply about what she was teaching. We had many conversations about one specific property of an ingredient, the way in which you could alter it for a different mouth feel or flavor or even change some of its properties to better fit your need. So far, it has been my favorite class that I have taken here and I am sad that it has come to an end. It is a 12 week course that you attend just once a week, so while you cover many topics you are limited on how in-depth you can really get. My advice to any incoming students; bring a notepad with you to write down any and all questions you have or ingredients that interest you. I did this and after class I would research any ingredients I found interesting or a technique that was mentioned that I had not heard of before. I fully suggest asking as many questions as possible and always have an open mind, that is what helped me enjoy the class so much.
Here is a list of a few things I found intriguing or wanted to learn more about:
- Whipped honey
-How yeast blocks are made?
-Bee pollen (as an ingredient)
-Black strap molasses
-Marigolds (Pepper flavor?)
-Making own extracts
-Sunflower oil / butter
-Vanilla orchid plant
-How to make your own condensed milk?
-How to use left over whey?
-Which flowers are edible?
-Can you make flour from egg shells?
~Remember to smile :)
Adding another layer of knowledge...
Who doesn't love a delicious croissant? Or how about a warm, jam filled danish? I know that I would happily take either of those as breakfast any day of the week.
This week we learned the process of lamination, which is how to create thin layers of fat in-between layers of dough in order to create a wonderfully delicious honeycomb pattern inside. It was a surprisingly easy process, much simpler than I had thought it would be. We made puff pastry and Danish dough to introduce us into the world of lamination. Both doughs are very similar, the only variances are the use of yeast and fats (typically being eggs) being incorporated into the dough itself. (Fun Fact: technically, croissants are made from a lean dough because the dough itself has no eggs in it, the fat comes from the layers of butter that are folded into the dough to create layers.) Puff pastry made from scratch is a very labor intensive product, and not very practical for many businesses, but it is something I feel every Pastry Chef should know how to do even if they are not required to do it on a weekly basis. The process is one that can be applied to many products, and puff pastry itself can be made into many products as well with very simple changes to the fillings, shapes or coating. We went the traditional route and made croissants and pain au chocolat from our puff dough. (Another fun fact: if a croissant is straight when baked, that means it was made with just butter, if it is a crescent shape then another fat was used as well such as shortening or margarine.) With our Danish dough we then made an array of products from a cherry filled “basket” to a blueberry “pillow”, both are in quotations because I never learned what they were really called, our Chef just referred to them by their shapes. Maybe they don’t even have an actual name, I do not know. My favorite was the pain au chocolat. I had never had one before making them and I have no good justification for this. I didn’t even try one when I was in Paris, I simply just never thought about trying one. They are the best when they are still warm, and the chocolate is soft but even after a couple of days they were still delicious as a breakfast on-the-go. Take a look below to see some of what I made!
~Remember to smile :)
You are too much
This is something that I’ve been told quite a few times recently and it is something that truly frustrates me. Who are you to tell me I am too much? If I am too much of anything for you, if I am too loud, too strong willed, too vocal or anything else, then maybe you should evaluate yourself and ask why you can’t handle me instead of telling me to change. I refuse to alter who I am, because I have worked hard to become the version I am now and I am proud of who I am.
The main characteristic I’m “too much” of is blunt. I’ve been told a number of times, tonight being the most recent. The phrase actually used was “You need to speak more delicately towards others. You hurt their feelings when you talk the way that you do.” And when I asked “In what way would that be?”, he shrugged his shoulders and said “That. Exactly what you just did there. You are too straight forward and come off as threatening.” I honestly found this comment entertaining. A 5’8’’, built male is telling me, a 5’3’’ slim female, that I am threatening? I know he didn’t mean himself, but those I work with, but still the idea seemed so abnormal. Also, how does one go about talking to another “delicately”, especially when in the middle of a busy service with customers needing food and Chef yelling orders? Do I need to speak softly, as if talking to child? Should I just stay quiet and not speak or ask for help? This is still a question I am trying to answer, because in a kitchen there is no “delicate” anything except for the details on a plate. I have never come across a chef that isn’t harsh on their cooks. It builds their character, and in the long run, makes them better in the kitchen. If my first kitchen manager had spoken to me delicately, I probably would not be where I am today. I hated that lady, but she made me better. When I messed up, she was upset and made it known, but then she explained what I did wrong and then made me redo the product until it came out perfect. If I did something she didn’t like, she made sure I didn’t do it again. There was one way of doing things, and if you didn’t like it then you could leave. And here’s the thing, I loved it. I learned so much from her, things I still use today.
I understand that what started my love and desire for the kitchen atmosphere is not what fuels others’ but it is the only way I know. Since coming to the CIA I have come across so many wonderful managers that have this thing about them. They are able to convey their message to others and have them listen and they do so in such a polite manner that you don’t even realize they are giving you orders. All you know is that you don’t want to disappoint them. They are able to look at situations and calmly explain what needs to happen, step by step for someone who isn’t grasping the concept, and that’s a skill that I am not sure I will ever be able to develop. One of my managers once said to me “You’d make a great manager. You know how things need to be and never let standards drop or waiver from your ways. People need that type of structure, and leadership.”I thought she was kidding, but she was dead serious. Maybe she sees something that I have yet to realize, or maybe she is mistaken. Only time will tell. I want to believe that she is not mistaken and that one day I will find a balance somewhere in the middle, but I also know that I have a fire in my soul that refuses to be dampened and I have no plans on lowering that flame; not now and not in the future.
~Remember to smile :)
CHecking my temper while tempering
This week was chocolate's week! I was so excited for this week because I have never had the opportunity to learn how to properly temper chocolate, I have always just used "chocolate glaze" which you melt down and it hardens on its own with no tempering needed. For those of you who don't understand what I mean when I say tempering, it is a process in which you heat up chocolate and then cool it down in a specific way and to a certain temperature that it allows proper formation of "good" crystals in the chocolate to form, resulting in a shiny finish and a proper snap to it. It can be a very challenging and frustrating task (do you understand the humor in the title now?) because of how sensitive it is to temperature changes.
When you really dive into the science behind tempering it can get super confusing so this week we simply just learned the basics and the process on how to do it. There are a few different forms of tempering such as tabling, seeding and block seeding, all of which are great ways to temper but they do require a varying amount of skill to master. We tempered our chocolate with the block seeding method, which is one of the easiest. To put it simply, we melt chocolate down and add a large chunk of already tempered chocolate from the factory into the melted chocolate. The chunk provides the "good crystals" needed in the melted chocolate. You stir the melted chocolate and the chunk around for awhile until it reaches the proper temperature, at this point you can play with the chocolate.
We were required to make a few different items before being allowed to experiment on our own. Those items were a minimum of 12 "disks" which are created by spreading tempered chocolate onto a piece of parchment paper and then dragging a comb through it to create a pattern. Once that stiffens up slightly you go through and cut out shapes, let it sit again until completely hard and then you have your final disks. We also had to do two separate designs of filigree. I chose the more classical designs, but filigree could be just about anything.
Once I got my work approved I was able to play around on my own a bit. I remembered seeing a video online of Chef Frank Haasnoot piping bird with chocolate and decided to try it myself. The body turned out pretty good but the head just slid right off and looked rather odd. On the second day of chocolates I tried again. This time I made the head separately and attached it. It looked great! Then I realized I had plenty of time left so I played around just to see what I could create. I am so proud of the final product! Unfortunately I don't have a decent photo of it because once it set I picked it up off the tray to take a picture of it on a clean table and I hit it on something, causing it to break :(
I managed to get a few photos though, look through the slides to see!
~ Remember to smile :)
A lesson learned
Okay so we all know that you are supposed to learn in college, but I would like to share a lesson with you all that I have recently learned. It is a lesson that no professor is going to lecture you on and put together a PowerPoint for, but it is important nonetheless. Are you curious what this monumental lesson is? Well grab some delicious chocolate and a good cup of coffee and let me tell you a story.
……….Once upon a time, not so long ago (literally this week) and in a not so far away land(Hyde Park, New York), there was a girl taking her first kitchen exam at The Culinary Institute of America. (That girl was me) The exam was pretty straightforward, make a finished éclair start to finish and a genoise cake. These were all simple items, ones that we had made many times in class, but I was still nervous.
So everything is going good and my pate a choux is all done and ready to get piped and my genoise cake is stabilizing in the KitchenAid on the table next to me. I grab a piece of parchment paper and fold it to pipe my éclairs onto and lay it onto a sheet tray. I get my first row of éclairs piped and pipe the next two dozen as required. After I finished piping the two dozen, I still have a decent amount of batter left and some room on my tray. I decide to pipe an extra eight éclairs out, as a safety net if all of mine don’t turn out perfect. (Who am I kidding? None of them were going to be perfect, but a girl could dream.)
Jump forward almost an hour and my éclairs are out of the oven, some are slightly misshaped but it is okay! That is why I have extras. I start poking holes into the bottoms of mine for filling, and I line them up on the tray to see which one would make it into the top 12 for presenting. I finally choose the prettiest ones and set the rest off to the side. At this time I go over to check on my cakes and see if I can pull them from the oven. As I am doing so, I look into the deck ovens to check on everyone else’s éclairs and see that one tray is absolutely horrible. I’m not just talking about being misshaped or even burnt. I am talking about the dough itself. It was just wrong. Somehow it was grainy, brown and looked like melted butter all at once. I had no clue whose it was, but I had to get back to finish my product on time so I left.
Jump forward again and at this point my cakes are out of the oven, my éclairs are ready to be filled and I still have 45 minutes to finish and clean. I refresh my pastry cream and begin to fill my shells. I fill 15 and leave the rest unfilled, figuring I already had three extras if I mess up the chocolate glaze on one or two. I’m feeling pretty good about myself at this point until I look over and see our groupleader looking very upset and on the verge of tears. I decide to be noisy and go see what’s going on. Turns out our groupleader is the one who had the messed up pate a choux and now she has nothing to fill and finish for her presentation, basically guaranteeing that she will fail the exam. Now I am not going to deny that part of me thought about leaving her to suffer in her own misery. After all, this girl has caused me absolute hell these past few weeks and took some very personal jabs at me when she didn’t get her way at the beginning of the semester and I figured it was Karma coming back at her. But then I thought about it and realized I couldn’t just leave her to fail when I knew I had extra shells. So I offered her 10 of my empty shells. That left me 15 filled shells to dip and present and a few empty ones as required. She wouldn’t be able to present the full dozen as required, but at least she would be able to show that she could fill a shell and properly glaze it.
I give her the shells, we all finish our exam and we don’t speak of what happened again……..until the next day. I ended up getting an 81/100 as my final grade. While there are a few point deductions that I don’t entirely agree with, I was overall satisfied with my grade. Out of curiosity I asked groupleader what grade she got. She got a 77/100. This is where our lesson comes into play. You see, her score really bugged me. There is no way she deserved a 77/100. She didn’t even make her own pate a choux! That is the main component of the exam for gosh sake! I don’t think it is fair she got a score only four points below me if she couldn’t even manage to make her own choux properly. I thought about telling Chef what happened, but decided against it. At the end of the day I didn’t have to give her my shells, she didn’t steal them from me, and she didn’t even ask me for them first. I willingly offered them to her because I knew I had extras and I knew she needed them.
At the end of the day, I am able to live with myself because I know I helped a person out when they were in need, even though I had nothing to gain from it. The whole point of this story is the lesson behind it all. Be a good person, to all people, for no reason other than the reason that you can be nice. You won’t always feel better after it, but your soul will be at peace. If you are able to help someone, do it, especially in situations where it won’t be detrimental to you, but could be monumental to someone else. My mother raised me to be the bigger person in hard situations and while I have to admit that I fail at that some days, I do my best and I encourage everyone else to do so too. So go into the world with a smile and an open heart, and show the world your kindness.
~ Remember to smile :)
My final tray for Skills 1, ended up getting an 81/100 on it.
(Top Left) Finished Eclairs, filled with pastry cream and topped with chocolate fondant glaze
(Bottom Left) Empty Eclair shells
(Middle) Genoise cakes, cut open to see the crumb and a container of pastry cream
(Top Right) My timeline we are required to create to help demonstrate our ability to manage time