It's Sunday evening and I'm taking a break from my new Sunday-night routine of ironing all five uniforms for the week. Ironing five sets of commis hats, cravats, chef's aprons, chef's jackets and chef's pants calls for a long session at the ironing board, but I've learned in just three weeks that it's worth it; to get it all done in one shot. Because when those weeks start, I've realized, they fly by in a whirlwind that is called the adventures of culinary school.
The first three weeks proved to be eye-opening. The hustle and bustle of getting my unemployed self back up and running and into a new routine was a wee bit challenging and, quite honestly, down right comical at times. As downtown parking can be an absolute shock to anyone's debit card, I've vowed to include a ride on Portland's MAX lightrail into my new daily school commute. Though catching the MAX would be an entirely new adventure for me, I decided why do a practice run? I've seen the MAX station in Beaverton, I've driven past it at least once. I've got it down. I'll give myself plenty of time to get there, board and be on my way to slicing and dicing and prepping for my future showdowns with Bobby Flay, Giada de Laurentis and maybe even Chef Gordon Ramsay. I was wrong. While on my way to the easy-to-locate transit center, I received a phone call from a long lost colleague who is now based in Hawaii. I couldn't pass up this conversation and decided he would keep me company during my first day of commuting to school. I soon learned that the multitasking game of talking (with an ear piece!) while driving does have it's downside. I was so consumed by catching up with my dear friend that by the time I arrived at the "area" where I believed the transit center was located, I could not find the exact spot of where I would catch MAX. Fifteen minutes of driving and blabbing and I gave up. Bob, my friend on the other end of the phone, noticed my drive getting louder. "I just got on the freeway," I said. "While talking to you I couldn't figure out where to park and catch the MAX; I'm driving." I was then joined by chuckles from Bob on the other end of the phone. We decided to end our much overdue conversation and I continued my drive into the city.
I arrived into the city successfully, found a Smart Park and picked a prime space on level two. I grabbed my book bag and my perfectly ironed chefs ensemble - neatly covered in a dry cleaning bag - and was off down the steps, over the sidewalk, across the MAX lightrail tracks (how fitting) and into the Galleria building on SW 10th. I made it up to the 4th floor and entered the reception area of the school. It was a mad house. Students were everywhere asking where to go and some of the school's admissions reps were waiting in the lobby. I found Heidi, my admissions rep, gave a smile and asked if I should just come back down to the lobby after I changed. She nodded. I made it up to the 5th floor - the home of our kitchens and my locker for the next eight months - and grabbed my chef's shoes. I headed into the ladie's room for a quick change and was welcomed by a hoard of females with similar intentions. We were all so nervous. Why? The cravat. That darn cravat. Within our student manuals we received at orientation is a fool-proof instruction sheet on tying the cravat. With 18 steps included, tying the cravat can seem a bit intimidating. I appreciated the veteran students assisting us newbies with tying it. In all honesty, the thing can be tied in five steps - five and you're good to go. Bye bye, long brown curls and hello white, fitted-to-my-head toque. Bye Bye fitted, sleeveless tops, fitted capri's and new summer sandals and hello loose chef's jackets, MC Hammer black and white checkered pants and black, leather, steel-toed shoes. Vwala...it's the new me.
I hurried back to my locker to leave my book bag, grabbed the books I needed for Culinary Skills I and headed back down to the lobby. There I found...no one. It was completely empty. "Oh perfect," I thought. "Where in the world am I suppose to be?" Immediately sensing my panic, the receptionist returned and suggested I head back up to the 5th floor kitchens. Oh yes. I'm in culinary school after all. The kitchens may be a good place to start. I scurried back upstairs and was greeted by the school's president. (Side note: as Portland really is such a small city, it's not surprising to run into familiar faces who are connected to you in some way. The president of the culinary school went to high school with my brother.) Naturally, I wanted to come across as being totally organized and knowing all that is going on. (Second side note: I have a terrible game face and don't hide well on the outside what I'm feeling on the inside.) I think she sensed that I was a bit lost and pointed me in the right direction.
I made it into room 510 and found a spot in the last row of the lecture room adorned with rows of eight-foot steel tables. I'm usually not a fan of the back row. My lack of organization apparently caused me to be one of the last to arrived. Mental note: get to class at least 30 minutes early. In class we were greeted by Chef Stephanie and Chef Jacky, both of whom would be our leaders for the next three weeks. Beginning her culinary career at age eight, Chef Stephanie has worked her way through an interesting culinary career which included working with chefs such as Alton Brown, Caprial Pence and Nicole Aloni. She's also written six cookbooks. Chef Jacky was born in France and decided at the age of 14 that he wanted to be a chef. He was once the Personal Chef to the Commander and Chief of the French Armed Forces in Algeria and also worked as a Chef at the London Playboy Club in England. He was perfect. Standing no more than 5'3", he wore black, wire-rimmed glasses with lanyard and spoke in a very soft and incredibly thick French accent. I couldn't understand a word he was saying. That said, all I could do was smile at him and make another mental note to myself to absolutely get to class 30 minutes earlier to sit front and center for the days of lectures.
At the kick-off of the class we were also greeted by an ensemble of faculty from the school as a means of introduction with who was who, who was responsible for what and where we could locate anyone if we had any questions. I will say the school is pretty organized in that way. This was the third time I had seen these faces as I had attended a president's luncheon a month prior as well as orientation a few weeks before classes began. They definitely want you to know who's around and running the place.
At the end of the first day of Skills I, I did walk away with not only an overwhelming excitement for actually starting my program, but a few words from Chef Peter, Dean of the Culinary Arts and Patisserie and Baking programs at the school. Chef Peter made some comments that I jotted down for the day. I always appreciate words of wisdom or thoughts that stop and make you think. With a good luck to us all starting that day, Chef Peter parted with the following:
"Opportunity knocks. You just have to be willing to open the door sometimes." Chef Peter E.
And that's just a snippet of Day 1. 149 to go!