By Danamarie McKiernan
Finally, it came. My first day of culinary school. The night before, I ironed my uniform and organized my equipment in my new tool bag. My family took photos of me leaving the house with my white coat on a hanger and chef shoes in hand. That’s when the nervousness kicked in, and I felt the butterflies swimming in my stomach.
I had waited for this day for so long. I had no idea what to expect – and that was the most exciting part. My student advisor said we should arrive at ICE thirty minutes early. I’m a food nerd; I was there an hour early. I felt flushed as I walked off the elevator and hoped my cheeks’ pinkish tone was not too noticeable.
Looking around as if at Disney Land for the first time, I took in the photos on the walls, walked past a pastry class, and inhaled the scent of fresh baked breads. At the front desk, I check in, collected all my text books and took a photo for my student ID. Then off to my locker, where I changed into my uniform before entering the kitchen. Ah! The beauty in that command, “head to the kitchen”.
With a smile as bright as my chef’s coat, I looked around the bright, fresh-smelling kitchen, and suddenly, I was no longer nervous. My classmates cheeks’ wore the same flushed tone. We were all in this together. Our advisor, Jennifer Fallon, ran us through the rules and regulations, then asked us to introduce ourselves and explain why we came to ICE. It was very interesting to see how so many people, at different points in their lives were all led here by their passion for food – a passion strong enough to make a person change their whole life.
Then Chef Chris Gesualdi stepped up to the plate. I will never forget him, as I am sure no culinary student has ever forgotten their first Chef Instructor. He was the one to help me pave the foundation of my culinary career. Chef Chris got down to business very quickly, walking to each student and handing them their personal knife kit. I teared up and wondered if he noticed. It was the sign of becoming a real chef, receiving our knifes.
Chef Chris explained that we are all starting at zero, no matter what we had done or where we had worked. In his class, until the end of the program, we would move together. That was true. Very true.
Class started right away and right away it hit me all at once. I was so excited that I forgot that this was still school. It was shocking, but I quickly learned how much hard work this was going to be. The first class was a blur, reminding me that I didn’t know as much about cooking and the culinary world that I thought I did.
After a brief school tour, we learned to identify kitchen equipment. A strainer may just be a strainer in the outside world, but in a professional kitchen it is a china cap. We then learned to identify herbs. “What is chervil?” I had cooked my whole life, been around my family, watched food network obsessively, and I had no idea what chervil was. It had a nice, refreshing flavor. It was also the first time I had seen or smelled fresh oregano.
Chef Chris explained that the next few weeks would be “stock mania”, where we learn how to build flavor and create beautiful stocks. I have made stocks and soups at home since I was a kid, but it was interesting to learn that the herbs used in almost all stocks are thyme, parsley, bay leaf and whole peppercorns: a sachet d’epices.
Last, but not least, Chef Chris explained mise en place, “everything in its place”, which would become a way of life. Everything organized, where you need it, when you need it, and always clean.
As I arrived home, I sat alone for a while to reflect on what just happened. It was more difficult than I expected, but I knew this was right. I cracked open my books and started organizing my notes and recipes. To become a chef, I had to master the art of organized chaos. Mise en place, I got this.