There’s a sharp learning curve when going to school at the world’s premier culinary college. “Sharp” isn’t a mixed metaphor in this context. Knives come out fast at the Culinary Institute of America. In fact, a knife kit with an assortment of very sharp blades is the first thing issued to new students upon arrival.
I’m the first Point Scholar enrolled in a culinary school. That’s a special privilege as well as an honor. I’m navigating a path, through the kitchen, to foster a greater level of acceptance, respect, and tolerance for everyone. It’s harder to disagree over dessert.
We start with a 15 week fundamentals course covering the basics of the creaming method, the cut-in method, how to make a perfect pate a choux, and the science behind an excellent croissant. During this course we’re also getting “servsafe” certified (so we don’t poison anyone by accident – we only do it on purpose!).
Then we learn culinary math, professionalism and life skills, followed by gastronomy, baking ingredients and equipment technology, and nutrition. It’s exhausting and rigorous yet fascinating – which is the only reason I’m surviving standing upright in seven hour long classes during which we never take a seat.
I’m about to start week 10 of my fundamentals class and I’ve learned a ton so far, both about food and about life at a culinary school in general. Here are the top 10 things I’ve learned in my first two months at The CIA.
1. They speak in code.
There’s a different language in the kitchen and, if you don’t want to get left behind, you better learn it fast. Keeping up with the language is an important part in becoming a part of the inside group. You can’t just walk the walk, you have to talk the talk.
2. Bleach is good for more than removing blood stains.
Bleach will become your best friend. Chef whites aren’t just supposed to be kind of white, they’re supposed to be perfectly white, and we have a line-up most days in class to inspect our uniforms.
3. Interrogation is to be expected.
Everyone in the world wants to ask about the fact that you go to culinary school. People love to ask questions about food and they’re all curious about the CIA. I’m always willing to talk so, thankfully, no one has attempted any “enhanced” interrogation techniques.
4. They will steal you blind.
Set a timer for your laundry – I learned this the hard way. People will take your stuff out and leave it on the floor so set a timer and get there before your washer or dryer finishes. Finding my clean laundry on the dirty laundry room floor defeats the purpose, right?
5. Watch out for the pipe.
Piping homework (that’s the art of pumping frosting from a squeeze bag out into a beautiful design) is not the end of the world, but it feels like it sometimes. It’s challenging, frustrating and, unfortunately, an essential skill. I’m trying not to agonize over it and attempting to avoiding spending all night on it. I do my best and I’m told that my professors (the chefs) can see improvement.
6. They will cut you.
Knives are sharp. Seriously. Some kids don’t seem to realize this in the first week or two of culinary school and the campus nurse gets busy.
7. If the cutting doesn’t scare you, the burning should.
Ovens are hot. Burns are no fun and they leave nasty scars. Avoid burns. But, if you accidentally get burned, take care of it. Get some burn cream and apply frequently. Your body is important and if it hurts all through your seven hour class you can expect your biscuits to turn out badly.
8. You will suffer even more if you’re late.
“Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.” This is so true in culinary school. On my schedule I have a class that starts at 2pm, but according to my chef it starts at 1:45, so most of my class shows up by 1:30. If you have a job that day (getting the ingredients for class, the sanitation order, etc.) you better be there even earlier. It’s just how we roll.
9. We have a place here for you (and it’s not a black ops site).
There’s a community for everyone at the CIA. Food, after all, nourishes community. I went to our version of GSA on my second night on campus and had a great time and now I go every week. There’s a place here for each of us and I’m looking forward to contributing to the community. Having a Point Scholar on campus is new for the CIA and I’m jumping into our community with both feet and bringing Point Foundation ideas and resources to our CIA community.
10. You’ll enjoy it. We’re going to make sure.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned at the CIA is that we make people food for their enjoyment. Be proud of what you do and enjoy the process—it reflects through to the consumer. The more we enjoy making the food, the more you’ll enjoy eating it. That lesson bodes well for my future because, so far, I’m loving the CIA more every day.
This post was whipped up by Point Honors Point Scholar Lane Rosen
The summer before sophomore year of high school Lane co-founded QueerNC, a social group in North Carolina that connects queer youth in rural and urban areas by providing a safe space both online and in person. Lane then established gender-neutral restrooms at school, added gender identity and sexual orientation to the school’s non-discrimination policy, and became Youth Chair of the LGBT Center of Raleigh as well as president of the school’s Queer-Straight Alliance.
Read more about Lane.