This past Friday I attended the final orientation session to collect my syllabus, textbooks, and uniforms. (Knives come a little later this week.) When I arrived, I was immediately placed on “Team Bacon” and shooed off to the first breakout session, entitled “College Success.” One of the first things enthusiastically announced by the chef presenter: “Now, I know that some of you in this room may have never gotten an A in your entire life. But here, in cooking school, you can!!”
I shouldn’t snort, though. After all, I already know I”ll have some trouble keeping up with a couple of my classmates, almost all of whom have worked in the restaurant business in some capacity or other, and many of whom have worked in professional kitchens. Moreover, if the bi-monthly school competitions in which we’re expected to participate are at all representative of the level of skill we ought to have, then I’m in big trouble. (August competition: Each student is given one cooking station — two ovens and six burners — and 4 cartons of eggs. Assignment is to cook eggs in as many ways as you can think of in 20 minutes. Upcoming October competition: One pumpkin, 3 hours, one carving knife. I would not stand a chance in either of these.)
But it’s okay, I’ll learn! First I must learn how to dress, because CCA takes it uniforms VERY seriously, as discernible from the fact that the dressing room contains only one item: an iron. We’re immediately told that we’re not to wear our uniforms outside of school, though if we’re dying to make a fashion statement, we can wear our checked pants. Phew, because as you can see below, they are STYLISH…
Don’t be fooled by the smile on my face and my peace sign (that’s just my obligatory Asian camera pose). This uniform is HOT — in terms of temperature, at least. There’s the white chef’s jacket; the neckerchief (yes, that is absolutely mandatory, but I’m told that if I get good grades then I can switch to a blue one so that everyone in school will know that yes, I am indeed capable of getting an A); the beanie, the checkered pants, the apron, the side towel, and the extremely heavy industrial shoes. Underneath it all I’m also wearing a tshirt, yoga pants, and unmentionables. I was sweating within 5 minutes just standing in my apartment; I can only guess how comfortable it will be in a steaming kitchen.
Nonetheless, it’s a bit of a sheepish thrill to be standing in that uniform. Each of us was given 3 of each item in the uniform, and were told that the chef’s jacket must be ironed when worn as a show of respect to the world’s second oldest profession. Good thing A is an expert-ironer.
School formally starts tomorrow, 10am to 2pm. First up: Safety and Sanitation, after which I need to pass an apparently somewhat difficult state-administered exam. After that, we start with basics, which range from picking cilantro to julienne-ing carrots. I think I’m psyched!?
As a side gig, and to keep my brain going, starting tomorrow I will also be interning with Off the Grid (the community food event planner that is responsible for bringing food trucks to San Francisco), assisting with some of their legal advocacy efforts on behalf of the mobile food community and liaising with various government entities, restaurant associations, and real estate developers on a variety of issues. Should be fun, but I’ll be signing an NDA tomorrow so probably won’t be saying much about that. I will, however, have a desk in their office and will thus be present for the frequent tastings from various prospective food trucks and other mobile restaurant offerings, of which I will happily share 🙂
I didn’t make up the name. Or the dish. But boy do I wish I had, because it is the stuff of genius. Tonight I had a plate of deep fried breaded mozzarella ravioli, topped with chicken tikka masala. That’s right, heart attack squares covered with food-coma sauce. Courtesy of the Curry Up Now food truck at one of the Off The Grid “night markets.” (Off the Grid is a community organizer that brings together food trucks — and the people who love them — from all over the Bay Area. I’m really hoping to get more involved with them.) And yes, it was as delicious as it sounds and looks. Had to share this one:
Prior to starting school, I’ve been trying to fill my time with other activities that will lend themselves to my learning more about the restaurant/hospitality space (which I’m now learning is referred to within the industry as “F&B” — food and beverage). I attended a restaurant entrepreneurship panel today where I learned that the average cost of building a restaurant, which usually ranges in size from 2000 to 3500 sq. ft., is $300 per square foot. Pretty hefty. Putting aside construction costs, the single largest upfront cost of opening a restaurant is the liquor license, which can cost as much as $1M (including those circumstances in which it is obtained through pseudo-illegitimate means). Food trucks are significantly cheaper, with average startup costs at around $60k (and potential annual revenues as high as $400k).
Just some food for thought. No pun intended.
Finally, it’s time to get excited. A and I took a tour of the classrooms and facilities at the California Culinary Academy (CCA) yesterday, and it’s pretty bad-ass. I will be taking one course at a time, each lasting six weeks:
1) Food Safety and Sanitation, and Culinary Foundations I: Here’s where I’ll learn how not to poison all of you when you come visit/be my guinea pigs, and some of the basics of French cooking (knife skills, stocks, and sauces).
2) Culinary Foundations II: More sauces, veggies, soups, grains, and “egg cookery.”
3) Culinary Foundations III: Butchery (!!!), meat and seafood, charcuterie methods (curing, smoking, forcemeat — yes i will giggle through that whole class because i am totally immature –and sausage production).
4) Baking and Pastry: Lean and laminated doughs (i have no idea what that means), cakes, tarts, breads, chocolate, candies.
5) Cuisine Across Cultures: Dumplings, snitches!
6) Catering and Buffets: Making large amounts of (hopefully not mediocre) food at one time, menu development, business operations.
7) Two Externships. Need to go and find those on my own.
The most crucial question in all this, of course, is what happens to all the food that we make in class. I asked the admissions officer this question, and he said “You take it home.” I’m not sure if that means I should show up to class every day with a mountain of tupperware? Because I’m gonna.
The second most crucial question was how I’m supposed to go about taking notes during the lecture courses. (Yes, there are several lecture classes, particularly in the beginning, where the classroom is set up much like a normal grad school lecture hall but instead of a lectern at the front it’s a giant cook/prep area.) I asked the admissions officer this question, and he said, “If you’re asking whether you should bring a laptop, the answer is no.” He went on to explain that if I did bring a laptop, I’d stick out like a sore thumb and be like Elle Woods showing up to the first day of class at Harvard Law with a heart-shaped notepad and a furry pen, except backwards. He thought that was super clever. I thought it was so-so.
So several of you have asked me why I haven’t posted anything recently, and the answer is because I haven’t started school yet. (Yes, pre-orientation takes place a full two weeks before the first day of class.) Classes formally begin next next Monday, October 1st.
In the meantime, however, I thought it best to post something so you all don’t completely lose interest. So I thought I’d introduce everyone to the stove in A and I’s new apartment. It’s a legitimate antique — a “Wedgewood Stove” circa 1936:
According to the Internet (which is always right), Wedgewood stoves were designed and created by James Graham in the late 1800s in Newark, California, and hit peak popularity in the 1940s. (No affiliation with the English Wedgewood China company). Apparently I’m supposed to get it appraised as well as insured because Wedgewood stoves are pretty rare these days, but since we don’t own our apartment I don’t see the point. More interestingly, the oven (the upper right hand door) requires manual lighting with a flame each time you use it, and contrary to our modern-day ovens, is constructed such that cookie sheets have to be slid in lengthwise. The lower right hand door opens up to a hard-core broiler where the gas flame is literally about two inches away from the food, so no need for a blowtorch. I expect to burn many a creme brulee in there.
Took my first real look at the school today. Beautiful, and formidable:
So who are the other attendees of this beautiful and formidable school? High school graduates (or their GED equivalents), apparently; with the exception of a 25-year-old yoga teacher, I was the oldest one there. My class consists of about 70 people, roughly 50 in the Culinary Arts program and 20 in the Patisserie and Baking program. (For some reason I thought the Patisserie and Baking students would all be chubby, but that wasn’t the case. Rather, they were predominantly attractive young females with great hair. Maybe achieving perfectly-blown-out curls requires the same skillset as cake-decorating.)
Most of the kids had piercings, tattoos, or limps. After getting in line between a thug-like guy in a flannel shirt with a tattoo of the word “dragon” in Chinese on the back of his neck (I think the flannel negated his toughness) and a kid holding a skateboard, I was herded into a room for uniform fittings. I thought about striking up conversation with the kid in front of me by telling him that his Chinese “dragon” tattoo character was written incorrectly, but decided he probably didn’t want advice from some chick with a sherbert green Longchamps bag regarding a tattoo that he can’t even see himself without a 360-degree mirror.
I chose a size “small” top and pants. I had guessed (correctly) that the top was to be worn over something more than just a bra. But apparently the very sexy checked pants are to be worn over something else as well. (Guy doing the fittings: “Yeah, you have to wear something under the pants cuz they’re pretty thin and someone could drop a pan of hot oil on you.” Me: “Riiiiiight. So shouldn’t I be wearing a cup?” Guy: “Nah, another pair of pants should be enough.”)
All in all, pretty brief and painless. I found the bus stop a block away from the school, which was conveniently located in front of a purple sign with a baby on it that said, in English, Spanish, and Chinese: “Safe Surrender Point for Newborn Babies.” How uplifting.
Night before Pre-orientation at the California Culinary Academy.
I still haven’t received the school-approved “safety shoes” (read: steel-toed, grease resistant, slip-proof black industrial shoes) that I was supposed to have ordered a month ago, but presumably they’ll arrive in time for when classes start. Otherwise I’m not sure how my usual work shoes (Ann Taylor pumps) will fare in defending against a falling chef’s knife, though they’d probably do just fine in defending my honor against the supposedly misogynistic comments I’ll be hearing from my future male classmates. (Next episode of Deadliest Warrior: Stiletto to the Shin v. Steel-toed Kick to the Nuts.)
(Ha, just noticed my use of “v.” rather than “vs.” Oh cases, how I miss you. But only sort of.)
A’s commentary: “Please never wear those home . . .” (sad shaking of the head)