live, breath, dream culinary school

This week marks the end of my 1st month attending culinary school which, after weeks-on-end, feels more like my 1st year. My initial intention when I started school was to constantly update my progress and development on this blog. However with every free time I get, I find myself trying to catch whatever sleep and rest I can get. I never realised I can still function and survive with minimal sleep and never-ending dreams of chopping and dicing! I would arrive home after my husband and leave for school when he’s still asleep (thank god for the reversal of daylight saving, else I’d still be walking to the bus stop alone in the dark early in the morning braced with only my hot Thermos of coffee). The school schedule, though extremely hectic, has been nothing short of a constant push to help find the balance between passion and determination and bring out the culinary finesse in each student. With each push and every little success, I can feel the confidence of myself and my peers slowly growing and our skills strengthening. With our hands and fingers torched, burnt, scalded and sliced, most of us are coming to terms with the fact that we will never have the flawless and unmarked hands we once had. It’s almost hard to believe that it was only 4 weeks ago we had learnt new things which would have previously taken us forever to do but are now second nature to us (i.e. preparation of mire poix, cartush, bouquet garni, walking around yelling ‘hot pot’ and yelling ‘Yes Chef’ while trying hard not to cut another fingernail etc.).

After my previous post, I had received many queries on the program and school and I hope I have addressed them as accurate and as prompt as possible. For those who are still curious and would like to know more about the program I am attending, allow me to briefly explain.

The school’s culinary studies is divided into two parts, culinary and patisserie. Both studies are spread across 3 semesters (basic, intermediate and superior). Each semester lasts up to 3 months. Students can choose to study either culinary or patisserie (or both) and the semester they would like to start. The entire course for both culinary and patisserie from basic to superior is called Le Grand Diplome and the duration for this program is 9 months. This is the program I am currently on and if everything goes well, I will graduate as a Chef at the end of June of 2013, Insya’Allah (where I will swap my Popeye-looking hat with a tall Chef hat, which will hopefully make me look taller).

Fire drill in front of British Museum. I had my popeye-looking hat on as it was drizzling. 

Lessons are conducted from Monday to Friday and the occasional Saturday. A typical daily schedule would have a minimum of 2 sessions (1 session = 3 hours) and maximum of 3 sessions (9 hours). But if you’re unlucky (as I have experienced), you may get a long block of break in between sessions and may end up being in school up to 12 hours!  Everyday, a 3-hr demo session is held followed by a 3-hr practical session where students are expected to recreate the dishes shown during the demo. At the end of each demo, students are allowed to take photos of and taste the food prepared by the chef.

For students who have religious concerns regarding handling of certain food items (i.e. non-kosher, non-halal, etc), they are free to omit the ingredient during practical and are not expected to taste the food prepared by the chef during the demo. The chefs have also informed us that the wine that is used in cooking in the school is free from any alcohol content but however, some store-bought sauces (i.e. Tabasco sauce, certain vinegars) do have a certain level of alcohol content. For those who would like to proceed with handling food items which are not in-line with their religious believes, they can do so by wearing rubber gloves provided by the school.

As I’m looking back at my old notes from the beginning of the semester (merely 4 weeks ago), I can’t help but to marvel at the development of my note-taking skills. What started of as elaborate description of methodology and descriptions has evolved and shortened to something that is vaguely similar to a chemical reaction equation!

Another skill set I recently developed is how to quickly drawing diagrams and pictures of step-by-step procedure demonstrated by the chefs which can of course be understood only by me. Finally I can doodle with a purpose!

I must admit, though it may seem fun and exciting to many (and I’m not saying it isn’t), the course has proven to be very challenging and is so much more than what I had imagined. However, what makes it manageable and interesting is the group of friends that I have and chefs who provide the necessary support and guidance. I have made some truly incredible friends, some of whom are juggling other responsibilities and yet committing 100% effort to the course without jeopardising their other roles. These friends are truly inspiring! We often exchange stories and tips from other lessons and ways on how we can improve to be better chefs.We also agree that although at times this course can be a little stressful, it is worth every single moment because we’re doing something that we’re passionate about (which is of course different when it comes to being stressful over things that one is not passionate about which inevitably leads to unhappiness, I’m sure we can all relate to this). After a month of pursuing this course, I feel liberated, happy (and tired) and I find myself talking endlessly about school and my friends to my husband  (I swear at one point I even went “I love school! I love school!”). My husband believes that I may have found my calling in life (something not many can say) but I think I have found the courage to pursue my calling in life.

Do I still feel the fear that I used to feel prior to doing the course, I can’t say that I don’t. But I can say that those fears are slowly being taken over by my  self-believe and faith, both of which I am very thankful to Him for.

Lunch with some of my friends from school.

Till my next entry,

Stay Curious, Stay Alive

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