Having friends in culinary school is a great thing. They love to cook and bake, you know they're actually good at cooking and baking, and they post amazing pictures of food on social media. Plus, if you're anything like me and you don't necessarily enjoy your time in the kitchen, you know that they'll always be there for you and spoil you with a great meal. I knew that life couldn't get better than this, until I asked myself: what is it that they're actually doing in culinary school? How do you study cooking and baking?
I started posing all sorts of questions and I came to the conclusion that I knew nothing about what a student in culinary school actually does. Therefore, I decided to ask my friends what their life was like in order to satisfy my own thirst for knowledge. I guess that all I can really say is that I was very surprised.
My friend Dalia studies in the "Universidad de Anahuac" in Cancun, Mexico. She's majoring in "Gastronomia," which is easily translated into "Culinary Studies." Earlier this week, I had a long Skype session with her, in which she answered all my burning questions.
Another friend of mine, Rafaela, studies in "Universidad Panamericana" in Aguascalientes, Mexico. She's majoring in "Direccion de Negocios Gastronomicos" which isn't just about culinary studies, but a combination of that and business. I also had a Skype session with her, in which she told me all about her courses and the element of her career.
Spoon UBC: How many courses do you have? What are they like?
Dalia: This is my first semester in Anahuac and I'm taking 10 courses. Just like everyone else, I have faculty requirements that I have to fulfill, which is why I'm taking Math, Humanities, and Grammar. However, I also take Accounting, and courses on the Introduction to Tourism and the Hospitality Industry because my major is tied to restaurant and hotel management. When it comes to actual culinary studies, my courses include: Hygienic Food Handling or Management and Inputs of Vegetal Origin.
Rafaela: This is my second semester at the Universidad Panamericana and I'm taking 8 courses. Even though 6 of my courses are directed towards culinary studies, I don't spend most of my time in the kitchen. My courses include: structure and composition of foods, nutrition and diet, and pairing and sensory appreciation. I also have to take courses on ethics and market research because my major includes business.
Spoon UBC: I had no idea those courses even existed. But then, when do you get to work in the kitchen? How does the magic happen?
Dalia: My classes in the kitchen start in the second semester, but that doesn't mean I haven't been exposed to that environment. Next semester I will be taking a course on pastries and another one on culinary techniques and applications. But overall, when it comes to cooking, we have to spend 6 hours in the kitchen; first we watch the chef prepare three recipes, so we got to recreate them later on. Truthfully, the good thing about our late exposure to the actual cooking and baking aspects of the career allow us to learn everything there is not know about the preparation, storage, and composition of foods that most people ignore.
Rafaela: Every Tuesday and Thursday, I spend 7 hours in the kitchen for my cooking and baking classes. From 8 am-3 pm, I watch the chef prepare certain recipes that I get to recreate afterwards either by myself, or with a group. Furthermore, my evaluations consist on preparing a dish and showing it to the chef with the perfect presentation. You never know what could go wrong because no dish is ever 100% perfect. There are so many variables to take into consideration for this process, that getting congratulated by the chef is nothing short of a miracle. There is no messing around in the kitchen, because we are dealing with professionals, so we are expected to take criticism and deal with it as such.
Spoon UBC: What are some distinctive characteristics of the classes where you put your culinary knowledge into practice?
Dalia: On top of paying for our courses, we have to pay for the appliances that we're going to use (knives, etc.). We also have to pay for our own uniforms because we don't get to wear regular clothes when we're in the kitchen. All of these extra costs are expensive, but it's something that we have to do. Also, there is a very low tolerance for us in terms of missed classes; we have a certain number of missed classes, and most of the times we need to present a valid excuse for not attending.
Rafaela: At the beginning of the semester, we have to pay for all the appliances that we'll be using in the kitchen. We have to pay for our uniforms as well, and most of the times we have to buy them more than once because they're white, so they get dirty really quickly. For my cooking courses, I have a limit of two missed classes per semester, and on top of that, I have to let the chef know a week in advance when I won't make it to class, otherwise I have to pay for the supplies I would've used that day.
Spoon UBC: What is your dream? What do you want to achieve with your career?
Dalia: Do you know the movie Burnt with Bradley Cooper? Well, I want to be as good as his character was in the movie. I want people to invest in a restaurant for me to run, I don't want to worry about the logistics of the business. I want to have complete creative control of the kitchen and have people eat at my restaurant because they know that I'm the chef. I'm not really interested in the violent path that Bradley Cooper's character had to go through, but I do know that the road to success won't be easy.
Rafaela: This sounds really cheesy but, do you know the movie Ratatouille? Well, I want to achieve what Remy did when he served a plate of Ratatouille to that food critic. I want to transport people through my food, and make them remember the happy moments in their lives. My goal is set towards creating a franchise that starts in Bolivia, and I want to inspire people through innovative dishes that they can enjoy. I don't want people to think of gourmet food as something unattainable; I want people to taste good food and be able to come back for more because there are no barriers.
I have to thank both of these girls for taking time away from their schedules in order to let me experience their world as a complete outsider. I learned that it's not easy being a student in culinary school, because not everyone has what it takes to become a chef. Just as with any other major, these students deal with pressure, stress, homework, tests, 8 am classes, and believe it or not, they also eat ramen noodles and mac and cheese. And hey, once they graduate, they're technically "chefs" —but, as my friends told me, becoming a chef requires hard work, experience and determination.
Honestly, I expected nothing less because at the end of the day, I think that's what we all want to get out of our careers. We want to know that we've reached the mountain top and touched the sky, but that nothing was handed to us... and what better place to have that feeling than a place where you get to be around food 24/7.