A Long Overdue Update

Yes, I am still in culinary school. Yes, I am terrible at blogging. No, this probably won’t be the last time I totally disappear from this blog. I apologize. School, work and Netflix have taken priority the past few months (except that one time I went to Asia *omg*).

Anyways, I just started my third semester in culinary school and my second semester of working in a commercial kitchen. To say the least, I have learned A LOT. Some things I knew how to do (thank you, Food Network), others – no clue. However, there is a lot more to learn as I am still at the bottom of the food chain, but it has not been a bad experience whatsoever (except when I burn or cut myself).

I work at The Tradition on Lovers Lane, right behind Central Market. Tradition is a senior living center for independent-living seniors, assisted-living seniors and seniors in need of memory care. We provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for all the residents of those areas from two fully loaded commercial kitchens. Independent-living seniors are free to pick and choose which meals they would like to attend.

As a prep cook, I have taken on a number of tasks including plating desserts, making salads, making dressings, baking cookies, pulling chicken, chopping, cutting and dicing fruits and vegetables, assembling party platters, proofing and baking rolls, making soups, etc. I could go on for paragraphs. I love every minute of it.

One of the best parts of working at Tradition Senior Living is our executive chef, Peter Curley. When/if I leave this job, I will probably never meet a chef as kind, humble, soft-spoken, patient and caring as Chef Peter. He has been a wonder to work for and learn from. Not to mention, the rest of the staff is just as fun and easy-going. I really can’t complain.

School has been incredibly enjoyable as well and I am even more eager for this semester. Last semester I was a little more nervous than eager and didn’t know what to expect, but working in the kitchen helped with that. My classes were fundamentals of baking and basic food prep. In “fun bake” we learned the basics of breads, pies, tarts, cookies and cakes. We even made donuts! I loved it all, but learned that I’m not quite sure I have the patience for baking. In basic, we focused on stocks, soups, sauces and dishes created from those basics. One of my favorites to eat was the eggplant parmesan. Surprising? I know. I also really enjoyed learning how to make a béchamel sauce, a basic white sauce that can be turned into a cheese sauce for mac n’ cheese (one of many variations).

This semester I am enrolled in purchasing (meh), dining room service (learning the front of house aka serving – eek), and advanced food prep (oooh ahhh). During the second day of advanced, we learned and whipped up hollandaise sauce and poached eggs for eggs Benedict AND omelettes. Eggs on eggs on eggs. By the way – almost forgot to mention this – we get to eat all of these yummy things we make. If reading about all this food isn’t satisfying enough, you should add me on snapchat – it gets even better. It’s basically my mini blog. I post pretty much everything I make/we do in class and sometimes post things at work, but I’m usually too busy. My username is marrleey. See you on snap!

Why Culinary School?

Yes, I know – I’ve been slacking, but I barely have time to eat anymore. JK, eating will always be a priority for me (that’s ironic…as you will see). For real though, I am significantly busier than last year so blogging doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Like I said before, it really isn’t all that exciting right now. Honestly, it feels a lot like regular school with projects, presentations and midterms, but knowing what’s to come keeps me going. Considering there isn’t much to share about school right now, I think I’ll explain why I decided to go to culinary school in the first place. A little background, eh?

Leading up to my freshman year of college, I had a change of pace in my habits. I was working out a lot more and eating a lot less, but I didn’t realize it at the time – I thought I was just eating healthier and cleaner. As a result, I lost weight. At first I didn’t think much of it. It didn’t really hit me until my friends would say something about my body every once in a while and my parents expressed some concern about my weight. I kept it up though because I felt good and I didn’t think I appeared oddly thin.

During this time, I discovered a new love for cooking and baking. I loved finding new recipes, especially for sweets. Unfortunately, I never really let myself eat them. As a matter of fact, I didn’t let myself eat much of anything I considered unhealthy. But I really didn’t think I was depriving myself because I was succeeding physically.

During that summer and into my first semester at OU, I was running a 5k almost every weekend and I kicked butt. I won first place in an OKC 5k around the capitol and my times were faster than ever. It was such a good feeling, but I knew something was off when I couldn’t bring myself to take a break from running or working out without feeling entirely guilty.

Even though I didn’t have the opportunity to cook as often as I did at home, my thoughts were consumed by food. I browsed Pinterest recipes constantly and spent countless hours watching food shows and clips. I was mentally obsessed with food, but could bring myself to eat enough for my physical output.

Eventually, my mom stepped in and decided something needed to change when she found out my weight was under 90 lbs. I started seeing a therapist, a nutritionist and a physician on a regular basis in order to get back to a healthy weight. It was by far the hardest thing I’ve been through.

So yes, I was diagnosed as anorexic, but I didn’t not eat food all together. I ate all three meals daily even before seeing the nutritionist. I just didn’t take in enough for what I was putting out. And I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I needed to eat more and workout less. It was extremely difficult to take days off. I felt guilty and gross when I did because I was just as driven about working out everyday. I blame my Type A personality.

After trying to get better all semester, I decided it would be best if I went home for a semester to focus on my health. I felt the most at ease at home and more comfortable about eating foods I had previously omitted from my diet. Eventually, I gained the weight back and I was happy again.

So what about my obsession with food? Well, it definitely toned down, but it stuck around and I was glad. I was worried that it was just part of the disorder. When I realized it was still there, I knew it was something I couldn’t give up on.

Working as the culinary intern at D Magazine really sealed the deal for me. It rocked. I loved the job and I discovered a way to combine my two passions: writing and food. I learned I could find a career as a food writer or working at a food magazine.

Now that I have my journalism degree, I decided I should learn more about what brought me through my worst and hopefully will bring me to my best. Who knows, maybe food is my one true love and it will lead me to open a restaurant of my own one day. You’ll just have to stay tuned.

One Month Down

So I didn’t exactly keep up my side of the bargain, but I have to be honest – this semester is pretty boring so far so there isn’t much to share. Don’t get me wrong, I have learned quite a bit and I am still very excited about what’s to come, but it will be more fun when I start the hands-on cooking classes.

I’m crossing my fingers that I can get into basic food prep for the summer so that things will pick up. However, until then I will share a few of the things I’ve learned so far.

Sanitation and safety has really made me think about the practices of the food industry and how easily someone could get sick from a food-borne illness. It’s pretty amazing that there aren’t more breakouts each year, but I guess it’s reassuring that people are handling food correctly for the most part.

My professor, Swee, is quite blunt and opinionated. For example, she said that chicken isn’t truly organic unless it’s running around outside your home and when you’re ready to eat it, you catch it and chop its head off. Picture a little Malaysian woman saying things like that – she can be quite entertaining.

I learned a little bit about franchising as well. Professor Walker of my intro class owns two Subway franchises (one is the Subway inside Presbyterian Hospital – he said they lost over 60% of sales during the Ebola outbreak). He said franchising can be lucrative, but it has its downsides as well. He also said that if he could start over, he would have invested in Chick-fil-A because it has become one of the most successful franchises. It’s only $10,000 (McDonald’s is $45,000 so yes, only) to franchise a Chick-fil-A, but there are so many applicants that it’s near to impossible to get your hands on one.

My third professor, Ben, recommended a couple of restaurants that we must try in our lifetime so I thought I could share the knowledge. He’s seems to be well-traveled and quite experienced so I trust his suggestions. First, Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington, DC. Second, Jimmy’s Food Store in Dallas. Surprisingly, I have never been to Jimmy’s Food Store, but I have heard great things about it. Let me know if you have been to either of those or decide to go try them out!

First Week as a Culinary Student

It’s really happening. I am officially in culinary school. I’ve told numerous people numerous times that somewhere, in the not so distant future I wanted to attend culinary school. It wasn’t a lie, but I just wasn’t sure when or if it would become a reality. Now it is and I am ecstatic.

My schedule consists of three classes this semester (each once a week): Introduction to Hospitality Industry, Hospitality Supervision, and Sanitation and Safety. Thanks to completing my basics at OU, I was able to jump right into the classes directly associated with culinary arts. Although these classes are still very introductory, I think there will be a lot to learn especially from my teachers (professors?).

Swee Goh teaches sanitation and safety, which she claims will be important for the rest of my career. In other words, I actually need to remember the things I learn in this class unlike the information cramming and purging I did for some previous classes (understanding music). In this class, I will learn about food handling procedures, safety in the kitchen, preparing meat from frozen to finish, etc. We have one major project that involves following a recipe and noting each step, but it is done at home.

Next, Ben Brown. He teaches hospitality supervision. Interesting character with a lot of experience. He has worked in hotels, the catering business (Kent Rathbun’s catering business that is, before Kent was a so-called celebrity chef), restaurants, restaurant openings, and much more. I’d say he’s fairly experienced so he may have some good stories to tell. Although I’m afraid his class may gravitate toward the boring side considering he seems to be a fan of lecture, lecture, lecture. Plus it’s focused on the managerial positions of the hospitality industry – not exactly what I’m interested in, but still important to learn.

Lastly, we have Jerry Walker. He reminds me of the high school football coach who also teaches a random health class. However, he’s quite the opposite. He, too, has had several jobs in the industry and seen the good ($$$) and bad of it. He happens to own a couple of Subway franchises – one being the Subway inside Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas. He said they lost 60% of sales during Ebola and it is just now starting to come back. He also still works full time so he’s not your typical teacher. I like his laid-back attitude and I think his experiences will contribute greatly to the beginnings of my culinary knowledge.

Overall, this semester should be an intriguing start to an exciting new journey. I should probably start practicing my cooking…