Hell has not frozen over....but

Anyone who knows me or has spent more than 5 minutes in my presence KNOWS that I am a devout carnivore. Like Homer Simpson, I rever the Pig as a magical creature who has given us many gifts, not least of which is Bacon, Canadian Bacon and Ribs. But I don't just love the meat trifecta of poultry, beef and pork, I love all forms of food. While I am no Anthony Bourdain, I do relish trying new and adventurous dishes, from roasted guinea pig to deep fried cockroaches.

However, recently we had a lecture by Chef Tim discussing food safety and sustainable food and my carefree life as an ignorant consumer came to an end. It occurred to me for the first time that as a chef, it is part of my responsibility to know where my food is coming from, how it is feed and handled from the farm until it comes into my hands. As a normal consumer, I was perfectly content to ignore the farm to table movement and relished my 0.99/lb chicken specials. Alas, as a chef, knowing if your beef is fed grass or grain will affect the taste, texture and cooking method that you apply, so you really do need to know.

At FCI, all of the teachers are extremely passionate and Chef Tim, was certainly no exception. Perhaps it was his heartfelt belief in the subject matter or matter of fact lecture style, but somehow he managed to do what I thought was impossible, compel me to join the sustainable food movement. I think it was his discussion on Salmenella and Chicken that I found particularly disturbing. To paraphrase Chef Tim:

"Salmonella is a naturally occurring bacteria which in small quantities may not make you ill. But due to extremely unsanitary conditions at industrial farms, and the large doses of antibiotics and steroids given to the animals, the levels of salmonella in the United States Chicken supply have skyrocketed. In the early 1990's only 20% of the United States chicken had toxic levels of salmonella. A study in 2000, found 91% of chickens tested in the Unites States had levels of salmonella, which could make you sick if not cooked and handled correctly."

I don't know about you but that terrified me. I couldn't eat chicken for days. For perhaps the first time I understood that our insatiable demand for meat, no....that my insatiable appetite for meat and willingness to ignore how food was farmed and handled has contributed to current state of industrial raised meat. Now I am not saying that I will stop any of my friends while walking on the street and tell them that I am becoming vegan, but I do think that I owe it to myself, to learn more about how the food I love is handled.

Well it is dinner time, so I am off to practice my habillage ("dressing" or preparing poultry) skills on an organic grain fed chicken and make a roasted chicken dinner.

Bon Appétit

Taking the plunge

On our first official day of class, we were told to arrive at 8:30 am at the latest. It has been awhile since I had a first day of school, so naturally I did not sleep well. My mind was racing as it did a mental checklist of all of the items I needed to bring to class....apron check, chef coat and pants check, index cards check etc. As I was terrified that some sort of NYC metro construction would delay my train, I opted to walk. The city street are so peaceful in the morning, no tourists, many of the shops are still closed and you feel, just for a minute, like you are the only person in Manhattan. It was a peaceful 40 minute walk and helped mentally prepare myself.

I arrived at 7:30 am armed with my backpack loaded with a bizarre assortment of 'culinary school supplies': chef uniform (chef coat, chef pants, neckerchief, apron, kitchen towel, hat and kitchen shoes); large water bottle; first aid kit (band-aids, neosporin, gauze, aspirin, Tylenol); deodorant; granola/nutrition bars; index cards and pen/sharpie. Despite the calming walk I was still nervous and had some time to kill, so opted to have a coffee at the nearby Starbucks.

After my coffee I made my way to the corner of Broadway and Grand where L'Ecole restaurant sits, the walk sign changed to walk, but I just stood there and let the crowd of people brush past me. I look appraising at the building that was to be my new home for the next 7 months and I remembered the first time I discovered FCI.

It was 5 years ago, and I was on a girls trip to New York and came to L'Ecole to dine for dinner. My friends and I loved the food and they mentioned to the waitor that I was an aspiring chef, so the hostess arranged a tour of the school after dinner. I fell in love with the student kitchens lined with industrial grade ovens, stoves and fridges; the cookbook library with floor to ceiling cookbooks and magazines; and french curriculum. At the end of the tour, they gave me a fake chef hat, business card for admission and a box of matches bearing the name L'Ecole, at the end of the tour.

So at the corner of Broadway and Grand, the same corner where I rushed out of a cab 5 years ago with 3 of my closest girlfriends, I took a deep breath, fiddled with a very worn box of matches and crossed the street to begin my life in the kitchen.

And so it begins....

It has been 10 month and 22 days since my last post and for that, I apologize profusely. The last few months have been filled with decisions, applications, endless to do lists and far too many hours on craiglist searching for an apartment, but it was all worth it because it brought me here....to New York, as a student of the French Culinary Institute.

To be honest, perhaps the real reason I haven't been blogging is that I lacked inspiration, I found it difficult to believe that anyone in the world, aside from my immediate family and friends, woke up each morning with the intense desire to hear the status of my visa application, housing situation or self inflicted culinary homework assignments, but hey, that's just me. However as I sit here in at the Think cafe on Blecker Street, sipping my iced coffee, feeling the gently rumble of the 6 train beneath my feet, I feel inspired to write again.

Yesterday was a big day, it was Orientation, the day that you are supposed to find out exactly what you got yourself into and I was, well, terrified. After all, this was the day I was going to meet my fellow classmates and teachers, who would help to define this incredible adventure. A good friend of mine gave me Anthony Bourdain's novel Kitchen Confidential, which I have been reading diligently in the hopes it would help to mentally prepare me for the physical and verbal abuses of the kitchen.

So back to orientation, the session was fairly straight forward and mostly administrative but there was one memorable moment, which struck fear into my heart and left me slightly sleepless last night. At one point in our session a gentlemen in the back of the class was dozing off, and the chef yelled, and I do mean yelled "WAKE UP NOW!!" This shouting shook me, more than any written words or folklore about the verbal assaults in a kitchen ever could, simply because I was there. I realized truly, for the first time that one day I will be yelled at by a chef, and it terrified me. In that moment, I resolved not to be one of those girls who cry when being 'disciplined' in the kitchen. Fear is a good motivator, at least for me. After orientation, I knew I would study and practice more than I ever had in the past. I was committed to reading and eating everything food related in the pursuit of not only surviving, but (hopefully) excelling.

But it wasn't all administrative or terrifying, during our meet and greet, we had the opportunity to interact with other students, our faculty and some students. From these brief exchanges I gleaned the following:
1) always be on time - being late as a chef is the best way to get fired. This one will take a little work on my behalf.
2) be well groomed
3) take nothing personally - being yelled at is not a personal assault, but a reflection of the piss-poor job you just did
4) learn fast - there is no margin for error here, we are expected to learn everything on our first go and be able to do it exactly the demonstrated way immediately.

I do not mean to scare you all, I knew most of this going in. I knew what I was signing myself up for when I applied. I knew it would be hot and gruelling work. I knew I would get cut, burned and my hands and arms would never look the same. I knew I would stand and work harder than I knew was possible. But I also knew that I would love every second of it.

So, orientation is over, I am finally settled here in New York and eagerly anticipating my first day of school like an eager wide eyed 5 yr old, filled with wonder, enthusiasm and most of all....hope.