culinary institute of america – the bootcamp, day one

This past Thursday morning, my iPhone alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning. On most days, the alarm going off anytime before 6 am would result in a very sleepy and confused response from me, knocking the phone off the bedside table in my attempt to shut off the annoying ring tone. That morning, though, I was instantly wide awake. It was my first morning of boot camp at the Culinary Institute of America.

I’ve wanted to take a real cooking course for some time now. Everything I know about cooking comes from reading cookbooks and food magazines, being observant around people who know what they’re doing, and practicing as often as I can. But I’ve been craving real instruction. When I first learned about the CIA’s boot camp offerings for food enthusiasts, I knew I had to sign up for one. The four- and five-day camps are pretty expensive, so this two-day course seemed like a great way to try it out without feeling overly guilty about the cost or the time spent away from home.

I’ll tell you right now that I was not disappointed in the experience.

Day one began with a dark early morning drive in the rain, through the Hudson River valley, from my friend’s home in New Paltz to the stately – and more than a little intimidating – campus of the CIA in Hyde Park. After finally figuring out where to park, I gathered my nerves and left the safety of my tiny rental car to enter the great unknown of my first day in a professional kitchen.

Fifteen of us were enrolled in the course. There were two young people in the group, both probably just out of high school and both aspiring to become chefs. The rest of us were, let’s say, a bit older than that. We came from a variety of professions and stages in our careers – teacher, personal trainer, international relocation specialist, physician, retiree – and none of us had worked in the food service industry. The one thing we all had in common was a shared passion for food and cooking. And that was enough to bring us all together during those two days.

After a brief orientation and a fantastic, made-to-order, breakfast prepared by the K16 culinary students, we began our day with a one hour lecture by Chef Dave Bruno. He reviewed the basics of mise en place (“everything in place”), knife safety and various knife cuts, and dry heat cooking methods using fats and oils. We were divided into four groups – three teams of four and one team of three (my team) – and we reviewed as a group the recipes we would be responsible for preparing that morning. Those recipes would be transformed from words on a page into finished dishes that would then serve as our lunch.

Team Two – the team consisting of me, Latoya, and Rose – was assigned buttermilk fried chicken with country gravy, french fried potatoes, and a chopped steak house salad with red wine vinaigrette. Other teams were responsible for preparing wiener schnitzel, pan-seared salmon, sautรฉed pork cutlets with mushroom ragout, and various side dishes to accompany each protein.

While we were oriented briefly to our recipes, we were not really oriented to the professional kitchen we would be working in. We struggled to find ingredients for our dishes. Spices were missing and not where they should be. It took us several tries to figure out how to turn the gas range on without turning out the pilot light by mistake. It was only after an hour in the kitchen that I figured out where the sink for fresh water was located. We got behind schedule. We were hot, pink-cheeked and pouring sweat underneath our no-longer-crisp chef’s jackets. I felt – and probably most of us felt – an intense pressure to not screw up, to get various components of the menu done on time, to not make mistakes. We were in unfamiliar territory, and I was stressed out and overwhelmed.

With no time to spare, and hardly time for a bathroom or water break, we plated our fried chicken and french fries and salad onto large platters to serve the group. We hastily prepared a demo plate for the review and critique by Chef Bruno that would come later. The other teams did the same, and the white tablecloth-covered table soon was overflowing with beautiful food.

As a group, we stood back, admiring the abundance of food we had prepared. We were exhausted, sweaty, hungry…and proud. We were very proud.

 

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47 Responses to “foodblogSouth and why i blog”

  1. Chris — January 23, 2011 @ 9:35 pm

    Well done, MJ! Love the recap and great pics! I think you’re blogging for the very best reason. It was lovely, lovely, lovely meeting you. I can’t wait to see you in March, although I am not sure you’re going to get that Dutch Oven back. (lol…kidding.)

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — January 24th, 2011 @ 1:33 pm

      Ack! My Dutch oven is being held hostage!
      Seriously – it was SO good to meet you and spend the time talking. Can’t wait ’til next time!

  2. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite — January 23, 2011 @ 9:35 pm

    What a lovely post MJ. Last week I was going through the ‘why am I doing this?’ and I have to say the tweets from you and Kelly and Paula over the weekend helped me reassess why I do it too. Watching (reading) all of you, I realised a big part of why I do this is for the community and I know that if I ever decided to stop blogging, I would still have some amazing friends from this community. For now, I just plod on – I am not sure what I want to come from all this but for now, I do it because I can’t not. If you get that. Which I am sure you do.

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — January 24th, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

      I totally get it.

  3. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — January 23, 2011 @ 9:37 pm

    Brilliant and beautiful post! You are absolutely blogging for the right reasons and that shows brightly through in everything you do. I love reading your site! Keep up the amazing work ๐Ÿ™‚

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — January 24th, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

      Thank you SO much, Jen. That means so much to me!

  4. Caneel — January 23, 2011 @ 9:38 pm

    This is a great post! I love the photos and information, and your feelings about blogging touch on mine in so many ways. I’m glad you had a good time!

  5. Lana @ Never Enough Thyme — January 23, 2011 @ 9:41 pm

    Wonderfully thoughtful post. This weekend was so full of learning and sharing and meeting and eating and everything that is wonderful about the food blogging community. It was such a pleasure to meet you and so many other bloggers that I previously knew only by their online personas. I hope this was only the first of many blogger get-togethers ๐Ÿ™‚

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — January 24th, 2011 @ 1:35 pm

      It was wonderful to finally meet you in person, too!

  6. Liz the Chef — January 23, 2011 @ 9:44 pm

    I’m into this new world after 27 years as a licensed clinical social worker, eaten up by child custody fights – I quit…And now I have a new “job”. Wonder what I would have done if I had not met up with the likes of you? I can still remember a year ago or so – let’s go forward ๐Ÿ™‚ Liz

  7. Winnie — January 23, 2011 @ 9:53 pm

    Terrific post, and I agree: you are blogging for all the right reasons ๐Ÿ™‚

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  9. WritingLeigh — January 23, 2011 @ 10:08 pm

    I’m so glad you know your “why”. I read an article recently about how many bloggers are closing their doors because they aren’t getting enough out of it. If it’s something you do for YOU, then the comments and sponsors don’t matter. I’m glad you discovered your voice because I live hearing it. โ€ขhugsโ€ข

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — January 24th, 2011 @ 1:14 pm

      Aw, I love you!

  10. WritingLeigh — January 23, 2011 @ 10:10 pm

    I also LOVE hearing it. โ€ขgrumblesโ€ข That’s what I get for commenting from my iPod.

  11. Barbara | VinoLuciStyle — January 23, 2011 @ 10:11 pm

    Thank you for sharing with us; I think answering that question can be difficult. Really, why do we do this? And we all have unique and personal reasons. I started many many years ago with a site that was just recipes and instructions and if I’m PERFECTLY honest…I was OK with that. Because I do it to share the food. I would seriously feed the world if I could and I’ve done a lot of that with friends and neighbors over the years but I know that first website was so that I could share recipes that I love with family, friends and neighbors…and ultimately strangers!

    That is still important to me and while I’m enjoying the foray into photography the truth is I could live without having to write a story. I can’t define why; is it because I work on the computer that sitting in the same space writing a blog post seems like an extension of work or is it more that I would much rather be cooking than spending that time writing? Probably a bit of both.

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — January 24th, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

      Barb – You’re right. The answer can be more difficult than it seems. And, sometimes, the answer is different one day to the next.

  12. Liren — January 23, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

    Love this post, MJ ๐Ÿ™‚ The question of “why I blog” and the answers that follow are what we need to remember, especially in those moments when you may feel a bit tired or start to feel a little burnt out from blogging. I’m so glad you had a great time at Food Blog South!

  13. Brian @ A Thought For Food — January 23, 2011 @ 10:46 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this recap. First of all, you’re right. Florida is unusual. Every time I go down there I’m reminded of this. Sometimes that’s a good thing, though… right?

    These pictures are so wonderful and are a reminder of exactly why you do this. Because you’re thoughtful, talented, artistic.

  14. Lynda — January 23, 2011 @ 11:45 pm

    Thanks so much for a sharing a lovely post, MJ. I think your reasons are spot on.

  15. Taylor — January 23, 2011 @ 11:45 pm

    Great write up and great hanging out with you this weekend! I look forward to seeing your future posts! Good luck to your Gators next season, hopefully I can make it to a gator game! Take Care!
    – Taylor

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — January 24th, 2011 @ 1:16 pm

      Taylor – Thanks so much! We’ll show you around the Swamp anytime you’re this way. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Helene — January 23, 2011 @ 11:47 pm

    It was a treat meeting you this weekend MJ! Keep on rocking like you do ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Tes — January 24, 2011 @ 3:11 am

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I love that you blog from your heart and not for other reasons. Always love to read more ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Anita Menon — January 24, 2011 @ 5:18 am

    “So, no. I donโ€™t do it because I want to see my name in lights.

    I do it because I must.”

    Fantastic post. Often, answering the most basic questions, can make us ponder for days. You sure answered some of my own.

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — January 24th, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

      Thank you so much, Anita.

  19. Macaroni Mama — January 24, 2011 @ 7:38 am

    Your photos are an excellent recap of your trip AND what wonderful comments your food blogging friends made on this post. I’m proud of you. Now I need to get “my writing voice” back.

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — January 24th, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

      Aw, thanks, Mom. I love you.

  20. Jen — January 24, 2011 @ 7:59 am

    Enjoyed this post and I enjoy the blog. I have been threatening to get more into cooking for years and that part is slowly becomming more alive- this blog has helped.

  21. Lael Hazan @educatedpalate — January 24, 2011 @ 8:19 am

    Thank you for sharing your experiences of Food Blog South. I had wished to go and it was fun to live vicariously through you. I also appreciated your thoughts about “why” you blog. Great insight. I too blog because I enjoy writing. I also am enjoying learning about the camera; however, it hasn’t yet become a reciprocal relationship. I do have goals for the next year.

  22. Eftychia — January 24, 2011 @ 8:28 am

    Thank you for sharing this experience with us. Thank you for blogging. Nice work!!

  23. Woody The Roaster — January 24, 2011 @ 8:36 am

    Beautiful pictures and words. Thank you for the mention and here’s looking forward to FoodBlogSouth 2012!

  24. SMITH BITES — January 24, 2011 @ 8:52 am

    You’re doing this for all the right reasons, MJ – all of those things you’ve listed are worthy of your time and energy. Blogging IS a ton of work but at the end of the day, I always ask myself, ‘would I still be doing this if only one person read my blog?’ Most days the answer is ‘yes!’ for the same reasons. Can’t wait to meet you IRL!

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — January 24th, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

      I’m so looking forward to meeting you, too!

  25. Paula - bell'alimento — January 24, 2011 @ 10:28 am

    I couldn’t have said it better myself. I <3 food people! And I LOVED getting the opportunity to FINALLY meet you. You rawk {you know why tee hee ; ) } Can't wait to see you again in May xoxo MWAH MWAH MWAH!

    • mj (merry gourmet)

      mj (merry gourmet) replied: — January 24th, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

      *HUGS* to you Paula! It was SO great to meet you finally. *MWAH* right back!

  26. Eat Jackson — January 24, 2011 @ 10:53 am

    For those of us who couldn’t make it… It was great to get such a nice recap. You ended up with some of the best pictures of the weekend that we’ve seen!

  27. Kate @ Savour Fare — January 24, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

    Great recap, and something I struggle with as well. It’s hard when so many things aimed to food bloggers are about “finding your niche” “Pitching the Book”, “Getting the Gig” etc. But it’s easy to forget why we got into this into the first place, which had nothing to do about fameseeking and everything to do with loving food.

  28. Cook in a Bar — January 24, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

    Nice post…thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  29. JulieD — January 24, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

    Great post! Wish I was there too! Can’t wait until we finally meet in person. FBF Atlanta was so fun so I can imagine how good the food and the people were at FBS. For me food blogging is all about the food and eating it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  30. Liz the Chef — January 24, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

    Thanks for a great post – I’m still a newbie to all this but agree with your main points. Blogging feels like a job or mission or some such thing…

  31. DessertForTwo — January 25, 2011 @ 5:02 pm

    Lovely recap!

    I was asking myself the same question throughout the conference. I decided that I also enjoy the creative expression. If it leads to nothing, I am perfectly content with that.

    Great meeting you ๐Ÿ™‚

  32. Megan — January 26, 2011 @ 9:21 am

    So many times I wonder why I do it and then I’ll get a sweet e-mail saying thank you, that I helped make someone a better cook. The truth be told, I think my blog makes me a better cook! It has taken me outside my comfort zone and treated me to ingredients I might have otherwise missed out on. Lovely post! I love going to these foodie conferences!

  33. Aggie — January 28, 2011 @ 9:36 pm

    Wonderful Post! I so wished I could have joined you all that weekend. Sounds like a fantastic time. I agree, it’s not about seeing your name in lights…for me, it’s the dream job that’s not a job, I feel so lucky to have stumbled into food blogging almost 3!!! years ago…it has changed me.

  34. Alison @ Ingredients, Inc. — February 3, 2011 @ 2:57 pm

    Great post and fantastic photos! I am so glad you came and enjoyed it. I hope to see you again very soon!

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