culinary institute of america – the boot camp, day two

Day one of the Skills Development Boot Camp at the Culinary Institute of America was topped off by a wonderful meal at Escoffier, the fine dining restaurant at the Hyde Park campus. The three-course meal was served to us by culinary students, and our main server was graduating from the CIA the following day. Later, I drove back to Winnie’s house, over the winding roads through the Hudson River valley, in the dark and through the rain, my mind playing back a highlight reel of the day. My shoulders were tight, filled with tension. I was physically and mentally exhausted but I also felt a sense of exhilaration.

I slept hard that night and I awoke at 5 am, wide awake and ready to spend the day cooking.

Day two of boot camp started off in a very similar way to day one, with the exception that I knew exactly where to park and I showed up in chef’s whites. We had breakfast in the massive dining room in Roth Hall, which used to serve as the chapel when the CIA campus was a Jesuit seminary. We ate as a group, seated at a long dining table alongside culinary students and their instructors. Unlike the day before, this morning we didn’t make the mistake of sitting at the professor’s table.

I had wondered why we had so many stares from the culinary students at breakfast that morning before.

Demonstration on how to truss a chicken prior to roasting.

Rolling fresh egg pasta.

Chef Bruno lectured to us for an hour on dry heat cooking methods, this time without fats and oils. We learned details about moist-heat cooking methods – such as braising and poaching. And, like the day before, we reviewed the recipes we’d be making that morning. Unlike the day before, though, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the tasks ahead. We had all done our homework – we’d read the recipes the night before, or in the morning at breakfast. Latoya and Rose and I formulated a game plan. We knew what steps should be done first, what parts we could make ahead, and what components of the recipes needed to be saved for the last minute, just prior to service.

We were given a break before heading into the kitchen at 8:30, but none of us took it. We went straight into the kitchen and started gathering ingredients and pots and pans.

We were ready to cook.

Gathering around Chef Bruno for a demonstration.

My group, Group 2, was assigned to prepare grilled lamb chops, creamy polenta, ratatouille, and vanilla ice cream. Working as a team, we divided duties and got to work. The ice cream had to be made first since it needed time to chill prior to serving. The polenta could be made ahead then kept warm prior to serving. Unlike the usual method for stove top polenta, Chef Bruno suggested we transfer it to the oven instead. The ratatouille required lots of chopping, but despite the long ingredient list, it was a simple recipe to make and could be made ahead. The lamb had to be grilled shortly before serving, but because there were so many lamb chops, we could finish them off in the oven after searing them on the grill.

And, my what a grill. I’ve never used a grill before – I have this mental block to using that piece of equipment, and I always defer to my husband. After working with the professional kitchen grill, which was so hot that I was worried my eyebrows would be singed off, I am no longer scared of the backyard Weber.

Latoya and the vanilla ice cream – and one of the teaching assistants.

The time allotted to us was the same as the day before – 8:30 to 12:30 – but we worked with a rhythm that we didn’t have the day before. I did not have those same feelings of being overwhelmed and in over my head. I felt comfortable with the time, comfortable with my group. We worked together well, and we finished with plenty of time to spare. We had time to step out of the kitchen for little water breaks or bathroom breaks. We had time to pull out our cameras and time to chat with Chef and his teaching assistants. When the time came to plate our dish, we were ready, and it was a success.

Ratatouille. I fully intend to make this again.

I went into the boot camp experience with an open mind and no set expectations. I just wanted to learn something new. I wanted to brush up on my knife skills, and hopefully learn some basic cooking techniques in the process. Everything I know about cooking has come from reading and practicing on my own, and I’ve never felt comfortable with my skills as a cook. I wanted to improve those skills and maybe gain some confidence along the way.

Grilled lamb chops, creamy polenta, ratatouille.

I came away from those two days with a whole new appreciation for what it takes to work in a professional kitchen. Besides the simple logistics of maneuvering in that space and using the equipment effectively and without injury, I learned about cooking as a team. For a home cook who is used to cooking alone, team cooking was a challenge for me that first day. I’m so used to doing everything, that having someone to divide the tasks with was actually harder than I expected. We found our groove on day two, but it took practice and effort.

Mastering the timing of meal preparation – understanding what can be made ahead and what needs to be cooked at the last minute – was also an unexpected bit of wisdom that I gleaned. Timing is crucial in a professional kitchen, and only after having to obey that timing do I have a better understanding of what it takes to achieve it.

But the most important thing I took home with me – besides the gorgeous set of starter knives, the white chef’s jacket (now stained with lord knows what), and sore legs – was the knowledge that I’m actually pretty good in the kitchen. I can hold my own and not make a fool of myself. Along with improved knife skills, I found confidence on day two.

By God, I can cook.

Latoya, Rose, yours truly, and Chef Bruno

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47 Responses to “foodblogSouth and why i blog”

  1. 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. 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. 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 πŸ™‚

    • 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. 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. 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 πŸ™‚

    • mj (merry gourmet)

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

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

  6. 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 πŸ™‚ Liz

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

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

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  9. 8
    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. β€’hugsβ€’

    • mj (merry gourmet)

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

      Aw, I love you!

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

    I also LOVE hearing it. β€’grumblesβ€’ That’s what I get for commenting from my iPod.

  11. 10
    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. 11
    Liren — January 23, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

    Love this post, MJ πŸ™‚ 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. 12
    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. 13
    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. 14
    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. πŸ™‚

  16. 15
    Helene — January 23, 2011 @ 11:47 pm

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

  17. 16
    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 πŸ™‚

  18. 17
    Anita Menon — January 24, 2011 @ 5:18 am

    “So, no. I don’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. 18
    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. 19
    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. 20
    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. 21
    Eftychia — January 24, 2011 @ 8:28 am

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

  23. 22
    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. 23
    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. 24
    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. 25
    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. 26
    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. 27
    Cook in a Bar — January 24, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

    Nice post…thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  29. 28
    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! πŸ™‚

  30. 29
    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. 30
    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 πŸ™‚

  32. 31
    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. 32
    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. 33
    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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