Posted: March 28, 2013
'Tis the season for deciding futuresLaura Cook Newman
How do you know spring has sprung? You might look at the calendar or out the window – seems logical enough. I personally sense the seasons have changed by two indicators:
- Neon yellow Peeps flank every end cap of the neighborhood Walgreens
- High school seniors are a bit on edge – well, more so than usual – as they await news from their college of choice.
As a former admissions officer, I know firsthand the anticipation that surrounds the receipt and subsequent thickness of the envelope. I recall tearing into that fat manila envelope many years ago and exclaiming, “I’m goin’ to culinary school!” My parents, however, were less than thrilled. They ranked culinary school right up there with attending community college or enlisting in the Marines (I’ll let you decide the order).
At the time, being a chef was a blue-collar gig. August Escoffier’s (aka “The Grandfather of Gastronomy”) reign was 100 years prior, and most people didn’t put too much stock in food service as a legitimate career path. Guidance counselors envisioned my future as a tired line cook with a Lucky Strike dangling from my lips, making SOS at the local greasy spoon. “You need a degree for that?” they’d say, frown lines deepening across their foreheads.
Just as the culinary arts were at their darkest hour since Ron Popeil’s invention of the Showtime Rotisserie (“Set it, and forget it!”), along comes the Food Network. Emeril “Bams!” us with pork fat, and Paula Deen butters us up with biscuits. Early on, to reassure viewers that the network had some credibility, they’d finagle a cameo from Jacques Pepin or Wolfgang Puck. But if it weren’t for this motley crew of celeb cooks, the culinary artists of the world might be asking, as my elders predicted, “Do you want fries with that?”
What a difference 20 years makes! Culinary arts education is big business now. Google “Culinary School” plus your zip code, and a robust list appears. In Denver alone there are three schools where you can hone your knife skills (four if you include Boulder). That’s great for the industry but bad for lazy teenagers who are considering enrolling because they once made peanut butter cookies in Home Ec; “Skippy” won’t last one week in culinary school.
Those who thought I was practically shipping off to Parris Island weren’t far off. We suited up in our pressed uniforms and steel-toed boots and were given weapons in the form of French knives. We were ready for battle, alright – the battle against odd-shaped vegetables and unruly poultry.
I survived this boot camp of sorts. I now make a comfortable living with my culinary diploma in tow – skills that I actually use everyday – which is more than I can say for my high school BFF with her Bachelor’s in Sanskrit. Namaste.
While watching Chopped, you might hear your teenager contemplate “I’m thinking about becoming a chef.” Don’t panic. Gaze into my crystal ball of predicted outcomes:
- This is a phase, like when he wanted to learn to ride the unicycle and enroll in clown college. It will pass.
- His dreams of chefdom will fall by the wayside after discovering that the mandatory 3 a.m. baking class starts on time. He’ll pursue his other passion, Doctor Who, and become a renowned Time Lord.
- He will conquer his culinary dreams, audition for Top Chef and star in his own show: BBQ’s, Bars, and Burgers (aka “Triple B”). Eat your heart out, Guy Fieri!
Or in all likelihood…
- During his culinary school tenure, he will incessantly moan about how hard it is – then proceed to land a great job, never go hungry and reflect back on his time at culinary school as the best two years of his life!
Good luck, seniors (and parents!). Fingers crossed that the thick envelope of your choice arrives in your mailbox this spring.
Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at www.ThreeHotsAndaCot.net