Chef Allen asked us to do a little write up about who we are and how we got here. I am not prone to brevity in writing. Here’s what I got:
I followed my instincts here, though at 35 and on my 3rd career my instincts definitely have a flair for the road less traveled. We definitely all took the scenic route.
At the end of college, after having been an RA, RD, Orientation Leader, and other rah-rah acronyms, I gave up the notion of teaching music (which I found out much too late in the game I really didn’t much enjoy anyway) in favor of taking a student-services job at the university I had just attended. Clearly I had a passion for college students and their transition. I had just barely gone through it all myself. As I made my way through my twenties, with the students I was assisting somehow always staying the same age, I reconsidered. Meanwhile, I had spent 5 years in utter devotion to the local theater scene as a chorus member, costume coordinator, star, music director, and board member. Well – I thought – if I could be an administrator for a university, surely I could be an administrator for a theater.
And that’s how me and my instincts meandered to New York, forking over quite a chunk of change for a masters degree in Arts Administration, then spending about another 5 years in various artist hospitality positions. I never lost passion for the end product. Music and theater will always be deeply embedded within, and if I was going to be spending 8+ hours a day sitting at a desk, I better damn well believe in the stuff I was sitting at a desk for.
But wait…why was I sitting at a desk at all? Especially while other people got to be creative in the room next door… And, now that you mention it, when did I stop performing to begin with? My creative side started to get restless. It was growing impatient with the risk-averse side of me who liked to hide behind a safety net of easy administrative work. I was always one of the creative ones. How come I had become so complacent being part of the infrastructure whereby other, more gutsy people got to live out their creative lives?
Rewind a bit. About the time I was graduating with my masters degree, my roommate at the time, Maureen, decided to go to pastry school (also ICE). Night after night after night after night, she would come home with pastries and stories. (Damn you custard module!!) And boy was I jealous. And then she started working as a pastry chef in a restaurant, and I was even more jealous. But I knew I couldn’t go to cooking school. I’d just spent an awful lot of money chasing down a different dream.
Instead I spent a couple of years trying to scratch the creative itch in a number of ways. I wrote a memoir about being a professional tour manager. I took a songwriting class and resumed the voice lessons I’d left behind at the end of college. I cooked creative lunches with one of my coworkers and then blogged about it for my mother and sister to read. I even took a bartending class just to get out from behind a desk. But still I was spending so many hours either sitting at a desk or sitting around in a darkened theater waiting for someone to get hurt or get hungry so I could attend to them and they could go back to being creative. I was good at my job. It was easy. I got paid well. Shouldn’t this be enough?
Rewind a bit again. I’ll be honest. I started watching the Food Network with a lot of fervor in about 2004. I came from a middle-America culinary background where side dishes came in boxes with sauce packets, but I have always learned quickly. Maureen was in pastry school, I was watching a lot of Food Network, and suddenly I found myself picking up stuff by osmosis, and my lunches started to look a little less like sandwich and chips and a little more like salade niçoise.
So, here we are, me and my instincts, in late 2010, with my creative itch unable to be fully scratched by any of my previous attempts. It isn’t just that I’m not happy in my job – I could have easily switched positions to another company, or tried to jump up to the next level in Arts Administration, but I didn’t want any of that. I wanted to be doing something different. I wanted to be working with the parts of my brain, heart, and hands that had been dormant for too long.
My mother finally tipped the scales for me. During a particularly frustrated phone call one weekend about the 1/3 life crisis I was clearly going through, she expressed one of her lottery fantasies. As in, “if your Dad and I won the lottery we would…” previous answers to include “buy an apartment in New York City,” or, “stay somewhere warmer for a couple of months every winter,” etc. This day her response was “pay your rent for a year so that you could go to culinary school.”
Wow, did that ever strike a chord. And while my answer to her in that moment was to validate the notion that I surely would love that but couldn’t possibly afford it, it was only 24 hours later that reality finally caught up with me. I wasn’t getting any younger. Culinary school wasn’t getting any cheaper. I wasn’t going to just wake up one day and be a chef. What was I waiting for?
Within 3 days I had met with an admissions counselor and completed my application.
Where this is all going is still up for grabs. I’m hoping to let my instincts meander as they will, and listen for clues about where my skills potentially lie in this field. I definitely want restaurant experience, but am open to any outcome where I get to do less desk-sitting for a while. Perhaps you’ll notice from the lengthiness of my piece here that I also like to work with words. I sure hope that this may also serve me in this industry. I speak a little French, a little more Italian, and spent the last 5 years traveling for a living. There’s some connection there as well I would imagine.
As much as my budget has allowed, I’ve been a fan of dining out. Maureen was a pastry chef at Gramercy Tavern, so I spent more money there than anywhere. I spend the most money in one meal at per se. (If I can find any way to afford it, I will try to give Chef Keller the 3 free months of my time he requires.) I found some neighborhood gems like Celeste on the Upper West Side and Little Giant on the Lower East Side. I was lucky to have a few colleagues during my professional touring days who wanted to have at least one nice dinner out while we were working like dogs, and so have dined well in New Orleans, Portland, Atlanta, and Rome, among other places.
As much as my laughably small New York kitchens have allowed, I have cooked. I’ve lived in 4 apartments in the last 8 years, and somehow the kitchens have become smaller and smaller and smaller, despite the fact that counter space is always at the top of my list when apartment hunting. (Apparently I got sidetracked by things like big windows, closet space, and location location location.) I am not joking when I tell you that my current West Village apartment (where I can see Murray’s Cheese outside of my window) has not one inch of counter space. Not one. Fortunately, I am moving to South Park Slope within the month (where I can see a barbecue grill outside of my window) and where the kitchen not only has counter space but a full size stove (full size!), a full size fridge (ditto!) and loads of counter space. (In Brooklyn of note I’ve been to al di la, and Rosewater in Park Slope.)
It’s only lesson 6 of culinary school, and I’m already sad that it’s 5% over…