by Jody Shee, sheefood.com
Book learning has value, but only the lessons that stick in real life matter. That’s what several students have found. They share the valuable life lessons they learned in culinary school that they still apply today.
When he started his culinary education at Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke, Virginia, in 2012, Joseph Bott, CEC, thought it was a little ridiculous that they had to scrub the floor after each class. “I mean there were four or five classes a day — in the same classroom. That was a clean floor,” he says.
They did it the same way every time. Water, scrub, more water and squeegee. “So, by the last class, everyone was on the same page. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do. It instilled in me a regular routine,” he says. “In the industry, at the end of a shift, everyone knows how to break down and close down, and if someone doesn’t do their part, it doesn’t get done.”
He advises, “Develop habits and daily routines for success and you become quicker.” Today he is executive catering chef for The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The dining operations are managed by Chartwells Higher Education, a part of Compass Group.
He has developed list and preparation routines, and after each shift, they clean the floors the same way he did it in school.
Following a routine has spilled over into his personal life. “I do mise en place for life. At the end of every day, I lay out my clothes for the next day. So, I don’t wake up the next day with dirty clothes, and I could have thrown them in the wash the night before.”
It may be the organization and multi-tasking skills Katie Eurich acquired in school that best prepared her to recently rise to become sous chef at one of the Jean-Georges restaurants — JoJo in Manhattan, New York.
In her restaurant class at school, they were given four hours to prep for that night’s restaurant service, beginning with the most time-consuming task —which often was stock or consommé — while preparing potatoes for gratin and slicing and chopping at the cutting board. “We’d set the timer and constantly turn around to see how things were going on the stove and turn back around to continue cutting,” she says. “If I finished early, I’d help my classmates by picking up some of their projects.”
Now, in her sous chef role, “I look after a lot, and I’m in charge of a few cooks. I make sure I’m working on my stuff and check on their stuff every 10 minutes,” she says. “I’ll work on receiving at the end of the day while trying to get prep done for the next day.”
The organization spills over to her home life. “I make sure my groceries are in line, and I label and date my leftovers in the refrigerator. It’s just become a habit,” she says. She also routinely cleans her apartment. “It makes you feel better at the end of the day.”
Chase Grove, 2014 ACF National Student Chef of the Year, latched on to a slogan that he applied while earning his associate in applied science degree in culinary arts at Metropolitan Community College, Omaha, Nebraska, and then at The Grey Plume, Omaha, where he worked four years, finishing as chef de cuisine. “The care to deliver as intended is the universal key to personal growth.”
Caring to deliver what is expected isn’t enough, he says. “You have to know the intent for something as conceived by yourself or your superior or the line cook.” If you’re a prep cook, for example, you have to ask who is using it and in what way, including the final product it goes into. “Knowing the final product affects how you get there.”
The Grey Plume created purees from many of the byproducts and trim generated. Grove was asked to dice onions for one of the purees. “I took careful time for a proper dice—cutting horizontally and vertically and finishing with a grid pattern,” he says. One day the chef took him to task on his laborious perfect dice. “It’s great. You’re doing excellent, but it doesn’t matter in this sense. You’re wasting time you could spend making a product that matters better,” he was told.
When he became a chef, he learned from a failed experience the importance of fully conceiving and communicating all the complexities of the intent for a successful outcome. “I now realize that knowing how it’s intended applies more to the chef than the prep cook,” he says.