Culinary school is hard. I knew it wouldn’t be as easy as people were making it out to be, with everyone saying “Oh my God! I always wanted to go to culinary school someday, maybe when I’m done being a tax accountant.” Like it’s some kind of hobby that doesn’t cost $26,000 a year and require eight hour days, five days a week. Like it’s a friggin’ social group for mommies who wanted to “win” at bake sale. Like you could wear a really cute pink chef’s jacket and True Religion jeans and adorable little black maryjane shoes that are patent leather to repel water. Like you’d get a little tray full of ingredients and a recipe, and then someone would coach you through making your own adorable little appetizers and sugar art.
Do you want to know what it ACTUALLY is (those of you who have attended may disregard this)? It’s learning to make stocks from scratch that are actually nowhere near as flavorful or aromatic as the ones you’ve been making at home for the last 6 years, just so you can “get the method” down pat. It’s carrying enormously heavy pots of boiling water trying to avoid the people backing into you carrying equally heavy pots of boiling water. It’s getting down on your hands and knees and scrubbing grease from the undersides of stoves, despite the fact that it makes your knees hurt something fierce and your hands all grubby and sticky. It’s wearing pants so horrific that it actually physically hurts to look at them, and having to put all of your hair inside of a paper hat, even though your hair is making desperate bids for escape every time you turn too quickly or look down. It’s so so so so so much cleaning. Like, for $26,000, can’t we afford a dishwasher-gnome? I don’t want to sound all priveledged–I do plenty of dishes–I just don’t typically spend quite so much TIME doing it, nor do I prefer to lift trashbags that are as heavy and full of food scraps as these monsters are. Sally Struthers could fit into one of these trashcans, possibly even carrying a backpack full of snacks. And my book weighs as much as a cornfed toddler.
These are all things I could deal with as “character building experiences.” I mean, I know that this education will be invaluable someday when I’m writing a sarcastic cookbook, or “winning” at bake sale. The part I really, really am having a hard time stomaching, though, is all the GODDAMNED YELLING. Each morning we’re given a set of vague concepts and then set loose in the kitchen. Then begin the reprimands. Constant, booming reprimands, directed at each person loudly and individually, so as to maximize discomfort of the person who has done wrong. And by wrong, I don’t mean setting a fire, or burning a pot roast, or pouring boiling oil on someone (very difficult to avoid wanting to do, at times). I mean mistakes like using the wrong kind of scoop to remove bones from a pot, despite having never been told which one to use. Being asked why you’re wrong for using the wrong scoop, but having absolutely no effing clue why, and then being condescended to at a decibel level clearly detected by neighboring counties for not knowing why you’re wrong.
Which is why, I’m ashamed to admit, I totally started crying on the second day of kitchen. It wasn’t even IN the kitchen. I did all of my cutting as best I could, trying not to cringe when he took out the ruler to make sure everything was the exact fraction of an inch it should have been. I burned myself on our oven, quietly and without squeaking at all, after already absorbing the blow of realizing that I don’t even know how to turn a commercial oven ON, let alone how to navigate pans of bones that are honestly too heavy for me to safely lift into said oven. But back in the classroom, we were given a recipe for tomorrow, which I was copying into my little 3×5 card while the chef told a story about how he won a contest on clarifying butter the quickest. I heard every word of the story, and was pretty surprised when he started yelling again, at me, for “doing my homework in class” and invited me to leave if I wanted to. WTF? Like, how could he even differentiate between me taking notes and writing notes on a small card? And why did that warrant a verbal bitch slap when another student falling asleep in class did not? I wasn’t given a chance to respond (which is good, because it would have been difficult to resist repeating his last sentence back to him, verbatim, and looking like a total smart-ass piece of shit), so I sat there. And then I felt my face flush. And then I felt the first tear start to hover threateningly on my lower eyelid. And then it fell onto my face, and I realized that my nose was in the starting position for a world-class running record, and my sinuses were burning, and at that point it was pretty much game over. Because when you’re in a quiet situation, and you try not to cry, you’re basically guaranteed to have a much stronger urge to cry, and a much more difficult time stopping. So I tried to furtively wipe my nose with sleeve (disgusting), wipe my tears from my cheeks while looking like I was just brushing my hair back (no hats required in classroom!), and keep my breathing silent and controlled. And that’s how I remained until class was over and I went into the bathroom and started to sob.
A woman in my class walked in and saw me and shared some platitudes of comfort, then said “you must be so embarrassed!” Yeah. Thanks for that. I was, in fact, embarrassed. Honestly, who cries on the second day of Skills 1? Who does that? I’m surprisingly sensitive, and it’s not unusual for me to cry if I’m yelled at (or if one of the more moving episodes of Scrubs is on my tv), but I really didn’t want to cave this soon. I didn’t want to look so weak. But really, is it necessary to make people feel like such shit in order to facilitate learning? I want original chef back. He was German and good and adorable and kind, and I really do learn so much better under those circumstances, even if that makes me a total puss.
So culinary school is going to be a great experience, I’m sure, but as of right now, it’s really not very much fun. More soul-destroying than anything else. The bright side? So far I’m rocking a 4.0 out of the four completed courses. I’ll rest on those Laurels while I nurse the wounds left by Chef Umbridge (this is a Harry Potter reference, and I’m not ashamed of it).