I'm constantly asked by friends, family and prospective students:
"What are your days like at The Culinary Institute of America?"
The first word that comes to my mind is: unpredictable. Before Winter Break, I was waking up at 5:30am to prep my station for lunch at Caterina de' Medici. Now, a short 6-weeks later, I'm in the kitchen of the American Bounty restaurant starting class at 2pm returning home around 11:30pm.
I can only provide a snapshot of my life right here, right now.
8am: Despite my late nights at the restaurant, I wake up early. My mind never stops. It's a blessing and a curse. I use this time to organize myself for the day, clean, do laundry, research new food trends and recipes, look for a job after graduation....etc.
9am: As of late, most mornings I've been making my way to the Rec Center (thank you New Year's Resolution) for a quick 30-minutes of gym time.
Truth Be Told: I'm secretly addicted to The Today Show, and that is my sole motivation for going to the gym. I'm inspired by the cooking segments with people like Editor-In-Chief of Bon Appetit, Adam Rapoport and Chef Donatella Arpaia Stewart.
10:30am: Make breakfast/brunch! I've had the unique opportunity this semester to live in the new housing on campus called "The Townhouses". 8 bedrooms, a washing & drying unit and a full kitchen and living area! I've made many meals and memories here.*sigh* I'm going to miss this place.
11:30-1: Mise En Place. You will hear this term used in EVERY class throughout the school, and you will find out the first time you enter a kitchen how important it is. In order to work quickly and efficiently, a game plan is necessary. I spend about an hour and a half doing things for class like creating a list of tasks to accomplish and sharpening my knife!
1:30pm: My journey to campus begins. I have a 10-minute walk to class, and I like to settle in and grab a cup of coffee and piece of bread from the dining hall before lecture.
2-3pm: Lecture. We begin our class day with a quiz and powerpoints. Our chef discusses American History, and its relevance to food and culture.My favorite part about the classes at the CIA is that you don't just learn the 'hows' of cooking, you also learn all the 'whys'. Chefs use lecture periods to provide in-depth knowledge of culture, traditions, history, new ingredients and techniques.
(My partner, Sammy, plating Chocolate Cake for an Anniversary. Checkout her impeccable piping skills!)
3-5: Production. This is the point in our day that "Mise En Place" matters. I spend about 15 minutes gathering all of my tools, sanitation materials and products. I've been assigned to the Pastry Station for American Bounty. Any given day I can be found making warm chocolate cakes, or pate a choux....I've also been pulled away to help prep hundreds of crab cakes and quarts of spicy aioli for banquets.
5-5:30: Family Meal. At 5pm the entire restaurant breaks to eat. Many times I rush through my meal, anxious to finish my tasks. We have a team assigned to family meal each day. It is their responsibility to make sure there is enough food for both front and back of house. Typically we have a wide variety of dishes sent to us from kitchens throughout the school, to minimize waste.
5:30-6: Set-Up. Service starts at 6pm. We use this time to clean our stations, gather/clean plates for service, sweep the floor and make sure that everyone is prepared.
6-9:30: Service. Seatings at American Bounty are from 6-8:30pm. The pastry station has the last ticket, so when the rest of the kitchen is cleaning or prepping for the next day, we are still filling orders. Our service might start around 7 and go until 10:30, depending on how busy we are.
10-10:30/11: Clean. After a long day, we keep going. We put all of our sauces into clean pans, wrap everything, take inventory, organize storage areas, sweep and scrub. A clean kitchen is a happy kitchen. Our MIT (Manager In Training) inspects the kitchen before we leave for the night, making sure that no task has been left undone.
11-11:30: Wrap up! After the kitchen has been cleaned and inspected, our class gathers with our MIT to discuss the positive and negative aspects of the day. We talk about ways to be more successful as a class and in our futures.
11:30: Home. 3 of my roommates are in my class, and the others are night owls. After a long day of class, we usually spend time together to catch up. Late-night snacks and movies are typically in order at this point.
12:30/2am: Bed! Depending on the day, I usually fall asleep sometime between 12:30 and 2am.
Whew! And I'll do it all again tomorrow!