Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Living My Culinary Dream

by Emilio Cerra, AOS Culinary, from La Papillote
In high school, if you told me that in three years I would be attending The Culinary Institute of America, I wouldn’t have even understood what that was. I had never heard of the school prior to doing research on culinary schools.

I was born in Mexico but grew up in Spartanburg, a medium-size town in upstate South Carolina. Spartanburg is by no means considered progressive or forward-thinking when it comes to its restaurant scene. I didn’t have any family or friends who worked in the foodservice industry prior to working in restaurants myself. However, at the same time, my family (both nuclear and extended) has always been very much captivated by food, cooking, and eating. Basically all of our family events would center around a meal. Even immediately after eating to total capacity, we found ourselves still sitting at the table, discussing what or where we wanted to eat next. We were, essentially, “foodies.” I probably spent more time reading cookbooks and other books related to food or chefs than anything else. After a short one-year stint studying Computer Science at Clemson University, I realized how miserable I was. Clemson is not only an excellent school, but also has a beautiful campus. I was having fun socially there, but I just had zero ambitions for the future, and I found my programming classes to be a drag. So, after consulting with my parents, I began to pursue the idea of a culinary career. I was only interested in working at the highest levels of cuisine, and eventually desired to open my own restaurant.

In order to do that, I needed to get a solid education in the fundamentals of the culinary arts. I immediately knew that the local community college was not going to cut it, and after further research, I was pretty sure that the CIA was the right choice. I knew that they had over forty learning kitchens, as well as three award-winning restaurants, and also knew that the chef-instructors were all very experienced. The four month externship requirement meant real-world experience, too. It all looked fantastic on paper, but I still had some doubts, so I visited Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, NC. About twenty-five minutes into the tour, I could tell that it just was not quite the caliber of the CIA. I also didn’t appreciate the fact that JWU would place you somewhere on externship, giving you very little choice on what kind of food/experience you would have. This continued to assure me that CIA was the right choice, and I continued with the application process. I had an immense amount of help from Jacqui Pressinger from the Admissions Office here, which was yet another thumbs up for the CIA. Finally, I toured the school a few weeks before I was supposed to start, and I was more than blown away. Not only is the campus beautiful, but the kitchens and other facilities looked incredible. I no longer was at all worried about what the correct choice was, I knew I was headed to the CIA, and that is something that has been reinforced one hundred times over since I have been here.

I have now been here a little over a month, and I have been continuously, pleasantly surprised by how incredible this school really is. I have never met a group of more focused students who are also just as interested in their classmates’ success. Although the course load is heavy, and the truly difficult parts have not yet begun, the chefs and instructors are always here to see you succeed. They want you to reach your highest potential. I have had students literally take me exactly where I needed to go when I asked for directions. One time even a student got up from a table at Farq, plate full of hot food, to show me where K-3 was when I had absolutely no idea how to get there. The amount of activities the school has set up for the students outside of their typical classes is also astonishing. The other night after Fundamentals class I went to see a demo by the Butcher and the Beast Society on how to make smoked foie gras mousse that included a tasting of the mousse as well as a TĂȘte de Cochon roulade tasting. I mean, come on! You don’t find this at any other culinary school. The library has every possible book related to food I could ever imagine. I have literally gotten goosebumps from the food I have tasted here, as well as the different “moments” I have had. And it’s only been one month! I could not be prouder to be part of a student body that will go on to change and lead this industry.

It feels amazing to finally be focused intently on my singular goal here at the CIA. I get more and more excited about my upcoming classes and the techniques and skills I will eventually learn, especially when I hear students who have been here longer than me discussing it. I am ready to continue to take “pride in the traditions of excellence” and get the most out of my education here at the CIA. 

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