Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lets Talk About the Fundamentals: Interview with Chef Egan

This past week I was given the opportunity to interview with Chef Kristin Egan, a Baking and Pastry Techniques Chef here at The Culinary Institute of America. Baking and Pastry Fundamentals is the first class you take here at the CIA, if your enrolled in the Baking and Pastry program. "Fundies" as the students call it here is the basic knowledge you will need to know before moving on to other specialty classes like, Cakes, Breads, and Individual Pastries. During these 15 weeks, you'll get to learn the ins and outs of how we run a kitchen here at the CIA. You will also learn how to properly make cookies, pound cakes, doughnuts, sponge cake, and even creme brulee. These first 15 weeks are essential, try to learn everything you can and ask as many questions as you want; this first semester can determine your success for the rest of your time here at the CIA.

Cinnamon Sugar Cake Doughnuts 
Chef Egan & I
Marbled Pound Cake
During the interview I asked Chef Egan, "When you were my age, what did you wanna do with your life?" and she said, "I closed my eyes and asked myself, what do you wanna do with your life Kristin Egan? and at that moment I knew I wanted to just be in the kitchen baking." Soon after that thought she began applying to culinary schools and quickly stumbled upon the CIA, the next day her and her mother scheduled a tour to visit. I asked her "what is one thing that you thought made CIA stand out over other schools?" and she said, "When I looked inside the bakeshops, I saw a big piece of marble on every station and I knew at that point that this school was prestigious and was the top of the line for culinary schools" Here at the Culinary Institute of America, we use marble for many different reasons, we will use it to cool something down quickly, like pastry cream because marble is a good conductor of heat or to temper chocolate using the tabling method.

 As a prospective student I was always looking for advice from the previous blogger's before I came to school. So I asked Chef Egan, "What do you think students should know before attending the CIA?" "Understand that they are getting into an industry that is challenging and difficult and that you should work in this industry in some way, shape or form before coming to school just to make sure this is really want you want to do" she said. I worked at a local bakery in my small town, before coming to school and it has helped me tremendously adapt from a home kitchen to a professional working kitchen. Please don't think you have to know everything about food before you come to school, it's called school for a reason. You are going to mess up and your going to make mistakes but you'll learn from those mistakes and every failure will make you a better chef.

As you make your way from kitchen to kitchen or bakeshop to bakeshop there are certain rules depending on the chef, but there are some rules that apply to every kitchen at the CIA. "Chef, what are some rules that apply in every kitchen, not just here at school but even out in the industry?" I asked. Chef said "be clean and have a plan before you walk into the kitchen, when I worked in New York City in a restaurant I would always have a game plan ready and it made my day go a lot smoother and I was able to have fun while working. Another thing is, every chef is right even if you know the chef is wrong just say the famous words YES CHEF and go back to work". When you come to CIA, which we are all hoping you do, so you can join this amazing culinary family the most frequent words to come out of your mouth will be YES CHEF. Even when I am not in kitchen classes I call my academic professors or even when I go home to visit family I always respond with YES CHEF. They are the words to live by, the words that will keep you afloat if the boat is sinking and the words that will change your life forever.

Chef Kristin Egan graduated from the CIA in 2005 and started teaching Baking and Pastry Techniques here in 2014. I told chef, "You graduated only nine years ago from this institute and are already back teaching. That's a pretty impressive turnaround, I wanna know how you did it?" "I always wanted to come back and teach here one day, and I always stayed in contact with my previous Chef, Peter Greweling, and one day he told me to come take the instructors exam, but I didn't think I was ready and he said it's worth a shot, so I took the exam and passed. If I could give one piece of advice to students before they graduate it would be to stay in contact with old chefs because they are incredible resources." The chefs here are incredible resources, many chefs here are Certified Master Chefs (CMC) or Certified Master Bakers (CMB). Pick their brains, ask as many questions as possible and learn as much as you can. In this industry you can learn something new everyday if you want to.

I ended my interview by asking Chef Egan, "What is the number one thing for a young cook coming in this field to know?" and she said, " It is not your job to create new recipes or to reinvent the wheel after culinary school, your job as a young cook is to do exactly what your chef tells you to do. If you do this, you will be successful one day". On day one, Chef Egan chiseled these words into my brain and now every day I walk into bakeshop 3, I know that I am going to do exactly what she tells me to do because I know one day I will be successful just like she is.

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