Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Many Layers- Some of the moments and memories that make up my foundations as a Chef.


I am quite comfortable relating food to life and the situations that most of us have been familiar with at some point in our existance.  My whole life I have always been intrigued with food and its importance to our survival.  Food's purpose is to sustain us.  It give us the energy or fuel needed on a cellular,even emotional level to miraculously come together as a living being.  Without food, starvation is the result, we wilt, dry up and eventually would stop functioning.  That is the simple truth of the matter as grave as it may sound.  In the spirit of my optimism though I tend not to think about it that way EVER.... instead I just know that I need food to live- good food- and I've learned to choose quality over quantity- and in the quest for nothing but the best I have learned that I am ultimately in control of whatever I decide to eat.  There are many layers to my reasonings for what I choose to create in the kitchen, for what i choose to eat and prepare for others.  Just like the layers to other parts of my life, how I have gotten to where i am at this moment, my work to be recognized as a chef, it all began with a passion for the simple need for sustenance.

In the beginning of my life I was always concerned about getting "enough food."  That statement in no way should reflect the fact that there was not enough food for me.  It has more to do with being a kid who is not in control very often of what's for dinner.   The whole point of eating a meal for me at that age was to get full.  My Mom and everyone else that created meals for me at that age- minus the school kitchen (1980's processed school food was nothing like the local, fresh options my kids have nowadays) made food that I loved to eat.  I was known as the bottomless pit, the kid with a hollow leg, always having seconds or thirds was not uncommon.  Thankfully my metabolism kept up with this type of consumption.  I was a kid with a healthy appetite and always thankful for my Mom's attention to home cooked meals.  Trips to Burger King were few and far between, always perceived as a treat if anything.  As a child of the 80's I loved Jello Pudding pops, and my mouth watered at the Franken Berry and Fruit Loops Cereal commercials but I also had an early affection for my Mom's garden full of green beans, carrots and peppers.  Food Marketers may have had an ability to tempt me with their processed and industrialized creations but my love affair for fresh food started early in life thankfully- the core to my love of all food and my culinary curiosities- this which would guide me as I grew up and gained more control of my food choices and decisions to learn as much as possible about food.

The next distinctive layer developed from my my very first job at a locally owned ice cream shop called Wares Brothers Frosty Treat.  This was the location for my first opportunities to explore creating without rules with ice cream as my medium.  Typically there were recipes to follow and guidelines for sizing and flavor combinations for customers- continuity being the key.  The best part of my job happened at the end of the day.   This is why:  It was the beginning of my practice in thinking outside the box.  Coming up with new flavor combinations for flurry's and ice cream sundae's.  Questioning what would happened if I did this or that, taste testing everything, sharing my favorites with friends and family was happiness for me.  At the same time I was trying some cooking adventures at home too.  Some of these explorations were not as fruitful since my palate was fledgling at best, and my ability to identify the basic elements of cooking ingredients was based on nothing yet.  This meant I didn't even know what vegetable shortening was when at one time I decided to make chocolate chip cookies for my airforce enlisted boyfriend to send in the mail.  Since my younger sister had some experience in making buttermilk waffles in the kitchen I called her for some advice... the conversation went like this: "Hey Jen, I am making some cookies and the recipe calls for vegetable shortening- where would I find that in this kitchen- what is it?"  The two of us both threw out our guesses and then by process of elimination, still with no basis for our reasoning we made our decision between the two we had narrowed it down to.  Jen's logic coming from: "I use it to make waffles and they always turn out really good.  They are baked just like the cookies, just in a waffle iron.  It has to be that!"  I didn't disagree...  One hour later my dough- while looking a little shinier than usual to me was ushered into the tempered oven upon its baking sheet... 10 minutes later I heard an odd   sizzling sound coming from the oven and was that smoke too?  I guess the choice to use Wesson "Vegetable Oil" is not the same as "Vegetable Shortening" and now my well intended treat was frying in the oven.  They came out initially tasting like potato chip cookies but after a day they were as hard as rocks!  This lesson was followed by no-bake cookies that never hardened, and finally just buying the betty crocker package of brownie mix, which never got baked because I ate all the batter raw- gross I know- I am sorry.

Since my origins in cooking and creating on my own started with an innocent disregard for elementary rules and an inability to follow the recipe I obviously had a long way to go.  Unfortunately during this time I also never took the time to watch my mom in the kitchen- a woman who clearly knew what she was doing and she was even willing to guide me.  My teenage pride and "know it all" brattiness kept me from an initial fast track to learning about food preparation beyond ice cream sundaes, ham and cheese sandwiches and kraft macaroni and cheese out of the box.  Yet my food loving all along the way continued to grow.  In my journey I would soon  move beyond all this, but not without some early grocery store adventures in buying countless boxes of hamburger helper, bags of Rice-a-Roni and cans upon cans of Campbells condensed soup.  Thankful for my early foundations from home, just on the horizon was the planting of my own bountiful veggie gardens, and a leap into learning about the vital importance of nutrition and then ultimately discovering how to maintain a balanced diet for myself and my future family.

The Following List... A Timeline Sampling of my next decade of LAYERS:

Thanks to Internet- a multitude of websites to teach me about cooking and nutrition
Thanks to Libraries- a place to discover any and all cooking resources
Thanks to Mom-  she always bought me a yearly subscription to Cooking Light magazine and invited me to help with dinner
Thanks to Tod- for telling me that he was tired of eating Tuna Noodle casserole- even though I did a nice job with it.
Thanks to Lauren and Riley- my amazing babies who I realized early on were my sole responsibility when it came to creating their foodie foundations.  They ultimately are the reason I became so passionate about food origins, getting involved in local agriculture and avoiding manufactured food products as much as possible.
Thanks to Secondary Education- my initial completion of prerequisites to obtaining a degree as a dietitian and the earned knowledge beyond just the food. Physchology and Chemistry classes really give me a whole new perspective!
Thanks to NMC- Extended Education classes for my first culinary class experience and later the ability to Sous Chef along side the most talented chefs in my hometown.

Thanks to a fearless step in a different direction than originally planned- I finally heard the calling of my heart and the chose the true path I was meant to take... for every single time someone told me they were going to culinary school, every time I passed Great Lakes Culinary Institute, every time I spent 12 hours in my kitchen creating and cooking and  wishing I could just got to culinary school...  Finally... I DID!

Fully Immersed in a Culinary Education now- my experiences up until this point have helped me be as successful as I can be in my journey to becoming recognized as a chef.  I am so close to graduation now.  Having learned so much, in such a short amount of time- understanding that practice is what will eventually land me at the top of my profession hopefully and keep me there too.  I have only just begun to scratch the surface but looking back on the stories of my experience- the layers of my own topography I can say with confidence that I am realizing my purpose here on earth now and how I can use my culinary craft to impact and help others the way I have always dreamed.  I do feel overwhelmed at times with all that I am learning between school, work, and home but I never let that discourage me.  Instead I see the challenges as the only way for me to grow and mature.  Throughout my layers is a support system too- of family and friends who along the way have encouraged me, even by using their taste buds and giving me the thumbs up or down that helps me make sure I am on the right track.

I still don't follow the rules- or recipes for that matter- I can get away with that a little easier now since I have Chemistry 1 and 2 under my belt, countless hours of practice practice practice, and an untamed curiosity that has led me to have spent enough time concocting and learning what flavors work well together- and what ones don't.

I can't say for sure what layer will come next...  All I know is that when it involves my passion for food it will have my full attention and my hope to continue building my foundations even stronger within my culinary abilities.   All I want is to be able to continue to share the bounty of sustenance with family, friends and others- All that comes from a practiced and attentive aptitude for wanting to create delicious food.