- My first classes, Knife Skills and Soups, Stews & Sauces, introduced me to Chef Pierre Pollin and my first taste of the finer points of French cuisine (and French accents!).
- The 16-hour sanitation class was for the most part a snooze fest. But it did allow me to be certified in the City of Chicago in sanitation rules and regulations.
- In Advanced Sauces, I learned that building a better sauce is about balance and layers.
- The French Bistro course lit up my world. Cooking from all different regions of France whet my appetite for travel. My next trip to France will avoid Paris, and focus instead on all that the more rural areas have to offer.
- Baking and Pastry brought stress, but many satisfying outcomes (which led to many satisfied customers).
- Cuisines of China opened up the world of cleavers, woks, and peking duck.
- And Catering taught me how to build a model for billing clients. It also taught me the importance of keeping things simple and focusing on technique.
|A simple salad.|
Anyway, due to my competitive spirit, I would have loved for my last class to have been about competition. Maybe everyone for themselves, cooking the meal of their lives. Or, maybe teams of two, best dish wins. Or, maybe just good old-fashioned girls versus boys. A competition on the very last night of my culinary school experience would have been a memorable capstone.
Little did I know, the culinary gods had something else in store for me. Competition? No. Charity? Yes. We went and did something downright generous. We cooked. We cleaned up. We helped some families in need.
|Spicy tomato sauce.|
On the last night, our catering class boarded the school’s ramshackle bus and drove to the west side. We huddled in the (barely heated) van until we pulled into the parking lot at the VA Hospital. While we exchanged jokes about whether the van would be able to make the return trip, we stepped into the Fisher House on the VA Hospital campus. The Fisher House is a sort of Ronald McDonald-style program, but instead of a house for families with children in the hospital, this was housing for families with veterans in the hospital.
|Pureeing the split pea soup.|
The house was beautiful, large, but still cozy. And the kitchen was impressive. All ten of us fit perfectly into the kitchen and cooked our little hearts out. We kept the menu simple: roast chicken, breaded catfish, salads, roasted vegetables, rice, and split pea soup. We made enough to stock the fridge with leftovers for the residents for a week.
|Prepping the catfish and the salads.|
It was a small thing, but feeding families home-cooked meals while they are away from home and preoccupied with worrying for their loved ones did give me a warm feeling.
|Fisher House – “Helping Military Families” Challenge Coin|
At the end of the night, we each lined up to receive a medal (“challenge coin“). That’s right, each and every one of us were winners.
|Our class and some of the Fisher House Residents.|