Hello – I’m back, or rather the CIA update is back – and we are on #4 🙂

The trouble with waiting such a long time to write another update is the vast amount of information I’d like to share and not knowing where to start. So here is my warning – this update might be jumpy in terms of timeline and is definitely lengthy. Let’s get going.

School Stuff
Last time I wrote I was in Skills I class. Since then, I have completed Skills II and Skills III classes (learning more technique fundamentals, cooking complete portions with protein, starch and vegetable, evaluating plate presentation, and most importantly cooking in quantity to serve actual students who ate lunch out of our kitchen). While the classes were interesting, and challenging (had to work in teams, and I’d rather not go into all the details about some of my partners…!), I was ready to move on and learn something new – there are only so many dishes that you can make with chicken.

Next class was Cuisine of Americas – we studied cuisine of North, Central and South America. My brain was once again challenged to learn new ingredients, combinations and techniques. The chef stressed the importance of knowing the origin of dishes, how they came about, their influence, etc. The class was similar to history of food study. In a way, it is funny how we form our opinions about chefs before we even enter their kitchens. Once again I am reminded of my high school experience – the more other students complain about their teachers, the more I end up liking them. So the lesson is – form my own opinion, disregard what other students say about the chefs – most likely or not, they are just complaining about high expectations and standards.

Then we moved on to Cuisines of Asia. It’s amazing how much we had to cram in 3 weeks. Starting from the cuisine of China, we moved to Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and finished up in India. Overwhelming to say the least, but definitely delicious and inspiring. Just last weekend I ate in a Thai restaurant (Thai Market in NYC, absolutely delicious) and it was quite rewarding to recognize the names of the dishes, being able to identify the origin and main ingredients. Pad Thai is no longer just a noodle dish with some toasted peanuts scattered on top 🙂 Chef Pardus who taught the class (he is famous for being one of the main chefs discussed in “Becoming a Chef”) by far had one of the best teaching techniques – we had daily quizzes (made us stay on track with studying), daily self evaluations, and ingredient tastings. Trust me, you really do not want to taste fish sauce on its own (you’d be amazed though the depth of flavor that a small amount of fish sauce can add to your dish – we call it umami).

Most recently I completed Food Quantity Production Class. All I can say is that after working 4 days on a panini line, I consider myself a sandwich artist and am ready to apply at Subway (I hope sarcasm screams at you through this paragraph). Honestly, the class was a joke and a disgrace to the school and students. I felt like we were used as free labor to serve breakfast (class was 1:30AM-11PM), lunch (7:30AM-4PM) and dinner (1:30PM-9:30PM) to students. I’ve never complained about the class so much. We were rotated through each portion of the class after 4 days, and I feel like my body is still out of whack. Sigh. I am planning to talk to some of the Deans at school and possibly write an article for the paper. …. Democracy…. 🙂

My next class will be Garde Manger – salads, pates, appetizers, sausages, cold dishes, etc.

Moving Time
As I have mentioned before, part of the Culinary Institute experience is the mandatory externship which happens half way through the 2-year program. For 18 consecutive weeks, students return to the real world and work at one of the approved sites (the list is quite extensive). The majority of students end up working at restaurants, hotels, and resorts – which are considered traditional externships.

Why be traditional? 🙂 Even before I started school, I knew that I didn’t see myself working in a large, mass production kitchen, so for my externship I decided to go to an alternative site. Drum roll please….IOWA 🙂 That’s right. I will be working at the Cuisine at Home (www.cuisineathome.com) magazine where I will be learning how to develop recipes, test and improve recipes, write and publish food stories/articles, and learn about food photography. I am ecstatic!!! The magazine has 8 test kitchens and a large photo studio. Many of the editors, etc at the magazine are CIA grads. It is exactly what I have been looking for. The magazine looks great (both in print and online), so far, the people at the magazine have been very nice and welcoming – I can’t wait 🙂

Clearly, I could think of more exciting locations to be – but unfortunately, magazines in New York City and Los Angeles do not pay their externs and do not provide housing, and I could not really afford living that way for 4.5 months. So Iowa it is – I even get a free membership to the magazine’s gym.

The plan is to drive to Des Moines, Iowa and start my externship on October 1st. At the end of 18 weeks, I will have about 3 weeks of vacation before starting school. My main concern right now is housing in Iowa. If by some miracle, anyone knows someone in Des Moines, let me know.

Vacation, etc.
Seems like vacation was a very long time ago 🙂 It was wonderful to see many of you in New York, DC, Dallas and Seattle – that’s quite a bit of driving and flying for 3 weeks, but definitely worth it. As much as I enjoy school, it’s always such a nice treat to get away 🙂 The school is truly in the middle of nowhere – I often feel isolated from the world. Location, location, location.

I continue to escape to New York city, when possible. I was there over 4th of July and had a picnic in Central Park with a bunch of you Dallasites 🙂 Olga took a train up from DC, and Jenny met up with us and brought along her NYU friends. I love not feeling like a tourist in the city anymore – just spending a regular day of strolling the streets, dining out, and relaxing in the park was exactly what I needed.

Recently I went back to the city for a day – a perfect sunny summer day. Had brunch at The Spotted Pig – the best french toast ever 🙂 ( www.thespottedpig.com). Very simple, thick slices of fresh bread, perfectly soaked in milk, egg and sugar mixture and grilled. Served with blackberry sauce, fresh blackberries and creme fraiche. I can still taste it 🙂 The restaurant is kind of crazy looking – pigs are everywhere – part of the decor. One gripe though – who charges $12 for one mimosa?!

Bits and Pieces
Participated in the Olivado Avocado Oil recipe contest. Through the Women Chef and Restaranteurs group, tested the recipes submitted by chefs – you’d be surprised how inaccurate some of them were, and the lack of flavor in others. Was a great experience, good learning opportunity – the judge panel was very approachable and friendly. I got to sit in and offer my opinion on recipes and listen to their critique.

Attended a presentation by Chef Jose Andres – he is very well known, especially in Washington DC where he owns quite a few restaurants. I was pretty much blown away by his enthusiasm and passion for food. He was extremely captivating and energetic. One of his interests is in molecular gastronomy – he did several food demonstrations that were quite incredible. He is working on capturing the essense of the first bite of steak – and hopes to offer it to his guests at one of the restaurants.

While in DC during my summer break, I went to one of his restaurants – Zaytinya (Med tapas) and spent a few hours in the kitchen. It’s a beautiful place, the food looked absolutely amazing (sadly, although promised, I was not offered any of the tapas for tasting). They make their own phylo dough and flavored liquor. At the end, the executive chef offered me the position (externship), but this experience once again proved that kitchen is not a place for me, so I declined the externship offer.

Dining out for free – went to Boston and New Jersey with the Women Chef and Restauranteurs Club – dined at two restaurants ran by women chefs – empowering experience. Women rule 🙂 The restaurant in Hoboken, NJ was especially wonderful. Latin American food, beautiful setting, very warm and gracious chef – Maricel Presilla ( www.cucharamama.com/) She treated us to an endless array of appetizers – we were so stuffed that decided to skip main course and head straight for the desert – smart decision. And it definitely did not hurt that they had a wonderful mojito (we all know how much I appreciate those) 🙂

Tastings – in the last couple of months, I’ve attended a cheese tasting and soy sayce tasting sponsored by the Gourmet club.

Roommate changes – due to personal issues, my original roommate moved out. After 3 blissful weeks of having the room all to myself, my new roommate moved in. She’s alright. Most of the time she is out of the room and is very quiet.

Newspaper – I continue to write for the school newspaper when I have time (lately that has been rather scarce). I’m going to attach one story that I wrote – enjoy 🙂

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Next time I write, hopefully I will be safely in Des Moines, Iowa, sitting in my beautiful downtown loft (one can dream, right?)

I look forward to hearing how everything is with you.

Bon Appetit,