Looking back on a year in Culinary School…

Looking back on a year in Culinary School…

WOW, 2013 – What a ride! Balancing my corporate job responsibilities and the responsibilities of being a student again, had its challenges, its highs and its low’s.

After I took the first step and enrolled into Culinary School, the universe aligned the stars for me and opportunities and offers I hadn’t even imagined, started to present themselves….

I was in turmoil at the prospect of resigning from my job.  As a company, we celebrated so many highs and overcame so many challenges together, that the few of us that remained, felt more like family than colleagues.   The turmoil was heightened by the prospect, of losing my source of income, my independence.  My husband, my real life hero, had assured me that he could support us for the duration of my studies but this amazing gesture and unquestionable support, weighed guilt heavily on my heart.  How could I accept such an offer?

Enter Universe aligning stars –  

My boss offered me a generous part time position – the last piece of the puzzle was now in place!  This turn of events, meant that I would be studying part time instead of full time which lead to Universe aligning stars again because looking back now, I do not believe I would have survived going back to ‘school’ full time…

I was 33 years old All the full time students were fresh out of high school, not taking college seriously, more interested in what the weekend plans were, this was evident on the few occasions our worlds collided.  I on the other hand, thought college was very serious.  So serious, that I had taken a pay cut to be there and was sacrificing evenings I could have been spending at home with my husband and cats (more on them later).  It had taken me my whole life to figure out what I wanted to do and now that I finally knew, I was not going to waste another second messing about.  I showed up at class to learn, if there was a test, I studied like my entire career depended on the results of this one test, I took notes in class (I will refer back to my little pink notebook till the day I die – thank you Dines & Al, best gift ever),

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I recorded demonstrations on my iPad so that I could go home and practice the technique, I took photographs of everything I cooked in class so that I could monitor my progress.

I realized quickly how much I still craved that interaction and professionalism of the corporate world and having access to it, for 5 hours a day, was a welcomed break from my life as a student.  The full time class, consisted of over 30 students with an average age of between 18 – 22.  My evening class, consisted of 5 students, myself included.  All like minded individuals, ages ranging between late twenties to early forties. All of whom had made sacrifices to be there, to follow their dream.  Yes, that was where I belonged and thank you, to the powers that be, for guiding me there.

Was Culinary School everything I thought it would be and more? NO.  Sad to say, but isn’t that the reality of life? Things are never quite as you expect them to be, are they?  Being in a mad love affair with all things culinary and now setting off on this adventure of mine, I don’t think any school could have lived up to my romantic notions of what cooking school would be like.  Having just finished reading “The sharper the knife, the less  you cry”  by Kathleen Flinn( a real life story about a woman of similar age to myself, who left her life behind in the UK and headed off to Paris to study at Le Cordon Bleu, even though she couldn’t speak French), I was very inspired …  I imagined myself in immaculate chef whites (but in truth, I looked more like Michelin Man than Top Chef), I imagined state of the art knives and gleaming equipment (what do you mean we have to whisk our meringues by hand? Where are the electric Kitchen Aids, hmmmm?), I expected French speaking chefs who were passionate about what they were teaching and who would share their best tricks of the trade with me, I imagined tables of fresh organic produce, duck breasts in abundance, mushroom truffle risotto, scallops, stocks bubbling over on the industrial sized gas hobs. I imagined myself as Julia Child, quickly rising to the top of the class and excelling at all I attempted.  But, In reality, you don’t use ‘A Grade’ ingredients, the equipment is more ‘old and slimy’ than new and shiny, I didn’t excel at every dish I made (I still haven’t mastered the art of how to tourne a vegetable butttt I will not give up!),  WE were the dishwashers and we had to sweep and mop after every lesson and scrape the leftover food out of the kitchen sink (bleh!).  We had to take the rubbish out (okay, I never had to take the rubbish out – that terrible task, at the dead of night around 11pm, down 3 dark floors of stairs, into an isolated back of building exit, fell on 1 of the only 2 boys in our class – thanks guys, forever grateful – owe you big).

The Highs? The lessons? The achievements?  Oh, so many, I will share some as we go along … for now, let’s start with these…

I can’t explain it, I just do

Chefs in Action

The day I met Gordon Ramsay

SO in summary … if you are reading this and there is a passion stirring inside of you but you are too afraid to listen to it, to dare to dream that it could become your reality … Make your first move, take that first step and I promise, the Universe will be there to align the stars for you…

The Day I Met Gordon Ramsay

The Day I Met Gordon Ramsay

Photography by Darren Bester



(And by met, I mean stalked)

Another major perk to working at the Good Food and Wine Show in 2013 was that Mr. Gordon Ramsay was the head line chef, meaning the odds of meeting him, ‘were forever in my favour’.  Especially, if like me, you made it your absolute obsession to ensure a ‘chance’ encounter with the man …

First shift – arrive and learn that I am NOT in Gordon Ramsay’s prep kitchen!  Massive blow to my fantasy of Gordon discovering my talents while tasting the veal jus I had just prepared and asking me to head up his flagship restaurant …

But alas, it was not meant to be, as I had been assigned to the ‘Real Food Theatre’ Kitchen (which if you read my blog entry Chefs in Action you will know I actually really enjoyed).

Not one to give up so quickly,  I head to Gordon’s kitchen to go and survey the scene …under the pretence of going to say “Good Morning” to my Chef Lecturer, who is running Gordon’s kitchen for the GFWS.   Managed to get an introduction to Gordon’s actual Sous Chef, a charming  chap but still no sign of Gordon.  I enquire innocently as to his ETA and learn that his first show is scheduled for 3 hours time and he will probably arrive and be in the Green room shortly before that.   ‘The Green room’ I say innocently, where exactly is this green room?  It’s pointed out to me and hope now returns.   All I have to do is be outside the green room prior to Gordon’s show and I will at least see the man up close and personal!  I rush back to my kitchen with a spring in my step to tell the chosen few the plan!

20 minutes before curtain and the chosen few and I are casually hanging outside Gordon’s prep kitchen, avoiding eye contact with our Chef Lecturer, while he and the students are frantically preparing items for the demonstration due to start.    We edge closer to the green room where we can see Eric Lanlard, the French Patisserie and Celebrity Chef, enjoying some refreshments, being served by a fellow student (how did she land that gig?!?).  It is quite obvious that we are stalking the green room now as there is nothing between us and the room, Eric Lanlard gives us a nervous smile and we were just starting to feel really awkward and considering going back to our posts when, the side door should open and in should waltz Mr. Gordon Ramsay in the flesh.  Taller than I thought, in fact he is about as tall as me, and I am pretty tall at 1.88m.  He is in good shape, wearing a t-shirt and jeans and  he is a hype of energy.  He had no choice but to stop and greet us as we were quite literally blocking his way … he shook our hands (!!!), asked how we were doing, said his token Afrikaans word … something about boerewors, had a laugh with one of the full time male students, before joining Eric in the Green Room.   Big grins on our faces, we skipped back to our kitchen – Mission Completed Houston!

Good Food and Wine Show

Eric Lanard

Eric Lanard

Gordon Ramsay

Gordon Ramsay

And the cherry on the top?  As a Thank you to all the students who volunteered their services at the Good Food & Wine Show, Gordon agreed to signing our recipe books – so I got to meet the man again, whilst he signed one of my favourite Gordon Ramsay recipe Books “Chef” (I have not yet attempted any of the recipes as they are all 3 star recipes and each recipe is about 10 pages long, but I love looking at the pictures and will get around to testing them out soon, especially now that I have a chefs qualification and all … 🙂

During the 3 day show, there had been a lot of buzz about Gordon taking a photograph with all the students on the last day, and I, of course suffering, with the most severe case of foodie fomo wanted to be front and centre for this photo op!  But as the days wore on and my feet grew more and more tired, and the calls from Hubby got louder and louder (he was packing up the entire downstairs section of our house alone, due to the renovations set to commence momentarily), I just didn’t have the power and forewent this opportunity to have a moment in time captured with Gordon.  I’ve been tempted to photo-shop myself in, anyone any good with that program?

Gordon with some of the students at the Good Food & Wine Show, 2013

Gordon with some of the students at the Good Food & Wine Show, 2013

It’s all good … Gordon and I will always have the Green Room !

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Chefs in Action at the Real Food Theatre – Good Food and Wine Show 2013

Chefs in Action at the Real Food Theatre – Good Food and Wine Show 2013

While working at the Good Food & Wine Show I had the opportunity to prep for some celebrity chefs – names which included; Australian Chef, Bill Granger, renowned South African Chef, Franck DangereuxDrizzle and Dip’s Sam Linsell and Jane – Anne Hobbs aka Scrumptious, to name but a few.  Not only did I assist with all the preparation of ingredients required for their food demonstrations but I got to assist the guests by cooking with them, whilst the demo was underway.  How it worked was, the public could purchase tickets to cook with Bill Granger or Franck Dangereuxr or whomever.  Limited tickets were available as there were only 8 work stations per demo, 2 people sharing one work station which equated to 16 people cooking with their celebrity chef or favourite cook.   Each of these groups of 2, were assigned a student (enter yours truly), to assist them and ensure that they keep up with the Chef demonstrating up front on the stage.  It was a lot of fun to be able to partake and of course to meet these well known chefs and foodies alike.

Amongst all the Chef’s and cooks I encountered over that 3 day period, I found myself most drawn to and most inspired by Jane-Anne Hobbs.  Who, until that day I had not heard of.   The immediate like to this renowned foodie started before even meeting her, whilst reading her instructions and prep notes that accompanied her recipe, while in the kitchen preparing for her demonstration.  She was so thorough in describing exactly which ingredients each of her guests would require in order to successfully follow and carry out her recipe, she was also so thorough in outlining the equipment each guest would require, and upon arrival, had even brought some of her own personal equipment just in case our kitchen was not properly stocked.  Her notes left no grey areas and I thought to myself, if I was in her position, this is exactly how I would have documented my needs too – not leaving anything to chance.   Then on reading the ingredients to the recipe – chicken, bacon, cream, mushroom, beer …. It was love at first sight, as this was my kinda cooking!

During the actual demonstration, Jane–Anne commanded the room, spoke clearly, did not rush through the recipe, ensuring all her guests where up to speed before moving on to the next step.  Whilst demonstrating she shared some valuable tips with guests, which I really value, as I really do believe that good cooking all comes down to knowing the tricks of the trade.  One such example, which she shared, and which I have used since –  Green Beans – we all know how boring and time consuming it can be to top and tail green beans right?  Well, Jane-Anne showed us how if you take a packet of Woolies (*mothership) green beans – label side facing up – push all the beans to one end of the bag, holding tight with your opposite hand onto the body of the bag and using a sharp knife in the other hand, cut through the bag and the beans and take off the top ends of all your beans in one easy swoop.  Then simply push all your beans down to the other side of the uncut bag and repeat the process and VOILA – trimmed beans in 1 minute instead of 10! She shared a number of other handy tips but the 2 guests I was assisting were keeping me so busy I couldn’t listen as intently as I wanted to (Note to self: buy tickets for the Chef’s in Action Theatre at the GF&WS this year).

I’ve been following Jane –Anne’s blog ever since and received a copy of her latest recipe book  “Scrumptious” Food for Family & Friends, in my Christmas stocking from hubby.  I’ve drooled over all the recipes and tested a few out already, all of which did not disappoint.  Included in the book is the recipe she demonstrated at the GFWS – “Chicken with Cider, Bacon and Mushroom”.   This recipe is also available on Jane-Anne’s blog.

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