Educational Adventures, Foodie Travel, Going Solo, Travel Narrative

Culinary Institute Life Lessons: Following with Fidelity


Welcome to post two in my likely five-part series Culinary Institute Life Lessons.  These posts cover all of the things I learned during my time attending a Culinary Institute of America Boot Camp.  And when I say all of the things, I mean all of the things.  I learned a great deal about both cooking and about life, and I’ve returned home a changed person, both in and out of the kitchen.  

CIA Life Lessons Episode Two: Following with Fidelity

Your days at a CIA Boot Camp follow a predictable rhythm.  First, you attend a lecture.  Because I attended a ‘Best of The CIA’ Boot Camp, each day’s lecture highlighted the characteristics and cooking techniques of a different type of cuisine (Italian, Asian, Breads and pastries, and French/American bistro fare). Then, you review your menu assignments.  Each group of sixteen participants is broken up into four groups of four, and each group is responsible for preparing a full menu for that night’s dinner.

While each person in the group helped out on at least some aspect of each dish, because there were four dishes and four people, one person always ended up mostly-responsible for one specific dish.  On my first day at the CIA, that dish was sautéed greens.

And I was all like:  Whatever.  I know how to make greens.  I make them all the time at home.

But I was committed to doing it the right way.  After all, that’s why I came to the Culinary Institute.  So I followed the recipe step by step, which is not something I do at home very often.  Ok fine—not ever.  And I discovered something: following a recipe with fidelity is hard.  First you have to strip the kale.  Then you have to boil it for one minute.  This seems insignificant, which is why I don’t do it at home (well, that and it takes extra time and requires an extra bowl).  Then you have to plunge it into an ice bath (there’s the extra bowl), drain it, and chop it.  And you’ve only just begun.

But do you know what?  That kale was far better than the greens I make at home—better in texture, in color, and (most importantly) in flavor.  Having realized this, I now have the confidence and patience to go through steps that seem superfluous even when ‘just’ cooking at home.  Because that’s what good cooking is, right?  Attention to detail, committing to the proper technique, and taking the time to do it the right way.

Annoyingly, I think that’s what good living is, too.  There’s that saying—anything worth doing is worth doing right.  But come on, who has the time to do something right?  I’m beginning to believe that I need to find that time.  Because now that I know how kale is supposed to taste, there’s really no going back.

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