I started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life in sophomore year of high school, and by the time I graduated I still didn’t have a clue. So, I went out into the world and started a life for myself. I tried different things, searching for what I wanted to do and be for the rest of my life. I worked in a few different places, mostly restaurants or customer service based jobs, and I have come to the realization that I have always had the most fun working in a restaurant. This realization in conjunction with my realization that I love to cook, lead me to thinking about going back to school to become a chef. This was an idea I had toyed with many times in the past but had never had the foresight or wisdom to actually go for it. A very wise woman (my mom) once said to me “when one door closes, another door opens.” I had my old life’s door closed in my face rather hard, and effectively had nothing tying me to that old life anymore. So with my realizations of what makes me happy, and that the most fun I have had has been working in the restaurant industry, I threw caution to the wind and went to culinary school. While at first it was hard to leave all my old friends, my old life, and my family behind, I know now that I have never made a better decision in my whole life.

I like to think that I had two teachers when it came to learning to cook, before I went to school. The first is my mom, who taught me to cook with love. My mom is a vegetarian, and a “health food nut,” so she was the one who turned me on to the strange and exotic foods from around the world. I’ll admit this was not by my choice as a young child. She would always try out a new dish each night of the week. There were some successes that I still request her to make to this day, and then there were the ones that we still joke about around the dinner table. Good or bad the food always had the same thing in common, love. It didn’t matter what the dish smelled or looked liked it, was made with love and care because my mom wanted us to eat right and be healthy. She cared about the dishes we would eat as a family and I learned that when you care about whom you are cooking for the food always tastes better. While my mom may have taught me to cook with love, my dad taught me the skills behind cooking and how to pair different flavors or spices. I remember nights with my dad when we would go to the store and he would just walk in and look over everything that was out and just grab things he thought would be great together. As a small child I would always hang around the kitchen and watch him cook. It got to the point that I would ask him questions about what he was doing and why, and I learned by listening to his answers.  I learned to recognize different spices by the way they smelled or how they looked in a container, and which to add to the dish based on how it smelled or tasted. Once I was tall enough to reach the counter my parents put me to work helping them make dinner. So, even though I hadn’t had any formal schooling in the culinary arts, I was learning how to cook. It wasn’t until much later that I started working in the industry, but the seeds of my future where sown in those early days of cooking with my parents in the kitchen.

I have found that I have three very different experiences with the restaurant industry from the three very different types of restaurants I have worked in.  The first of the three was Mr. Goodcents, and it was a great steppingstone for me. Mr. Goodcents was basically a fast food restaurant that had a little bit of cooking involved. Yes, it’s just a sandwich and pasta shop, but we still had to learn about prep and dating the different sandwich toppings. When I worked for Mr. Goodcents I was able to play around and experiment with different flavors. It got to the point where the staff and I would take the bread dough and make pizzas with the different toppings we had.  With all of the different meats and cheese we had I could create something new each night I worked. I created some regulars who would come in and ask me to make them something myself as opposed to eating from the normal menu. I worked my way up to assistant night manager, and as such I was required to learn new things for the business. I would have to do end-of-month inventory and take care of the ordering. I learned what it took to have things organized so that we didn’t run out, but also not to order too much so as to not have excess waste. My second time working in a restaurant was for Outback Steakhouse. I started out just like everyone else, as a waiter. But an opportunity to work on the line presented itself and I jumped on it. This is when I really learned a kitchen and what it meant to work a line. I was the opening line cook for lunch; this meant that I had to come in each morning and set up the whole line, plus take care of any prep work that the line needed for the day. This could be anything from portioning sides, to making the sauces and spice packets for the different dishes that where served.  Out of necessity I became great at multi-tasking, and developed a great sense of timing. Both of these are skills that served me very well, and are much needed in the kitchen. Just like when I worked at Mr. Goodcents I had to prep and store the ingredients so to have as little waste as possible. As a line cook it was part of my job to open the steaks and other meats we would keep on the line and make sure the different sauces were at the proper temperature so as to stay in line with health codes and food safety regulations. Outback was the first place I worked at where I actually took pride in my work, and it was because I had sole responsibility for the line during lunch at Outback and I was good at it. My last and most current experience with the restaurant industry came when I helped open a friend of my aunt’s restaurant, The Blue Grotto.  I was involved in the construction process and once that was done I would sit around with the owner and come up with menu ideas.  It was here that I learned about menu composition and layout. Once the construction on the kitchen was done I was part of the team that was trained on all three of the openings.  The first opening was for the staff, where we cooked for the staff as a thank you for all of the hard work they had done getting the restaurant up and running.  The second opening was the big event as it was our press opening.  We had to be working at 150% that night, and I can say I have never worked harder or had more fun than in that one night.

This brings us up to the present, with me at NECI; what lies ahead for me I don’t know just yet. I do know that I have never made a better choice in my life. I will be entering in to my first internship in January of 2011, and from here this is where my past ends and my journey to the future begins. Please join me in my blog where I will be sharing my times at NECI and beyond.

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