Cooking School Journal: The First Class

I spent 35 minutes in front of the school, in the parking lot, with engine running.

Did I mention that I adopted a new dog? I picked him up that afternoon, and he was still “adjusting” to a new home, new dog and kids.cujojpg

So basically, it was, “Hey Mom here’s this stray and my three kids and my high-strung poodle. There’s a lasagna in the oven. Bye.”


I sat in my car thinking about how selfish I am to do this, and how tired I am. I was silently repeating my new mantra: ” Please God, don’t make me meet new friends.”

Let’s face it. I’m 33, I already have the coolest friends, and I’m too busy to make new ones. I’ve made two major moves in three years. If I have to tell “my story” to one more person, I think I might move again.

But, I decided to persevere. I gingerly grabbed one Listerine breath strip and tucked it in my mouth. (I remember my friend Tim noting  how awful it is to accidentally slide six breath strips instead of one from the container, and stick them on your tongue, only to helplessly stand there in agony as the inside of your mouth disintegrates.) Then I gently sprayed Tiffany perfume on me.

All of this was in a futile attempt to mask the odor of the Hebrew National 97% Reduced Fat Hot Dog I ate on the Low Cal bun. And the slice of Kraft 2% American cheese that I had draped over the limp and oddly-colored dog. Definitely a dinner worthy of an aspiring chef. Don’t you think?

I marched into class, confidently pulled out my latest and greatest Visa and spent the money I was going to use for new windows on the tuition instead.  I walked into the class and surveyed the scene.

On the right side of the room,  four lovely women were taking their seats.  They introduced themselves to each other,  instantly engaged in charming stories of self-disclosure and were genuinely giddy.

I chose the seat on the far left side of the room.

Three seats down sat a man in his mid-forties. My only thought being, “He’ll never talk to me.”

Plus we all know what  the first day of any class is like. The teacher introduces him/herself and writes their name on the board.  Then he immediately turns to the closest person on the right side of the room and says, “Okay. I’ve told you something about myself. Now I want to hear from you. Ummm. Let’s start with you, Juan-Miguel. Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you are interested in the Feminist Interpretations of Elizabethan Art.”

So anyway, the teacher (whom everyone seems to be calling “Chef”) walked in. She was a petite woman, but carried herself with tremendous authority. She definitely had a do-not-mess-with-me attitude, but a soft buttery voice. She began her lecture as three TA’s busily buzzed around in their chef’s coats prepping and chopping.

They were getting everything  “mise en place”  [MEEZ ahn plahs]. This is the culinary term for  having all the ingredients necessary for a dish prepared and ready to combine– up to the point of cooking. And apparently it’s super important.

Chef explained that she was trained at a very high-end restaurant in L.A. after obtaining a B.S. in Food Science, and she is still good friends with Wolfgang Puck (like, who isn’t in this town). wolfgang_puckjpg-wolfgang-upchuck-image-by-nipplequeenShe’s now a 26-year veteran of the food industry.

We are lucky, she added. Our class (of six) is very small against the average size of 15-20. The good news is that we will have the opportunity to be more hands-on. The bad news is that we will be much more hands-on.

Then she ended that lovely introduction and said, “So that’s enough about me. Tell me about who you are, your experience in the food industry and your aspirations in the food industry. Let’s start with…ummm. Jules! Tell us.”

What?!?! Can’t she see that I’m on the left side of the room?! She’s not supposed to start with me! I’m not prepared at all.

“Well, uh, I’ve spent the last seven to ten years raising my children and I am, uh, beginning to prepare myself for re-entry into the working world. Cooking is my hobby and a true passion, so I want to enter into the food industry in some capacity, but I’m not sure how. (At this point I’m completely babbling.)  My background is in journalism, so I’m thinking I might even be interested in doing some food writing.” (I am?)

“Oh! Who are your favorite food writers?” she asked excitedly.

Like a deer in headlights I stared blankly back at her. Now she’s asking follow-up questions? Geez! The only food writer that I could think of on the spot was M.F.K. Fisher. What a cop out!  That’s like telling your professor that your favorite American novelist of the 20th century is F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s too easy!

“Uhhh. I read Bon Appetit,” I replied lamely.

Chef obviously sensed my pain and tried to help.

“Do you read Jeffrey Steingartner?”

“Uhhh. The name rings a bell.” I replied meekly.

“Oh, of course there is Ruth Reichl,” she replied.

Oh Yeah. Ruth Reichl. She’s the editor of Gourmet or something. Isn’t she the woman that my friend Ellen dumped won ton soup all over,  in an informational interview her dad had arranged?

Those were the only thoughts dancing on my brain.

Chef looked blankly at me looking blankly at her. “Well, you at least know of M.F.K. Fisher? Right?”

It was going to be a long night.