Chef’s Training Program (CTP) 183 started last Tuesday. I peeked into the kitchen where they were having their orientation and just imagined all of the phone calls, emails, luggage and baggage that it took to get them into that classroom in the Flatiron District, in Manhattan, in New York, in the United States.
Culinary school starts way before you show up at the front door. You don’t choose to go to culinary school the same way you decide to go to a university. Some individuals attend a university because you figure that you’ll take a couple, four or five years to find a program that both compels you and in which you show a modest proficiency. You choose to attend culinary school because you realized somewhere along that way that you are way more excited about cooking, learning, shopping and talking about food than anyone else around you. You may have found that your friends and family support your culinary school decision if only to ease the responsibility of trying to support your incessant food curiosities all by themselves.
And so the search for an appropriate school begins. You have to decide what it is about food that is most important to you. Many of the students at the Natural Gourmet Institute (NGI) are bonded by their interest in food as it relates to different aspects of health. NGI is the best health-supportive culinary program that you’ll find.
I moved from Santa Monica to Manhattan via Berkeley. Clinging to the West Coast, I had enrolled in a different health-supportive culinary program. I stayed for a week and during that time the Facebook and Twitter updates from NGI taunted me. Thus began the push to get to NYC.
I needed to apply to NGI, to start looking for a place to sleep once I got there and a financial institution that would support my educational pursuits even though it is a struggle to get financial support for anything these days. I called NGI in the off-chance that I could get into the upcoming full-time CTP program. Not only was it full but there was already a waiting list of approved applicants. I decided to throw myself into my application and hope to get into the next round.
In comparison to my international classmates, I am quite lucky. I didn’t have to wait up until all hours in order to make a phone call to a place in the eastern time zone. I didn’t have to sweat over writing an essay in my second or third language and I certainly didn’t have to apply for a visa. At this point, all that I had to do was find a place to stay.
The school provided a list of possibilities in the acceptance package (among them was a room with no kitchen!) but my husband happens to be deeply affected by his surroundings and needed to find the perfect place. And we did. Craigslist answered yet another expression of intention and within two weeks we had found a couple with a place within a 12 minute walk from NGI who wanted to swap apartments and try out life in Santa Monica.
Not all of my classmates were so lucky. One of my classmates has a family of five in Maryland. Not only does she take the bus into and out of the city each weekend, but her city digs are in the Bronx. Five days a week she commutes and hour and a half to school and back. (Update: she just relocated to Park Slope!) Another one of my classmates lives in the room with no kitchen. One moved here from Korea, another from the Philippines. One American has lived in France for four years and moved back to the States to attend this program. Another just spent two years living throughout Europe. And another moved here from Canada. Careers have been abandoned and spouses and partners have been left while their significant others answer the siren song of stainless steel appliances and ten burner stoves.
So what I saw in K1, the kitchen where your culinary education starts, was more than a group of aspiring chefs who would move mountains to achieve their goals. I saw sixteen individual trips to the uniform store and sixteen different expressions in the mirror the first time they saw themselves in chef’s whites. There are sixteen different commutes to classes and dozens of moving boxes. Although the program has a reputation for being intense, it may be nothing compared to the efforts of some just to get here.