Nicole Croes is a member of Chef’s Training Program class 178, which began seven months ago. As CTP 178 approaches the end of their program, they are in the process of planning their 3-course Friday Night Dinner for 100 guests – the final project for every graduating class. Nicole will be blogging the entire Friday Night Dinner process in installments here on Blanched and Shocked . . .
The story before the story
I’d never heard of the Natural Gourmet before randomly stumbling upon the website one lazy afternoon at work. I’d been cuing in on search words, such as “healthy”, “organic” and “natural”, hoping to find a restaurant that possessed at least some of those qualities, when I came across the school’s link. With growing interest and eagerness, I excitedly clicked around, reading up on everything from Chef’s Training and In the News to the Friday Night Dinner program. I was thrilled to say the least. A dining experience that provided an all-natural, nutrient-packed meal was a rare find in a world dominated by food trends, glitzy packages and mass production.
My husband Josh, the meat-and-potatoes eater of the family, was reasonably skeptical but agreed to give vegan a chance. He’d become increasingly used to my culinary adventures, and although this was a bit of a stretch, he was kind enough to oblige my request. Admittedly, even I, the epi“curious” one, was slightly apprehensive at the prospect of eating what was advertised as a “plant-based” meal. To my carnivorous ears, it just sounded so… extreme! But then I thought, hey, if I could jump out of a plane at 10,000 ft., I could surely survive one dinner. So with little more than an address and a bottle of red wine, we ventured out to the Natural Gourmet.
Four courses later (there were four back then) and I was hooked. In just two short hours I’d gone from vegan virgin to vegan lover, delighted by the fact that you can have your eggless cake and enjoy it, too. After a satisfying meal, I settled into my folding chair, belly full of happiness, and listened as the evening’s host spoke passionately about The Chef’s Training Program and introduced the group of talented students who’d created the feast I’d just devoured. He regaled us with inspirational tales of what the future held for these students with their unique training and obvious skills, and as he spoke, I knew that I wanted to be part of it.
I‘d always had an interest in nutrition, but couldn’t believe there was an entire school devoted to the mission. Something inside of me sparked and right then and there, as our desserts were being cleared, I made the ultimate promise. I leaned close to my husband and whispered, “I’m going to go here someday.” I don’t think he knew what to make of that comment and I couldn’t blame him. Mere hours had passed and his wife was already looking to make a career change in the direction of vegan cookery after her very first meal. Agreeably, my decision seemed random and maybe even rash, but it felt right.
Flash forward two years and I’m proud to say that I’m seven months into the part-time program and I love it. And I know I love it because even though I’ve had to fry croquettes at 10am on a Saturday morning, sample a buffet of seitan preparations and practice chopping until my fingers bled, I’ve never been happier. I’ve discovered that there’s no place more exciting than a kitchen, and nothing more significant (and fundamental) than using a kitchen to heal. I’m grateful every day that I found the Natural Gourmet website and set into motion something more magical than I could have ever imagined. Not only am I gaining the knowledge I need to succeed, but I am also fortunate to have met some of the most spectacular people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing and learning from.
As I now begin the process of planning a Friday Night Dinner with four fabulous classmates, I can’t help but wonder if we’ll inadvertently inspire future CTP students as I’d been inspired that night. If so, then perhaps it can be said that our task at hand represents more than just a grade or a good meal, but rather our first opportunity to truly make a difference with our new-found skills.
I guess we’ll see what the future will bring, while for now, it’s time to for us to begin the planning process. But, um, where do we begin?