A Young Chef’s Story

Everyone Starts Somewhere

Imagine moving around every three years – the schools, friends, the new houses, the list goes on. Until one day it finally does – retirement day. That is the life of a military brat. It is not always easy for the kids; some act out. Or others, they view it as an adventure with a new one every few years. Each kid experiences it differently and for different amounts of time. For eighteen years, Adam went through just this. Not every new adventure was necessarily a positive one. During the latter years of being an active military kid he became bored in school, “My grades dropped and I almost failed out.”  When a person reaches a point similar to this in his or her life, there is a choice to be made. Either he / she can do something to turn their life around or they can let it go and things can become unpredictably more difficult. Adam explains that over time he “fell off track to go to real college. One of the things I still enjoyed was cooking.” This was a turning point for Adam, he realized his chances of going to an academic college were slim and he needed to find another avenue to continue down. The look in his eyes changed – they grew softer and brighter at the same time. “It was an expression of creativity I had never tried.”

The key to turning the series of events around is time. How much time is spent telling themselves they are going to do something and how long the change lasts? Adam maintained this aspect with grace, though his grades were not where they needed to be, he recognized this with enough time to turn things around. “Halfway through sophomore year I realized culinary school was an option.” The next key to a journey like his is a support system, which in high school includes family, friends, and school counselors. However, he did not have the complete support he could have had. “My counselor tried to change my mind and made everything worse bust I was determined.” The final key to making a successful change is to maintain focus and remain determined

cia

The Culinary Institute of America

Source: http://eater.com/

 

The Journey Begins

When his family moved to New Jersey, Adam applied to the Culinary Institute of America. This was the one and only school to which he applied. As a student who still remembers what the college application process was like, though I applied to an academic college, this surprised me. I thought to myself, “Wow that is a gutsy move.” I had to know if he felt the same way and so asked, “Were you nervous while you waited for a response from the school?” A smirk formed around his mouth and I could almost hear his response before he spoke a word. “Wouldn’t you be nervous if you applied to the number one school in the world for your major?” We both laughed a bit, “Okay, so maybe that was a silly question to ask.” The look on his face said it all – it said, ‘Of course, that was’. I replied, “Okay so maybe I would be really nervous if I were you.”

Piping       Chicken

Adam piping desserts                                               Creation prepared by Adam

Source: Adam

 He received his acceptance letter and soon he would be learning from some of the best in the industry. At a school like that it is easy to come away with a countless number of lessons and experiences that add to a chef’s arsenal. Combine these with a good set of instincts and you have the makings of a great chef. So what is it that one takes away from years of schooling that is deemed most important? This was the next question I asked. In this moment, the mood changed. The smirk was gone. His eyes looked off into the distance as if recalling an enchanting memory. A slow smile appeared as Adam took a deep break and let it all go. “That’s a really tough question. Anyone can cook. Anyone can surround themselves with great food and products. But to be a chef and to be in this industry it takes a certain mindset.” Breathe. “One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that if you thing you have done your best, get out. There’s got to be a passion to constantly improve.” The way he spoke with such conviction made me smile to myself. As he continued, hands moving, eyes glinting, speaking with haste, it gave me hope. Hope that every person with his passion maintains that enthusiasm and can make a change in the world one step at a time. In his case, with a surplus of focus he came to a place he enjoys. He went on to work at Persimmon’s Restaurant over the course of his summer vacation between years at CIA.

persimmons 1                           persimmons 2

Persimmons Restaurant New Bern , NC

Source: tripadvisor.com

 

 The Importance of Quality Foods

While gaining experience working outside of the school, one idea became clear to Adam, “Everyone should know where their food comes from.” As of late, today’s media has put an emphasis on knowing just this. There are major health consequences that can arise as a result of poor nutrition, which comes from poor quality food products. Over the last decade, the consumption of fast foods has increased and as direct result, the demand has followed suite. To compensate for the demand, portion sizes have been augmented and prices have remained relatively low. However, the price that is paid by each individual is much greater. The high amounts of fat, sodium, and cholesterol found in fast foods, when consumed in high volume, can increase the occurrence of heart disease and obesity. With this in mind I was curious if a trained chef, someone who knows enough about foods to know good from bad, indulged like the rest of us. “I have terrible habits for fast foods, but I’ve always known where my food comes from.”

 

Finding Good Products

So what can we do to learn more about where our foods come from? When asked if he had any recommendations to offer, Adam simply replied, “Visit a farm or a farmer’s market.” When asked for further clarification he stated to do so in order to “Get a look at the foods you have to choose rom so you can not only learn about them but you can appreciate your food.” Visiting those who deals directly with food also give you a chance to talk to the farmers and gain more knowledge. It goes without saying there is a good chance how a chef views food is different than how someone who is not a chef views food.  When his family retired to North Carolina, one of the things that Adam did was look into local product supply stores. After some time, he found stores, farmer’s markets, and fish markets that sold quality foods. Though not all of the best stores were exactly nearby, “the drive is worth the quality” he said.

I expanded further on this idea and asked what Adam looks for when assessing the quality of food both as a chef and as a consumer. “When I’m working and see product come in, it really just comes down to experience. Assessing the color, texture, smell, taste and if there is any bruising [is important].” His expression lit up as the idea came to mind as he explained, “Some products taste better or have other uses if they are a little older. Over ripe bananas make the best banana cream pie or banana bread.” I smiled as the thought of a slice of warm, buttered banana bread filled my mind – I could almost taste it. He continued, “A lot of it comes down to experience, you have to know what it is supposed to look and taste like.” A chef’s ingredients are like an artist’s supplies – selection is the key start to a good project. Once the ingredients are chosen, the work begins. Similar to selecting the products, “creating a dish is done based on knowing what the end result is supposed to look, taste, and smell like. The color and texture is important as well.” Cooking is an art form, one which allows for endless possible outcomes. When working at a restaurant like Persimmon’s, presentation is key as the appearance and taste are equally important.  He carries what he learned at school over to his cooking at work and at home as well as his experience while eating out. “When I’m eating in a restaurant and a plate is put in front of me the first things I critique are color and smell. A lot of times poor quality food may be covered up through sauces or flipped upside down.”

soup

Beef and Vegetable Soup

Source: Adam

Knowing how to assess the quality of food helps to better determine the source of the food. Granted preparation may cause someone to be misled, it is the best one can do while eating out.  The better the quality, the more likely the food is to be from a good source. This increases the likelihood of nutritional meals being prepared and served.  We need to take the time to learn where our food comes from; talk to your local farmers and grocers. This will help better understand what we are fueling our bodies with and what the consequences are. More likely than not, choices like these could better quality of life in many people.  As I put my pen and notepad away, I thanked Adam for his time and what he offered. The smile on his face and the look in his eyes was all I needed. He was happy to pass onto me and anyone who reads this his thoughts so that maybe others will become more interested.

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