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I don't think I mentioned it here before, for a variety of reasons, not least of which being I wasn't sure this was something I really wanted to do. But after much thought, debate and paperwork, I enrolled in the Art Institute of Washington's culinary degree program. Tonight (they're night sessions) was my first class, and I'm exhausted.
A few thoughts on the classes and my decisions...
I wanted to try something new. I've had an interest in, and passion for, food for some time now, and somehow I got it into my head that this was the logical next step. That's ludicrous, of course. The next logical step would have been some books, or weekend classes, or something. Speaking as someone who has never really thought much about professional cooking, enrolling in a professional class was a bit of a leap.
There was and is, however, some logic to it. Or if not logic, some rationale. I wanted to do something different, yes, but I also wanted to do something hard. Something physical. Something difficult. Something which would be challenging in a completely new way, and which would apply to my life in completely new ways. Something, frankly, where it was quite possible I would not succeed.
Whether that makes a lot of sense or not, I'm not sure. It may not make complete sense to me. But it is what it is. I wanted to learn something new, be in a new environment, deal with something tactile.
It seems silly to say "the first day wasn't what I was expecting." Having never really seen a culinary class in action, I had nothing to base an expectation on. And yet somehow, this wasn't quite what I was expecting.
My first impression was that it was far more military than I would have thought. Now, granted, that's an ignorant statement since I've spent as much time in the military as I had in culinary classes before tonight. But tonight's class had that vague feeling of what I think the military might feel like, minus the possibility of being shot at.
If nothing else, everyone was dressed in the same uniform. (And yes, there's a big floppy hat involved, though that part is decidedly un-military.)
The second thing that struck me was how varied the students were. In some ways, this was a complete relief. Truth be told, the last three offices I've worked in have been strikingly lacking in minorities (in many ways). Which, in an amazing place like D.C., is strange. (I think this is largely because of the industries I worked in — energy is traditionally old, white and male, to be blunt. This is no reflection on the companies I worked for, but rather the applicants for the jobs.)
Class tonight was a pretty varied bunch in terms of ethnicity, age and background. Maybe this seems silly to say, but it was a relief.
(Perhaps I'm over-sensitive, but I feel like it's difficult to make comments like these without potentially offending someone. That's the Southerner in me. So, if I tread to lightly, I'm sorry.)
What I mean is, it's a relief to meet new people. And I mean "new" in so many ways. There are people who have worked in the food service industry for years, and complete beginners. There is a guy changing careers from investment banking. There are people who look 35 or 40 years-old, and people who look about 18 years-old. And somehow we all ended up in the same class.
One final observation: I'm exhausted. I got up early for an education conference, then went into the office, and afterwards went straight to class. And now I have the oddest "homework" ever. (That word being in quotes because, with me less than a month shy of my 30th birthday, it feels vaguely silly. But again, it is what it is.)
So I came home exhausted, and went to the kitchen. I hadn't eaten in hours, and I grabbed the only thing in the fridge: chicken I grilled last week, and cold asparagus. I ate standing up at the counter, eating right out of the aluminum foil I had wrapped it in. No knife, no fork, and the cooking textbook on the floor behind me.
-- Robert Walton