December 2009


It’s always with great anticipation (not to mention blind ambition) that I begin my holiday baking and homemade gift preparation. This year, I started about 3 weeks ago.  I’ve had 2 weekend marathon baking sessions, and then just puttered along during weeknights – a batch of cookie dough one day, a little supplies shopping another, and on more days than there should be – nothing. As usual, I didn’t pace myself so well.

Just moments ago, I nearly had a melt-down.  I spent an hour making pomegranate jelly this morning.  I had to head out during the afternoon on the hunt for supplies (largely a complete waste of time, as I didn’t find much), and when I returned, I noticed that the jelly didn’t set at all! Damnit!  It’s salvageable, but the process is putzy as hell, and I have to buy more canning lids so I can reseal it in my boiling water canner.  

Then I made my PB balls, which everyone loves, but I added rice crispies to the filling.  I swear Randy told me he had a treat similar to my PB balls, but they had the crispies, and he said he loved them.  I mentioned this to him after I was finished making them, and he denies ever telling me any such thing.  And, of course, the PB balls are not as good with rice crispies.  Damnit!

Same PB balls are dipped in melted chocolate. I thought I would try to temper the chocolate this year to get a pretty glossy finish on my balls (first time ever tempering!).  It seemed to be successful, but as the chocolate set, I noticed the dullness and streaks appearing on some of them.  I got the bit of snap on the chocolate, but no gloss.  Damnit!

All that time, when I could have been making some tried and true cookie recipes, gone. And I have to work Tuesday and Wednesday this week, so not much time to recover. Ugh.

Now I’m beginning to anticipate a Christmas with only half a cookie tray finished; a freezer packed with unbaked cookie dough; pr0mises to friends that their gifts will come in the new year, rather than at Christmas time; and worst of all, subpar results due to lack of time and attention.

But instead of going through with the meltdown, I walked away from the kitchen, poured myself a nice glass of red wine, and sat down to write.  I’m going to embark on an excellent adventure to culinary school. Things could definitely be worse.

Tomorrow, I’m eagerly anticipating my tour of Kendall College in Chicago – the other institution I’m considering attending to learn the art and science of cooking.  It’s not the best time of the year to tour since classes are finished for the term, but at the time I scheduled, I was still looking at a possible start date of January.  Now, I’m aiming to start 2nd quarter of the year.  I’m OK with that, as long as I keep making progress in the right direction.

And if I have to visit Kendall again, will that be so bad? NAH!

I attended the open house for the IL Institute of Arts on Wabash St. in downtown Chicago on Saturday. Fun stuff.

We started out in their Backyard Bistro.  The Bistro is a working restaurant on campus. Advanced students can work there and get experience working and cooking in a real restaurant. The bonus of going to a culinary school open house is the eating. In the bistro, they had a buffet of breakfast pastry and chocolate truffles for us to sample. In addition, students and a couple of instructors were circulating the room with savory hot appetizers like spanakopita, meatballs, bison burgers, and arancini (cheese-stuffed fried risotto balls).  I didn’t partake of the breakfast pastry and chocolate, but did try a couple of the hot appetizers which were outstanding.

I’m happy to report I was not the only “old” person in the room.  While the majority of prospective students were HS seniors, there were a handful of career changers like myself.

The Dean of admissions gave a welcome and a short overview of the school, we were introduced to a few students from the school, and we were invited to ask questions.

Then we were shuffled into the Bistro kitchen, where a couple of students were preparing their “competition” recipes. If they win their competition, they win $20,000, a nice chunk of cash. One of the students served a spicy lamb with rice cake and chinese sweet squash. The other student served spiced flank steak with a fried oyster over southern greens and dirty rice. My vote went to the southern inspired dish – delish! I asked the one of the students in that kitchen about class schedules, and if they worked while attending school.

She told me that she works two jobs – in a bakery in the morning and a restaurant in the evening. She attends school in the afternoon. So essentially she has no life, but clearly working is possible while attending this school.

Their kitchen classes meet 2x/week for 5 hours, which makes the school attractive to career changers and others who need to work while attending. Turns out a good portion of their student body is “nontraditional.”  I do wonder if the curriculum is compressed and some instruction is left out because of needing to meet those scheduling needs. Of course, I asked that question, and of course, they said the only areas that they cover less is in the traditional general education courses (which I already had in my undergrad studies).

The open house continued with a couple more kitchen visits and tastings and ended in a classroom where we had the pleasure of hearing from another chef instructor and some other helpful admissions staff who were able to answer all of my questions.

I took an immediate liking to the chef instructor who spent  some time with us in the classroom – a natural teacher and engaging guy. “What is cooking,” he asked the class?  Silence. . . Then someone took a stab at an answer, “preparing food that people can eat” . . . “Good start,” says the instructor.  “Cooking is a chemical change.”  Of course, we all nodded, we knew that.

“What is eating?!”  he asked.  He grabs his round belly, and says, “THIS  is eating.”  Laughter. Then, “What is tasting?”  he asked.  Silence again . . . “Popcorn” he says. “Can’t you taste the butter, the salt? Can you smell it? All you need now is the movie.”  He demonstrated – without any props – – that we know what popcorn tastes like, we can imagine it and our senses come to life. “But can you do the same thing with thyme, chervil, oregano?”  In culinary school we will do a lot of tasting, and learn how to identify, create, and match flavor profiles.

Essentially, this instructor made us excited about learning more. That was probably the highlight of the experience.

I have to admit, he also made us “old” folk feel comfortable.  He looked right at me at one point during his talk, and said, “it doesn’t matter how old you are,” and he went on to describe his own educational journey, which he started later in his life. He’s getting up there in years, and he’s just now finishing up his doctoral dissertation.   Inspiring.

I got a good vibe from the school, but my research is not done yet.  Next stop:  Kendall.

Hi, I’m Kris.  I love to eat and to cook good food.   That’s me in the photo (middle) with my family (except for my husband Randy, who was taking the photo) doing one of the things I love to do best:  eating and drinking with them.  In this photo, we were in Vienna, Austria; the place was hot as hell; the beer was cold and refreshing; and the food was the best we had had our entire trip. But already I digress.

I decided to give this blogging thing a whirl, because I’m about to do something I never thought I would.  I’m going to culinary school.  And at the very least, I’m going to have fun documenting the adventure.

I’m really no different than any other foodie out there who dreams of going to culinary school. In fact, a lot of those foodies are probably a heck of a lot more talented at this cooking thing than I am.  But I love eating. I love reading cookbooks and food mags (Fine Cooking, Bon  Appetit, Rick Bayless, Alice Waters, to name a few). I really enjoy cooking, especially when I can take my time. And I get a kick out of making stuff for friends. Isn’t that enough?

How it started…

A few months ago, I saw an article in one of those stupid freebie mags that get delivered to condo residents. It was about a woman who became a personal chef, mid-career. That’s what started the wheels turning in my mind. “I could do that,” I thought.

Fast forward a few months. I was (am) miserable in my job.  I was having a conversation with my friend Marci, who noticed my apathy about every career direction that we discussed. Finally, she asked me, “Kris, what do you really want to do?”  I joked that I wanted to go to culinary school and start some sort of business around food. Well, Marci didn’t laugh at my “joke.” For the next 45 minutes, maybe an hour, she busted my chops while I came up with all kinds of excuses about why I shouldn’t give up my money, time and security to do something silly like go to culinary school. After awhile, I had no more excuses.  Marci talked me into taking the plunge.

Marci, and other friends since then, have helped me realize that I can think of nothing else at this stage of my life that I would rather do than go to culinary school and try to cobble together a career centered around great food.  Also, I’m going because I can.  I’ve made good money in a very stable job that is now unsatisfying, my husband is gainfully employed and extremely

supportive, and we have no children. We have a dog (Gunter – a rottie), but no kids.  I have the means to do this, so I’m doing it.

our rottie, Gunter

Tomorrow, the adventure begins – sort of.  I’m in Milwaukee, and have a few options for a culinary education.  The technical college here in my good city has a great program, but I’m uncertain if I could continue to work if I enroll.  I’m hoping to find a program that has evening courses, so that I can at least work part time.

There are a couple of colleges in Chicago, and one of them is having an open house tomorrow.  I will go, and hopefully NOT be surrounded by a bunch of teenagers (when I RSVP’d online, the form asked, “what year did you graduate from high school?”  Made me feel ancient. I’m 35.).

I’m excited. I’m a little apprehensive. But mostly, I’m hopeful.

Here’s to a little learnin’ and lots of good eatin’.