Ten years ago today, I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. A few favorite memories, a lot of them having nothing to do with classes: Getting a six-pack of delicious beer apiece, and watching Iron Chef together. The time that the boys ordered hot wings, "As hot as you can make 'em!" Turns out they can make those bastards REALLY hot. Meat classes with Chef Ligouri, one of the best inspirational speakers I've ever heard. The walk through the woods on twisting paths, across meandering steams with ruins of stone bridges and dams, to get to the grocery store, that first year without a car. A weekend trip to see King Arthur Flour company. Osaka Sushi. $5 large cheese pizzas that were the best pizzas I have ever eaten. U-pick-ing apples in the fall. Wine tasting class--who can forget getting to taste 6-12 wines every other day for a month? Chef Loibl's lumps and kirsch. Bryon dressing up as the devil for Halloween and painting 85% of his body red--and then finding red paint all over our house until we moved out. The time I went to a reggae festival down in the City and got sunburned and didn't have money for the train home and the ATM was broken, so I walked all over Harlem looking for another one while old dudes laughed at my sunburned white ass from their porches, and I got a great red velvet cupcake from a bakery and finally got on the train home, only to find I'd locked myself out of my house and had to climb the fire escape to break in. Chef LaRoux making all of the women in our class wear hairnets, including Anne, whose hair was shorter than Chef's at the time. I could go on, I'll stop here.
Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, I am still in contact with just about everybody I care to be from school. We have scattered across the country and around the world. Some of us are still cooking, some own or have owned restaurants or catering businesses, some are traveling the world cooking, some work for the Food Network and have books in the works. Some have married and have kids. Some are school teachers, some no longer work with food at all, and some still don't know what they want to be when they grow up. That would be me.
Since graduating on Winter Solstice 10 years ago, I have been a Lift Op at White Pass (2 weeks), Fellow at the CIA (3 months), Produce clerk at Rhinebeck Health Foods (6 months), Sous Chef at the Omega Institute (5 months), Lift Operations Foreman and Supervisor at Stevens Pass (5 winters), Pub Cook at Uncle Uli's (1 summer), Pantry Chef at Visconti's (1 summer), Park Aide at Lake Wenatchee (2 summers), Line Cook at Adrift (15 months! A lifetime best!), Produce clerk at Skagit Food Coop (6 months), Reiki Practitioner (intermittent), Sous Chef at the North Cascades Institute (3 years, March-ish to November-ish), Diesel Tank Cleaner (intermittent), Chef on Alaska on the Home Shore (1 trip), Bookkeeper (once a month for 3 years), Barista at the Coffee Boat (6 months), Fire Lookout at Sheep Hill (1 summer), and back to the Boat, Tanks, and Bookkeeping. Some of these jobs have been held simultaneously, or overlapped each other.
I know for a fact that I do no want to work in restaurants again, though I do know that local food and the personal relationships with farmers, fishermen and other producers make me more excited and satisfied than anything else (except being a fire lookout, and I still need a job the other 8 months of the year). Working at the North Cascades Institute, where the number of people at any given meal, what they will be eating, what time it will be served, and even what dietary restrictions they have are known in advance; while getting to cook gorgeous vegetables, fruits, chickens, fish, eggs, etc, from farmers and fishermen I know personally, was pretty close to ideal. Now I just need that sort of arrangement closer to home. We'll see what happens.
Here's to all of my classmates and friends, to our lovely and dysfunctional family that saw us through our time at the CIA: cheers.
We have nearly all agreed that we look terrible in this photo. I don't care. I love it. To the other 3/4 of our graduating class: you have been spared.
And a special nod, here, to my friend, R. Solstice Brown, who drove across the country to see me graduate on Solstice Day, and then was a spectacular roadtripping partner on our way back to WA. Thanks, yo.