Thoughts For Food

Insights into the Mind of a Culinary School Student

Great News!

Firstly, I’m sorry I missed last week’s entry. I had a job interview I had to go to, and preparing for that took up all of my time. Sorry! But, that brings me to my next point:

I received an email this morning from Honest Cooking, the company I interviewed with last week. They want me to start on March 3!

So, on March 3 I will officially be an Editorial Intern for Honest Cooking’s Alimentari Magazine (their Italian-focused magazine).

Needless to say, I am quite excited for this opportunity and thankful to have received it in the first place.

So, that means, once again, the update schedule of this blog will be changing. I am very sorry to keep changing it on you guys, but once I get settled in my new workflow, I will be bringing a steady stream of content to you all. Thank you all for sticking with me thus far! I truly appreciate it!


Food Bites: So You Want To Work In The Food Industry…

So you want to work in the Food Industry? I have two things to say to you: congratulations and good luck.

The food industry is one of the most dynamic fields to work in today. The landscape of the food industry is always changing and there are always new and wonderful opportunities for you to experience and join this great industry.

However, I do have a few words of caution for those would-be chefs who want to come into the industry, and the only experience they have is what they saw on Food Network or Travel Channel. To those people I say, for your own sanity and well-being, DON’T DO IT. At least not until you get some REAL experience. As someone who is currently getting the “Trial By Fire” treatment in the food industry, I can say with 100% accuracy that if you don’t have what it takes to make it in the food world, then either get some real, hands-on experience or don’t even bother trying.

I’m not being negative, I’m speaking the truth here. I’ve seen a good handful of people who started with me at the CIA leave and never come back, because they just couldn’t handle the kitchen life. The long hours. The back-breaking labor. The sometimes insufferable coworkers. The never-satisfied customers. The high risk of injury. These are all realities in the food/restaurant industry, and I will be the first to admit, I contemplated leaving. As much as this is my dream, I entertained the thought of walking away. But, I found my second wind. Amidst the taunting of my coworkers and the pain of the job, I found my resolve to go on. I’m still not 100% at the level of the hardened veterans that I work with, but I am getting there. I’m earning my spot through the pain and the hard work that I put in.

Again, I don’t want to sound elitist or off-putting to all you would-be chefs out there, but at the same time, I feel the need to dispel a few myths and misconceptions that you may have about the food industry. Get this into your head now if you truly do want to join this intense and dynamic industry: it’s NEVER going to be as neat, nice and easy as it is on the Food Network or the Travel Channel. The work is intense and exhausting (there’s a reason why I reach for a bottle of beer at the end of each shift). The risk for injury is sky-high. Your coworkers will berate you. Your boss will be in-your-face and at times, unforgiving. Customers will find some reason to complain about your food, no matter how much work you put into it. In all honesty, FIND SOME WAY TO DEAL WITH THOSE REALITIES. Those are aspects of the food industry that will never, ever change, and yet, those crazy few who do survive this industry, do what they do because of one very simple reason: they LOVE doing it. That is what you must have, above all else in this industry; a PASSION for food.

Find your passion and you will have a way to overcome any obstacle that the food industry may throw your way. And from the bottom of my heart, as someone who is still climbing the ladder in this industry, to those who want to start the climb themselves: I wish you the best of luck on your journey.

Food Bites: Food Writing

Taken from Google Image Search

Some time ago, I had indicated that I wanted to be a food writer. That still holds true to this day. I’m intent on becoming a food writer once I leave the CIA. However, I’ve gotten questions regarding why I would have to go to culinary school for such a career. I will say this, it’s true that I didn’t have to come here for that career, however, it does nothing to hinder my ultimate goal. In fact, it will help it in the long run.

Food journalism, and food writing in general, is a fast-growing aspect of the food industry. In fact, food journalism has taken a major upswing in recent years. What was once a small and often overlooked aspect of both the journalism field and food industry, is now a major part of modern pop culture. Magazines, newspapers, online publications and even blogs all have expanded food journalism to brand new heights. However, just because you like to cook or eat doesn’t mean you can just grab a job at the local newspaper as a freelance writer nor can you become employed at one of the many food magazines that populate the newsstands of the world’s cities. You actually need a working knowledge of the food industry, as well as a grasp of what the latest food trends are, where the hottest new restaurants are located, etc. In short: You need to know what you’re talking about. It also helps to know what, exactly, you’re getting into.

The term “Food Writing” is a broad term encompassing many different aspects of Food Journalism. Different careers in this field include; Restaurant Reviewer, Food Critic, Food Editor, Cookbook Author, Food Columnist and, most recently, Food Blogger. Critics and reviewers rely on their straight-forward and unbiased writings to critique different foods and restaurants. Editors head the whole operation. Cookbook authors take what they’ve learned and share it with a grateful public. Columnists and Bloggers are more opinion-based than reviewers and critics are, but still seek to deliver news about the food industry, restaurants, etc. Each aspect requires that you do certain amounts of work to fulfill each task. Whether it be going to eat at a newly opened restaurant or traveling abroad to sample the fare of a distant country, the assignments are always diverse and interesting. Potential employers such as newspapers, magazines and online journals and other resources, will always have a myriad of assignments and other interesting topics to write about, including interviews with chefs or other food industry “bigwigs.” As a result, it is important to exhibit good interpersonal skills, such as good listening skills, interaction with superiors and peers alike, good public speaking skills, as well as just being confident in your own speaking and writing abilities. Educational requirements for a food journalism profession include degrees in English as well as Journalism. A degree from a culinary college isn’t necessarily required, but it is encouraged by many newspapers and/or magazines, because it’s important for writers to know exactly what they’ll be writing about. Finally, the average yearly salary of food journalists in the US is around $43,000.

It’s most interesting to observe the evolution of food journalism over the years. In its earliest stage, it was nothing more than a short part of a newspaper, mostly read by housewives. Jokingly, it became known as “The Housewife’s Sport’s Page.” Today, food journalism accounts for a growing percentage of all publications across the country, encompassing countless magazines, online blogs and a growing section of newspapers across the country. This rapid expanse isn’t just limited to newsprint. With the growing popularity of shows like Iron Chef America, Top Chef and other shows like them, Networks like Bravo and the Food Network thrive on showing either a majority of, or predominantly culinary-based programming. It’s plain to see that food journalism, and food writing in particular, are on the fast-track of rapid growth. With an industry as rapidly changing as the food industry, it’s clear to see that food writers and journalists will be at a premium for some time to come.

Life In The CIA: Externship

Anton Plaza just in front of Roth Hall, the main hall of the CIA.“Externship” is a term that confuses a lot of people, both at the CIA and those who don’t go to the CIA. The one phrase I hear the most when I mention the CIA externship program is: “Is that like an internship?” Yes. Yes it is. In fact, it’s exactly like an internship, but at the same time, it is much more important than an internship.Allow me to explain.

The externship program lasts 6 months and is essentially counted as a class block, even though you’re not at school. In fact, in the extern manual the school give you, there are assignments for you to do. Yeah it’s a little annoying, but it is for your own benefit; your personal education is in your own hands, which I personally really like. Oh, and if you don’t complete the manual, you can’t graduate. Incentive! So, it’s plain to see that the assignments in the manual are indeed worth your time and effort on many levels. I personally cannot wait for my externship period to arrive (Feb. – Aug.). It’s going to be such a great experience and if you do come to the CIA, I hope your externship is exciting and productive! Now, some tips passed onto me from chefs regarding externship:

  • “Don’t go home.” Externship is supposed to prepare you for living and working on your own out in the industry, after graduation. You may think that getting an externship close to your home to save on money, gas and other travel costs. DON’T DO IT. You’ll end up spending more money at home and lose out, especially if it’s an unpaid externship.
  • “Go somewhere you’ve never been to before.” As I’ve said earlier, externship is a growing experience. No sense in staying in your comfort zone for 6 months. Honestly, it’s going to get boring for you if you do. Get out there and explore!
  • “Make plenty of connections before, during and after.” 90% of the time, your extern site will become a future employer. If that’s the case, make plenty of connections within the establishment. Get to know people. And even if you don’t end up working for your extern after graduation, it’ll still be a great contact within the industry, as well as a fantastic resume builder. Above all, it pays to make good contacts and befriend everyone you work with and work for. Which brings me to my next point…..
  • “Loose the attitude.” CIA students have an unsettling attitude when they go out on externship, and I’ve heard this from so many chefs and faculty that I’ve taken it upon myself to avoid doing this when I go out on extern. The attitude everyone’s speaking of is the cocky, know-it-all, snobby, “I’m better than you are” kind of attitude that many CIA students bring with them to extern. This kind of attitude is such a bad thing to have on extern. You’ll burn so many bridges and quickly. You’ll practically ruin any and all chances you may have to get a job with that establishment in the future. Here’s the deal: everyone does everything a little different than you’ll be taught at the CIA or any culinary college for that matter. That’s the reality of the industry. Respect those who have a successful and established business because no matter how much they differ from what you’ve been taught, DON’T SAY ANYTHING. If anything, just ask why it’s so different. Take it as a learning opportunity. DO NOT say “That’s wrong” or “That’s not what I was taught.” It’s a great way to get you fired.

I hope this advice has been helpful to you. Best of luck on your extern/job searches! And as always, post a comment or email me if you have any more questions! I’ll be doing a MWF update schedule, so I’ll see you Wednesday!