World Chefs: learning the ropes at top U.S. chef school
Jul 19, 2011, 5:31 a.m.
By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Like many people who love to cook, Jonathan Dixon had long dreamed of going to culinary school for training. Unlike many, he actually did it.
"Beaten, Seared and Sauced" is the story of his two years at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and how he went from a passionate, but far from professional cook, to working as an intern in a noted New York restaurant and, finally, to graduation and a foray into cooking for private clients.
In between came intensive training in knife skills, fish identification, classic cooking techniques like sauteing, and mad dashes through regional cuisines including Asian.
Older than most of his classmates from the start at age 38, Dixon spoke with Reuters about his immersion in cooking, what he learned about food, and what he learned about himself.
Q: You've been away from the experience for about a year, how do you view it now?
A: "I remember my father telling me about losing people when they died, how you forget all the bad stuff, and then it's just the good memories. School is a little bit like that. I look back on it now with a pretty rosy view, but at the time ... that's one reason I'm glad I was writing the book as I went, because there were warts and there were some really, really rough periods. It might be harder, looking back now, to get the nuances of the more negative stuff.
"I look back on the experience as this incredibly intense two years. It just never let up. You never got a break, there wasn't spring break, there wasn't a big semester break around Christmas, you just kept going and going and going."
Q: What were the highs and the lows of training?
A: "The high point and the low points are connected, in a way. The high point is that you're forced to perform, and you're forced to perform at a certain level, otherwise you fail. The low point, which is directly related to that, were all the rules and regulations you had to follow, the constant discipline."
Q: What did you take away from your time there?
A: "It's done before you think it is. It's never as hard as you think it is. Basically, I learned that you can actually really accomplish stuff. Eventually you wound up cooking for the other students, and it's not the high-pressure environment that working in a restaurant is obviously, but you still had the mindset that you needed to get something done at a certain time. And no one held your hand, nobody walked you through it in a nice, gentle kind of way. You got tossed in the pool. It was amazing to realize what you were actually capable of doing."
Q: Name one really good memory and one really bad memory.
A: "The first good memory that came to mind was from the fish class. The fish class started at 4:30 in the morning, which meant that I had to be up at 2:00 in the morning, which isn't that far after I actually go to sleep usually. I have to be up at 2:00, on the road, with my head just absolutely pounding with caffeine and exhaustion, get to school, learn how to cut up fish, identify fish, and then sit through three hours of lecture about ... fish.