That’s pretty much the cleaned up version my dad said to me when I told him I wanted to go the CIA — the Culinary Institute of America. Ok I didn’t know how to boil water and yes I’m ashamed to say I never learned from my parents who were AMAZING cooks! So you would say along with dad, “you want to do what?” Let’s back track a bit — I went to a fancy private school in New York City, Horace Mann — which also happened to graduate a famous chef named Alex Guarnaschelli; then went to college in Boston at Brandeis University where I was graduated with a degree in Political Science and a minor in Philosophy. Not natural feeder schools (pardon the pun) for the CIA. Most of my friends went on to be lawyers and doctors and I wanted to go where? The CIA and become a chef; not a usual path for a Jewish girl from NY, we make reservations right?
I originally wanted to go to school in Switzerland, L’Ecole Hotelier in Lausanne, the premier school for hotel management — I wanted to be the next Leona Helmsley you see lol. So dad asked his friend Paul Kovi of the Four Seasons and Joe Baum to write a recommendation for me, because the only way to get in there was to have famous restaurant friends recommend you to the admissions board. First problem was that everyone had this advantage; problem the waiting list was super long; problem I was female; problem I was American and final problem I’d be almost too old by the time I got into the school – there was an age limit. Solution — go to the CIA first then Cornell after. So dad once again called in a favor and since he was a fellow and knew the president very well, they gave me a shot and I went off to become a chef.
On your first day you get your chef’s coat, stunning checkered pants, steel toed shoes and a chef’s hat and neckerchief. All had to be worn perfectly each day or you risked getting kicked out of class. Next they give you knives. A whole set of chef’s knives in all kinds of shapes and sizes. So I walk into class, knives in hand, crisp chefs coat on, itchy pants and really uncomfortable shoes and my Rolex which I always wore. First day I now become Rolex girl — so immediately I ditch that, get the standard Swatch worn through the button hole on my coat and try to blend in. Only problem here is that unlike all the others I couldn’t cook! Next I became known as band aid girl. I think at one point during the first week of classes I had a band aid on every single finger!
I think I worked harder here than ever in my life. This place taught me that I could do anything I wanted if I really put myself into it. And yes at times I was actually into it! Being a bit vertically challenged, that’s the PC way of saying short, I would often be coated in food. Kitchens are really made for tall people! I never backed down from a task, even when my partner got thrown out of the kitchen when we were on the busiest station. My classmates all rallied around and helped and I finished the sautee station in the “E-Room” our nickname for the Escoffier Room.
One day while in the wines class I had an epiphany and realized that I was meant to go into the wine business just like my dad. I no longer wanted to go to hotel school and really wanted to follow in dad’s footsteps. Once again “you want to do what” came out of his mouth. I had always told him that I would never do what he did and now look at me! Now flash forward to graduation. I accomplished all the tasks and classes at the CIA, escaped with minor burns and cuts and gained a full sense of what I can do if I put my mind to it. My amazing grandmother came to see me get my diploma. One of the pre-celebration highlights was taking her to the baking kitchen to see how they made the bread which she couldn’t stop eating. She was in awe and couldn’t believe how perfect each roll was. Grandma I said, they use a recipe, everything is exact and precise. She then responded with her typical “Recipe, who needs a recipe, I use a bit of this and a bit of that” and I said ” that’s why your baking never comes out right!”. If you remember my last blog about her baking, you now know she was not a baker! The joy on her face as I graduated was priceless. And the final surprise was that dad had asked our friend Kevin Zraly, yes that Kevin Zraly, who was also a fellow, to be the commencement celebrity for my graduation!
I now cook for my friends, who are the beneficiaries of my long ago culinary education. I loved cooking for my mom whenever I could; my gift back to her for all the year’s of her cooking for me. Dad, well he was a challenge on many levels and if he were here he’d tell you about the 3 pies I made for him and how they cost him thousands of dollars in culinary education! I never cooked professionally after the CIA but but there’s nothing I love doing more cooking for my friends. Again food, wine, friends the common thread in my blogs and what make me the most happy!