On October 29th of 2012 my life took another of it’s extremely sharp corners. After years of trying to figure out the logistics of going to culinary school, I was finally lining up my life to get on with it. The thing that always held me back was finances. Culinary school is not cheap and when you come out the other side you end up making a pittance. I was going to have to work full time to keep my head just above water and with a mortgage and the idea that I would also have to purchase a second car to even travel to and from school, it was all a bit overwhelming. I was denied the full loan based on my income to debt ratio, something that had been holding me back for years, surprisingly gardeners don’t make a lot of money.During the application process my admissions counselor worked tirelessly with me. Granted, it is a for profit enterprise, but unlike other culinary schools I had looked at, they did genuinely seem to give a shit and unlike other schools, they didn’t tell me they would turn me into the next Rachel Ray (rant of it’s own).
So, in the final weeks before my class was to start, part of the money secured, I applied for a partial scholarship. I wrote about thirty copies of my essay that I had to submit. I have never put so much into one thing in my life. If I didn’t get the scholarship I didn’t know what I was going to do. I felt at the breaking point of wanting to so desperately follow my passion and feeling tied to a life that was unlike any I had imagined for myself.
My husband, at the time, and I decided to get out of town the week before I was to start school. I wouldn’t find out about the loan until the Thursday before class was to start. So we headed to Portland, to eat and play and explore our favorite city. It was a good distraction. The dreaded Thursday arrived and as we sat in Andy Rickers Pok Pok with a couple of close friends enjoying an amazing meal, the call came in. The tension at the table was insane. I can’t describe the overwhelming burst of positive thoughts and energy that came out of those people at that table, they were barely breathing.
Of course being my life, hurricane Sandy had just hit NY where the schools head office was and the basement was flooded. They weren’t making any decisions at the moment and they would let me know on Monday the 29th, the day classes were to start. Feeling frustrated and nervous I was eager to just get through the weekend and hope for the best, something I am generally not very good at.
Well Monday did eventually come and as the day wore on with no call, my heart was sinking fast. I finished my gardening day with my long time assistant and drove to sit in front of a shoe store where I could buy myself a pair of hideous clogs fit for kitchen work and then speed my ass down to Campbell for my first day of class, if things had gone my way. When the call did come in, I almost threw up all over my steering wheel. I had gotten the scholarship and had less that 3 hours to get my shit together and be in class. I called my husband and cried with relief and terror, now that I had the money and the door was open I would actually have to step through it. I would actually have to find out if I was just a dreamer or if I could really hack it.
Nine months, six hours of commuting a week plus fifteen hours of class time on top of a full time job and part way through I started an internship at The Ramen Shop one day a week. Garden, Drive, Cook, Drive repeat. Four hours of sleep a night became the norm, insomnia bedded exhaustion and wrapped itself around me like a warm straight jacket. Honestly much of that time is a total blur. I partied like a teenager in my off time and danced on the brink of a total break down. My marriage denatured at a rapid rate as I drifted further and further on a road that had no U turns. I missed weddings and birthdays of people I love. I was only focused on cooking and myself. In school I was a laser beam of focus and drive. I cared only about being the best and worked tirelessly to be as much immersed in my new life as possible. I befriended people who a few months before I wouldn’t have ever spoken too.
When I cam out the other side I could barely recognize myself. The way I see the world and interact with people is forever changed. Through it all my friends held me when they could. They loved me and encouraged me even though I was completely turned inward and they nurtured me in my time of rapid development. My instructors mentored, encouraged and critiqued me constantly. The man I loved let me go so I could pursue the thing I had fallen deeper in love with than him.
And now, here I am. twelve thousand miles from all of that world, a year later, new scars both inside and outside. Following my path with no U turns and living a life that at one point seemed like a dream. I love it even when I hate it. Nothing is more honest than the kitchen. You either have it or you don’t. You can have all the technique down, but if there is no passion behind it your food will lack depth. If you only cook with passion, I would avoid a restaurant kitchen if I were you, you’ll get your heart broken in an instant. It’s home and hell and everything in between. It is all consuming and if it isn’t then it isn’t real. I gave everything I was to be who I am. I am a cook. It’s not just what I do, it’s who I am.