Binge-Watching Food Network Not The Same As Culinary School

With the first quarter under her belt, Christine Gronseth takes stock of her first 13 weeks at Seattle Culinary Academy and offers her personal reality in contrast to what you see on Food Network TV. 

Just so you know, there’s no amount of food TV that will prepare you for the culinary school rotation.

Here goes, top 8 knowledge biscuits dropped in my culinary education basket:

 1. “Chef, Yes Chef!”

The rigid 7:30am start time, the no-excuses absence policy, the uniform inspections, the transition from a full-time desk job to hours and hours on your feet, the emotional pressure cooker classroom scenarios… it’s a serious commitment, only for those with boots shined, ready to shout “Yes Chef!,” moving with a sense of urgency. During the first quarter we lost 32% of our beginning class size. That’s more than the average dropout rate of military basic training, high school, law school and medical school combined. AND THOSE SCHOOLS DON’T EVEN GIVE OUT FREE COOKIES!

2. Warning: High avalanche danger on Homework Mountain

Literally a mountain of schoolwork, my coffee table was home to the Rainier of research papers, test prep flashcards, kitchen team action plans and day old coffee cups. Over the course of 12 weeks, eventually, I scaled Homework Mountain and stuck my Teeny flag triumphantly at the top! Much to my husband’s relief, we finally were able to see coffee table base camp again once winter break hit.

3. The brunoise struggle is real

Precisely ⅛ inch cubed vegetables, citrus supreme without a hint of white membrane, tomato concasse — peeled, seeded, diced. Even with all the studying and prepping, you can still fail first quarter if you score below 76% on the dreaded knife skills test. Which was terrifying. I was visibly shaking. With my 10” chef knife in one hand and a freshly shorn orange in the other, concentrating with all my might to supreme without slicing off my arm.

4. The gallons of sweat; a thousand loads of laundry

I don’t consider myself a sweaty person. I usually don’t require a personal assistant following me around with a mop. But oh no, not here. It’s a mess. So. Much. Sweat. Gross. Our white chef coats HAVE to stay white, and with all that sweat, carrot juice, chicken stock grease and dirty mop water creating a new Jackson Pollock daily, I had no choice but to do laundry constantly. I pushed off “adulting” as long as possible but there really is something obsessively satisfying and luxurious about a constant rotation of clean clothes.

5. The Kool-Aid Man moments

One night I stayed up ’til 3:30am finishing a ridiculously long and thoroughly researched paper, and then dragged myself kicking and screaming out of bed for school at 5:50am (hubby is still recovering). Turning in the huge assignments and tests became an equally huge reward for me. It took a lot of willpower not to slam them down in front of my teacher like Kool-Aid Man (“OH YEAH!”). I learned a hard lesson about procrastination but that feeling of completion was oh so worth it.

6. Culinary school is really just a bunch of closeted pyromaniacs

First quarter flambé. That’s right, we intentionally set sherry on fire! Actually my classmate Brandy set sherry on fire (ha! words). We were roasting chicken bones to make a double brown stock and the chef instructor actually trusted us enough to set it on fire. It was AWESOME! And hot. Friends, shade your eyebrows.

7. The turducken of curriculums

Facts stuffed in details stuffed in descriptions. Every day it’s grain identification, coagulation temperatures, and animal anatomy (required for levelling up). Every week, it’s Campylobacter, Listeria, and the juicy details of Giardia duodenalis. Soaking up all these details, I’m surprised my brain didn’t violently explode, Big Trouble in Little China style. There’s a LOT crammed into this first twelve weeks: a wide overview of the basics with a solid backbone of why we do the things we do. The chef instructor’s famous words, “A good cook knows that chicken stock is always started with cold water; a culinarian knows why.”

8. Guardians of (the) Gastronomy

I saw some ish go DOWN this quarter! I saw classmates get brutalized by feedback, red in the face, and still finish the lunch rush with grace. And in case you’re wondering — no amount of watching Gordon Ramsay tear down a 6-foot salty trucker will prepare you to take that wrath. The youngest girl in our class may only clock in at 100 pounds but she lifts that barrel of raw chicken bones like a champ. One friend hobbled in excruciating pain after a massive pan of steaming hot water poured down the front of her body. She posted pics in our group chat sporting blisters the size of my thumb. She was back in class after the weekend. We nicknamed her The Badass. My class is made up of 18 Rocky Balboas in weird little white hats.

One quarter down, five more to go! And then I’ll know everything there is to know about food, right?! HA! Right. Hang in there Kool-Aid Man — there’s a lot of pressure, sweat, homework, (and more sweat) waiting for me in the next 15 months and still more exploration after that…but I’m optimistic and determined for the hard work ahead, ready to flambé at any moment alongside my line of badass classmates shouting “Yes Chef! Thank you Chef!”