Week Six: Sunset In Sustainability

“Do you know what happened to Katie?” I heard from my classmate as I was halfway through my roast chicken lunch one day at school.

“No, what’s up?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but I just saw her crying. Yeah, I think she’s leaving for the day.”

“WHAT?” I gasped as my blood pressure rose and my Stage Five Protective Sister Mode instinct leapt into action. I shoveled the second half of my lunch into my mouth and flew down the hall toward the classroom, a flash of white flowing cape imagined by the restaurant diners (ok, it’s just my chef coat).

I definitely was ready to kick some shins belonging to whoever made my friend Katie cry (FYI, not her real name). This was the second week of school. I pictured the Chef Instructor barking army drill sergeant critique; I pictured another one of my classmates laughing at her for something unfair. What the heck! This girl was one of the nicest people I’d met in a long, long time — why would someone be so mean to her?!

My run slowed to a mean, old Western strut as I neared the room where the offense occurred (trying to look taller and meaner than I could ever really do successfully). “What happened in here?” I asked in my most serious voice to no one in particular as a small tumbleweed rolled down the row of desks.

“She left. She heard some bad news about something back home and had to leave.”

“…oh…” I thought, the spurs on my cowboy boots reverting to chef clogs ”you mean, no one was mean to her, right?” Terrible news from back home is painfully distressing, but I have to confess, I was relieved that no bridges were burned so near the beginning of our collective journey.

My sister mode reflex revealed my honest feelings about my new classmates. It’s exactly the same fierce protectiveness I unveil if one of my own siblings is in trouble. We are a family. Already. Even during the first week I think we knew. I’m astonished by how quickly a group like this can bond, and at the speed that something becomes your world if immersed.

Until very recently I was surrounded by highly trained technical scientists. What felt like the next breath, the scientists were replaced by a diversely multi-talented group of novice culinarians. Before meeting this group, I jokingly referenced the reality television phrase, “I’m not here to make friends.” I honestly thought my classmates would be cold, brooding, and offer to help me feel stupid at every turn. I imagined myself alone on this long, dusty road of food-related nerdom.

But I quickly learned the contrary (I mean, not about the nerdom). Within the first few weeks, my classmates already discussed hosting Friendsgivings, became social media BFF’s (100 likes and little hearts!), planned study dates, and created a class Facebook group. The online group proved to be a surprisingly valuable forum where we ask each other for assignment clarification and help, show support for a friend who could really use some extra love, post links to upcoming food culture related documentary viewings, or post pictures of phallic-shaped farmers market gourdes. On several separate occasions my classmates have brought in homemade gingersnap cookies, apple spice cake, traditionally smoked salmon, and the Dr. Seuss looking fruits of an abundant quince harvest. One time, even the Chef snuck a piece.

Of the average 18 hour weekday, my husband and I are together for four, and three of those go to homework. That one precious hour with my hubby is spent prepping dinner (knife skill practice!) while we try to cram in a day’s worth of stories and updates. In contrast, I am with my group of classmates six to eight hours per day. We spend our breaks together, lunch together, study together, and even go out to bubble tea or cocktails after a long week of grueling and sweaty classes. We plan field trips and knife skills jam sessions. We discuss recipes and ancient cooking techniques. This sweaty fellowship will be my team and family for the next 17 months (one month down…), and I couldn’t have picked them out better if I tried. We share; we mince; we play really well together.

Earlier this week (week six), a month had passed since my first Old Western showdown, and I feel like every day my posse bonds even tighter through this shared experience called culinary school. It was halfway through our first class of the day when the sun started to rise and fill the sky with all the beautiful pastels of a mid-Fall morning. The lights were dimmed as part of the lecture, and the crisp white chef coats of my classmates composed a graceful contrast to the skies behind them. I hadn’t really even noticed that I drove to school in the predawn dark. It took this sunrise to remind me what a stunning demonstration of commitment and care we all embody by showing up. When there was a pause in the lecture one of my friends mused dreamily, “What a beautiful sunset!” We all lost it, doubled over laughing as she chuckled how little she’d slept this week. Sunset or sunrise, what’s the difference, it kinda feels like it we would be together for either one. All of us together, my friend who I ran to defend, “sunset”, and all the rest of my family of incredible classmates. I’m happily hooked — my Stage Five Protective Sister Mode safely stored…ready for use when needed.