Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advice to incoming students at The Culinary Institute

Because we are on a block schedule, we have new batches of students coming in every three weeks. This means a number of things; for one, we have very small classes, which is really great for getting to know one another as well as getting plenty of one on one time with both Chefs and Professors. This also means that the longest that you have to be "the new kids" is less than a month. Once you're issued your embroidered whites, you're one of the culinary masses and no one is the wiser. But, there certainly are some helpful tips that can be given when you are in that three week-sweaty-palm-purgatory of orientation and first two weeks of classes.

1- Talk to people other than your room mate in the first few days. I know that if you get along with your room mate it can feel almost unnecessary to branch out, but it really is easiest to make new friends while everyone is new- once you get in the swing of classes, you will be so busy that it is tough to find time to meet new people. 

2- Do not be afraid of the Chefs. To say that they are intimidating is a gross understatement, but they are here to help. If they did not love to teach they would not be here; so don't take them for granted. They do not expect you to be perfect, or even all that good in your first few weeks, so ask lots of  questions. Seek advice on culinary matters, talk to them. Just be sure that it is professional. They will appreciate your interest. On that same matter,

3- Google your Chefs. You will be blown away by their accomplishments, they do not call our school the world's premier for nothing. These men and women are simply astounding, and while it can freak you out to learn what big deals they are in the industry, it is important to appreciate everything that they have done. But beware- intense hero worship may ensue.

4- Write everything down. Your notes and books will be all you have to refresh your memory once you graduate. Some Chefs even encourage you to take pictures and videos of their demos. Rearrange your notes after class, make them into flashcards. Keep a log of your recipes and how they came out. write, write, write. It will not only help you to retain the information, but by keeping a small notebook in your pocket while you're in the kitchens, you will save time by not needing to flip through your binder, and you will be able to jot down pearls of wisdom dropped by the Chef. Because I have certainly learned that the best bits of advice are spouted by the Chefs when you least expect them.

5- Do not be afraid of older students. They know exactly how you feel, and in almost all cases, are more than happy to help you. Everyone at the CIA is a family, we all have each others backs. I was wandering Roth Hall in one of my first few days on campus, hopelessly lost and beginning to panic, when a group of older students passed by and saw me, they stopped. One girl introduced herself and asked me what I was looking for, then she pointed me on my way and told me not to worry, the campus gets easier to navigate after orientation is through. Another day a small group of friends and I were eating dinner together and talking worriedly about our math class- an older student at the table behind us overheard and interjected. She gave us her email and phone number and told us that she works in the tutoring center, if we had any problems in class she invited us to get in touch with her, she would be happy to help us out with the material. 

6- Utilize campus resources. Bring your essays to the writing center, ask someone up in tutoring to go through your notes with you before a test, talk to someone in counseling, visit the meditation room, take a Zumba class, go for a swim in the pool, go to career services, and ask them to look over your resume, or to tell you about externship opportunities. These are all built into your tuition, take advantage of them. 

7- Study in places other than your room. The library has a fireplace, simply sitting next to it makes you want to do homework. And the lack of your laptop will make sure that you actually get something done, rather than ending up watching re-runs of Lost. Oh, and turn off your cell phone.

8- Engage in class. Ask questions, and raise your hand when the professor poses a prompt. And try not to complain about the teachers, they know what they are talking about. You do not get a job at the CIA because you are well connected, the hiring process is unbelievable- ask a favorite Chef about what they went through to get hired if you'd like to hear a pretty impressive story. 

9- Take time for yourself. This school is hard, bloody hard. And stressful, and tiring. But wicked fun if you are up for a challenge. You're on your feet, in one class from 2-8:30, and the time that you have off, you're preparing for the next day's class. Do not let that overwhelm you, make time for yourself. Find something that gets your mind off of school, and wake up early to enjoy it. For me, it's knitting and reading, but it could be anything at all. Take an extra long shower or watch a funny movie if that is what you need to relax. It is easy to be swallowed up by the work load, so make sure that you take care of yourself. Drink lots of water, and although it is easier said than done- try to get some rest. 

10-  Go to campus events, take advantage of opportunities. They are mostly free, and the ones off campus are absurdly cheep. I went to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular for $35, including transportation. The school organizes restaurant and bakery tours for $25 and you get to visit some of the top places in the city, and talk to the team members. Not all of the events are culinary related either- free magic shows and mind readers, dances, and bingo (with prizes like Ipads and Kindles), tastings and talks with people like Danny Meyer. You will never get these chances again once you graduate.

And finally, a bonus. 
Do something that is terrifying.
For me, this is grabbing up the opportunity to conduct interviews with the graduation speakers, then write articles for the school newspaper about them. Not too scary, right? That's what I thought, until I realized the kind of people that come and speak at CIA graduations. Martha Stuart, for example, has given a commencement speech in the past. The first person that I am to interview first is Jerome Bocuse, Paul Bocuse's son. This scares the living daylights out of me, but I am doing it because never again will I get the chance to speak with these kind of people.

Enjoy your time here, it's Disney World for foodies!
Love and chocolate,

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