Mastery Begins with the Basics


By Chef Stephanie Michalak 

Turner Farm Culinary Manager

I stepped onto the Culinary Institute of America’s New York campus as a seventeen-year-old knowing I was about to embark on a very intense and rigorous journey. There was so much about food that I wanted to know, yet I knew I had no idea what I was doing in pretty much every sense.

By that point in my life, I had worked as an intern in a farm-to-table restaurant while attending another college in western Massachusetts the previous year and had lived in Maine for a semester during high school working on an organic farm and volunteering a lot of my time in the commercial kitchen. Basically, I was faking it until I hopefully made it.

There is something extremely soul penetrating and magical about the kitchen classrooms and entire campus at the CIA, particularly as a new student. The packs of students in white chef jackets running around with knife kits and heavy textbooks into imposing buildings, like the main dining hall (which, yes, does eerily look a little like the Great Hall from Hogwarts) made us feel like we were honing and learning to wield our own sorcery. The major difference was that we were more likely to burn or cut ourselves, rather than blowing off our eyebrows or casting a bad spell if we didn’t have the right technique down.

Any culinary school or program, not just the CIA, starts with fundamentals and core competencies. We drill these basics until we can do them in our sleep. Classes that focus on knife work, product knowledge, and cooking techniques give students a chance to feel more confident in their developing skill-sets. Those of us  who choose a career in culinary arts get a very concentrated time to sharpen our minds, as well as knives, in respect to food while in school.

However, having confidence while cooking, even at home, is extremely important for everyone. I am a strong proponent of this because the more a person feels comfortable working in a kitchen of any kind, the more independent and creative they tend to be. That is why I hope you can join me in January for one (or more!) of my Culinary Competencies courses. I’ve scheduled these “back-to-basics” classes for both teens and adults because I truly believe that the foundation we can build together will be a rich reward that lasts a lifetime!

For more information on Chef Stephanie’s “Culinary Competencies” classes, visit the Turner Farm Teaching Kitchen page.

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