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Thriving and Surviving at the Culinary

I was scared to be starting school at The Culinary Institute of America, absolutely, utterly terrified. I was the girl with sweaty palms in my parents’ rental car on the line for dorm move-in, freaking out because I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life. I had no restaurant experience and one of my classmates had been on Food Network's “Teen Chopped.” I was the girl, who after the toque ceremony, started sobbing because I believed I wasn’t good enough. It was only orientation week. I was the girl who got kicked out of class twice and who also failed a class. I was the girl who was told “you are your own worst enemy” by my Culinary Fundamentals’ chef. Lastly, I was and still am the girl with the mantras.

I hope that you are wondering what mantras have to do with culinary school. On my way to class I say, “Confidence is the name of the game.” I believed that if I could be confident in myself, my life would be better. All throughout Fundamentals, I wondered if I was good enough to be at this school, but my first setback happened when I failed the Meats course. I thought that my life was over, but soon realized that if you fail a class, it is not the end of the world. When I passed the second time, I felt proud of myself. However, I was still not sure that I was meant to be at the CIA. It took several mantras to get to a place where I wasn’t afraid of this school.

My second mantra was born at the end of my externship. I was incredibly worried that my classmates had learned way more, thus making them better chefs. While explaining this to my dad, he laughed at my uneasiness. I told him that he didn’t understand because he knew nothing about culinary school. He responded with “You narrowed the gap.” I will forever be grateful that he believed in me when I didn’t see that I was capable of doing amazing things. Any time I felt that I wasn’t good enough, I would look at how far I had come. There were definitely a few bumps along the way, including yelling, undercooked chicken, and a midnight call from the medic. There were also some pretty spectacular moments. When graduation in March arrived, I couldn’t believe that it was real. I had done what I thought was impossible. I honestly didn’t think I would make it past Fundamentals. When I started at the CIA, I didn’t think that it would be easy, but I never imagined that I would have such a hard time. This is how I knew that “I exceeded my own expectations.” These words served as a reminder of all that I had overcome and have helped me understand that I deserve to be at this school.

In September, I would be heading back to Hyde Park to start the bachelor’s program, which meant I needed a new mantra. This reminded me of about six before graduation. One of my classmates asked me,” is this really what you want to do with your life?” I immediately responded yes and explained that I may not work in a restaurant, but that I was going to spend my life around food. I decided I wasn’t going to let this comment bother me. I guess that didn’t work as I am writing about it a year later. I finally didn’t feel like an imposter walking around in a chef jacket. This is how I knew that “This is where I am meant to me.” I realized that I didn’t have to be the best chef in the world after two years of school. I just had to be proud of the work that I accomplished.

When I heard the CIA was starting a concentration in Barcelona, I just had to take the opportunity. I was nervous because this would be my first cooking class since the end of my Associates program. While waiting for my plane, I was texting my dad asking what would happen if I didn’t get on. I have never been more thankful for the voice inside my head telling me that I could do this and “Let's go to the beach,” This would be a once and a lifetime opportunity and I didn’t want to waste it. I decided that I was going to let go a little and embrace the Barcelona lifestyle. “Let’s go to the beach” was all about expanding my horizons in ways I never thought possible. I used this mantra to make sure I tried new foods and saw everything that Spain had to offer.

Then coronavirus changed everything and we had to leave early. I wanted answers too many questions, but not all of them could be answered. When would the CIA reopen? What would campus look like when it was safe to return? At the time I had no answers except for one, “Don’t try to solve problems until they occur.'' It was not healthy for me to speculate because eventually I would have the answers I needed. There was no point in being worried when I had no control over the situation. When I finally returned for my last semester I was excited for what opportunities awaited me there, but I am extremely grateful for the time I was able to spend at home. I learned that not everything is so black and white, which is why “Man makes a plan and Gd laughs.” I had so many expectations for my future and all of them are changing, which is not a bad thing. When I started at the CIA, I never thought that this would be my journey. I would struggle, scream a little out of anger and frustration, smile more than I could imagine, and cry happy and sad tears. It has been a difficult, but rewarding journey. I would not change a thing, but I definitely would not do it over again. Once is plenty.

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