Going to a Culinary Arts High School isn't your typical choice of schooling, but some of the most important lessons in my life came to me because of that decision. Food and Finance H.S. (FFHS) wasn't what I had expected when I applied but it was exactly what I needed. Located in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen, the school lacked those torturous days surrounded by teenagers with wealthy parents and was more of a meeting place for other urban kids like me who were just finding a way out of our respective hoods. I made friendships then that are still strong 'til this day.
Mis en place [MEEZ-anh-plahs]
French for "everything in its place," mis en place has taught me the importance of planning and preparation. Cooking is bound to go more smoothly when prepping all of your ingredients and tools for the meal beforehand.
No room for fear of experimentation
The step-by-step instructionals (also known as recipes) are lifesavers, but there will also come a time when you are going to have to step out of your comfort zone. You are going to have to try spices and herbs and flavor profiles that you might perceive as weird or gross. Like the first time I ever had fennel. (Still not into it) I learned the ability to explore and adapt to my surroundings without fear from exploring and experiencing different flavors.
Cooking can be a waiting game. Rotisserie roasting an 8-lb chicken won't be done after watching the latest episode of Real Housewives. I needed discipline. I needed to suppress urges to open the oven or peek beneath the lid of a pan simmering on the range.
Although we had plenty of time to cook and bake, we also had our general requirements such as math, English and science. I learned, eventually, the importance of giving all of your commitments your all. Skipping homework assignments here and there just because I didn't feel like it wasn't proper balance.
Take pride in yourself, your work, your passions, take pride in what you do. This lesson came in the form of plating your dish. Being the visual creatures that we are, we eat with our eyes. I will tell you that if there are no visually-redeeming qualities about a dish, it's already off to a bad start. Similarly, if you take pride in yourself and your accomplishments, others will have no questions about your worth.
Leadership & roles
Kitchens don't run smoothly. They are loud and fast and assault all of your senses at once. They run best when comprised of a team who runs like a well-oiled machine. I learned that being able to give instruction and keep respect is a gift not many have. Adversely, it also takes an extremely special person to be a sous chef.
How to be proud of myself
Cooking was the first thing that I realized I was good at. I hadn't found anything before that made me feel important or like I had something just for me. But cooking? It taught me how to celebrate myself. It started my first real lessons of self-love and learning from my mistakes. I would get so discouraged whenever a recipe went awry due to too much of this or not enough of that. The truth is, sometimes in life there are going to be moments when there will be nothing you can do to rewrite your mistakes. But being able to learn and grow and experiment without beating yourself up about it is so necessary.
Cooking isn't for everyone, but everyone should try cooking. Try something new or refresh something old. You never know what you might learn about life over a simmering pot.