Chef walked into the classroom today, our last day of class before the final exam, and announced we had two projects: cooking and cleaning. I yelled, while raising my hand like a 5th grader, “I’ll cook!” And so our table was assigned to cook lunch for the entire class while everyone else scrubbed down the kitchen, pantry and walk-in. Some would say those assigned to clean got the better end of the deal, but not me. I was happy to cook.

These last two weeks have been the most fun for me in terms of cooking. I love searching for forgotten ingredients in the walk-in and freezer and making something fantastic with them, without recipes, without parameters. Today I transformed some tired tomatoes into a roasted tomato soup shooter, and threw together a comforting potato gratin with gooey cheese and fresh herbs. The boys worked on strip steaks with a bordelaise and grilled asparagus.

During service, Chef opened a bottle of wine and poured each of us the equivalent of about 1 sip. He raised his glass to us and thanked us all for our hard work this semester. When the salute was returned, I got a little choked up. I’ve had Chef as an instructor for the past two years; he’s been my mentor, inspiration and moral support. I’m so appreciative of the extra time he took to answer my food history and food science questions, for letting me take the school’s books and magazines home to read whenever I needed to do research, and for pushing me to be the best and always challenging me. I’m especially grateful for the general kitchen information he’s taught me over the years, because without that, I never would have survived my first interview and cooking/skills test at the 4-star restaurant. Chef has prepared me well for cooking in any environment.

I looked around the room and realized this will also be the last time I see some of these students; we all get on each others nerves from time to time, but we’re like a family of sorts. We all care about each other, but definitely want to kill each other when the cooking goes awry. All of that emotion, all of a sudden, wriggled its way from the tips of my toes, and began to well up in eyes as I raised my glass.

With one more semester to go, I’ll still see Chef, probably every day. But I’ll definitely miss having him as an instructor and hope we keep in touch long after school is over for me.