How to Bite the Big Apple

When I was considering a move to Manhattan, both the French Culinary Institute and my girlfriends enticed me with the same promise: variety. The FCI's material stressed the school's prime location in NYC, with its diversity of culinary opportunities. My girlfriends, on the other hand, emphasized the dating opportunities. This assorted scene was certainly different from the one on St. John, where I had been living for over a year. When it came to both island restaurants and island men, there were only a handful of enticing options.

The FCI was right about New York being a culinary capital. One of the major perks of the school are the vast amount of extracurricular cooking opportunities, whether it's a job, internship or single event. And my friends were right, too: the city offers many a nice feller. The problem with such a bounty is one of approach. What's a good plan of attack when faced with options?

As this is a food blog and not a dating column, I'm going to focus on the cooking. Needless to say, there are some similarities.

The Steady Relationship
Some people are just the monogamous type, and can't fathom turning their attention away from school. Lucky for them, the FCI is a captivating place that provides plenty of reasons to be all about it, all the time. Get to class early and improve your knife skills. Go to the weekly demonstrations with visiting culinary celebrities. Join one of the many social clubs. Catch up on reading in the library. Unlike a hubby who might get annoyed by your constant hanging about, the FCI is pretty tolerant of obsession.

Tsk, tsk. I'm not an advocate of maintaining two serious commitments at once. It's stressful, tiring, and inevitably messy. But if you can't choose between school and a full-time job, remember to layout basic ground rules. Arrange with work to have two or three days off per week, otherwise you'll be exhausted and perform poorly all around. If you're intent on juggling , I recommend the 3 night-a-week evening program. The day program is a high maintenance biatch. Constant lateness and absences won't fly, no matter what excuse you come up with.

The Fling
We must long for our teenage summers, because this is the approach of choice at the FCI. You go to school full-time, and then have a 1-3 day internship during the week. Although typically unpaid, it's a great way to go. It's more flexible, and because you're free labor, you can choose a place way above your normal league (even the big names can't say no to a freebie). Sadly, flings come with a definite expiration date. The place either gets serious and offers you a job, or it ends. But have fun while it lasts! Restaurants are less possessive than people, and will probably recommend you elsewhere.

Playing the Field
I'm a big fan of this approach, having taken all the others (except the two-timing…I'm a relatively nice girl). Career services is wonderful at letting students know about volunteer cooking opportunities, both at the school and a multitude of outside events. I was a volunteer cook at "The Culinary Exploration of the Pig" dinner at the James Beard House this past week, and working with the chefs from American Grocery Restaurant was the culinary highlight of my month. There are tons of similar events in New York, and the FCI is usually first to be contacted for help. It's a great way to test the waters, and find out what you're looking for in the long-run. What's the worst that can happen? It's either an evening of absolute torture, or it works out smashingly. You never know, you may end up with the employer of your dreams.

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