It’s taken me almost three years, but I finally did it. This week I graduate from culinary school with high honors.

One of the biggest challenges I faced was going back to school after 20+ years with kids half my age. Sometimes we didn’t quite share the same work-your-butt-off ethics in the kitchen (but then again, neither did I when I was 18 earning my bachelor’s degree in art), which provided a fair share of frustration. Working several part time jobs to keep my schedule flexible while going to school part time, while being mom and wife, was the other challenge I faced daily. At times, I thought I was going to literally lose my mind trying to juggle everything. But keeping the big picture in clear focus helped me get through it all.

When I first began school, I wasn’t sure what to expect or where I was going to take this experience. The only thing I was sure of was that I had food allergies and needed to learn as much about food as possible. Along the way, I realized I loved teaching people what I was learning, loved food writing, and loved developing and testing recipes. Once I determined a career path for myself, the rest just seemed to fall into place.

While in school, I began teaching local cooking classes, winning cooking competitions, appearing on national and local radio and television programs doing cooking demos, and writing for local publications such as The Orlando Sentinel and Edible Orlando Magazine, as well as national companies like Food Network and Martha Stewart. And thanks to my supportive family, I was able to spend last summer in Boston for a culinary externship at America’s Test Kitchen.

I’m currently working as corporate chef in charge of recipe testing and menu development for Wholesome Tummies, an Orlando-based company providing healthy lunch programs for public and private schools across the country. In addition, my blog is now one of the top food blogs in the country, I’ve secured several freelance food writing assignments, I’m traveling the food blog circuit as a mentor and speaker, and teaching cooking classes at Williams-Sonoma and Whole Foods. I’m also working with a local production company on several food documentaries and a web-based cooking show that we’ll be pitching to networks. I’m slowly cranking out a cookbook and I’m also serving on the board of directors for our local Slow Food chapter.

Despite all that I’ve accomplished, this morning I experienced my proudest moment. Someone walked by and said, “Good morning, Chef. How are you today?” It wasn’t the first time someone has called me chef. But it was the first time I felt like I truly earned it.

Thank you to everyone that has stopped by Chef2Chef to read about my school experience and career development over the years. I hope the entries have provided insight and inspiration.

Part of the creed we agree to when graduating from culinary school is to pass on what you have learned; I strongly believe in that. Please feel free to contact me any time at Wicked Good Dinner with school, career or cooking questions — I’m always happy to help.