The Thick of It

I do freelance writing for some online culinary sites about the ins and outs of culinary school, which is kind of ironic since I’ve never been myself. After graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in Anthropology and Women’s Studies, I discovered I had a talent for cooking, a hobby I’d always enjoyed. So I spent the next ten years cooking to pay off student loans for a degree I never really used. The idea of paying for more school–any school–seemed crazy.

Besides, I always thought, why pay for something I can get paid to learn on the job? Every kitchen I worked in gave me plenty of culinary education in the form of countless lessons in cooking and people skills, and running my own catering and personal chef business taught me about marketing, bookkeeping, and leadership. But as I grow older in the culinary arts world, I am more aware of what I do not know. Doing the required research to write these articles about culinary school has made me rethink the benefits of a professional education.

For instance, when researching culinary school curriculum, I discovered that you can take an entire semester length course in hydrocolloids, the thickening agents that form a gel when they come in contact with water. Some chefs use these agents with comfort and creativity in their everyday repertoire. I on the other hand, made two colossal mistakes in the past using hydrocolloids that sent me down the river of deNile where I convinced myself that I didn’t really need to know how to use those ingredients anyway. With the exception of roux, I’ve generally stayed away from thickeners.

First I tried to make a lemon pudding with agar agar (made from seaweed) for a vegan client’s birthday, misunderstanding the critical difference between the powdered and flaked varieties. I waited till the very last moment to invert the pudding onto a plate to serve it only to discover that it was the texture of a large rubber ball. I ran out and got some lemon sorbet, my face as red as the raspberry coulis I had made to go under the pudding.

The second big oops I made was years ago when I tried to make an extremely large batch of chocolate pudding for a group of 400 in an attempt to use up a bunch of non-fat milk before it went sour. I used the tilt skillet to cook the cornstarch custard, but it never thickened. I had to throw out 16 gallons of spotty chocolate milk and scrub the brown crust that had formed on the skillet from cooking it for so long. As it turns out, it’s the fat that allows the pudding to thicken. I learned that, as well as the fact that I should never attempt something new on a large scale.

Chefs that know how to use hydrocolloids are taking advantage of them to create variations on recipes. This creative chef I once read about in the New York Times Wylie Dufresne, once used a combination of xanthan gum and konjac flour (from a Japanese tuber) to make “knot gras”, a foie gras with an elastic texture that allows it to be served tied in a knot. I don’t know if that’s quite my style, but maybe I could learn a thing or two in culinary school.

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            • Alumni have appeared in reality competition shows such as Top Chef and Project Runway.
            • Has a team of about 4,000 faculty members focused on helping students tap opportunities in a marketplace driven by ideas.
            • Offers programs in design, media arts, fashion, and culinary.
            • Provides program coordinators who work with students to ensure they have the learning materials, assignments, facilities, and faculty to get the most out of the program.
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            • Ranked among the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • Lets undergrad students try classes before paying any tuition.
            • Has an average class sizes of 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
            • Offers numerous scholarship opportunities that can help students save up to $750 per term on their tuition.
            • Tends to educate degree-seeking online and campus-based students who are adult learners with families and students who work while pursuing higher education.
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            • Hands-on culinary education with focused attention on each student
            • An ACCSC School of Excellence with multiple “Best Vocational Cooking School” awards*
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            • Programs in Culinary Entrepreneurship, Professional Culinary Arts, Professional Pastry Arts, and much more
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            • Received the 2015 and 2013 “Cooking School of the Year” Award of Excellence from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).
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            • Externship opportunities are available at numerous famous New York City restaurants.
            • Campus is located near downtown Manhattan, within walking distance of many popular attractions such as the Radio City Music Hall.
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            • Ranked among the Best Colleges in the South in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • Ranked the 13th  Best College for Veterans in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
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            • Its student-faculty ratio is 12:1, and 89.3% of classes have fewer than 20 students.
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            • Gives students the opportunity to earn their associate’s degree in the culinary arts field in less than 15 months or bachelor’s degree in the food service management field in 2.5 years through their year-round schedule.
            • Located in Norfolk and Newport News, Virginia.
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            Sullivan University is a private institution of higher learning dedicated to providing educational enrichment opportunities for the intellectual, social and professional development of its students.