Vanessa M. House, Culinary Arts November 2011
Culinary Arts graduate (Culinary Arts November 2011) Vanessa M. House readily admits that she enrolled in school for the promise of the paper. She knew a certificate would further her career. What she didn’t know was how much she didn’t know. As a kitchen veteran (fifteen years experience) Vanessa thought she knew what she was doing. Today, working at Boulder’s West End Tavern, she says she is cooking the best food of her life thanks to the techniques she learned at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Here she tells us about her decision to come to school, working on the line and where she looks for inspiration.
Escoffier: You have a lot of kitchen experience; what made you want come to Escoffier and earn a culinary certificate?
House: The reason I went to Escoffier was to make it a career and not just a job and living paycheck to paycheck. When I was first starting I was worried that I wasn’t going to get as much out of it as I wanted to, but I got that much plus more! I was really more about getting that piece of paper (certificate) as I knew that it would ultimately help me, but I didn’t realize at the time how much I didn’t know and still don’t know. It opened my eyes to all these techniques that make my food the best I’ve ever cooked in my life!
Escoffier: That’s great to hear! How do you continue to learn and grow now that school is done?
House: I live and breathe this stuff. I put a lot of time and effort outside of work to stay up on modern techniques and what and who is trending in the biz. All of that is just as important for success as everything else is to be a cook.
Escoffier: As far as staying up to date, do you have any favorite resources?
House: America’s Test Kitchen is really good. They are taking recipes and techniques, breaking them down and explaining them as thoroughly as they can. I also use apps on my phone (like Chefs Feed) and I try to stay up on all of the local literature (5280 Magazine, Westword) to see what my competition is doing locally. If you are not taking advantage of any resources (and there are plenty available) that can make you better, you are not doing your job right.
Escoffier: How did Escoffier help prepare you for the “real world”?
House: Escoffier provided the methodology behind the basic recipes of everything that I needed [to know] for production, like how to make a béchamel. [Getting my culinary certificate] gave me the confidence to know that I could come to Boulder and pick up where I left off before I moved here. I was running kitchens back home and when I came out here my biggest concern was, “Can I hack it?” Chef Mark instilled that confidence in me to give me the proper tools and ability to work in any kitchen in Boulder.
Escoffier: Can you tell us what it is like to work at the West End Tavern and for the Big Red F Restaurant Group?
House: A week in and I can already tell that the management is on top of their game. It is obvious to me that they hire people who are really passionate about what they do. They take really good care of their employees; there is an option to buy stock in the company with your paycheck. It is nice to be in an organization that has the resources available to better one’s career (such as growth opportunities among other Big Red F restaurants).
Escoffier: What is your favorite part about working on the line?
House: My favorite part is at the end of the shift – after you cooked for five hours straight and everything went off without a hitch – and the whole line and front of the house did their jobs properly, that is a whole lot of satisfaction. Instead of just being a job, it’s kind of your life. You carry a lot of it with you once your shift is over. If you have a good shift, you can tell the difference.
Escoffier: What is the most challenging aspect of working on the line?
House: When nobody is communicating. It’s like quicksand. Once one thing starts on the downhill…if there is no rhythm [established] right away, that is tough, too. It happens and nobody is perfect, but what you take from those experiences make you that much better and make you appreciate the great nights that much more.
Escoffier: Do you have any tips to finding that rhythm on the line?
House: Just breathe.
Escoffier: Do you have any words of wisdom to share with current students?
House: Take it seriously, but also have fun. If you’re working in a kitchen and you’re not learning or having fun, find a different job. There are plenty of them. Live it and breathe it; don’t consider [your career] an after school job anymore. Eat as much food as you can and make as many connections as you can.