June 10, 2014

Comfort of Culinary School

By: Ryan Hodros, Pastry and Culinary Arts Student

As we move away from the baking and pastry portion of second block (which, as a Pastry Arts graduate, wasn’t as challenging as some of the other blocks will inevitably be) and move into charcuterie, I’m reminded of one of Chef Kelly’s sayings:

“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

While it’s true that the vast majority of people willing to throw aside the traditional route and follow their dream of being a culinary professional are more than okay with venturing into the unknown, I find that many students at Auguste Escoffier struggle with specific kinds of discomfort.

Maybe you’re ex-Army, and are perfectly comfortable low-crawling through the mud while a drill sergeant screams at you, but you might be really uncomfortable with puff pastry.  Maybe you’re an athlete that can throw a fifty yard pass with thousands of people watching, but you struggle with Hollandaise while chef is watching.

Eggs Benny

Everyone has something they’re bad at.  For me it was stovetop custards.  For whatever reason, I’ve struggled with them the entire time I’ve been a student at Escoffier and so I used to avoid them whenever necessary.  But given the opportunity to give it another try, I jumped at it last week.  I’d like to say it’s because I’m extra tough and intrinsically motivated, but in reality I was inspired by Chef Kelly’s statement:

“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Working out in the industry, someone is eventually going to ask you to complete a task you’re uncomfortable with.  It’s an inevitable part of any job.  When I took on the job of beer writer for 303 Magazine, my understanding was that breweries would send beer to my home which I would sample and review.  In reality, 75% of my job is going out and interviewing people I’ve never met before.

Keeping Your Balance 1

Anyone who knows me well knows I’m not really a people person, and meeting new people is one of the hardest things I’ll do in a given day.  You know how extroverts can go out and chat up any stranger on a bus and become best friends with them instantly?  The infuriating people who can wade into a crowd at a party and instantly be at home?  I am not one of them.  But I really want to be a professional writer, and so that means getting out and meeting new people.  Which is a great learning experience because, like anyone else, I have to:

“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

It’s really easy to settle into a routine.  I used to work an office job, and the work schedule was set in cement—punch in, check email, translate, lunch, translate, PT, go home.  At first it chafed—I didn’t like my day being dictated by a piece of paper hanging from my cubicle wall.  But eventually you start to depend on that routine, and any deviation isn’t just uncomfortable, it’s scary.

When a routine is making you unhappy, however, it’s important to rip yourself out of that rut and start fresh.  It’s scary, it’s hard, and it’s uncomfortable, but as the internet has become fond of saying, you only live once, so it’s best to live happy.  Yes, this means there will be more fear in your life than you may be comfortable with, but if it was easy, everyone would be happy all the time.  And the sooner you

“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable”

The sooner you’ll find that this fear is easy to overcome.  It’s like getting out of bed on a cold morning.  You’re snoodled up under your comforter, warm and happy.  The alarm’s already been snoozed, and though you know you have things to do, you don’t want to get up.  Slipping out of the covers and facing the day just seems like the hardest thing in the world in the face of all that comfort.

But once you throw the comforter back and put your feet on the floor, suddenly that insurmountable task is easy.  Your morning routine leaves you refreshed, and that first mug of coffee leaves you energized and ready to face what the day has in store for you.  All it takes is that first move—ripping back the comforter and getting up.

“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Weirdly enough, I find myself feeling grateful for tasks that I’m not entirely comfortable with these days.  Doing something I’m good at—baking cupcakes, or making a fruit coulis, or fixing a caramel sauce—doesn’t give the satisfaction that it used to because it’s become second nature.  The excitement of learning something new has worn off.

Comfort 1

But when I took on pastry cream again last week and it turned out thick and smooth (thanks in no small part to Chef Kelly’s guidance) I got that thrill that adventurers like me live for; the thrill of overcoming an obstacle.  I love the feeling you get once a challenge has passed and you are successful.  And challenges like that are plentiful at Auguste Escoffier, which makes it the ideal school for me.  It’s given me the skills I need to break into a field I used to think was impregnable, mostly because I got comfortable with being uncomfortable.  And it’s great!