By: Ryan Hodros, Pastry and Culinary Arts Student
The first day of culinary class can be a little intimidating, even for someone who has already been through the pastry program like I have. You’re surrounded by people you don’t know, you have a lot of information thrown at you, and there are a lot of rules and regulations that you have to remember. It can seem overwhelming. I thought it would be handy, having just gone through my first day on Monday (April 7th) to give a handy list of things that can help alleviate your stress and make your first day more pleasant.
1. Come ready to cook
Don’t get me wrong, you’re not anywhere near ready for the kitchen at this point. But you should look over the student handbook you’ve been provided and make sure you have your uniform squared away. Also, wash your uniform before you wear it to your first day. I know, it’s fresh out of the plastic. But it can be really itchy, and running it through a wash cycle with a nice fabric softener can make it much more comfortable to wear. Make sure you bring a pen and a sharpie. You won’t have your thermometer just yet, but you will definitely need a pen. Also, bring your aprons and side towels. Your chef may inspect you on the first day, and if you’re like me, you don’t want to dwell on being forgetful.
2. Bring a notebook and silence your phone.
There is a TON to remember on your first day, and if you’re like me, you will need notes to remember it all. Take as many notes as you’re comfortable with, but don’t stress yourself with writing down every last little thing—you’ll wind up with a hand cramp, and that doesn’t help anyone. And yes, get used to silencing your phone every day before class starts. On the first day, the chef probably won’t get too mad if your phone goes off, but after that, it won’t make you any friends in the classroom. If you’re like me, you’re somewhat addicted to checking your phone every few minutes. Get out of that habit, and the first day is the perfect time to start.
3. Bring a lunch/dinner/snack, and bring water.
Six hours is a long time to go hungry. You’ll have trouble concentrating if you’re hungry, so make it easy on yourself. Bring something to eat during one of your breaks and bring something to snack on just in case. I bring a turkey sandwich, a banana, and a bag of cheerios to class during this first week. Also, get in the habit of bringing a plastic (not glass!) water bottle that can be sealed off with you every day. When you start working in the kitchen, you will sweat. And it’s easy to ignore what your body is telling you in lieu of the tasks you have at hand. Having a water bottle will make your life a ton easier, and you’ll be less likely to get sick, which is win/win.
4. Be ready to talk about yourself
The first day involves some of what we used to call “getting to know you games” at summer camp. You’ll have to tell the class a bit about yourself at some point during the day, so have a little spiel prepared so that you’re not stressed about it. That way, you’re paying attention to your classmates instead of writing your little spiel in your head and can get to know them a bit before you have to work with them. This is more important than you’d think, as teamwork becomes a vital part of your day-to-day later on down the line. The classes who have issues always seem to be the classes where the students never bothered getting to know each other. At the very least, try to learn everyone’s name on the first day.
But don’t stress if you can’t. Your class could have a ton of people in it. Give yourself a break and do your best.
5. Don’t necessarily expect to make friends on your first day.
My wife is the kind of person that makes friends with every person she meets, which is one of the wholly remarkable things about her. I, on the other hand, take much more time to make friends. Don’t expect your first day to end with drinks at the bar or a planned trip out of town for the following weekend. You’ll be excited for your first day, but everyone there is nervous, and that only makes it harder to make friends. Just take it easy—the friendships will come. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself.
6. Don’t sweat the rules
I don’t mean to imply that the rules are unimportant. They are and you have to follow them. What I mean is, it seems like a ton of rules that you’ll never get the hang of, but trust me, they’ll be second nature by the time you take your first big test. The uniform rules will take some getting used to, but by week two, you’ll be scanning yourself on your way out the door in two minutes. Properly addressing your chef-instructors as “chef” will be second nature as well, probably to the point where it will be weird ever calling them anything but “chef.” Maybe this came easier to me because of my military experience, but trust me when I say that this is not as difficult as it seems on your first day.
I was going to end with “have fun,” but I’m not going to lie, the first day is kind of tedious. It’s a lot of rules, regulations, expectations, and paperwork, followed by a couple hours of dry government-style instruction. But do your best to make the most out of it. Servsafe is difficult to get through, but it’s important for all food-handlers (and you will be tested on it down the line—Chef Suzanne especially loved pulling out Servsafe questions on exams just to see how well we remember). Just do your best to relax and soak it all in. You know yourself better than any list I could write, so do what you can to alleviate your stress and enjoy the day as much as you can. It’s the first step on a new adventure, so at the very least, be excited!