By: Alex Charpentier, Culinary Arts Student
Just when I thought that I had it all figured out.
After completing my first two weeks of culinary school at the Austin campus of the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts I can honestly say that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. What I thought I knew about the program and what I had come to expect from the experience doesn’t even come close to the endless opportunities and resources that I discovered are immediately available to me as a student.
In the last few months leading up to my first day of class I read and re-read the course catalog cover to cover countless times to familiarize myself with the culinary arts curriculum. We would start with sanitation, then move on to knife skills and the various types of cuts, basic stocks and the five mother sauces. I understood the curriculum and even felt confident in my at-home-cooking skills given my French heritage and food centric life these past 25 plus years. I studied the bios of each of the Chef instructors and I read about the opportunities available to students. That said, I must have missed reading about one of the instructors who is a Food and Wine Magazine 2001 Best New Chef’s in America. Sitting in his class listening to him impart us with his knowledge was nothing short of a thrill for me given my passion for fine dining and haute cuisine.
I knew that I was going to receive my own kitchen tool kit inclusive of the necessary knives to master the various cuts required and I was excited about the books we were going to be given to help support our in-class lectures. I thought I was prepared. I thought I knew what to expect. I had a good idea of how things were going to go or so I thought; it turns out I was wrong. Things are better than I could have ever imagined!
Beyond the curriculum the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Austin has opportunities for students to take advantage of on the very first day. The first opportunity is not something that the program offers directly but is a wonderful bi-product of the program: I am referring to my fellow classmates. I am lucky to be in a small culinary arts class with only 10 other students from across the United States. We have several students from New York State, a few from Louisiana and a few from throughout Texas (including Austin) brought together because of the reputation of the school, the burgeoning Austin culinary scene and the farm to table movement. We range in age from 18 – 55, about half male and half female and we all have varying degrees of culinary experience. Some of us are single, some married, some of us have children and at least four of my classmates served in one of the branches of the military. As diverse as we are we each have different post culinary school plans. Some of us want to start a catering company, a food truck or open a restaurant. Then of course there is me, the “special one” as one of the Chef Professors pointed out. It appears that my unique situation, story and reputation have preceded me. While I cannot lie, something deep inside me does yearn to one day own a Mediterranean restaurant (mainly French and Italian) in a costal town somewhere in California I am keeping my immediate post culinary school options open.
I was aware that the school had a garden in which they grow many of the produce that we use in our recipes, but what I did not know is that students can join the garden club and learn first hand how to plant, cultivate and harvest a variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs. I have also been told that the school is working on building a hydroponic garden, something that is gaining popularity in Austin and throughout the international culinary scene.
In the first two weeks there have already been more than four volunteer ambassador opportunities with a popular local food and wine non-profit working along side professional Chefs as well as two food competitions. These are great networking events and valuable to add to our growing culinary resumes.
The career services office makes themselves readily available to students not only by keeping a large job board up to date with job postings but also by meeting with us one on one to ensure that we don’t have any questions.
What is evident to me after my first two weeks at Escoffier is that the entire administrative and teaching staff is genuinely concerned with our well being as we embark upon our new journey. They are dedicated to ensuring that they teach us the critical skills we need to know to succeed and that we are prepared.