Last month, I received a comment from a reader named Luka who wanted to “warn” me about the culinary school I will soon be attending. It seems that her experience was less than ideal – in fact, in her eyes, it was “a disaster.” My initial reaction was to attempt to brush her assessment off, but, in reality, her review of the school hit me in the pit of all my fears. Did I just make a huge mistake? I was affected to the point that I considered canceling my trip; forfeiting both my tuition and airline ticket.
I DETEST myself for this reaction – trashing my dream based on one review from a stranger whom I know nothing about. This school came recommended from a fellow culinary student who currently runs a flourishing restaurant. Whose opinion, really, should I rely upon? I write this post tonight as a challenge to my hesitations regarding school and my approaching experience. It may be that Luka is 100% correct and this will be “a disaster,” but one person’s folly can be another’s life-shaping moment.
So much of an experience is fashioned from our expectations and perceptions. I wonder, exactly, what she was imagining when she states the school depicts the accommodations as “a fine hotel overlooking the sea in a popular resort town.” That is not how the accommodations are described (at least in my reading). To me, they sound “utilitarian,” with the sparse amenities of work desk, telephone, TV with remote control (living large!), in room ironing press and hairdryer. This is a Mobil 3-star hotel. Three stars in America equals a Holiday Inn – In Italy, it’s a crap shoot and should be regarded as such. All I need is a bed (sans bed-bugs). I spent an amazing week in Tuscany living in a 14th century farmhouse – with spiders the size of my thumb and a wasp’s nest in the old hearth. I’ve spent fondly-remembered weeks in a yurt without electricity, a reliable lantern, or heat – and with a communal bathroom about a half-mile away. Everyone else in my group was snuggled cozily in the main house while I gladly chose to make my home in the yurt. If I had not, I would never have been an arm’s length from deer grazing outside my door nor would I have seen the swath of Milky Way when I had to pee at 3 a.m. in the cold, brightly lit night.
Luka goes on to say that, on some occasions, she lacked hot water or heat in her room. I have dealt with both – neither left me with irreparable damage and, in fact, my current home is without heat in the bedrooms (an odd design flaw I didn’t notice until after the mortgage was signed). She talks about the location – “a deserted resort town with not a soul around and the nearest functioning town a $20 taxi ride away.” The wifi was only available sitting in the unheated lobby and then… “so slow it was almost pointless to use.” I thank her for that tidbit as it’s good information to have – sounds like I can leave my iPad at home and make room for my “good” camera – there must be plenty to photograph in a deserted, crumbling, sea-side town.
Should I go on? She comments that the chef required the students to address him as “Chef”. He was condescending, treated the students badly, threw tantrums, and served family meals of poor quality. The students were worked hard and sometimes didn’t taste the results of their labors. Welcome to the culinary world! This school isn’t a “cooking vacation” – nor does it profess to be. This is a school for “advanced culinary professionals” which means most of us have attended culinary school where our Chef (yes, you DO call the instructor “Chef”) most likely was condescending and threw tantrums. I’m not saying this behavior is appropriate or professional, but it is fairly standard. Wait until you’re working the line in a kitchen – one needs to grow thick skin (or balls), ignore the dreadful behavior and cull the education you need from the presented material. Cooking isn’t for sissies.
Luka goes on to say that this Chef “is not the teacher for young impressionable kids. Like the 20 somethings that attended.” Maybe that’s just it! It probably isn’t the school for coddled, 20-something kids whose parents paid for them to go to Italy and play at “cooking” in between partying at the Italian disco and lazy afternoons on the Calabria coast, never far from their iPhone and wifi. I’m neither 20-something nor am I looking for an Ibiza experience in Calabria – I want to learn how to make gelato, in Italy.
I don’t mean to be hard on Ms. Luka. She expected one experience and decidedly found herself with something quite different. I’m not even annoyed that she felt a need to press her experience on me – I’m sure she believed she was doing me a good turn. I am, however, furious at myself for allowing her slant to darken my expectations. I will love it or hate it, and, even if she is accurate and I do hate it, it will not kill nor scar me – and it will be a wellspring of splendid stories that I can share with you here…once I’m back home, where there’s wifi (grin).