how i got here:
Before graduating from Florida State University with a bachelor’s degree in communications, I did a short internship at an ad agency, where I realized the business world was not for me. I quickly switched gears and began my path to becoming a school teacher.
I taught English and mass media classes at a private school in South Florida for five years after college. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I absolutely loved sharing my passion for life and learning with my students, and encouraging them to do the same. There came a point, however, when the frustrations outweighed the rewards, and it was time for a change.
I was ready to pursue a newly-found passion of my own, so I enrolled myself in culinary school. I taught school by day, and played chef by night. I was running at full-speed from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. daily, for nine months straight. It was brutally exhausting and there were plenty of tears shed, but I honestly loved being a student again. I had more focus and drive, and it was refreshing to push myself to succeed instead of pushing others.
I started working in professional kitchens right away, doing everything from dessert plating to cleaning up skirt steaks to organizing the walk-in. I did the bulk of my learning, however, working in kitchens in New Zealand. My husband (then boyfriend) and I decided to do a bit of traveling after he finished his commitment in the Navy and after I finished my contract as a teacher. You can read more about our travels here: www.nextstopsomewhereelse.blogspot.com
My first job in New Zealand was as a larder chef, or garde manger as we call it here. It’s a fancy way of identifying the cook who makes all the cold stuff, i.e. salads, breads, garnishes, cold seafood platters, etc. It was the craziest station in the kitchen and sometimes required a back-up person to assist.
There were no ticket printers at every station. Orders were called out when they came in, when they were fired, and again when they were plated. Seemed easy enough, except for the fact that I had absolutely no idea what they were saying. Yes, they speak English, but they have a different word for almost everything. A zucchini is a courgette. A bell pepper is a capsicum. Cilantro is coriander. Chicken is chook. Dinner is tea. Add in a thick Kiwi accent, the metric system, and quite a bit of sexual slang I’m pretty sure I never actually got, and it makes for one very interesting dinner service.
The chef was demanding, insensitive, and sometimes just rude, but looking back, I owe him so much. His high expectations were second to none, and without trying, he taught me so much about the value of organization, hard work, and especially teamwork. Everyone started service at the same time; everyone left at the same time. We even took our smoke breaks together, regardless of whether you smoked or not.
My second job in NZ came about when we stumbled upon a small town called Nelson and fell in love. We randomly scoured the Internet for available jobs, I submitted an application on a whim, and got a call the next day. They didn’t care that I would only be there for two more months. The chef didn’t care that I had never worked the grill or sauté stations before…she hadn’t had a day off in seven months and probably would have hired a monkey if it had applied. I accepted the job and we quickly found a place to stay that was only steps away. It was perfect.
The chef was feisty, endearing, and extremely talented. She taught me everything she knew in one week, and then threw me into the deep end, sink or swim. The kitchen was about as big as your average walk-in closet, but it had everything you needed within an arm’s reach. By the time I left, I could run a dinner service, create daily specials, and place nightly orders. The hands-down best parts about that job though, were the people. We were from all over the world, yet somehow all got along like we were old friends, and many of us still stay in touch.
After moving back to the States, my husband and I moved to Oregon so he could attend school on the GI Bill. Finding a good chef job in a college town was challenging, but I was lucky enough to find work at the local country club, where I worked for about a year and learned so much about catering for large crowds. When I left I had moved up to sous chef.
My last job was as the private chef for a sorority on Oregon State University’s campus. I prepared lunch and dinner, buffet style, for about 60 collegiate women, Monday through Friday. Monday nights were formal sit-down dinners and were typically right around 100 people. I loved that job because it allowed me to be adventurous, autonomous, and introverted on a daily basis. I did my own chopping, my own ordering, and my own weekly menu planning, using any inspiration I could find, via other food blogs, cooking shows, or recipes I’ve picked up along the way. I also loved the instant feedback, most of the time. ;)
We recently moved to northern Illinois for my husband's work, so I now spend my days keeping my baby boy (and dog) fed, happy, and out of harm's way, which is proving much more difficult than previously thought. :) Although there are times I miss the regularly available fresh seafood from Florida, or the fantastic wine selection from Oregon, I do love living in a place that fully experiences four seasons and is centrally located from our family and friends. The people are friendly, the town is safe, and Wisconsin cheeses are in every grocery store. Life is good.