Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I got a call the other day from the California Culinary Academy (CCA) advising me of the start of their Spring semester. They must have gotten my contact information from their website which I had visited not too long ago. The Salvadoran and I had thought of attending a weekend class but later changed our minds. CCA offers training in culinary arts, baking and pastry arts, hospitality and restaurant management, and other hands-on weekend courses. The school is also in partnership with the Le Cordon Bleu so they have ties with European culinary institutions. The school staff asked me if I would be interested in a free campus tour that evening. Under normal circumstances, I turn-down ‘short notice’ arrangements. Since I don’t have a class that evening and the Salvadoran and I didn’t make any plans, I agreed to meet with the admissions staff at 5:45p. I thought I don't have anything to lose and maybe I'll even learn something from it.

The California Culinary Academy is housed in the historic California Hall located in the heart of the Tenderloin district on Polk and Golden Gate Streets. I’ve been inside the relaxed and elegant dining hall when the Salvadoran and I came here to try out the prix-fixe dinner prepared by the school's graduating students a couple of years ago. I remember our server, who was a freshman then, made our Caesar salad dressing from scratch! Through a glass window, we could see soon-to-be pastry chefs working busily inside the prep room. We were instantly captivated with the scene! They make cooking look easy. I was secretly imagining myself wearing the chef's hat and apron and carrying a mixing bowl.

The Enrollment office is across the street from the main hall in an obscure building that looks too ordinary for its location. I was briefly interviewed by the same fellow who I spoke with on the phone and then I was taken to the testing room for an online exam. I almost left the admissions office out of protest because I don’t remember being told there was going to be an exam. But I took the test anyhow. It's just that I find it objectionable being put on the spot like that. The test is like an equivalent to what is employed in companies during a hiring process and is used to gauge how well an individual can grasp more complex subjects and exercise better judgment. I was later adivsed that I aced the test!
I was given a packet containing the school catalog, program and course descriptions, forms and statistics. The school's track record is impressive with a very high employment rate! The list includes popular restaurants in the city and the wine country where the reservations go three weeks in advance, world class cruise ships, and of course restaurants beyond the Bay Area and California. The school offers evening classes so it would prefectly fit the schedule of those who have a day job. The campus tour commenced right away. I still had tons of questions regarding the program, scholarships and grace period but I decided to save them for later.

Here comes the good part – the tour of the school. We breezed through different types of kitchens. ‘Garde manger’ kitchens, confectionery, butcheries, baking and pastry kitchens, and the production kitchen where students were doing prep work for the following day’s cooking sessions I noticed the students looked awkward wearing their cooks’ hats. There were not a lot of action to see this late. I can imagine the atmosphere here during the day is like the ones you see in cooking challenges on t.v. - unimaginably messy and chaotic. We were also able to observe three evening classes where the students' gazing eyes tried to size me up. The school’s Pastry chef also gave me a 5-minute summary of what he likes most about his job. A taller hat (to distinguish them from the students) and a slight French accent are two things the lecturers have in common.

We went back to the admissions office to discuss the tuition and the program details. This is where my excitement started to fade away. The let-down is the ‘externship’ which requires the students to work full time in a restaurant for three months. Unless the Salvadoran pays for my expenses and the mortgage and the bills, I can’t afford not to have a full time job's salary. If I still keep my job, how can I convince my superiors at work for a 3 month sabbatical? I had gone this route before and it didn't do well. I began to realize that this 'culinary' plan might not work out given my kind of work. It is not like my job is stops entirely when I get home.

I thanked my tour guide and promised to keep in touch. Although it was disappointing to learn it would be very tough to attend culinary school and work full time at the same time, I am still glad I went. Now I know it can be done and I have a choice. Just like with Photography, I will put this on hold until the right time.

I had asked myself a question before that if money is not an issue, would I still do what I am doing now? Maybe I'll go back to consulting? Maybe travel the world, become a professional photographer, start my own restaurant serving nouveau Filipino dishes, or help out in church some more. I loved computer programming from the moment I stepped inside Pamantasan's computer lab to this day. I still love what I do but I am also starting to equally enjoy other things that challenge my brain's creative side - like photography, cooking, travel, foreign languages, writing, etc. The great thing about living in this city is that the opportunities are endless.

Maybe not just yet? I think I will just settle for CCA's hands-on weekend programs for now. I think I will just focus my time and energy on what I currently have on my plate. My Italian classes have started last week and this is probably a good time to register at the 4-month Small Business class offered for free at the City College.

Loads of thoughts ran through my head. The ride back home seemed very very long that night.

(The photos above are my initial attempt on experimenting not only with baking but trying to pair the finished product with different types of coffee and loose leaf teas.)

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