The Cereal Killers Have Left the Building!!

grad pic

The night before the first day of school I grabbed hold of my gratitude rock, sent my thanks out to the Universe and made one wish, “Please give us a great team!” Wow, that rock wishing is some powerful shit!!

I feel a kinship to Dorothy Gale. She went over the rainbow looking for a place that didn’t have any trouble, ended up in OZ and found the best friends a girl could ever have. I, too, went in search of an escape from the many struggles in my life, ended up at ACI, and found ‘The Cereal Killers’! This one’s for you, guys!!

While I had many expectations about culinary school, I never anticipated the almost daily, gut wrenching, bent over double laughter! When Shi, Tucson and I went into hysterics, we broke the sound barrier. Remember that one time I was standing in front of class in Basics and blurted, “I’m so hungover!” And in the world of tangential, started to twerk. X almost fell out of his chair. Then I told you all that I was venturing into the world of on-line dating. Boy, those stories went flying through the smoking section like wild fire!

There’s that time I got my finger stuck in a piping tip. Oh, and squirted sanitizer in my eye. We can’t forget the physical contaminant that ended up in Chef Maccs mouth during his final bite of my perfectly prepared hummus; or actually adorning the ‘man bun’ I made for him out of an old pair of pantyhose. Ty’s man bun and his facial expression the first time he tried a raw oyster. How about Tucson having to stand on a step stool when she laminated dough. The time those police cars were in the parking lot and I told X to get under his desk. He said something like, “Oh, blame it on the brown guy!”

“Back squirt!!” Remember how when Shi would get so intense, she walked like the back part of her body was trying to catch up? Head down, so determined….and so AWESOME!!! Angel piping up to share some of her scientistic, eccentric trivia and then asking Chef Macc if he chose to be bald? “I can lick harder than that!” EFF CONSUMME!!! Anytime you called me Mom. Heart melt!!

Chef Rigollets’ jokes and the way he pronounces the word, ‘cheekin’. The way Chef Santos pronounces the word, ‘cheekin’ and the phrase, “Do you understan…?” Chef DeWitt and how big her eyes got when she was excited. Her boundless energy and superb hugs. Chef Schroeders’ nerdy obsession with yeast and the constant smile on her face.

Chef Wolf and how much he loves to play with his food. Bruce Sandground and “NEWS! NEWS! NEWS!” Jim Baker with his class, funky ties, and those quirky cliches that were somehow hysterical. Finally, Chef Wilson, who had a dream and made it happen so we could dream, too!

One final reference to Dorothy and her friends. As our instructors guided us on our journey down the yellow brick road, any question anyone of us may have had with regard to our courage, wisdom and the ability to love, is no longer a question. My life is forever changed! I LOVE YOU ALL SO MUCH!!


……and then this happened….

crazy heidi 1 Yeah, but first, this happened……
arm sling. Oh, and then a few of these came through,
shit storm…que donning the straight jacket. I’m not quite sure what Durant’s has to do with it, but crazy is as crazy does.

So, I got myself a few of these….RX and ALL is right with the world.

I can guilt myself up like nobody’s business and battled with the idea of taking a leave. I initially considered it ‘wussing out’, being a quitter and weak as hell. But, with the encouragement and straight up support of my amazing instructors, team mates, family and friends; I realized that it was essential to shut down and fix things. Trust me, it took quite some time for things to be right enough to come back. There are still storms looming, but manageable for now. I made the right decision for me, and that is what made it right.

I returned last week, sans straight jacket, and was engulfed in all sorts of warm welcome. Not only that, was instantly reconnected with my all natural anti-anxiety drug! I moved forward with my team into Front of the House and the hysterical laughter ensued under the charming tutelage of Jim Baker. Although I can’t run food or lift much, at all; it seems I do a great job of selling booze!! Who woulda’ thunk it?

So, I’m back in the swing (and occasionally, the sling); and in two weeks will bid farewell to my Cereal Killers ~ but that’s a blog all it’s own. As I was walking out the door one day last week, Bruce said, “Welcome Home, Heidi!” Thank you, Bruce; and how right you are. I LOVE MY SCHOOL!!

These are a few of my favorite things!!!

right hand

Whether it be a conductor with his baton, a mason his trowel, a wizard his wand or a Chef her knife, the tools of your trade become an extension of yourself and a priceless possession. The other day in advanced baking I was put to work on an apple strudel. Thank God!! I picked up my Chef’s knife and hit my happy place. My shoulders dropped away from my ears and my heart rate followed suit. In a kitchen dedicated to blow torches and analogical airplanes, the feel of my favorite Wustoff put me at ease and I knew exactly what to do.

This begged me to question the Chef’s at ACI, “What’s your favorite kitchen tool?” Here are their responses.

Chef Macc/Basics: Mandolin. When we were working on knife cuts in Basics, I offered to buy him a steak dinner if I could have one. NOT!!

Chef Rigollet/Meat Fab and Saucier: French Knife. DUH!

Chef Wolf/Basics: He was walking through the HUB at his frenetic pace and stopped dead in his tracks and gave this some serious thought. ‘Intense’ doesn’t even come close to describing this guy. His first pick was a Vitamix, but then he started describing a 3 inch serrated paring knife with such passion I almost fell over. He’s like, “Dude! You gotta’ get one of these!”

Chef Santos/du Jour: “My hands….and then my feet and then my whole body.” He’s so awesome!

Bruce Sandground/Management and Placement: He pulled his out of his pocket. Wait for it….a switchblade!! NICE!!

Chef Maddox/I’m not really sure: A gnocchi board. That, in and of itself, is interesting. What was fascinating is that he didn’t ruminate on it and deliver a 10 minute diatribe. God love this guy!!

Chef Schroeder/Basic Baking: Not even an instant of hesitation as she sped by at light speed and yelled, “Scissors!”

Chef DeWitt/Advanced Baking: Air pump and a blow torch. Go figure!!

Chef Smith/Basic Baking: Another Blow Torch. Look out!!

Finally, our fearless leader, Chef Wilson, replied, “My favorite kitchen tool is a paring knife, and I use it like it is the extension of my right hand.” Great minds.

During one’s journey through life and in particular, culinary school, you are exposed to lots of different tools, tangible or otherwise. While my French Knife elicits lovely moments of zen and my mandolin is essential in so many ways; the thing that has guided me, fueled and inspired me is creativity! It exudes from the pores of my instructors and I sop it up like a sponge.

Random thought by Heidi: A chef’s world is the only place you can wear pajamas to work; and, legitimately ask someone, “Does this smell okay to you?” 9 times out of 10 they’ll stick their nose in it. That’s a good tool to have, too!!!

The War of the Roses!

rose sugar

What the hell is it with all these roses? I learned how to make one out of a tomato many moons ago and left it at that. These past three weeks I’ve worked with molten lava sugar, marzipan and butter…over and over and over again. Is there some sort of culinary school fetish I don’t know about? Perhaps they are applying the 1,1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9 Fibonacci code to torment us for shits and giggles. Suffice it to say, I was the worst in my class at making said blossom from sugar and marzipan; but for some odd reason, my butter roses were pretty good. Who woulda thunk it?

I’ve had my share of culinary dreams during my last 15 weeks here; however; none of them were nightmares until I started Advanced Baking and Showpieces. The worst was when Chef Wolf had to expel me from school due to thorny issues and then he was excommunicated to Boston. WTF? Of course, the morning after said excommunication nightmare, talk radio told me that those occur because you’re not meeting your own expectations. Really???

I’m a bit of a control freak and my inability to dexterously transfer small domes of glazed mousse onto a teeny, weeny cookie and place it on a sheet pan without sabotage drove me nuts! Landing my offset spat plane to create a perfect plane on a turntable of cake was nearly my undoing. Can’t forget this little gem: homework required the piping of “Happy Whatevers” and odd little geometric shapes and swirly-q stuff within the confinement of a square border! I need a cocktail just thinking about it!

I question everything, especially when it comes to money I’m spending to be taught. Who the hell needs to learn how to make a chocolate box? Or, blow air into fire hot sugar to make a bird or a fish? Did I really need to labor at creating those intricate, little gumpaste flowers and leaves; not to mention, the mind-blowing rose applications? YES, I DID! And again, oddly enough, my showpieces were my favorite things to do…and I did them well. ACI’s curriculum proved me wrong; which is why it was so very right for me (or anyone for that matter) to come to this school.

The other day, with much pride, I posted a picture of the wedding cake I made. A friend replied, “Wow! That’s gorgeous! You’re a natural!” It’s all in your instructor and I’m so grateful for Chef DeWitt. She was on my ass constantly because she knew she would get through..and she did.

So, while not being a ‘natural’; in a pinch, I can make a piping bag out of parchment paper, temper some chocolate and decorate a dessert plate; or, make that simple wedding cake for a friend in need; and, I plan on coming back to Chef DeWitt’s class at Christmas time to pull some sugar and make the most glorious ribbon candy for my family, friends and clients. While my roses may not be perfect, I may just go out and buy some marzipan and take the time to perfect them. I LOVE MY SCHOOL!!!!

Mom! Look What I Made!

chocolate box

My new teacher, Chef DeWitt, is so neato! She gets really excited about everything and smiles all the time; except when she acts like you after Dad didn’t get his list done! We get to color; make funny cone shapes out of paper; write words and weird shapes in chocolate; play with shiny, noisy kitchen toys; and, when no one is looking, we lick the beaters!!

Our teacher uses stories to help us remember all these new words and ways to do stuff. Did you know that chocolate has a temper? “Feel the bottom of the bowl, if it has a little fever, that’s fine; if it’s too hot to touch, YOU PISSED OFF THE CHOCOLATE!” When she was teaching us how to frost a cake she used plane noises and everything and said, “Bring your spatula down like you’re landing on top of your cake. Let the back wheels hit first, take it to the middle of the runway and then take off again. It’s like a touch and go!” But my favorite is when she does her dough cheer: “4-4-3-2, that’s how you make a Pate a Choux!” She is de bombe!!

Chef showed us her diary with all of her awards in it. She’s been on Food Network like a billion times and got the gold medal for a sugar sculpture that was six feet tall! And, in 2010, she won “Pastry Chef of the Year” for the American Culinary Federation. That’s a BFD, not to be confused with a GB&D! You could tell she was really proud….but in all seriousness (and now in the voice of an adult), her greatest pride is watching her students succeed. By far, this is the most challenging class I’ve encountered, and it makes me a touch nervous; everything is different and difficult to grasp. As hard as I tried, I kept pissing off my chocolate.

She stood close, looked me in the eye and said, “You can do this! Just make it work, Heidi.” So, when I put the finishing touches on my chocolate box and realized that I DID DO IT, I teared up a little. She put her arms around me, told me she loved me….and beamed!!

My Mom doesn’t live nearby, so when I got home that night, I gave it to my daughter. She jumped up and down, pointed and said, “Mom! That is so cool; I can’t believe you made that!” And like that little kid, excitedly walking through the front door with her school project, I beamed!

Our French Farmer…um, Cowboy!!

When I think of Chef Jean-Marie Rigollet, I think of gratitude. Not my own, but his. He is one of the most grateful people I have ever met. He is completely and utterly serene in his own skin and is tied to this earth the way his apron his tied around him – snug and comfortable. He admits to having been a bit of a cocky French Chef when he first came to America more than 40 years ago. Lucky for him, and for us, he mellowed. And, after living a very successful restaurant life, he moved on and pursued his passion to be a cowboy and a teacher.

While I know he loves his wide open range, I think that deep down in his heart, he’s a farmer. You should have seen him beaming as he brought in box after box of figs from his tree; and no one loves their cheekins (that’s how he pronounces it) more than this guy! He was quoted once as saying, “Then you go outside before the sun comes up and apologize to the chicken before you take its life….That’s chicken with integrity.” He can’t stand to see anything wasted and at the end of each day, after we’ve all contributed our scraps to his blue bucket, he throws them in the back of his humongous pickup truck and goes out into the desert to feed his fowl and ride off into the sunset. No shit!!

The other day I asked him, “What is the thing you love most about life?” Without hesitation he said, “People!” Again, lucky us. A teaching kitchen can be a very vulnerable place. You open your heart and soul to your instructor, whether you recognize it or not. That’s a great deal of trust and he respects it implicitly. It’s the only way he can guide you to your personal vision of success. The first day of class he asked me if I was nervous. I admitted that yes, I was…a little. He took my hands in his, kissed the palms and said, “Voila! Now I have all your nervous!”

We are entering week 3 of Meat Fab and Saucier and I want nothing more, than more! We are a full on production kitchen and there is a sense of urgency, pressure and humility here which are essential to achieving the goals set for us. He watches us constantly and knows the amount of rein he can give. I felt it loosening on a daily basis and then, he let go! It’s akin to the first time you start pedaling ‘wissout ze training wheelz’! Freedom begets creativity, liberation creates opportunity, opportunity fulfills dreams…and that’s why we’re here.

So, back to that farmer/cowboy conundrum! Sure, you can be both and I’m sure that he is. However, he is a tender, a cultivator and a keeper of things simple and slow. You can’t rush a cheekin to lay an egg any more than you can boil the shit out of something and reach that perfect consistency and flavor. In the end, it’s all about gratitude and I’m so grateful for that….and for him! Oui, Oui!!

*I highly recommend that you read ‘Creating Chefs’ by Carol Maybach, a former culinary student of Chef Rigollet’s and many others.  Click here to read

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