It’s Complicated

Or, Why I’m Not In Napa Right Now.

I graduated one year ago from Converse College with a BA in English and a plan to enroll in the Baking & Pastry degree program at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California.

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That’s the one.

After a major health crisis the fall of my junior year and a semester abroad in Florence, Italy the following spring, I got fed up with not listening to what I really wanted instead of what I thought I should do and embraced my inner food nerd. I took some classes, I read a lot of books, and allowed myself to proclaim my love for baking loud and proud. I visited the CIA’s NY campus, then their Greystone campus in Napa, and I was hooked.

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There are a lot of reasons why culinary school/baking felt right for me. First of all, I was dying to be surrounded by people who love food as much as I do. I was absolutely desperate to learn more about classical baking techniques – especially yeast breads. One of my many dream jobs is to own a bakery – preferably somewhere in Italy, in a little shop with an apartment over it that I can live in (think Chocolat.). The craft itself fits my personality – it’s all about measuring and numbers and getting everything exactly right. The hours were very attractive; I’d much prefer to have a work day that goes from 2 AM to 10 and have the whole day to take naps in the sun. [I’m dead serious. I love working in the middle of the night. Most of my best writing happens then.] Even the way the class schedules worked was right; the CIA has a block schedule where you take one class at a time for an intensive 4-6 weeks every day. That is precisely how I prefer to learn; I can multitask, but I absolutely hate it, and the thought of being able to focus all my attention on one subject was quite relieving. [<—Introverts. ‘S how we roll.]

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And to top it all off, it was in St. Helena, where my idol M.F.K. Fisher spent many years of her life. [Wrote my senior thesis on her book How to Cook a Wolf, memorized her entire life story, generally worship her every word.]

If all had gone to plan, I would be standing in a school kitchen with my whites and non-slip shoes, hanging on every word out of my chef-professor’s mouth right this very second.

Obviously, something changed.

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First there was my  restaurant, ahem, experience, otherwise known as Gillian Learns How to Quit a Job. Then there was another food prep internship – I pretty much hated that one, too. What I realized was that for all that I love spending hours in the kitchen trying new recipes and learning new things, that was only a part of who I am. A very wise boss/friend who had a similar experience said it best: my relationship with food is so much more complex than just its preparation. My real passion for food comes from my awe of its “basic-ness;” that something so essential to our lives can have so much embedded meaning and history is, I think, incredibly exciting.

And it is for that reason why I fell so happily into place in the sustainable food movement. It is about so much more than just “eating local.” It’s about knowing the person who pulled your carrots out of the ground, who fed the cow that produced your milk, who collected the eggs that go into your quiche. It’s about respecting your self, and respecting the food that gives your health and energy every day. It’s about discovering the narrative running under every meal and every bite. With food comes stories, and there’s always a new one to tell. That is what I love. And that’s why working towards a safe, fair and sustainable food system makes me so happy.

Yes, there are graduate programs where I can study the subject in the traditional way, but I’m not ready to go back to that life. Not yet. It is not out of the question, but in all honesty, just the thought of returning to those days of essay writing and endless readings  and exam-cramming exhausts me. Sure, I’m good at the academic stuff, but if this – I’m sorry, I have to say it – journey has taught me nothing else, it’s the importance of focusing on what I want, not what I “should” do. At some point, I may decide that a graduate program will get me where I want to go. But right now, I think I’ve found myself where I want to be.

And with that said, I think I’ll go search for a new cookie recipe to try this weekend. Because some things never change.

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3 thoughts on “It’s Complicated

  1. I’ve found that a lot of post-college/grad school life has been about winding all the things you love into a big ball and trying to knit something useful and meaningful out of them.

  2. “She wasn’t where she had been. She wasn’t where she was going….but she was on her way.” Jody Hills (?)

    LOve Mom

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