Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Chef in the Making

I don't know if I should go back to the little boy that was quick to help me in the kitchen, or to the boy that made me a cookie that spelled MOM for my first birthday that I was back at work, or to the boy that was in his element as a food runner and expo at Top Golf, or to the boy that did not want to go to college and did not really enjoy college...These could all be starting points for the current chapter of his life, and I guess they are all touch points.

When Andrew was abroad for his semester in Lithuania, I did a layout about him and on that layout I used the quote:
"We must take adventures to know where we truly belong."
And while I struggle a bit with the expense of sending him to college in Colorado for one year, and then the expense of send him abroad for a semester, I know ultimately it was all part of his journey. I can't really complain. The child told me dozens of time his senior year that he did NOT want to go to college. I believe part of why he finally succumbed to going was the realization that he would get away from us, or at least get away from me. So, he did win in the end, and have his "gap year". And the $25,000 we spent on that "wasted" year and a half was - has to be - viewed as an investment in him. It's only money after all, right? ;-) It does no good to think otherwise....

So when Andrew set off for Colorado Christian University, he was going in as an English major, to become a teacher. And then before the first class began, he had shifted more toward a Sociology major. Or maybe I have this vice versa. {Who can recall?!} Then, during his semester in Lithuania - at least at the beginning of it - he wanted to major in Theology, and post graduation start church plants with his friend Chase. But somewhere along the way during that European semester, he got the bug about cooking, and found an online cooking class. He wanted to take it concurrent with his spring 2016 semester at CCU. And then it shifted to him wanting to only take the cooking class, and not enroll at CCU at all. And we debated and pleaded with the boy across the ocean to at least please just ENROLL for the spring 2016 semester, and then we could talk about it when he was back stateside mid-December 2015. We didn't win that contest. We haven't really won a contest with this kid for a few years now. Stubborn he is.

Now, you may recall that hubby and I had moved from our big home to a little apartment on July 28, 2015. So, said child coming home to live with us was really quite a factor, as there was very limited living space....And the second apartment bedroom we planned to use as storage soon became a bedroom that was going to need to be lived in. Andrew disregarded our advice and listened to his own heart and did come home indeed in December 2015, and did indeed take a "gap year". He did not move out until March 11, 2017. We had him at home for fifteen months and despite the apartment life, we really enjoyed having him around. And while he has long been a handful, I have missed him every day since he left. And I've only got the one photo of him in his new life, which hurts just as bad, and in a completely different way.

But, while he was home, he was busy making good use of his time: learning the trade, building his resume, pocketing his paychecks. Through a Walt Disney World photography club connection, I garnered the name and number of a chef at a local farm to table restaurant. That chef hired Andrew  in January 2016 to work in the kitchen, cooking on the line. Andrew worked at that restaurant until Christmas Eve. For several months during his Whiskey Cake stint, he would work the morning shift at a sister restaurant Ida Claire. He'd leave there at 3:30, after arriving there at 8 AM, and clock in at Whiskey Cake at 4:00 PM, working until close, finishing up around midnight. Then he'd get up again and do it the next day. He worked hard. He respected his coworkers and they respected him. 

After doing all he could do at Ida Claire and Whiskey Cake, he hopped over to another sister restaurant to work in their bakery and gain some different experience. It was amusing to hear him tell tales of his workdays all year long, and the change at the twelve month mark was good for him - he found out "for free" that he didn't want to pursue a bakery/pastry direction at culinary school. He said it was all too slow of a pace, and too repetitive. Working at the fast pace of the kitchen line had shaped him into someone enjoying the pressure of managing the tickets' meal prep.

The boy has always had an incredible work ethic and a strong moral compass. I was amazed at his energy level when he worked at Top Golf - always bounding out of the house, ready to go to work. At Whiskey Cake, Ida Claire, and The Ranch he was the same way, even though his work days were many times in excess of 12 hours, and he was on his feet that entire time, working non-stop, without breaks, water, food. I watched him "feed" his passion during his gap year, and I watched his passion feeding him, in the literal and physical sense of course!

We were trying to diet when he was home and it was so incredibly hard! That boy was always finding a restaurant for us to try, or wanting to go try a new dish at one of his faves. We frequently caved because we knew our time home with him was limited, and that upon completion of his culinary degree and his entering this industry full-time as a career that his time off will be minimal, and our odds of being home together for the holidays slim to none. But, ponderings aside, if he wasn't working and we weren't eating out, we might be found watching the Netflix series, "The Chef's Table"  while playing a game of Catan. The industry as a whole is fascinating, and I soaked in all of this information, using it as my primer to morph into "mom of a chef". ;-)

And during this gap year, while we were crammed in an apartment, building a house, having a son living at home, I watched not only the episodes of a chef in the making on the Netflix series, but I watched it happen to my boy. The longer he worked the line, the more he found himself refining his skills, defining his tastes, discovering his dreams. Around December 2016 he decided he was finally ready to formally apply to The Culinary Institute of America. He had the experience, he had the credentials, he had the recommendations, and above and beyond all of that, he had the refined and honed desire. The dream was still in his heart.

He was of course quickly accepted and elected for a March 27, 2017 start date. {New groups start every 3 weeks, if you can believe that!} My boy had made the cut and was headed to "the Harvard of cooking schools". The countdown began. My mom heart got heavy. We ramped up our Catan games, knowing they would all too soon end. We shopped for some things. We got the financing in place. And on March 11, he and hubby headed out to Nashville to spend some time with our oldest son, and then from there Andrew would continue on to upstate New York for dorm check-in on March 26.

The picture below on the left is him the night before they were to head north in March. He was all smiles - so happy to finally be going, to be heading to his new beginning. I appreciated the irony of him wearing a Colorado shirt - a perfect farewell tribute to his old path - with the cheek to cheek smile a fitting accessory for his new adventure. And on the right, the one photo I have of him since March 27: his first day of class, clean shaven, in chef jacket and toque, for some reason serious as all get out, ready to head into the class kitchen. Right in front of my eyes, a chef in the making. I know he's doing well. I know he's showing up every day and giving it his all. I know he is making the cut.  

Making the Cut ~ Beginning Culinary School ~ March 2017

Sketch Credit: Scrapbook Generation
Paper: My Minds Eye
Title Font: Pacifico, Times New Roman