Readers dreaming of culinary school can indulge vicariously through this engaging memoir by food writer Darling. In her 20s, armed with a passion for cooking, the author left her job at a Manhattan literary agency to enroll at the French Culinary Institute. She takes what appears to be a day-by-day analysis of her entire six-month experience and extracts more narrative than might be thought possible, conveying the challenging process in episodes from omelet minutiae to the larger victories of culinary education. Darling makes the most of various incidents with her classmates who become competitors, comrades and co-conspirators-sometimes all three. As they progress together through the school's four levels to graduation, the author expands on their lessons with end-of-chapter recipes. Though the book doesn't stake out original territory, it thoroughly captures the built-in drama of a professional cook's education. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Under the Table: Saucy Tales from Culinary Schoolby Katherine Darling
A deliciously entertaining memoir about one woman's adventures in the student kitchens of the legendary French Culinary Institute -- flavored with celebrity chefs, eccentric characters, and mouthwatering recipes
To anyone who has ever dreamed of life in a French kitchen, imagining days filled with puff pastry and sips of vintage wine,/b>/big>
A deliciously entertaining memoir about one woman's adventures in the student kitchens of the legendary French Culinary Institute -- flavored with celebrity chefs, eccentric characters, and mouthwatering recipes
To anyone who has ever dreamed of life in a French kitchen, imagining days filled with puff pastry and sips of vintage wine, Katherine Darling serves up a savory dose of reality in this funny, fascinating, and altogether delightful account of her time spent slaving over a hot stove, wrestling with veal calves, and cleaning fish heads at the French Culinary Institute in downtown New York City.
As she goes from clueless amateur to certified chef, Katherine and her quirky fellow students learn the secrets behind the art of French cooking and frequently find themselves the objects of scorn and ridicule as their teachers wage psychological warfare over steaming pots of bisque. The kitchen, they soon discover, is no place for soft-hearted romantics. It's a cutthroat world, and no one ever made a soufflé without breaking a few eggs -- or cracking a few heads together. From the basics to the final exam, Darling reveals everything that goes into the making of a chef.
Filled with delicious food lore and trivia, and including dozens of classic and original French recipes, Under the Table takes readers deep into the trenches of one of the world's most prestigious cooking schools -- and shows what really goes on behind the doors of every great restaurant kitchen.
—The Wall Street Journal
“You’ll find yourself relishing every word to the last page, like a biscuit sopping up that last drip of syrup.”
“[A] food-related memoir women everywhere will love—even you takeout types.”
- Atria Books
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Read an Excerpt
The night before chef school began, I dreamt I ate Jacques Pépin. I woke in a sweat. He didn't taste very good. Like a slice of liver, well done. Somehow I was expecting seared foie gras.
Everyone is anxious before the first day of school. However, most people do not dream about eating the teacher. I put it down to nerves. I was giving up a promising career in the publishing industry to pursue my dreams of glory as a chef. I wasn't sure I was making the right decision, but it was too late to back out now. I was due at orientation in a little under five hours.
I had tried to ready myself for my plunge into the culinary underbelly. I really thought that I was finished with life in my fishbowl cubicle, and ready to surrender the neat piles of paper fortifying my in-tray for a set of razor-sharp chef 's knives. While I loved my job working at a literary agency, book publishing hadn't turned out to be quite as glamorous as I thought. I realized that I was spending more and more of my time browsing recipe Web sites and fantasizing about what to make for dinner than reading through the mountains of manuscripts that came in the mail every day. I needed to do something more with my life, but what was it?
I come from a long line of women who can cook. My mother, in the long-ago mists of time before she had children, had taken classes at L'Academie de Cuisine near Washington, D.C. While she had not become a professional chef, she had made, from scratch, almost every single meal I ate in childhood. Not for her family would there be frozen dinners or Pizza Hut delivery. We ate real food, from omelets to fricassée aux champignons, calf 's liver (yuck!) to Châteaubriand (my birthday request, every year). It was a wonderful way to live and eat, and as soon as I was old enough to stand on a chair and wield a wooden spoon, I was my mother's eager assistant, graduating from bottle washer to vegetable peeler to sous chef.
The memories of the meals that had sustained my childhood from the piles of warm doughnuts dusted with powdered sugar and herbes de Provence that Mom made on snow days, to the taste of tomatoes from my grandmother's garden, still warm from the heat of a July afternoon, sprinkled with crunchy gray sea salt and a few coarse grinds of pepper, to the airy richness of my first taste of cheese soufflé, made by my father to soothe a sore throat these were the memories of love, of home, of a place where I belonged. As I left my cramped apartment each morning, joining the endless throng of commuters on the crowded subway platform to jam myself into a cramped, sweaty subway car, I felt alone, disconnected from this tidal wave of humanity. At work, I wrestled with the piles of paper flooding my desk every day, an endless stream of manuscripts that would never be published. With every sad rejection letter I would type in response, I knew, deep down, I wanted to do something else, something that held all the comfort of those memories, something that would give that comfort to other people. As I struggled to make my place in the city, to make a life I loved with people I loved, I knew that food was the key.
What if I went to chef school? At first the idea seemed silly is this really what I was going to do with all that education? But gradually, it seemed to make more and more sense, a natural progression from passionate amateur to professional. I would be doing something I loved how many people could say the same? I was at home in Virginia, cooking Easter dinner and bossing everyone around the kitchen, when I decided to take the plunge and see what my family thought. I cooked all the time, and had held down a job at a winery in summers home from college, preparing plates of runny, creamy Camembert and snowy white goat cheese with spicy pâté maison or fat, juicy rounds of venison sausage, toasting crusty baguettes to go with the cold, crisp glasses of seyval and robust cabernet franc wines made from the vines that trailed down the purple slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I had the desire, the drive, the ambition. As I rubbed racks of lamb with a wonderfully pungent paste of lemons, garlic cloves, rosemary, olive oil, and coarse sea salt, I thought again about the possibilities. Could I chuck my nice, steady job for a future behind the stove? I pressed chilled pastry dough into a deep tart pan and covered it in a shaggy layer of grated Gruyère cheese before tipping a panful of sweetly caramelized onions on top. As I slipped the heavy copper roasting pan filled with new potatoes, spears of baby carrots, and branches of fresh herbs into the oven, I thought about what to say.
Hours later, as plates full of food were passed back and forth across the vast expanse of tablecloth and family silver, and the usual Darling family banter went on around me, I was still thinking. Judging by the clean plates coming back for seconds of the rack of lamb and three-onion tart, I had a little talent (inherited from my mother, no doubt). I couldn't love cooking any more if I tried I thought about it all the time, doodling plating ideas in the margins of manuscripts at work, dreaming about new flavor combinations at night. Apparently, I had even woken up my boyfriend, Michael, several times to tell him about some new food idea I had, only to drift back to sleep again, leaving him awake, and hungry, for hours.
Still, I wasn't sure if I was ready to leave the security of my job at the literary agency to go back to school. And then what? I dreamed about owning my own little bistro: a tiny place full of fresh flowers, old silver, and mismatched Wedgwood china, cooking a simple (but spectacular, of course!) menu for a handful of rabidly devoted regulars. Even more scintillating, I fantasized about landing a job in front of the cameras at the Food Network, suddenly able to coach millions of foodie followers through my delicious recipes, maybe even endorsing a special line of cookware Le Creuset made just for me. So my daydreams about chef school were a little pie-in-the-sky. But, I thought, if I can't have champagne wishes and caviar dreams about my future in food, why take the risk?
I was still undecided, but as the long meal drew to a close over one more crispy stalk of oven-roasted asparagus and a final morsel of my mother's heavenly homemade bread rolls smeared with butter, I told my family what I was thinking. Holiday dinners in my family are always a no-holds-barred, lively forum of ideas, and everyone always has an opinion. I think of them as good-natured discussions, but after his first encounter with a Darling family dinner, Michael had asked me plaintively, "Why do you guys fight all the time?" As I served the lemon génoise roulade cake with lemon curd and raspberry coulis, I brought up my idea. For once, there was total silence at the table. I couldn't tell if it was because the cake was a hit or because everyone was too appalled to speak. Michael knew that I had been thinking about doing something different for a little while, but to leave a nine-to-five job and plunge myself (deeply) into debt to go into food full-time? It was lunacy, surely.
My older brother, Eben, looked surprised but was probably relieved that at least I wouldn't be going to grad school with him. We had both gotten undergraduate degrees in history (he from Dartmouth, me from Williams a year later), and I knew he hadn't forgiven me for getting a degree in English as well, one-upping him. Eben and I had spent our entire childhood competing with each other in school, on the swim team, everywhere. Eb had never figured out that I wanted to do everything he did because I considered him the coolest person on earth. Recently he had decided to go to graduate school at Georgetown University to get a master's degree in business. Cool my big brother undoubtedly was, but I drew the line at endlessly crunching numbers; I would far rather dice carrots.
My grandfather was the first one to speak, though he kept sneaking pieces of cake as he talked, popping in a raspberry or two in between sentences. "Well," he said, pausing for a morsel of whipped cream, "I think it is a wonderful idea. I know we were all worried about you moving to New York, although I'm sure it's gotten better than when I was there." Pop-Pop had worked as a proofreader for Condé Nast for forty years. He could do the New York Times crossword puzzle backward and forward, and could pick out a misspelling in a thousand words of text in a split second. It was generally agreed in the family that this was where I had gotten my love of words. "After all, you've managed to find yourself a nice young man..." Here again Pop-Pop paused for another quick bite of cake and to cast a big, sunny smile at Michael. Everyone in the family loved Michael. "And if going to school will make your wonderful cooking any better, watch out, Rachael Ray, here comes Katydid!" Pop-Pop had obviously been watching the Food Network, too. I smiled at the use of my family's long-standing pet name for me, though I secretly shuddered at the thought that my future classmates might one day find out about my dorky nickname.
With my family firmly behind me, I decided to research my options. I looked at chef schools across the country and beyond. After a brutal assessment of my financial situation (grim, verging on dire), I reluctantly put aside thoughts of going to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. It would be the chance of a lifetime, but I wasn't positive my French was up to it. (All I could remember from four years of high school French was watching Delicatessen with subtitles. A French movie poking fun at cannibalism didn't seem like the best preparation for French chef school.) So I confined my search to the States, looking for schools with great reputations and good financial aid programs. I found both at the Culinary Institute of America. Unfortunately, the CIA is located near Poughkeepsie, the armpit of upstate New York. I applied, telling myself that I could take the train every morning and evening, shuttling back and forth from SoHo, capital of hipsters and Eurotrash, to Hyde Park, capital of white trash. Not so much. The train fare alone would cost more than my monthly paycheck, and the commute would leave me no time to study, see Michael, or work a part-time job a necessity even with financial aid. I started looking at schools in Manhattan, programs that would fit the life that I was carving out for myself.
I found it at The French Culinary Institute. Their culinary arts program consisted of nine hundred hours of work in the kitchens spread out over six months (nine if you enrolled in the night program) with small class sizes and a comprehensive and challenging curriculum. We would gradually build up our skills and repertoire of recipes through four levels, going from utter beginners in Level 1, learning how to chop and dice, to making the classic dishes of the cuisine bourgeoise for the chef-instructors in Level 2, to actually cooking for the school's reputable restaurant, L'Ecole, in Levels 3 and 4. Their roster of chef-instructors and deans read like a who's who of culinary titans everyone from Alain Sailhac to Jacques Torres to André Soltner to Jacques Pépin was on the list. The Institute was also housed in a beautiful facility five blocks away from my apartment. As I went on a tour of the school, I took in the spacious kitchens one each for Levels 1 and 2, and a huge combined kitchen for Levels 3 and 4, in addition to a gorgeous bread kitchen and a separate set of kitchens for the pastry students all the shiny appliances on hand, and the blur of white uniforms as students prepared for the lunch rush. I felt like I was at home. This was the life I had been looking for, the excitement and activity that was missing from my usual routine of faxing and filing. And all the students were busy creating, making something delicious for someone else to enjoy. I was hooked. One month after taking the plunge and applying, I was accepted for the class beginning in June.
It was harder than I thought to quit my job at the agency not only was I leaving my friends and coworkers, but I was also leaving the safety of the office environment. I was trading chats by the coffee machine and office birthday parties and getting off early on Fridays in the summer, not to mention the constant comfort and distraction of the Internet and e-mail, for something completely unknown.
Still, the night before orientation, as I lay wide awake after my dream about Jacques Pépin, listening to the night noises of Manhattan, I couldn't help but wonder if I was making the right decision. I was taking a pretty big leap of faith. I loved to cook, but did I have what it took to become one of the best? There was only one way to find out.
Later that morning, as the commuters began their daily spill from the subways and filtered through SoHo's cobbled streets to spacious loft offices, I stood at the corner of Broadway and Broome Street, looking at the plate glass windows of L'Ecole, The Institute's restaurant. For the next six months of my life, I would be making my way from the small apartment I shared with Michael and our cat, Spankie, through the streets of SoHo, to work in the kitchens of The Institute. One day soon, the diners I had watched many times enjoying their lunches would be eating something I made. I tried not to let that thought terrify me.
I pushed through the double doors etched with The Institute's tasteful logo and wound my way through a series of hallways untilI found myself standing outside a small but immaculately appointed auditorium, complete with a chef's demonstration station: a Vulcan range, a bank of wall ovens, even a marble-topped pastry station. It was more like a television studio than a school auditorium, and some of the top chefs from all over the world had demonstrated their signature dishes on that stage. We would be having our orientation inside in a few minutes.
I was so nervous I could barely keep my hands from shaking as I pinned my name tag to my dress. I had agonized over what I should wear to orientation, wanting to strike just the right note with my future classmates and the chef-instructors I would be meeting for the very first time. I ransacked the tiny closet I shared with Michael, creating a blizzard of clothes all over the bed, the nightstand, and the floor. Michael had laughed as I tried on first one outfit and then another, demanding his opinion of each one. No matter what he said, I tore off the outfit and began rooting through the piles of clothes for something else. My entire wardrobe was made up of things I could wear to work at the literary agency. Skirts, dresses, sweaters, blouses, jackets: nothing too revealing or casual, but nothing too dressy, either. When did my fashion sense shrink to business casual? In defeat I finally put on my old interview outfit, the one I had bought in college to wear to my job interviews in the city. Even though it was a few years old and made from some sort of fabric guaranteed not to show sweat, the black knee-length dress looked passable, and I jazzed it up by exchanging the jacket (too structured, too desperate, too polyester) with a tissue-thin gray sweater flung over my shoulders and a pair of jazzy red strappy sandals. I grabbed my oversize red bag and headed off to school. As I stood outside the auditorium, shifting my weight from foot to foot to keep those three-inch heels from cutting into my tender flesh, I could catch an occasional glimpse of one of the imposing chef-instructors as he stalked across the stage. It made me so nervous I wanted to throw up. I tried to calm myself down by picturing what I would make for dinner. The thought of chopping vegetables and sautéing immediately made me feel more calm. At last we were invited in to sit down; I took a seat and began to case my future classmates.
There were twenty-four of us in all, twelve men and twelve women, and as students filtered into the auditorium, I wasn't the only one checking everybody out. I was one of the only people wearing something other than jeans, and I was definitely the only one in high heels. Most of the male members of my class were wearing jeans and T-shirts, and not in the Euro, artfully disheveled way I was familiar with, but in the I-just-rolled-out-of-bed-and-put-this-on way, like they might be late for a monster truck convention somewhere. The girls were all wearing jeans or skirts with tops in varying degrees of trendiness. One girl was rocking the whole seventies thing Dr. Scholl's, polo shirt, Farrah Fawcett waves. She looked cool. Another was wearing a loose knee-length skirt with a surfer tee and hemp bracelets total West Coast laid-back chic. I was the only one who seemed to be trying so hard that even my clothes were embarrassed.
I knew I should be paying more attention to the instructions we were being given in this lecture, the first in our three-hour orientation session before classes were slated to begin. But I was still nervous, and feeling more uncertain that I had made the right decision quitting my job to pursue my dream. But I definitely wasn't the only twenty-something here most of the class looked like they were in their late twenties or thirties, probably looking to do something a little bit different than the nine-to-five grind they had been doing since college. That made me feel a little better I was being daring and following a different path, but here were a bunch of other people just like me. There were a few people who were older than the rest of us, and a couple of students looked like they were fresh out of high school. Well, if my dreams of being a chef didn't work out, at least I could fall back on my actual college degree. I wondered what these youngsters would do if there was a chef recession, but I guess no matter what, people need to eat.
I tried to focus on what was being said from the podium on- stage. There were directives on what could and could not be worn underneath our school-issued uniforms and on personal grooming. Men were expected to shave every day, and women were expected to keep their hair up and out of harm's way at all times not just to keep it out of the food, but also to keep it from becoming tangled in the industrial-grade machinery we would be working with. I thought of getting sucked into the chomping jaws of some giant sausage grinder and shuddered. I brushed my own long blond bangs out of my eyes and wondered whether I should just lop it off for the duration. Hands and fingers should always be scrupulously clean; no jewelry would be permitted not even wedding rings.
No problem there, I thought to myself. I had never been the sort of person to wear a lot of jewelry, and while Michael and I were perfectly happy, I didn't think wedding bells were going to be in our future anytime soon. Maybe ever. Michael was in his late thirties, never married, and hadn't ever had a really serious girlfriend before I moseyed into the picture. I had always vowed that I would wind up a little old spinster with lots of cats, tending a huge vegetable garden and canning my own jam.
For a few minutes I was so lost in my thoughts, mapping out my heirloom tomato patch and refining my recipe for tomato jam perhaps some balsamic vinegar for zing, and a vanilla bean for comforting spice I forgot to listen to the lecture. I came back to earth with a thud, just in time to catch the rest of the instructions about proper grooming. The nails should be trimmed very short and always be free from dirt and grime. There could be no polish on the nails, either. It was too prone to flaking and falling into the food. What a disgusting thought. Well, I had no fears on that front my nails had always been woefully short, despite my attempts to pamper them with rich moisturizers and the occasional manicure.
There was one more thing: absolutely no perfume or cologne could be worn in the kitchens at any time. This last restriction seemed a trifle strange who cared what we smelled like as long as we smelled good? But after some thought, it made sense. We were going to be learning to be classically trained chefs, and true chefs use all five of their senses to cook with. Perfume merely blunts the sense of smell of the wearer and those around her, without adding anything to the food. I thought wistfully of my bottle of Chanel No. 5 perched on the dresser at home. I would pass it on to my mom, who always seemed to smell better in it anyway.
I had been making conscientious notes throughout our lecture, more out of habit than a real need to remember the things being said we had received a large orientation packet with copious quantities of paper, most of which was a straight regurgitation of what was being said, word for word. I could hear some of the students in the rows behind me whispering back and forth. A few of them obviously must have known one another already, and I cursed myself for giving in to my good-girl tendencies and sitting in the front row I was already missing out! After several firm, very intimidating lectures from various chef-instructors warning us that the next six months would be harder than we had ever imagined (my highly active imagination automatically kicked into overdrive, dreaming up visions of finger amputations, grueling trials by fire literally failing the practical exam, and other horrific situations that might be in store), we were given a bit of a breather by Rose, head liaison between the students and the rest of the support staff and chefs. One by one, she called us to the front of the room, where we each received a large black duffel bag containing our new uniforms: two side towels, two neckerchiefs, two pairs of checked chef 's pants, and two chef's jackets embroidered with our names and The Institute's logo over the breast pocket.
Back at our seats, the sporadic whispering broke into an excited buzz as we eagerly dug into our duffels and ran our hands over the nifty things inside it was even better than Christmas, and even though everyone's uniform was identical, we enthusiastically held up our own jackets and oohed and aahed over each other's. I whipped around to see everybody else with identical grins the same one that was no doubt plastered all over my own face. They were giving us real chef's jackets; it was almost like we were real chefs! (Little did we know.) While I couldn't say I was superexcited about wearing pleated-front polyester blend pants every day for the next six months, I was thrilled with my chef 's jackets. There it was, in black and white: my name, in tasteful block embroidery. There really was no going back now I was going to be a chef like my heroes: Jacques, Julia, Mario, Alice.
The awe and wonder of the voyage we were all embarking on lasted another half hour. We had one more intimidating lecture about the consequences for not obeying various school regulations. I hoped they were joking about being disemboweled with a boning knife and fed through the industrial Cuisinart, or being boiled alive in one of the schools fifty-gallon stockpots, but even a day's suspension from school and automatic ineligibility for class honors was enough to scare me. (My good-girl tendencies again.) Then we were released to find our way down to the small reception held in our honor in the school's restaurant. Burdened by our bulky duffel bags, we herded together in several large groups, sticking close to the walls and trying to stay as far away from the instructors as possible. One of the instructors, a very handsome, very tan ringer for a young Johnny Depp, wearing the most gorgeously starched and snowy white uniform I had ever seen, brought a tray of hors d'oeuvres over to the group of frightened students I was currently clinging to. Helllooo there, I thought to myself, before remembering my darling Michael and the school's strict regulations against fraternizing with the instructors.
Offering the tray around, the chef introduced himself as Chef Paul. He would be our pastry chef in Levels 3 and 4. I was suffering from a major attack of shyness and looked everywhere around the room instead of directly at him. Chef Paul seemed to sense the nervousness in all of us and he laughed gently at us.
"Don't worry about me," he said. "I'm a total pussycat. Worry about some of them over there." He gesticulated toward a group of chefs clumped together by the bar. They looked like a malevolent cloud bank all puffy white shirtfronts and frowns.
"Here, have a cheese puff." Chef Paul pushed the platter under my nose. "You'll be making thousands of these little goodies soon enough. Enjoy them while you have the chance."
I detected a definite twinkle in his eye, so I took one. "Good," he said. "Now go brave that bar and get yourself a glass of wine. The other chefs won't bite."
I took a deep breath and heeded his advice, putting down my bag and making a beeline to the row of red and white wine bottles lined along the polished wood of the bar, hoping to snag a glass of white before I could attract the attention of the chefs lurking far too close for comfort.
I was soon joined by my future classmates. Once we had managed to get a glass each of the very nice Chablis (not too dry, with a hint of crispness, just what I needed to quench my nervous thirst), we started to get to know each other, peering at each other's name tags and discussing where we lived and what we had done before chef school.
While there were plenty of people from New York, many students had come from distant parts of the country and even the world to attend class here. Imogene, a petite brunette in a stylish outfit, was a suburban mother from just outside the beltway loop of Washington, D.C. Despite her youthful appearance, Imogene's two girls were almost grown, and at a little past forty, Imo had decided that for her next career, she would become a professional chef.
Philip was a native New Yorker from Long Island, and had recently quit his job as a very successful bond trader on Wall Street. His office had been in the World Financial Center, and as Philip watched the events of September 11 unfold from his window, he realized he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing a job he loved, not one he loathed. I would have pegged him as a fellow New Yorker his Levi's were Capital E brand, and I thought I detected that his artfully scuffed loafers were Prada. His plain white T-shirt looked softer than my precious 500-thread-count sheets and definitely didn't come in a three-pack from Fruit of the Loom.
Before I could get to know Philip any better, he was enveloped by an exotic foreign woman whose long black hair and pouty lips set off a flawless café au lait complexion. Her makeup was perfect, but I noticed a faint fan of lines around her eyes, and while she was swathed in the smallest pair of Paige Premium Denim jeans I had ever seen, something about her stance proclaimed she had been around the block a few times and was probably closer to forty than thirty. The enormous Kelly bag she hitched casually over her arm was real, and I salivated over its vintage gorgeousness even as she used it to expertly elbow me out of the conversation. Who knew vintage bags packed such a wallop? That was definitely going to leave a mark I would have a couture bruise. I caught her name as she coyly whispered it to Philip's chiseled pecs, "...call me Mimi. So pleased to meet another student with a bit of class." I guess my outfit (and all the agonizing I had done over it) hadn't cut the mustard!
Amanda, the girl with the surfer tee and hemp bracelets, was indeed from Southern California and had the trademark laid-back lifestyle and speech pattern. Working in public relations had been "a total downer" for her, and she had decided to try living on the East Coast and making a go of her hobby of cooking before she turned thirty. "I mean, one meal at Chez Panisse and I was like totally blown away. It's like beyond food food."
Angelo was a New Jersey native, and had graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a degree in graphic design. After an unfulfilling stint at an ad agency, Angelo realized his creativity needed a different outlet, and had turned to food, interning at several well-known restaurants in the city before deciding to get his culinary degree. His tight T-shirt didn't quite cover what looked like a massive tribal tattoo, encircling one massive bicep (more like a whole jamón serrano than an appendage), and the ring through his nose heavily accentuated his bull-like physique his neck was as wide as my waist with his heavy Jersey accent making him seem even more like a tough guy. Fashion was definitely not what I would have expected from such a tough customer, but his blue eyes were very kind, and he swirled the wine around in his glass with a practiced motion of his massive, meaty paws. It turned out he had gone to high school with the retro seventies chick her name was Jackie. Her long brown hair, big brown eyes, and the way she absolutely rocked her super-low-cut jeans made me think I had just met the class bombshell. When she mentioned that she used to work for the Yankees and still got tickets from the organization, I was certain. Jackie was a total man magnet. This was her second round of food education: she had recently completed a course in food styling at the Institute for Culinary Education and was doing an internship in the prop department at the Food Network the Holy Grail for the rest of us.
Off in a corner, a middle-aged biddy had managed to corral Dean Jacques Pépin and seemed to be asking for his autograph. Her flat midwestern vowels were making mincemeat of the melodic French syllables he uttered, and I clearly heard her referring to her "world-famous green bean casserole Franceeese." (Apparently, canned pearl onions provided the "Franceeese-ness.") I tried not to stare openly. My hero Jacques Pépin was being mauled by a future classmate of mine. I wondered if she had dreamed about eating him, too it looked like she was trying her best to gobble him up right now.
I looked around at the other students populating the room. Most of them had stowed their duffels and detached themselves from the walls to mingle, have a glass or two of wine, and corner the quickly disappearing noshes. They certainly seemed to come from all walks of life. Where was I going to fit in? I sipped the rest of my wine, thought about the office job I had so recently left behind, with all the comforts of the cubicle life limitless Internet, endless coffee, and free paper clips. I hoped I had made the right decision. I saddled myself with my duffel bag, suddenly heavy with uncertainty in addition to uniforms that would have to be hemmed and dry-cleaned, and headed out into the June afternoon in downtown Manhattan.
Copyright © 2009 by Katherine Darling
Meet the Author
Katherine Darling graduated first in her class at the French Culinary Institute in New York City. After receiving her diploma, she went on to work at Saveur magazne. She currently lives in Manhattan.
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