Today was a special day for my Kathy and me. Our son Ryan has attended the Culinary School at Manchester Bidwell for the past year, and today was his Chef of the Day Challenge. Yes, we have another budding chef in the family, but his skills are being formally trained while Kathy and I learned using the ‘hit and miss’ teaching curriculum–not a bad way to learn, but it takes a lifetime commitment and many, many humbling moments.
He’s been planning for this challenge for weeks. Prior to his assigned Challenge Day, he was responsible for selecting and creating the recipes for the multicourse menu he chose as presented in the header photo for this blog. He then collaborated with the professional staff chefs to order, purchase and cost out the ingredients for the menu items. He then had to create a detailed workplan and timeline for the 14 or so student chefs that would be under his guidance while they prepared, cooked, sauced and served the meal to about 20 or so people, including the student chefs and professional staff chefs. On the assigned day, he then had to lead and guide the student chefs through the execution phase of the dinner and be ready to serve it at precisely 2:30 pm.
Effectively, he played the role the head or executive chef would ordinarily play in a larger restaurant. In my mind, the most daunting element of the Challenge is that the students and professional staff rate the meal and his performance as the head chef for the day. There’s nothing more challenging than having to tell people what to do in a multi-tasking environment, and then have the workers who performed the tasks critique the outcomes.
I was involved early in the menu debate phase because he wanted to do something different, but not too outside the box or complex. He also had a budget to deal with, so legs of lamb, prime rib, filets and other expensive ingredients were off the table. He had to have a fish and meat course and enough prep and cooking elements to occupy the full complement of student chefs during the day. Since many of the menu items we cook around the house were familiar to him and us, he chose some family favorites, and added a few new ones to keep things interesting. Brave soul, that boy!!
He and Kathy then spoke almost everyday to discuss ingredients, quantities and the other ‘little’ things she does to make her recipes special. For example, she adds Chinese Five Spices to her fruit cobblers to give them a bright and unique layer of flavor. (Please note, this could be my last blog, because She’ll probably rip my fingers off for disclosing that little tidbit!)
We were invited guests to the dinner, and I arrived just in time for plating and serving to begin. I have to say, Ryan seemed not the least bit nervous or rattled. He was smiling, and appeared confident that the team of student chefs had performed admirably and expertly to create his menu exactly as he desired.
The plating was terrific, the food tasted fresh and healthy, and the menu items worked well together to create a great tasting dinner!! Compliments were flowing freely among the student chefs and the professional staff chefs, because they were pleased with the outcome knowing they had each contributed much to the dinner.
He’s come a long way since he began this Culinary School, and we couldn’t be more proud of what he is accomplishing, and of the potential he has in his newly found skill. I wish I could say he was a ‘chip off the ol’ block’ but the truth is he is creating his own chips for his future. Pretty cool to be a young person with a lifetime of mastering recipes, creating menus and learning cooking techniques before them.
If I had it to do over agian, I’d still have been a businessman, but I’d have spent more time following my passion for cooking–even if it was only an occassional international cooking school every now and again. There’s a lesson in there for all of us with primary careers and earning a living–save room in your life for the passions yet unchased–they’ll make your life richer and more fulfilling even if for just moments of time during a lifetime.