Behind The Butter

Chronicles of Culinary School, Part II

I slowly grow accustomed to the shouting and the lineups.

As promised, I’m known as “the enemy” by my chef instructor and I feel miserably out of place in a sea of adolescent guys with pockmarked faces and crude jokes. We don’t cook yet, we just listen to Chef dictate measurements and temperatures, and I scribble notes furiously in my notebook that reminds me of college. I remember just a few weeks before, I had laid all my notebooks and cookbooks down on the carpet of my brand new apartment and labeled each one with a red permanent marker. I loved the feeling of going back to school and had always been a terrific student, at the top of my class. Here though, in this unfamiliar cold kitchen no one else has organized notebooks and folders like in my English classes. Instead, students are scribbling on torn looseleaf with pencils (pencils!) and with my ball point black pen and quiet mannerism, I’m instantly pinned as the class nerd.

My heart jumps to my throat on the sixth day of class when, during lineup, Chef inspects the length of our pants. I knew I was supposed to have them hemmed but between the two hours of homework per day and working at the restaurant, I hadn’t had a chance yet.

“Ahhh, the enemy!” Chef says when it’s my turn to be inspected. I have a pimple the size of Mt. Everest growing on my chin.

“Good morning, Chef!” I respond.

He goes through the basics: looking at my fingernails, checking the creases in my uniform, making sure my hairnet is secure and my face is make-up free, and then when he gets to my pants he stops. “These are way too long, Weber. You were supposed to have these hemmed by now.” He looks at me and the color drains from my face (I can’t help it that Chef makes me so nervous—it brings my social awkwardness to a whole new level).

“I’m sorry, Chef. I’ll do it today,” I say.

“You better. I’ll mark you down a grade if these aren’t perfect by lineup tomorrow.”

Later that afternoon I’m sitting in my apartment staring at my bank account on my laptop screen, a half eaten turkey and cheese sandwich next to me. Getting my pants hemmed would at least cost twenty dollars and that would ride into my food budget for the month. Screw it, I mutter under my breath and decide to just do it myself. In my closet, I find the small plastic sewing kit my mom gave me—the same sewing kit that has remained sealed for the past four years—because, more than anything else, I hate sewing with a burning passion.

I tell myself it must be done though, and after I pour myself a large glass of wine I sit down on the couch with the Food Network on and prepare to hem my first pair of pants. The stitches look all loose and loopy and despite my best efforts, the finished product looks more like a retro seventies pattern than anything else. I wonder briefly if I should pick it all out and start over, but then I glance at my watch and it’s already ten o’clock.

To be continued…


Read Part I here

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  • Jackie
    August 27, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    No make up? Hemmed pants? PENCILS? Everything is backwards in culinary school, apparently.

  • Kayla @ Let's Live Wholesome
    August 27, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    NOO!! You can’t leave us hanging!!

  • Jasmine @ Eat Move Write
    August 27, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Ah lol, a cliff-hanger. Touche, from one writer to another.

    You are good.

  • Jessica @ How Sweet It Is
    August 27, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    I can’t even sew on a button. Yikes!

  • Janna (janna's keeping it real)
    August 27, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    Love it! I can NOT wait for your book, lady!:0)

  • Dee
    August 27, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    Your writing is reaaallly good! I can’t believe I’m at the edge of my seat over whether someone is going to get their hemline straight in time! Because I am. Awesome!

  • courtney
    August 27, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Keep it coming, this is fun to read Jenna! 🙂

  • Tasha
    August 27, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    my husband went to culinary school and he never experiences anything like this! You poor thing – I would seriously start crying if I was in your shoes.

  • hippierunner
    August 27, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    This is really great, Jenna! So descriptive, it got me feeling nervous as you were!

  • Courtney
    August 27, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    You are a great story teller! Your book is going to rock!

  • eatmovelove
    August 27, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    LOL – if your sewing is anything like mine – they would have been un-ravelled by the time I got outside my door. Been there, still doing that! 🙂

  • Ryan
    August 27, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    This is a great story, keep them coming!

  • Amy
    August 27, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    I love the way you write. Your book is destined to be a favorite 🙂

  • Kim@BudgetOrganicLiving
    August 27, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    Um…your pants? What about your pants?

    Did you get them hemmed? Do they pass inspection?

    I am going to try and wait patiently for Friday for the answer, but if you decide you feel like writing more tomorrow then that is good too! 🙂

    Have a great night!

  • Becca@ Starting Over From Scratch
    August 27, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    I start culinary school in a week, and my mom keeps yelling at me to get my pants hemmed…I guess i’ll get on it! You’re scaring me!

  • Stacey
    August 27, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    Your instructor sounds so intimidating! Can’t wait 2 read more:)

  • Emily
    August 27, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Okay, this was a great idea! I feel like I’m reading the blog from Julie & Julia or something! 🙂

  • Trish
    August 27, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Ahhhh! No! You can’t stop there! I MUST know what happens next! 🙂

    And I would have just taped or pinned my pants up. I can’t thread a needle to save my life.

  • kristina
    August 27, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    cool story!! love it! hey jenna, you mentioned that you watch the Food Network. . ., which chef (show) is your favorite? I like Giada’s show — her recipes are so simple and delicious. I own all of her cookbooks. Bobby Flay & Tyler Florence are cool too.

  • Kelly R
    August 27, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    I have been enjoying reading about your experiences in culinary school. Attending culinary school is a far fetched dream of mine, and after reading what you have written so far, I’m not sure I’m cut out for it. But, a dream is a dream, and maybe someday I’ll achieve it.

  • Amber K
    August 27, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    I can’t wait to hear the rest. There’s no way I could hem pants!

  • Sana
    August 27, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    I had no idea culinary school was so strict…

  • sarah k. @ the pajama chef
    August 27, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    oh gosh i would have been SO freaked out. way to go, jenna! love hearing your story. can’t wait to read more.

  • Nicole @ yuppie yogini
    August 27, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    Reading stories in sections reminds me of the way my highschool english teacher made us read David Copperfield.

  • polly
    August 27, 2010 at 6:16 pm

    hello love!
    I think you are a peach all no make-up, Food network watching, and hemming those pants. 😀

    Hugs from big sis.

  • Meg
    August 27, 2010 at 6:27 pm


  • Christina
    August 27, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    I love reading your culinary school story. It’s probably as close as I’ll ever come to it. I love, love, love the last picture of the books. Is that in your home?

  • Suzanne de Cornelia
    August 27, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    Love it! Terrific visualizations–my mind flew off to all the little known magic pimple cures. 😉

    BTW, (re your media credentials for SF Food Festival) Menton, France Lemon Festival is annual big deal in Feb. Menton is known for their gourmet lemons (used by Paul Bocuse, etc) the ‘Pearl of France’ on the Cote d’Azur, walking distance to Italian border and Monaco. They could benefit from a Foodbuzz reporter-girl:

  • Sarah
    August 27, 2010 at 10:08 pm

    Loving it!

  • Tina
    August 28, 2010 at 5:17 am

    Love the new story posts! You are such a talented writer!

  • Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin
    August 28, 2010 at 5:46 am

    Your chef instructor sounds kind of scary! I had no idea culinary school was so boot camp-like! 😛

  • Rowan
    August 28, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Leaving me hanging, leaving me HANGING! I’m excited for the next installment!

  • Kate
    August 28, 2010 at 1:16 pm

    Sorry to be cynical but i don’t really like the new design. The way the blogs and comments are displayed. Its exactly like KathEats and I could not stand her blog. Hope ELR 2.0 isn’t like this or it would irritate me like hers did.

    • jenna
      August 28, 2010 at 1:38 pm

      Kate, thanks for sticking with me. This is only a very temporary redesign while my new design is being worked on. I’m sorry it doesn’t float your boat though!

  • Heather
    August 28, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    i love the idea of the chef being so much like a drill sergeant…what a character! although when i was working in the kitchen for some of my classes in college our chefs were the same way…

  • wendy
    August 29, 2010 at 4:09 pm

    Stichwitchery girlfriend. You will never pay for a hem, nor sew again!

  • Rose
    September 4, 2010 at 9:13 am

    I am also in culinary school and I can so relate to your blog!

    The pure sadism I’ve endured in the last month and a half has been like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my 40 years of life (yes, that does make me about twice the age of the average culinary student.) On Wednesday, it was 95 degrees in NYC, so of course, this was the day they decided to make us turn on every oven in the room to 400 degrees for the entire day. They also refused to let us take our usual 20 minute break to punish us (for what, I really can’t say). When I finally broke down and told the Chefs that I was extremely dizzy and feared fainting, I was coldly informed that this proved that I didn’t have the stuff to make it in this field.

    After weeks of being on the fence about it, at that moment I decided that I really hated these people with the burning passion of a thousand suns!

    Your blog has inspired me to start a chronicle of my own experiences at culinary school. I’ll post a link here when I get it up and running.

  • Marie
    December 7, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Oh Jenna this was so fun to read, even the second time around. I hope you’ll be doing more of these Chronicles, and I look forward to your book!