My trek to culinary school started when I received a copy of Betty Crocker’s Book of Baking from my parents when I was 8. I moved from cookies and brownies to triple-layer cakes and mousses in no time, and I carefully marked my notes about each recipe right on the page. When I turned 15, I took a job in a candy store, but when that didn’t prove to be enough fun (and the management was lousy), one of my dad’s friends got me a job at a European bakery, Jean Paul’s Pleasures. While his bakery may have sounded like a sex shop, Jean Paul was not fooling around. A giant Swiss man who looked like he was carrying triplets in his mammoth gut, Jean Paul was dedicated to producing fantastic breads and beautiful desserts for the public and high-quality lunches for private jets. At JP’s I handled most of the front-of-house duties and learned basic decorating skills.
Fast-forward 10 years. After graduating from Syracuse University with a degree in magazine journalism (and working in several local restaurants), I moved to Philadelphia for my first real job. While my job sucked, my boyfriend at the time was at least handy in the kitchen and could work on a budget, so we ate well. Then one day he decided he didn’t want to cook anymore, and I had no choice but to pick up my knives and start cooking.
Around this time I also discovered Philadelphia’s Italian market. This half-indoor/half-outdoor market is a treasure trove of great butcher shops, cheese sellers, and fresh produce. I began going to the market at least once a week to gather goodies so I could cook up elaborate meals for my friends. Once I started cooking, I just couldn’t stop, and soon I was cooking big dinners two or three times a week.
When I moved to Chicago, I found that having dinner parties was a great way to meet new friends, and my cooking crash course kept taking new turns. I wanted to try more and more adventurous projects, and I wanted to make everything from scratch—chicken stock, bread, cheese, piecrusts, BBQ sauce, EVERYTHING—and I did. I made food for anyone who would come over and eat it. I just wanted to cook everything in sight.
It was no joke when my teacher Chef DeWan mentioned that almost every chef could link his or her journey to culinary school to Julia Child. I crossed paths with Julia, too. A little over a year ago I picked up a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. After immersing myself in it for a few weeks and cooking up some of her recipes, I was hooked. I read her autobiography, My Life in France, I saw the movie Julie & Julia, and I started renting old episodes of The French Chef. How this middle-aged, over-the-top, loud-mouthed American woman came to dominate French cooking in the United States blew my mind, and I just couldn’t get enough. If Julia could do it, I could do it, too.
I often make large dinners for my own family and friends, but in May 2010 I catered a Mother’s Day dinner at a friend’s house. The family raved about the dinner and asked when I was planning to launch my catering business. That night in bed, I realized that I just needed to go to culinary school. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Culinary school was my next step, and I set up visits to Kendall and Le Cordon Bleu the very next day. I enrolled in Kendall College’s Personal Chef and Professional Catering Certificate program the day after that. It was a long time coming, but I’m finally made it to culinary school. A year and a half later, I had my Kendall College certificate in hand, and I’m off to start a catering and personal chef business in Cincinnati, Ohio.