I have always loved to cook. Cooking is a way for me to create and express myself and nourish others. Even though I love spending time in the kitchen, going to culinary school to become a chef was never something that was really on my mind. I was living in Southern California and studying nutrition when I started to think about it. I thought it was something that could be very helpful, as all the projects I want to do in my life are related to nutrition, health, and cooking. I thought seriously about it for a long time, and after it became clear that it was something I wanted to do, I started my research.
The first school I considered was the Natural Gourmet Institute (NGI). It’s a very well-known school, and I had taken a gluten-free weekend seminar the previous year which I really enjoyed. But I wanted to see what other schools were out there so that I could compare and be sure about my decision. I had a few schools in mind but came back to my first choice. I chose NGI because it’s a health supportive culinary school, mostly vegetarian (but I was happy they were not 100% vegetarian as I wanted to learn a little bit of everything), and also because their program is relatively short, and they use organic, fresh, local, wholesome foods. It was the perfect fit for me, so I decided to enroll in their full-time program.
After I received a letter saying I was accepted, it was time to start looking for an apartment where I could be comfortable for a few months. I wanted to find something relatively close to the school, and a place where I could cook and bring my dog. I was certainly not going to leave without my fur baby. So I found something online, in Chelsea, which was three blocks away from the school and right next to Whole Foods. It was just perfect. Some people find roommates, and you can arrange that with the school when you enroll, but I preferred to have my own place. So I moved in two days before starting school in September. I was now in my new apartment, with my dog, ready to start. I was very excited.
The first day of school was fun. I met my new classmates, visited the school, and met a few teachers as well as the staff. We presented ourselves to the group and listened to a lecture. There were 16 in our group which was the maximum number of students allowed–12 girls and 4 guys. Ages were all different, but most people were in their 20s.
The schedule goes from 9:15 am to 4:15 pm, and you finish at 1:15 pm on Fridays. You can also arrive earlier and stay at school a bit longer if you want or need to. You have about an hour for lunch, and you can bring your own, go outside to eat, or go back home, which is what I did most of the time. It’s important to get good, comfortable shoes as you spend a lot of your time on your feet. When you are not cooking, you are watching a cooking demo or listening to a lecture related to health, nutrition, or cooking. You don’t have lectures every day, but you do have a lot, especially by the end of the program. For the uniform, you don’t get it at school. You need to buy it in a store. If you enroll in their program, make sure to get your uniform before school starts, as it takes time to try on, and you also have to wait until it’s ready.
During the program, you are required to do some work outside of the school. You will work in the kitchen as well as in the front of the house (service) on some Friday nights. It ends around 10 pm. You will also need to do a few hours of volunteer work. I highly recommend doing all your hours as soon as possible so you have that out of your way. You get busier as the program goes on, and you have homework, tests, and exams to prepare for. By the end of the program, you also have to work on a project, which is to create a three-course plant-based menu for 100 people. You have to plan it, create and write the recipe for every single dish, do the costing, testing, and all the prepping and cooking. It’s really a great experience. The program goes really fast. At the end of the program, you will do a 100-hour internship at the place of your choice. It’s best to find a place that fits with your beliefs and what you want to do later so that you can get the most of out it. I did mine at Hu Kitchen. It took me two and a half weeks to complete.
As far as the location, school, teachers and program, well first, the location is great. It’s right in town, you have everything around, and the farmer’s market is within walking distance to the school, and it’s open all year long. The school is great. It’s pretty small, but they use very good quality cookware and they have a lot of different equipment. The teachers are all very knowledgeable and caring, and they love what they do. They all have very different styles and personalities, which is great as you learn different things from each of them. In terms of the program, I really enjoyed it, but it goes very fast. You definitely don’t need any experience to go to the school, but I have to say that it really helps if you do. If you are the type of person that like to learn and then practice at home and take your time to absorb the content, you may want to think about doing the part-time program instead, which is much cheaper too.
One of the biggest disappointments for me was that you mostly follow recipes during the whole program, which is something I never really do. Also, you don’t do all the recipes during the class. Everyone cooks something different, unless you work in teams, and then you eat the food once everything is done. So because of that, I found that you miss out on a lot. I think we should have done more “intuitive” cooking and learned how to think to create a great dish, which we did a little bit by the end of the program but not enough in my opinion. There are also a lot of cooking demos, which is a great way to learn. One of the great things about the program is that you use really good quality ingredients, you eat good food, you practice and improve your knife skills, you learn different cooking techniques and different cuisines, and you also learn to cook for people who have different health issues. So it’s not just about cooking, but cooking for health and healing too, which is what I love.
I really enjoyed the program, even though there were a few things I was not completely satisfied with. I really got a lot out of it. I also made new friends. It was a great life experience, and I’m very happy I went. It will definitely help me achieve my goals.
Here are a few pictures..
This is me making a bread in pastry class
Now this is with the pineapple cake and frosting I made
Cookies we made
Homemade grilled seitan skewers
The main course my team and I made for our friday night dinner. We made this dish for 100 people.
We made a balsamic glazed tempeh with parsnip blue potato mash, wild mushroom sauce, sautéed chipotle rainbow chard, and roasted seasonal vegetables.