I 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 in Santa Monica while studying nutrition when I first thought about it. After all, all the projects I wanted to do after my studies were related to not only health and nutrition but cooking as well. I’ve done different cooking classes and weekend seminars, but I’ve never been to a real cooking school. I also wanted to start a family soon so going to culinary school was something I was seriously thinking doing soon so I started my researches to see the kind of schools and programs out there.
The first school I considered was the Natural Gourmet Institute (NGI) in New York City as I took a gluten-free weekend class the year before and I really enjoyed it. I still wanted to see what were the other options out there but after a lot of time reflecting, I thought the Natural Gourmet Institute was the one that was more aligned with my beliefs and goals. Plus, going to spend a few months in New York City was so appealing to me. I love the city. So I chose NGI because it’s a health supportive culinary school, mostly vegetarian (I was vegetarian at that time but I was happy to know they were not 100% vegetarian since I also wanted to learn how to cook meat, poultry and fish), use organic, fresh, local, wholesome foods, and because their program is relatively short. 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 to the school, it was the time for me to start looking for a furnished apartment that I could rend for a few months. It wasn’t the easiest task but I did found one walking distance from the school. I also went with my little Maltese so I had to find a place where they would allow my dog. So I found a cute furnished apartment in Chelsea online, which was three blocks away from the school and right next to Whole Foods – YAY! And it had a kitchen! YAY! It was perfect for me. When you enrolled at school, you can find apartments via them and even have roommates to share the cost but I just 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 and 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. We were 16 in our group which was the maximum number of students allowed. We were 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 or go outside to eat, or sometimes eat the food you prepared at school in the morning. I usually went back home to eat and see my dog. 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 cooking demos or listening to lectures related to different subjects like health, nutrition or cooking. You don’t have lectures every day but more towards 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, try to get your uniform before school starts as it takes time to try it on and you have to wait to go get it.
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 them 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 in group, create and write the recipe for every single dish, do the costing, testing, and all the prepping and cooking. It’s a great experience and it’s really fun too. The program goes really fast. At the end of the program, you also do a 100-hour internship at the place of your choice. You will get recommendations but the choice is yours. 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 about two and a half weeks to complete my hours.
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. They use very good quality cookware and they have a lot of different equipment. I found the school to be small but it’s New York.. The teachers are also very knowledgeable 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. It can even be hard to keep up. 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 and learn at your rhythm, you may consider doing the part-time program instead. It’s longer but you have more time between classes to absorb the content, practice at home, etc. It’s also much cheaper.
One of the biggest disappointments for me was that you mostly have to 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. Then you usually eat the food once everything is done or bring it home. So because you don’t make every single recipes, I found that you miss out on a lot. There are still demos at the beginning of the cooking class but you learn a lot when you make it yourself. I also think we should do more “intuitive” cooking. We did some by the end of the program but not enough in my opinion. 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.
Overall, I really enjoyed the program even though there were a few things I wish were different. I learnt a lot, made new friends and had an amazing life experience. I can say it will definitely help me achieve some of my goals.
As a side note, I got pregnant by the end of the program so I did my internship pregnant. Then, I couldn’t wait to leave New York City because I was suddenly so paranoid with all the air pollution haha! Good memories. Good times.
Here are a few pictures during the school year.
This is me making a bread in pastry class
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.