I believe that I always intrinsically knew I would ultimately make the decision to attend culinary school and pursue baking and pastry as a career. While living at home over the past year and a half, I had the opportunity to take a step back from the chaos that became my life as an academic counselor while living in Memphis. During my time at home, I spent countless hours in reflection and contemplation about what to do and when to do it. I want to share with you some of the reflections that really made it evident this was the next step for me.
Reflection 1. Christmas. Every one I can remember.
My favorite part of the Christmas holiday celebration (every holiday really) is the food, and in particular, the baked goods. My family has maintained a deep tradition around the Christmas holiday of baking an extraordinary amount of cookies, mostly from our Italian heritage. I have strong memories and perfect mental images of members of my family gathering in our kitchen to bake cookies. For example, I can close my eyes and see the following scene. Mom measuring ingredients. Dad mixing the thick batter. Pap hanging out or overseeing the process. Gram getting ingredients ready for icing. My brother, Joe, hanging out waiting to sample. And me, trying to help wherever possible. It never failed that as soon as a batch of cookies came out of the oven, Pap would snag one for that fresh-from-the-oven taste.
Each member of my family has a favorite Christmas cookie, and we make about a dozen different kinds each year. Sometimes we gather like I noted above; sometimes one person makes a certain kind and divides them out to the rest of the family. We eat these cookies well into the new year and it's not strange for someone in my family to freeze them well into the winter.
Last year, I did a great deal of the Christmas baking. I spent a full eight-hour day with my cousin Jen just to make one type of cookie. Seriously, we made like 600 of them in one day. It was pretty crazy. But it was also a moment in which I thought: I could do this every day.
Reflection 2. Birthdays in Grade School
I went to a small Catholic school through 8th grade, Holy Spirit School. It was tradition in school that on your birthday, you would bring a treat for your classmates to help celebrate your birthday. I don't know where the tradition started, but I always liked it.
My mom and I usually made the same kind of cupcake for my birthday - a yellow and chocolate marble cupcake with chocolate icing. In 4th grade, my teacher asked me, "Carol, how do you get the chocolate in the cupcake?" I explained to her how you fill the cupcake paper with the yellow batter, drop in a smaller amount of the chocolate batter, and take a knife and swirl it around to make it look like marble. This is a moment I remember because I was proud that my mom taught me how to make these and I could, in turn, teach it to someone else. The learning and teaching process of the culinary world is of utmost interest to me, which is not surprising given my educational background.
Reflection 3. Summer Baking.
In high school, during the summer months, my friend Sarah and I would often bake for our brothers and neighbors in between going to practice or working our summer jobs. It was a weekly occurrence that we would get together to bake a favorite recipe or try something new. I remember these summer days like they were yesterday. I wish someone back then would have said, "Why don't you take the culinary arts elective during high school?" My friend Kelly had the foresight to take the culinary electives; she's an executive chef today. The road we take is never straight but it seems like mine was paved with a really long detour.
Reflection 4. Love of Travel
My month-long trip to Italy in the summer of 2004 was one of the most influential, life-changing experiences in my life. It inspired, more than ever, my love of traveling and the discovery of new places, new people, and new food. Travel has afforded me countless opportunities to explore new tastes, and each dish or dessert continues to shape my palate. I want to eat my way around the world, so to speak, and I am so blessed to have had so many opportunities to already do some of this. The greatest gift about the culinary world is that you can always learn more and more and more. The possibilies are endless.
Reflection 5. Reflections on Passion
A friend reminded me a few months ago that I started talking about culinary school while I was in graduate school. I was inspired by a bakery in Oxford, Ohio, that served breakfast, lunch, and baked goods. It was such a great place to gather with friends for an excellent(and cheap) meal. The food never disappointed, the baked good were delicious, and it was such a great business for where it was located.
My graduate school peers would talk about their career goals of ultimately being the director of a community service office or being a dean of students or becoming a university president. You could feel their passion when they talked about their goals. I don't remember really truly sharing that passion. I liked what I was doing, but I never felt I had the same level of passion as my peers. I wasn't sure what I would ultimately do as a professional in higher education, but I do remember thinking, "I think I'd like to own a bakery someday."
Reflection 6. Career Strenghts
I have come to believe, through conversations with past mentors and colleagues, that I have the intrinsic skill set to run a business some day. I believe I possess the combination of interpersonal skills, management skills, desire, drive, determination, and passion to be a successful small business owner. This is my end goal. I want to be my own boss. I want to run a successful company that both employees and patrons love. And the culinary world is where I want to do it.
Culinary school is the next step on the journey to this ultimate goal.