TLG is officially blogging from her new home base in Providence, RI. In case you missed the news of the year, I decided to enroll in culinary school at Johnson & Wales for a one year associate’s degree program. For sure, this was never part of my life’s grand plan for taking over the world; in fact, it’s a very sharp departure from how I thought I would get there :P. It’s funny, though, how disparate moments in your life often seem to weave these uncanny connections between themselves. I was sharing a little about this with L, who reminded me of Steve Jobs’ fantastic commencement speech at Stanford in 2005, in which he tells a story about “connecting the dots” in his own life. Here’s the speech, which I highly recommend watching/reading if you haven’t yet:
I suppose I could think of what I’m doing now as a sharp and unforeseen departure from the trajectory of my life–where I thought I was heading based on where I was coming from–and it’s tempting to do so. But I prefer to view culinary school as a culminating point, a destination that I’ve been working toward rather than one I just happened upon. A decision that reflects the confluence, the coming together, of past and present interests, conversations, pursuits in which I have engaged.
And, in fact, I think it does. I think back to when I would casually peruse food blogs junior year of college to distract myself from the uneasy but thrilling transition from pre-law to English professor wannabe. What started out as a hobby became a late-night obsession much in the same way poker was for a brief period of my life that will remain unspecified. Those were the nights I discovered and reveled in the aesthetic beauty of food and the narratives often attached to them that some of my favorite sites excelled at capturing. They made me want to put myself out there: to share my own culinary experiences, to express and evolve my own approach to food, and to reflect on the larger cultural dimensions of it in and across different communities.
I chose to spend a year in Hong Kong not just to run away from committing to grad school, but in large part to explore and nurture this developing passion for food. As some of you may know, all people do in Hong Kong is shop and eat. I don’t like to shop but I do like to eat, so I had more than my fair share of eating expeditions, both in Hong Kong and in my travels to Southeast Asia. That year, I tried my first durian (gross) and my first custard apple (delicious), ate pho in Saigon, took a Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai, ate dragonfruit from the floating markets on the Mekong, spent a long weekend eating five meals a day in Georgetown, the capital city of Penang. I returned stateside full of delicious, firsthand insight into how integral food is to culture, how it embodies the essence of a place.
[The next paragraph is excerpted from a paper I wrote for a class assignment, a culinary autobiography.]
Until last year, I had never seriously considered entering the culinary profession. Even though my father had a strong background in cooking, my family directed me away from that arduous path, instead encouraging me to explore fields like literature and law. But while I was working as a publishing assistant in Cambridge, MA, I realized all my free time revolved around food: thinking about it, eating it, cooking it, writing about it, talking about it. It dawned on me that I loved food, and I convinced myself that if I was truly passionate about it, I would find happiness and success in a culinary career. Once this realization settled, I looked into securing a culinary education and applied to Johnson & Wales’ “Garnish Your Degree” program. This past summer, I worked in the front of the house at Bergamot, a contemporary American restaurant in Somerville, MA, where I learned a lot about fine dining and acclimated to the pace and feel of service. On my days off, I staged in the kitchen, where I was able to get my feet wet under the tutelage of the head and sous chefs. My positive experience at Bergamot validated my decision to enroll at JWU, and even though I thought briefly about getting more work experience instead of going to school, I ultimately decided JWU would equip me with the strongest possible foundation to ground my career.
So here I am, in culinary school, once again surrounded by a bunch of 18 year olds, except that I am no longer. They are 90% adorable and 100% naive, those silly rabbits who think they have some idea of what they want to do once they graduate. I had a good chuckle when we did an exercise that involved sharing what our goals were. One lad went so far as to planning his life down to what year he would retire, at which point he would apply for citizenship in Switzerland and live there happily ever after. Maybe I’m disillusioned because own crystal ball is so unwieldy in its opacity. I mostly just think I’ve learned that however mightily we plan, or intend, or envision, or hope, chances are that life will look very differently than we imagined it would, if only because so many things are out of our control. One of the reasons why I like Jobs’ speech is that it casts away the notion that things will go according to plan; it presumes a life of trials and mistrials, unexpected circumstances, and a good dose of uncertainty. Which is a lesson I think needs to be heard at that age, even if it doesn’t quite stick just yet. Anyway, the three points he makes are:
1. [T]rust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.
2. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
3. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
In closing, he urges the graduating class to “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” and I like to think that culinary school was one such “foolish” decision. The dust from the move is beginning to settle, and I look forward to once again blogging regularly and giving you, my faithful friends and readers, a succulent account of this fool’s culinary school adventures.