A huge slice of humble pie

Joined Mar 19, 2003
Hello, All.

So nice to have a forum to share knowledge and vent frustrations!

Here's a little something about myself... I am a burned-out yuppie who thought that a sabbatical year in France to learn how to cook would be an amazing experience. Six months after making that decision, I find myself enrolled in a diploma program at a wonderful cooking school in Paris... and feeling like a complete moron.

I have always been a savvy businessperson, but I am completely lost in a practical kitchen. Well... on the bright side, I guess I could teach the guy (or gal) who invented the "slowcooker" a thing or two about REALLY SLOW cooking - ha ha. Seriously, though. I very much want to excel at school (remnants of my former over-achieving self), but I feel that I am out of my element. I want to plate something beautifully, for example, but my hands don't know how, even after seeing someone do it. I want to do the fancy cuts, but the knife and vegetables could not feel more alien. And let's not even talk about the debacle that was my first fish filet.

Thankfully, my classmates are SUPER nice. However, everyone in my group seems to have legitimate kitchen experience (or maybe they're just talented), inadvertently making me look worse. So in a nutshell, I LOVE what I'm learning, but I SUCK at everything: speed, mise en place, keeping my work area clean, presentation, different cuts, EVERYTHING. Am I a lost cause?

I saw that someone had posted a journal to chronicle his cooking school story. Maybe I should do the comedy version - lol. Well, thanks for your attention, Everyone. Good luck with your own cooking school stories.

Joined Jan 5, 2001
Hi fellow Toronto guy! No, it's not hopeless. Just practice practice practice. You're in the centre of it all so try to take advantage of it. Get a part-time gig in restaurant as a prep cook. It's the best way to both practice your knife skills and to see how the more senior cooks work and present their plates. I'm VERY jealous of your experience!! It must be wonderful...

You should check out Bouland's web site: http://www.hertzmann.com/index.php ; Bouland spent a lot of time in some great kitchens in France and wrote a fabulous diary about his experiences.

What exactly do you intend to do with this experience? Is this a little break from reality, or do you plan to make a career switch? I have gone from business to cooking, and I have had no regrets so far.

Keep us posted on what you are learning. I'm very interested to know how the curriculum compares to North American schools.

And welcome to Cheftalk! You've definitely come to the right place.
Joined May 9, 2003
That's probably the best advice I could give as well. If your lucky you'll get yelled at, made fun of, laughed at and nothing will awaken the dormant "remnants of your over achieving self" like a swift and sometimes brutal blow to the ego!:D

I've also found very few schools that can replicate the adrenaline, passion, excitement and pressure of a good restaurant kitchen. For some, they literally thrive on it.
Joined Mar 19, 2003
Sage advice, Anneke and Chefkell! One thing that your replies have made me realize is that I should really quit whining and actually DO something to improve my skills outside of school.

For the moment, I'm a little overwhelmed by my full course load (Pastry and Cuisine squeezed into 3 trimesters) so I may have to do a "wait and see" on the prep cook idea until I've adjusted a bit. However, there are wonderful open markets near my apartment so I'm taking the first step this week and buying a whole whack of vegetables to practice my different cuts and knife handling. Better start making a list of those veggies en francais...

Chefkell: You're definitely right about using negative feedback to spark my inner fire. I'm totally adopting the attitude that I may not be the best but if I go down, I'm gonna go down trying!

Anneke: You've hit the nail on the head - I am doing this to recharge my batteries. Years of corporate life have sapped all my creative juices! I haven't thought that far yet as to a career change (esp. with my misadventures in the kitchen) but I'm open to anything. Nevertheless, if you have any questions about school here in Paris, please let me know. I'll do my best to inform.

Thanks again!!!


Founder of Cheftalk.com
Staff member
Joined Oct 5, 2001
School is a start, but I agree with Anneke, get a part time job cooking in a local restauarant in Paris (go for the bistro, not the Michelin 3 star).

It would be very interesting to hear about your story and reasons for doing this as I think there are so many others in your shoes. If you would be interested in writing a short article for other readers for cheftalk.com let me know.

Don't focus on your mistakes, enjoy the experience for what it is and have a great time.
Joined Mar 19, 2003
Sure, Nicko. I'd love to write an article for cheftalk. Just give me a topic, Chief. :)

I think it's so true what you said about not focusing on mistakes (since I make so many of them). I'd go crazy!

Oh, and why a bistro instead of a starred restaurant? I would have thought that fancy dancy was the way to go...


Joined Jun 15, 2003
Suck it up, try harder, work smarter, listen to your peers, absorb off your classmates, think common sense, it sounds like you are in a great atmosphere, use it, make it happen! Chin up dude, hope you make the best of it....

Joined Nov 10, 2001
ParisBound,you would probably learn more in a Michelin starred restaurant but there drawbacks:
1) Michelin starred restaurants are under immense pressure to retain their standards.There is no room for error or compromise.
The priority in some leading restaurants is profit first,people second.
2)The chefs may not have the time or the patience to assist you with any enquiries you may have.
3) You don`t want to go to a "noted" establishment and then find that you are treated like a drone.
As Nicko suggests,try a bistro first.There are some excellent ones around at the same time there are others that are appaling!
A bistro is usually smaller, therefore the service they offer is more personal because they want to retain their customer base.
4) Don`t be so harsh on yourself,be patient,you are not going to learn everything in two years.There is LOT to learn,don`t give up!
You can make it,you`ve done before,you can do it again,good luck.
Joined Mar 19, 2003
Thanks, Leo R. I'll definitely keep that in mind for my externship.

A little update... I am happy to report that after 4 weeks of school and lots of Cheftalk pep talk, I am more consistently finishing within the 2.5 hour time limit (I have resorted to wearing a stop watch), and the chefs are giving positive feedback on my seasoning as well. Woo hoo!

The biggest lessons I learned so far:

(1) Never be idle in the practical kitchen. There's always something that can be prepped, diced, cleaned, peeled, or boiled during these deceptively "quiet moments."

(2) Taste, taste, taste!

My techniques are also slowly improving (my turned veggies don't look like alien life forms anymore), so I am feeling a bit more in control of my culinary destiny here in Paris. Final exam is in 5.5 weeks. Will I crack under pressure? Tune in...
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