Frequent readers may have noticed my name in the last few issues of this newspaper. As of August 2019, I am the new managing editor of the West End Word, following the departure of my predecessor, Fran Mannino. Readers may not know, however, that fewer than 10 years ago, my aspirations were not literary but culinary. I wanted to be a chef.
From age 14, I could often be found preparing elaborate treats for my classmates or chopping absurd amounts of onions for my famous French onion soup. In high school I worked at several area restaurants. I had a lot of figurative fingers in a lot of literal pies.
To prepare for restaurant ownership, I studied at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, which offers a dual-degree program with the Culinary Institute of America, affectionately called the CIA.
For those who don’t know, the CIA is basically kitchen boot camp. Classes begin officially at 6 a.m., but students are expected to arrive an hour early. Most classes are three weeks long, six to eight hours a day. Missing one day of class results in an automatic letter grade reduction; miss up to three and you fail the class, with no exceptions for illness. Add that to a group of hyper-competitive chefs-in-training, inflexible instructors and rigorous coursework and you’ve got, well, a fairly accurate representation of the actual culinary industry.
Some thrive off of that lifestyle; others turn to substance abuse to help them make it through 16-hour days. I was not in either camp. I managed to make it out of both Cornell and the CIA alive, but it was with a great sense of disillusionment. I was forced to acknowledge that kitchen life wasn’t for me and shut the door on my culinary aspirations.
After graduation, I enrolled at a local community college to study graphic design. There I joined the school newspaper and discovered a knack for journalism. You can probably guess the rest.
But through it all, my love for making, eating and sharing food never diminished. Chefs are amazing, talented and tolerant people, and though I decided I would not walk their path, I still feel a strong connection to their work. “Culinary Corner” was born out of that connection. I plan to use this column to share discussion, highlights and innovation throughout the St. Louis culinary scene.
So maybe I didn’t shut the door on that part of my life. Maybe it wasn’t a door at all, but a window. And on the windowsill, a delicious pie; an offering to the chefs who taught me in the past, a promise of what’s to come.