California is kind of a magical place. Or at least, Napa Valley is. I see this view every day. (And it really looks like this all the time, as it hasn’t rained since I’ve been here.)
The environment here is very unique, because it really is food, food, food all the time. Students are required to wear their chef’s whites during class, during meals, while walking around campus… soon I’m going to start wearing them to bed to save myself time. It can be a little stifling at times. But other times, I think: this is what it’s like to love what you do, and to do it wholeheartedly. How lucky are we?
As one of the chef instructors said, we’re here to learn the difference between cooking and cookery. Anyone, he said, can cook. You follow the recipe, and if it’s a good recipe, the food will come out well. You don’t have to understand the why or the how. We’re here to begin at the beginning, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. After one month of class and bakeshop time, I can tell you the protein contents of all the different flours and how they will affect the outcome of my product; I can identify pretty much any white powder by sight, feel, and taste; and if I see a baked product with any defect, I immediately start troubleshooting its gluten development, starch gelatinization, and how to tweak the ratio of stabilizers to liquifiers. It’s a scary road, because there’s no turning back. Never again will I be able to just eat a damn cookie.
On the other hand, thinking about food all the time means I get to spend my free time practicing what we’re learning in class, which is usually a lot of fun! This week, that meant piping filigree patterns with chocolate.
Slowly but surely, I’m becoming acclimated to this valley and this school. Besides filigree patterns and other homework, I spend most weekends in the student garden, where I weed, harvest, and generally do what needs to be done. Yesterday I harvested about 40 pounds of tomatoes during what had to have been the most beautiful gardening day in history. As I was easing tomato after tomato off the vine–and none of them needed more prompting than that–I heard the occasional ‘thump’ as perfectly ripe fruits fell from the trees behind me. The only other noise came from the gaggle of geese that inhabits our irrigation pond and the breeze that, for the first time this season, carried an autumnal crispness with it. It seems we’re easing our way into fall, and I can’t wait to see what it brings.