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Chef Stacy believes that cooking from scratch and using the best ingredients are the secrets to preparing delicious and memorable meals. She has created dozens of classes for the home chef and teaches students how to master culinary techniques and recipes in just one session. Read on to see what she's dishing up for The Oakland Press today....

Friday, May 14, 2010

Second Time's a Charm

The clock struck 1, and my heart was lodged in my throat. I was scooping vanilla bean ice cream onto four geometrically shaped plates at an important certification test yesterday afternoon. After my plates were swept away to the judge’s table, I looked at my sous chef and said, “I think I’m going to throw up”. She shrieked, “Water! You need water!”

It wasn’t water I needed. What I really needed was a yoga class, a massage and a quiet place to come down off of the adrenaline. I had been cooking for 4 straight hours, (no breakfast, no lunch, no water, no time to use the restroom). This was my second attempt at a certification I failed three months ago. This was the moment of truth - would I fail again? “Oh, god. I can’t fail again……….”

Little did I know that it would be two and a half hours until I learned whether or not I passed. During that time, I cleaned up my station, washed dishes, and waited. While I waited, I had a lot of time to think about the test I just took, the test I failed in February, and whether or not I was going to have to test for a third time.

With that kind of time on your hands, alone and waiting to hear whether or not you’re as good as you hope you are, there are a lot of things to contemplate, and your mind will do very interesting things. Everything from my ability as a cook, my level of personal and professional discipline, my capacity for learning, to the degree to which I fall into the category of “rule follower” was dissected in the recesses of my mind.

At a certain point, I had convinced myself that I didn’t pass. What to do? I started to feel out the next course of action. After about 8 minutes of deliberation, I concluded that if I couldn’t pass the test twice, I would not pass it. I would not be a “real chef”. I would stop trying to be something I apparently wasn’t.

After all, I reasoned, I don’t cook everyday like most of my colleagues do. It has been over 5 years since I cooked every day in a professional kitchen. In the last 5 years, I’ve been building a different kind of career in the culinary industry. Now I am more of an educator, a writer, a marketer and a teacher. It's my vocabulary, not my chef’s knife that has been getting sharpened each day when I come to work.

In a fit of mental and emotional fatigue, gave myself the talk, “You aren’t the same person you were 5 or 10 years ago. You aren’t 20 anymore. Stop trying to be something you aren’t; embrace the person you are now. Your days of cooking in restaurants are over. You’ll never be as young as you were then, you’ll never be as thin as you were then, you’ll never be that person again. It’s ok to be who you are now. If you don’t pass, let it go and move on.” Inspiring, huh?

At long last, it was time for the critique. Gladly, the chef broke the news right away, “You passed.” I breathed a giant sigh of relief. He went on to tell me what was good about what I did and where I can improve. Overall, the judging was incredibly fair and constructive.

The test was held at Oakland Community College’s culinary arts department and was conducted in a very thorough and professional fashion. Each chef evaluator was genuinely invested in the success of each candidate and sincerely wanted to see each of us leave that day with our heads held high, even if it wasn’t “our day”.

I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to Chefs Kevin Brennan, Doug Gahns, Kevin Enright, and John McCormack. Each chef was supportive, helpful, encouraging and unobtrusive. I would also like to thank my very competent and ambitious sous chef, Melissa Mirek. Melissa is currently a first-term student at OCC and anticipated all of my needs. Based on her performance yesterday, I am confident that she will have a bright future in the culinary industry. Her level of professionalism, anticipation, speed and efficiency are the early “tells” of a great chef-in-the-making.

I would also like to thank my ever-supportive culinary staff at Mirepoix. They are unmatched in their loyalty, professionalism, enthusiasm and kindness. I am truly thankful for Jose Chicas, Margaret “Maggie” Fleming, Julie Fromm,Marcia Konopka, Rob Kroll, and Dale Vigliarolo.

I often speak at length about my boss, Tom Violante, Jr., who encouraged me each step of the way. Tom is the person I most dreaded telling I had failed in February, to which he said, “Title-schmitle. You don’t need a piece of paper to tell you who you are.” Thank you, Tom for the opportunity of a lifetime at Mirepoix, and for your continuous support in all of my other endeavors.


Blogger Marcia said...

Way to go Chef Sloan! You are the best in all of our eyes!! This calls for a big WA HOO! Even though that didn't sound like my usual professional comment I speak for everyone...our excitement and happiness for you comes straight from the heart!

May 14, 2010 at 4:00 PM 

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