As many of you know, I am a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. In the beginning of your second year, you are required to do a six month externship at a culinary establishment. This can be a restaurant, hotel, bakery, or cafe, the only requirement is that it is CIA certified as a externship site. You know about this the moment you enroll and the first year you are there is really to get you prepared for this externship experience.
Choosing where you extern is a big deal. It often has an impact in what you do after you graduate. After much deliberation, I chose to do my externship at the Ritz Carlton, Dove Mountain in Tucson, Arizona. The reason I chose here was two-fold, one it was a very high-end resort in the Ritz Carlton company, that could give me a good insight into various areas of the industry as I was under the impression that I would be moving from various positions throughout, including the fine dining restaurant, catering, in-room dining, the gastro pub, etc. The second reason was that, at that time, they held the Match Play Championships. I golfed all through high school and on scholarship in college, still do some today, so the idea of potentially cooking for Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson was exciting. (Side note: I did actually make Tiger a chicken salad. I have never been so nervous about poaching a chicken breast before or since). So I packed up myself and my dog, got in my car and drove cross-country. I dropped Rosemary (my Goldendoodle) off at my parents house and trekked to Tucson to begin my externship. When I got there, I started in the fine dining restaurant, Core Kitchen and Wine Bar. I was so nervous to begin there of all places. I was hoping to start in prep for catering and move up, but I got thrown into the fire, as they say, and…I didn’t burn. I actually was good enough that they didn’t want me to go, so I worked the entirety of my externship at Core. This was a huge growing experience for me. Some hard but some wonderful. I made a lot of mistakes, both in the kitchen and out, but I also learned a lot about myself and what I was capable of. I left there more confident than I had ever been and ironically, I think I made more “mistakes” during that time then I ever had. I learned that I would not be defined by my mistakes but rather my ability to overcome them and almost more importantly, how I reacted to them.
It took me years after that to confront my dependence on food, but the lesson that I learned on that trip was a vital one and has propelled me to the weight loss success that I have had. There are few days that go by that I don’t “fail” in some way. Either I have the three rolls at dinner, or I sneak a midnight snack, or its has nothing to do with food and something like being short with my husband for no reason. Instead of harboring hatred for myself, I try (it’s a work in progress) to briefly acknowledge whatever it was, and then I focus on my next step. The thing is that I will NEVER be perfect and I will ALWAYS make mistakes and I am not alone in that. We are human, but instead of harping on the extra roll and spiraling into another five rolls, I decide what I can do to stop the mistake and if possible, fix it or move on. Because when you are in a kitchen, and you overcook the steak, there is no going back, there is no reversing the done-ness, all there is, is to throw it away, and start a new one. So if I have that extra roll, or three, I stop, acknowledge that it probably wasn’t the best idea and then I do something positive and I start fresh.
Now, I make less food mistakes. This is partially because I have learned from prior experience (A LOT of prior experience) but also because I do not put so much pressure (and therefore anxiety and stress) on a mistake because inevitably causes more. Mistakes won’t derail you. They won’t take away what you have done or all of the successes of the day. They are just a blip in that upward climb but if you anchor yourself to them, you will never make progress.
One of the things that I remember quite fondly from this time in Tucson was something I made while working the Hot Appetizer station in Core. My chef was obsessed with Southern cooking and so his style was a kind of fusion of Southwestern, because of the area, and Louisiana-style Southern cooking. My most favorite dish was the Shrimp and Grits. The shrimp was head on, huge, gulf shrimp which, I had to peel and de-vein daily. Needless to say, I got very good at it. The grits were classic grits, made with cream and a TON of local cheddar cheese. The dish had a spoon full of these grits, then the shrimp, quickly sautéed at high heat, and finished with a chipotle beurre blanc. It was decadent, and not at all healthy, but HOLY CRAP, it was good. Even though I have started this journey, this dish has not left me. I periodically crave the creamy grits and spicy, buttery shrimp, and frankly, it just got to be too much. So, I started playing around with how I could give this dish the same comforting, close your eyes and “MMMMM”-enjoy-moment, without the inevitable sluggishness and likely stomach ache after ingesting all of that fat. This is my take on likely my favorite dish. It’s creamy, and decadent, super filling, but you won’t regret it later.
In fact…this story has me feeling nostalgic and I am going to go make a batch right now.