My Journey Through Culinary School

By Beacon Staff

It was a sunny Monday, around 12:55 p.m., and I was pulling into the college parking lot – just five minutes away from my first culinary class at FVCC. Little did I know, I was about to walk into the introduction of my new life for the next two years.

I was the last one into the classroom full of eager faces. At the front sat a woman and a man. Both of them wore serious faces. I knew instantly who they were – Hillary Ginepra and Howard Karp, my new culinary instructors.

The kitchen tour was impressive. I had never in my life been in such an amazing kitchen. In fact, it’s probably the nicest kitchen in Montana, and it was my new learning laboratory where I would discover everything I needed to be successful in a professional culinary environment.

When I walked out of class later that day, something inside me had changed. I had just given my life to the kitchen, and I didn’t even know it yet.

We soon learned about Chef’s Table, a program that allows culinary students to prepare gourmet meals for community patrons. It sparked my interest immediately – I wanted in. I signed myself up for the 11-to-13 week class which would be held every Thursday and Friday night during the semester.

I didn’t know it then, but Chef’s Table would become the foundation for my culinary career. It would challenge everything I learned in class, and make me apply these new skills in real life situations.

It hasn’t been easy, but it has been worth it. I’m sure I’ve lost at least five years of my life in the moments when I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown. For instance, on one occasion, Chef Howard cut into a prime rib of swordfish, only to have it crumble instead of creating a beautiful filet. It was up to the Chef’s Table students to help solve this critical problem that could make or break the meal in time to deliver our customers the high-level culinary experience our customers have come to expect.

As I progressed through the first two semesters of Chef’s Table, I was introduced to off-site catering events. I had another tough learning experience during a function at a private home. Some fellow classmates and I were running service, while the seniors were cooking.

We were in the middle of serving the main course when I walked around the corner to Chef Howard yelling, “Casey! How many left to serve?” I was caught. Having just come from the dining room, I knew there were a fair amount of people left, and I should have known exactly how many. I didn’t know how to answer so, without thinking, I simply said, “Several, Chef!”

This was not the answer he wanted. He looked at me, dumb-founded, and then let me have it. I think I blacked out for the majority of the yelling, but I did catch, “When I ask for a count, I expect an exact number!” I sat there paralyzed and somehow managed to say, “Yes chef!” I haven’t made that mistake since.

Needless to say, the off-site catering events were valuable learning tools for me. Thanks to the professional, intense environment I was exposed to and the fact that I have over 350 hours of experience, I now have the capabilities needed to successfully run an event.

This program has shaped and sharpened my culinary skills. I was able to help the crew at Iron Horse Golf Club last summer which, coupled with my culinary education, led me to a full-time position there starting this summer.

I have accomplished more than I ever thought I was capable of in the last two years. The Culinary Institute of Montana has taught me everything I wanted to learn, and so much more.

The Culinary Institute of Montana at FVCC is currently accepting applications for the fall 2012 program. For more information, visit www.culinaryinstituteofmt.com or call Instructor Hillary Ginepra at 756-3862.

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