Those of you who read my 2017 recap blog update already know my big news for 2018-- I'm finally pursuing a lifelong dream to attend culinary school in Spain!
So many times in life we put our passions aside in favor of practicality. It's an easy trap to fall into-- practicality is comfortable, less scary, and certainly pays better!
But sometimes you're given a window of opportunity-- a chance to change things. A chance to pursue a passion, and go down a new path. My first fork in the road came when I graduated from college about 10 years ago-- I had the opportunity to move to Spain instead of accepting a corporate hotel job that just didn't feel right. I jumped, and never looked back!
This year, I got another chance to fork, this time to pursue a lifelong passion that would have been so easy to let slip away...
My path to culinary school in Spain
I've been dreaming about culinary school since I was a child. When I was 11 years old, I spent a day touring Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School (a mouthful!)-- a technical high school where students learn a trade in addition to their studies. They are known for their excellent culinary arts program, and I remember the excitement I felt seeing the professional kitchens and student-run restaurants.
However, I was always a great student and from a very academic family. Attending a technical high school wasn't in the cards at that time, and while I often wonder "what if" I can't say I regret the path I took. Things happen for a reason 🙂
Later, in my teens, I went to work in restaurants. The plan was always to get behind the fire, but the temptation of front-of-house work was simply too great. I remember earning $600/week for about 25-30 hours of work-- compared to the $10/hour that line chefs earned, I just couldn't make the leap.
That said, my work slowly exposed me to talented chefs, who taught me their tricks and techniques, and involved some basic food prep that I'd help out with as a food runner and expeditor. I made focaccia, assembled salads, and bartended-- all things that I enjoyed greatly.
After heading off to college in Washington DC at 18 (armed with plenty of academic facts but zero practical knowledge) I quickly realized that a career in International Relations was not for me. Neither was life in DC, where I'd naively ride the metro to explore new neighborhoods, getting off at random stops. Luckily, my naivety didn't get me in trouble, but after only a year I was ready for a change. I decided to go back to Massachusetts and transfer to UMass Amherst's prestigious Hospitality and Tourism Management program, part of the Isenberg School of Management.
Over the next three years I touched on culinary skills from time to time and took one professional cooking course as part of the degree, but I still craved more. Out of class, I was working in two restaurants, where I was inspired on a weekly basis by the talented people there.
Upon graduation, I'd interviewed with a few hotel chains, but a corporate job didn't feel right. So when my Spanish professor (Spanish Language was my second major) sent me the opportunity to teach in Spain for a year, I figured it was the perfect escape. I'd learn about Spanish food and wine-- and maybe even intern in a Spanish kitchen! Then, I'd come back and attend culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America, one of the world's best schools.
But anyone who knows me knows how this story turned out-- I moved to Seville, met husband, married husband, moved to Madrid, started a business (Devour Tours!), lived and breathed work (in a good way!) for the past 6 years... and here I am. Older, wiser, and still obsessed with food.
Devour Tours is doing amazing things in the world of food tourism, so in many ways, I'm working in exactly what I love, and exactly what I studied-- and I am truly grateful for that.
All these years later, I just couldn't shake the culinary school thing! People would say, "just learn on YouTube!" -- no way. I work a lot, I love my job. But I can barely make the time to get a haircut, nevermind learn to cook professionally through YouTube. Sorry!
"Take a sabbatical!" -- Maybe someday (sounds great!), but I'm very much involved in Devour's growth at the moment, and I didn't want to wait 10+ years!
"Culinary school is a ripoff-- real chefs learn in the kitchen!" -- there is likely some truth to this. No one needs culinary school. If I could go back in time I'd have sacrificed some of my waitressing money for a job as a line cook. But at my age, school is a good option for me. I don't plan to work in a professional kitchen and become a full-time chef. I'm not fully sure what I'll do with the skills I learn and my fancy culinary school degree-- but at the very least I'll enjoy cooking for my family and friends even more than I do now!
Finding the right Culinary school in Spain
Yet despite still having the desire, I never found a program that fit my needs. Until I discovered Hofmann. Their intensive "Curso de Cocina Integral" program is described as a course "for working professionals who know exactly what they want". When I read that, I was sold. Not to mention my new friend Anjalina Chugani, author of Soul Spices and a cooking instructor herself, did the course a couple of years ago and convinced me it was worth every penny.
But wait-- don't you live in Madrid?
Yes, I live in Madrid. And go to school in Barcelona. Not ideal...
But thankfully, possible. I go to Barcelona every Monday on the AVE (2.5 hours) and stay the night. I could also go the same day, but waking up at 5 am might kill me. The commute and hotel add a lot to the cost, but in the end, the course will still be significantly cheaper than its competitors (which also take place more days of the week-- something I couldn't commit to).
So far I'm six classes in and I'm in love. It's tiring traveling to and from Madrid, but I also use it as a chance to meet with the Devour Barcelona team. The first two classes were all theory (which is difficult as I don't know a lot of the proper cooking terms in Spanish!) and on class three we took out our knives. I was the first in the class to cut myself (literally while taking out the knives-- luckily not badly!). Knife skills are hard, but they're something I'm determined to master.
One of the reasons I wanted to take this class now, is also because of the increasing pain I have in my hands and arm, due to cubital tunnel syndrome. Since I have no idea how this pain will progress, it was really important for me to do this now. To be honest, the pain during the knife skills class was pretty awful, but now that we're cooking, it's bearable.
We haven't cooked too much so far, but the things we've made have been delicious. Poached eggs, hollandaise sauce, sautéed artichokes, chicken and beef stock, a flamiche (similar to a quiche), profiteroles, pastry cream, fish stock, shellfish stock and tomato sauce.
I'll be posting some of these recipes on the blog as I go along, as I'm taking advantage of the weekends to rest up and practice.
I'll keep you updated on culinary school in Spain at Hofmann-- but so far so good! It's going to be a long year, but I think every trip to Barcelona will be well worth it.
Here's to big dreams 🙂