Career Planning Lecture – March 30

The school invited a few local food professionals to come talk to us last Friday and I just love these talks because they give me a chance to hear about what like is like in the “real world” (a world I will quickly become part of). For someone like me, who is looking to change careers totally, this information is really vital. The school leaders chose a good group of people – Sylvia Heisey, owner of Austin raw food restaurant Beets, Kara Kroeger, a nutritionist/personal chef, and Rebecca Saltsman, volunteer director for the Sustainable Food Center in Austin.

Sylvia Heisey

Sylvia, the owner of Beets Cafe, gave us a realistic picture of what it’s like to open a restaurant – draining your savings, cost overruns, time crunches, waiting three years to achieve a monthly break even cash flow, not paying yourself, etc. It truly sounds like it is a labor love for Sylvia, who has a passion for raw food. She also wants to do food HER way, so she’s had to stay focused and committed to her vision. Sylvia take the business side of restaurant operations very seriously, which is probably why she is still in business and will likely achieve whatever goals she establishes. (See my blog post on Beets from December 2011.)

Kara Kroeger

Kara Kroeger, a certified nutritionist and a personal chef, was a real inspiration. At each step in her career journey, she really followed her heart and pursued her goals. And each step seemed to carry her closer to where she is today, which is a busy professional who seems to be truly helping improve the lives of others, which pretty much describes the goals of at least half of the class at The Natural Epicurean. I found myself feeling kind of jealous of Kara, who is my age but who has really followed her own heart her entire life and who is a really self-directed person with boatloads of confidence and knowledge.

Below: Kara Kroeger
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Kara, who like me decided not to pursue a degree in dietetics because of her feelings about the inadequacy of Western medicine, shared a number of helpful suggestions for us that she learned during her journey:

  • Trust that you are in the right place at the right time
  • Listen to your intuition
  • Try as many things as possible
  • People are disenchanted with the healthcare system (I’m not the only one!)
  • If you want to learn something, teach it
  • Collaborate with others in your professional work
  • Connect with as many people as you can
  • Show an interest in people

Rebecca Saltsman

Rebecca Saltsman shared information with us about the mission and programs of the Sustainable Food Center, an Austin non-profit built to (1) develop more local agriculture (2) bring that agriculture to people and (3) show people how to use local, nutritious foods in their cooking. The Sustainable Food Center runs four farmer’s markets in Austin.

Soup’s On!

Acid-Alkaline Diet

Tuesday we had another nutrition lecture and we discussed the topic of acid-alkaline balance in the body and using nutrition to maintain that balance. Radhia gave us pH strips to test our saliva and urine (testing took place in the privacy of our homes, thankfully :) ).

The basic idea is that certain foods tend to make your body more acidic and other foods tend to make it more alkaline. The theory’s proponents contend that bodies which are constantly acidic or fighting to reduce acidity tend to be sicker. Therefore, striving for alkalinity is desirable and guess what – healthy foods produce alkalinity: vegetables, most fruits, oats, tea, and other healthy foods. The baddies? Processed oils, dairy foods, meats, refined sugar and salts, etc. There are some unexpected foods — carrots and cranberries produce acidity, rice syrup (fairly sweet) produces alkalinity — but mostly it’s intuitive.

In the body’s fight to maintain homeostasis, it will become weakened and susceptible to a number of disease states.

Below: pH paper roll for testing your pH levels.

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Soups Lab

We made a variety of soups today, which was great for me because I haven’t had a lot of experience in soup production.

Below: One team made it’s own chapati from scratch, as shown encircling the bowl below.

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Below: Mint-melon soup.

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Below: A mock clam chowder made with sauteed oyster mushrooms. The team made a scratch version of Old Bay seasoning to lend a classic seafood soup flavor.

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Below: Brian Henderson, who’s in charge of procuring the stock we cook with and who also provides us with helpful coaching during our cooking labs, showed me how to quickly break down an avocado using a technique you probably haven’t seen before…

Below: Corn and quinoa chowder. I made and garnished this one. It had a very good corn flavor and the key was, I think, scraping the corn “milk” out of the cob after cutting off the kernels.

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Weird Observation of the Day

In the cooking lab, anytime you touch your face or hair, you have to wash your hands again before touching food. You learn to delay scratching your nose, or at least find alternative ways of accomplishing the goal. Now, even when I am at home, I have strange feelings about touching my face — I’m beginning to think twice before scratching!

Open House, Open Heart, Open Mind

I went to The Natural Epicurean for an open house event on January 7th. This was my second such event as an incoming student (I blogged about the last open house). Even though I already know what I’m getting into, I’m the type of person who learns from being present, from interacting, and from doing. So any chance I get to visit the school and meet new people, the better. It’s all part of opening my mind to this new experience and planning to get the most from it.

Waste Not, Want Not

The open house started with a brief talk by two of the program’s students on the topic of preserving food that would otherwise have been wasted.

Below: A recent Natural Epicurean graduate talks about the food preservation process. She’s backed by (L to R) David McIntyre and Maya Farnsworth, the Managing Directors of the Austin and Portland locations, and Ken Rubin, the new Vice President of the school.

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As it turns out, there is a significant amount of food waste in our food supply Farms waste food by not harvesting all of it or not selling produce that is not ripe enough or that isn’t visually appealing enough. The same happens in grocery stores — a significant amount of food is thrown out because it doesn’t sell or the grocer decides that it isn’t sellable. Restaurants discard food that isn’t eaten and restaurant patrons toss out uneaten “doggie bags.” And finally, as consumers we waste food when we overbuy food that spoils before we can eat it all.

The students shared their experience working with Green Gate Farms in preserving what’s called the “gleaning,” or the excess or undesirable food from harvest. It sounded like a great way to make the produce useful instead of throwing it out.

Insight into Career Change

Being open to the possibilities of a new career was my big takeaway from this open house. I met Ken Rubin, the new Vice President of the school, who is a long-time culinary educator and is helping to expand the school into a national operation. He talked to me about learning by trying new things, and going after the information that I want. He also said you can never know where your life will end up in the future – you just have to stay true to yourself and keep seeking.

Below: Jeanine Jacobs, an admissions rep for the school, talks about the program courses and requirements.

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Next, I spoke to Craig Vanis, the head chef at Veggytopia, an Austin vegan meal prep service. He talked about his career path and the opportunities that exist for natural foods chefs who merely seek them out. He talked about pursuing work opportunities that I’m passionate about, letting my intrinsic desire motivate me, and being pushy when I need to be.

The Universe Provides – If You Help It

It is clear, quitting my job and sitting passively during culinary school classes is not enough. I have to actively seek information from my instructors and seek out culinary experiences. And then it becomes a lifelong learning process.

It struck a chord with me that the universe will give me what I need, if I just ask and open my mind. It seems to me that a lot of success is knowing yourself and letting your natural passions show without shame. I’ve struggled a lot with showing my true self and going after what I want in all situations – breaking through that in a genuine way is going to be instrumental in my success.

Below: Me with Craig Vanis, head chef of Veggytopia, a new vegan food preparation service in Austin.

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Below: I bought a book from Christy Morgan, a school graduate.

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Natural Epicurean Open House

Today was an open house for The Natural Epicurean, the culinary school I’ll be attending starting in February. They had a short talk on using the underutilized – yet delicious – parts of plants and Mason Arnold, the founder of Greenling local produce delivery, presented on sustainable and local food sourcing. They also had some Q&A about the school and some of the students made an array of delicious appetizers! On top of it all, I got to speak with several staff of the school, including owner Rich Goldstein.

Everyone talked about what an exciting time it is in the world of food and health, and I’m feeling very positive about the direction I’m heading! I’m really looking forward to starting the program and meeting new people who are enthusiastic about food and living healthfully.

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Above – In the demo/lecture space, which is a new expansion for the school.

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Above – Me with Maya Farnsworth, Managing Director of The Natural Epicurean.

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Above – Gluten-free empanada with an amazing Chimichurri sauce and a gluten-free brownie bite.

Above – Greenling Founder Mason Arnold talks about distributing local and sustainable food, with Amy Ramm, founder of Nada Moo, a local (soon to be national) vegan ice cream brand. Amy is a graduate of The Natural Epicurean and an instructor.

The program will last about 9 months, with a large amount of classroom time plus two chunks of required internship and externship hours. Followed by that, I expect a lot of hard work and learning on my path. I learned that most of the students come from outside of Austin just to attend the program, and it sounds like the school is planning some big things to grow its presence in the world of healthful food education. This open house was a great chance to meet more people, learn more about what the school is about, and whet my appetite for more! Mission accomplished!