Day Two

Day two at The Natural Epicurean. I passed my ServSafe test — okay, I didn’t get the results back, but I’m confident. 🙂

The day started with tying up the food handling class, then we took our test. Pretty straightforward. I’m really enjoying getting to know my fellow classmates, and I feel like I’m starting to make some good connections. We’re about to break the class into two groups, which is kind of a bummer since some cool people will not be in my group. Hopefully, it won’t impair my ability to get to know everyone well, since all of the students seem to be pretty awesome.

I doubt I’ll be able to blog every day, but I’ll post when I have interesting stuff. Or, it will be interested to me, at least. 🙂

Knife Test

Tomorrow we start Knife Skills, so I thought I would try one of my new knives. I made a Waldorf Salad, which required a semi-fine julienne of apples with chopped celery, and chopped some vegetables to roast. The salad turned out great; the roasted vegetables, meh. I have a bit to learn about roasting veggies.

As for the knife, it’s a Mercer and a lot sharper than my current knife, a Calphalon. It’s a good deal lighter than my knife, as well:

  • Calphalon = 299g
  • Mercer = 250g

According to, the Mercer lists for about twice as much cost as the Calphalon. It would seem that The Natural Epicurean has good taste in knives!

Below: My school-supplied Mercer 8″ chef knife.


20120221-214516.jpg Continue reading

Natural Epicurean – First Day of Class

Today was the first day of school! I prepared for the day by donning my school uniform: non-slip shoes, chef pants, chef coat, and chef hat. I must say, it looks pretty good, although it will take a bit of getting used to. Wearing a chef outfit is certainly a unique way to go through the day.

Instructor Introductions

Class began with detailed introductions by our chef instructors. The team is highly experienced with a very diverse background and very excited to have us as students. Together, they have passions for local food, macrobiotics, food policy, plant pathology, clinical nutrition, and social networks. The instructors seem to truly be passionate about food, which is good because as Chef Rosa Vera said, we are about to be “totally immersed in food.”

It was a pretty long morning hearing the introductions, but vital to get to know each instructor’s background.

Below: My chef shoes, looking mighty fine..


Below: Me, looking sharp in my chef whites and check pants, in the lecture kitchen.


Below: Students can bring their own lunches from home and use the school equipment to heat them up, however, it creates dirty dishes which I must then clean. Hmm.


Below: We started the day by drawing fortunes written by our fellow classmates. I drew this very appropriate fortune for myself – one of my professional goals is to help bring wellness into people’s lives through information about food.


ServSafe Training

The afternoon was taken up with the start of our safe food handling training. Cooking and storing food safely is of utmost importance and as such, we will spend two half days on the training. Safe food handling is both common sense and arcane – there are many facts to remember, none more important than the importance of hand washing. Correct temperatures are vital, too. We will be taking the ServSafe food handler certification test, which apparently has a very high success rate.


Each week, we are expected to write a cooking journal to reflect on what we’ve learned. Also, we were assigned to listen to two podcasts to help us to think about what we might write. The topics of the two podcasts were designed to get us thinking about the direction of food culture in America, which I found very exciting.

Random note – some students from the last class developed this magazine resource for incoming students.

Career Change: How Did I Get Here?

Today is February 16th, 2012, and tomorow I will begin a natural/vegetarian/healing foods culinary program at The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts, here in Austin, TX. I find myself on the doorstep of leaving my 10-year career in human resources, reflecting on how I arrived at this amazing turning point in my life…

Early Signs

As a child, I loved to watch cooking shows on public TV. The sounds, the physicality, and the vitality were very attractive. Chefs were always very excited about their work and the pleasure it could bring them and their guests.

My mom got me my first cookbook when I was fairly young. It had a plastic set of measuring spoons which I still use today. I had some cooking successes, and many failures.

Below: These spoons have been used in my kitchens for the past 20 years or so.


Continue reading

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.


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.


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.


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


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.



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


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


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!

Career Change – Exploring Your Feelings

Deciding on a new career is tough. You might have a tendency to over think and get into your head too much. Here are some questions to help you get in touch with your true passion.

Read the industry magazine. One of my barometers that told me I wasn’t in the wrong job – I was in the wrong field – was that I realized I had no interest in my professional associations’ magazines (e.g., HR Magazine, and other publications for people working in higher education HR). I subscribed to a dietetics magazine and enjoyed it. And cooking magazines – I devoured. Do you want to kick back and read your industry’s journals?


Look at what you do in free time. What do you do for fun? What common themes do you notice? For me, working with my hands, reading about nutrition and health, cooking, cleaning house (yes, I find it meditative), being active, grocery shopping, playing sports.

Get in touch with your inner child. What did you want to do when you were a kid? Why did you think about those jobs? I wanted to be a mechanic. I liked fixing things and solving problems for people – helping them. I liked tangible things and I liked the idea of an immediate outcome.

Take note of what parts of your current job you like most. For me, I most enjoyed advising people and being an expert. I enjoyed organizing potluck lunches for employees and leading outings to new restaurants where we could all get to experience the food and get to know each other.

Explore your values. What things do you personally value? Money? Time? For me, health and emotional well being are tops. Beware – security as a value is not a great choice. A steady salary has it’s plusses, but there are ways to have a steady income and do something you love – or at least something closer to what you love. You might not make as much money, but you could make way more – because you’re following your passion.

Think about significant places and experiences in your life. What events in your life were most powerfully positive? What places, when you’re there, do you lose yourself – where you become enthralled and comfortable. For me, I’ve always had a fascination with commercial kitchens, grocery stores, libraries, and book stores. I also had a significant positive experience in a nutritionist counseling session which led to the discovery that I could manage a skin rash that had caused me 10 years of trouble. Another time, I organized and prepared meals for a weekend workshop and loved it.

How do you long to serve others? Ultimately, all work is about providing a service or thing for someone else. So recall a time when you were really proud of something you did for someone. For me, it was building things, fixing things, cooking for others. I remember making a lemon pie for a family Thanksgiving. I was so proud and excited. Everyone was impressed. Nevermind that I got so excited at the last minute that I tossed some ill-planned cinnamon on top of my perfect meringue – the whole thing was a positive and formative experience.

Think like a Korean infant. In Korea, a tradition for a child’s first birthday is to lay out an array of objects before the kiddo. Whichever object the child first grabs is seen as an indicator of his or her future proclivities. If someone laid out a law book, a stethoscope, a chef’s knife, and a microscope, which would you instinctively choose? If faced with an art store, kitchen store, science emporium, music store, and clothing store, which would you enter? Where’s the pull? Where’s the energy for you? Not all careers involve physical objects, so this doesn’t work for everything. But you get the picture.

Who do you admire? If you were to pick up a biography, what kind of person would it be? A chef, politician, doctor, artist, explorer, athlete, police officer? A healer, a warrior, a poet, a statesman? What kind of life, when spelled out in detail, could you see yourself living? Which instills the most excitement in you?

What subjects did you enjoy in school? Which did you dislike? I enjoyed geometry and physics. Physical education was a favorite, as well as art. They all relate to physical space and motion. There was immediacy to them all. I disliked biology and chemistry. These were hard to see, and more abstract to me. They were very technical and involved memorization; the concepts weren’t as intuitive.

Look at how you responded to each question. What themes emerge?