I am an aspiring chef. I love food and everything about it. I love cooking it, I love trying new things, and most of all, I love learning about it.
I grew up in a large family where family gatherings had a minimum amount of 40 people. That means someone was always cooking. That person was mostly my grandmother. Every major holiday her kitchen counters would be covered in an assortment of pies and treats. In the oven, you could count on a turkey or ham and sometimes both. Her house smelled of many wondrous scents like berries and fresh pastry, honey glazed ham, pumpkin, cinnamon, and of other spices.
Sometimes I would be over helping my grandmother make food. I was what she liked to call her "taste-tester" and she allowed me to lick the filling off the spoon, or nibble at the ham. I always felt so happy to help her. Young children are just so curious and it can be discouraging to one if they aren't allowed to explore their curiosities. I believe my passion for food is so strong because my family always allowed me to help in the kitchen. Even if it was something as simple as filling up a measuring cup with water, or cracking open an egg.
Mama liked to make chocolate cream pie and coconut cream pie for special occasions. She never really let me help her too much with the making of the pies, but when she wasn't looking I'd taste her concoctions. After hours of slaving in the kitchen over a hot stove, mama would rest and let the pies cool. We never ate these pies as if there wouldn't be a sunrise the next morning, but we would simply enjoy the rich, decadent flavors. A small slice goes a long way when it's that good.
My father raised me along with a sister and three brothers and did a lot of the cooking if he wasn't too tired after a long day of work. I can remember wanting to help chop vegetables but he wouldn't allow me to do it by myself, so he would grab my hand and guide it with his to ensure that I wouldn't hurt myself. Of course being the silly man that he is, would kid around and act like he was about to chop my little fingers off. Of course I'd squeal in sheer terror, but I always knew he would never hurt me.
Spending time with my family in the kitchen meant a lot to me and it brought us all closer. I would learn about the food, and what it took to make a tasty meal. I have always loved to cook because it reminds me of how blessed I am to be able to prepare a meal for my family. We never had so much money that we would make steak or ribs, but we always had just enough for baked chicken and vegetables. I used to think that chicken was the most disgusting thing on the planet mostly because it was all we could afford for a family of seven.
As I got older and family members started moving away, we had more money for food and that meant different food. I love baked chicken now. It reminds me of the simple days when money was tight and the only thing really keeping the family afloat was love and God.
Whenever I tried out a new recipe for my family, I would always ask if it was good and if there was something I could do better next time. Of course my dad and brothers would just gobble it down and between mouthfuls there would be the "Yum", or "It's good" comment that escaped from them. My mother on the other hand would taste and be silent while she tries to figure out what she feels about the food. Most of the time I would get the "Oh honey, this is fantastic!" comment, but never the "I can't eat another bite." comment.
I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Sometimes I wanted to be a doctor, other times an artist, like my father. About a year ago it hit me that my passion is food. I love serving people in many ways whether it be cleaning the homes of the elderly, serving the poor, or doing hours of strenuous labor on a ranch for no pay. Being a chef means I can do what I love and serve people good food. People have to eat, and people tend to eat what tastes good to them.
In the late summer of 2011, I was being questioned about what I was going to do for the fall. I usually replied with the same answer, work. I graduated early from high school and my plan was to take a year off from education to work and save some money. I applied for jobs, had an interview, got a job selling cutlery, but then turned it down a few days later. As much as I wanted a break from education, I knew it was what I had to do. I checked out culinary programs with the Job Corps, Culinary Schools of the Rockies, Le Cordon Bleu, and with The Art Institute of Portland. I made my decision. I would be a Culinary Arts major at The Art Institute.
I requested information and printed off an application late one night. For a few weeks I looked at the application and waited to fill it out until I was fully ready. My decision was fully supported by my family and close friends. Within the month of applying, I was accepted and would start Fall term which was only about five weeks away. I wasn't nervous whatsoever because I knew my family had my back, and of course I had God by my side to help guide me. It came to the night before I left when I cracked. It finally hit me that I would be moving three hundred miles away from my family and my best friends. Saying goodbye to one of my younger brothers was harder than saying goodbye to mama and dad. I knew it was for the best and that after all was said and done, I'd have something I was proud of. Finally, I was doing something for myself.
Mama and my sister moved me to Portland, Oregon on September 27th. I'd start classes on October 3rd. My first term went great. I learned a lot of new cooking techniques that were more practical than what I grew up being taught. It felt great to tell my mom that she
didn't need to cook the pork roast until the temperature said 165 degrees, but to cook to 150 degrees then take it out and let it continue to cook (carryover cooking method) for about another half hour. As it continues to cook, the juices rest in the meat making it moist and keeping it tender. I told her to NEVER slice the roast again as that allows the juices to escape from the meat and dries it out. Slice right before serving, that way the meat will be juicy, tender, and hot.
My second term is just now coming to an end. I can say that I have learned different cooking styles from different regions of the United States. I have learned history of New England cuisine, along with Southern, Tex-Mex, Hawaiian, and the Pacific Northwest cuisines. Along with the history, I have learned to recreate the common cuisines such as Clams Casino from New England, Ahi Poke and Daikon Cakes from Hawaii, Cedar Plank Smoked Salmon and Oregon Pinot Noir Raspberry Sorbet from the Pacific Northwest, and some good old fashioned Chicken Fried Steak with Country Gravy from the South.
My goal at the end of my culinary education is not to just walk away with a degree in culinary science, but to walk away with the knowledge of modern cooking techniques and the education of food found from all over the world. I want to share my knowledge with people, and I want to share my food with everyone I can.
Someday I want to own a bed and breakfast. Most people tell me that I don't need a $50,000 education in food to run something that easy. And truth is, I really don't. I know how to make scrambled eggs, pancakes and bacon. My establishment won't be your typical homestyle place. Sure, food will be served in big dishes on a family sized dining table,but breakfast, lunch and dinner will be food made from different world cuisines and not your typical American dishes. I don't have the money to travel all over the world to experience different cuisines so I attend an institution where my instructors have gone to these places, bring their knowledge to the classroom, and educate us on how it's done.
With this being said, you as my readers know more of where I come from and what drives my passion for food. Family, and love. Cooking isn't everyone's cup of tea, but next time you dread getting in the kitchen to cook a meal, remember how blessed you are for being able to create something and maybe try remembering who taught you how to cook. I'm so thankful for my parents, Jon and Julie and my grandmother for allowing me to stand beside them as they cooked. I know sometimes it would be a pain if I was in their space as they tried to maneuver around the small kitchens, but they were always so patient with me and let me help (even if they just wanted me to go sit in the living room and wait for dinner). I can't express how grateful I am to get the education I am getting, even if it is costing me a few limbs, nor how grateful I am for the support I receive from my family.
I am Jacquelyn Peterman, a chef.