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Editor-in-chief visits Culinary Institute of America, observes passion

Kori Friesen | The Feather Online

Along with being editor-in-chief of The Feather, junior Vijay Stephen’s interests lie in baking and music.

Firefighter, astronaut, movie star – all jobs children often aspire to when they grow up. Time and time again, children cling to these classic occupations glamorized by TV shows and movies. Often enough, the longing for these “dream jobs” result from the perception that these occupations will usher in fame or the feeling of changing the world in young kids’ lives.

This summer, I had the pleasure of visiting the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Napa, a premier culinary school with primary campuses in New York, California, Texas and Singapore. But, if you know anything about cooking and culinary school, you know that being a cook is tough and grueling work.

The desire to make an impact or to be great as we get older is something that many have as an innate aspiration. But something or someone often holds them back. The hurdle could be as simple as life’s struggles. Too many people quit or give up after going through something unexpected or unpleasant in their lives.

Cooks often endure abuse from their peers and superiors and lack proper compensation. Although cooks experience these struggles, these circumstances could often be applied to any job or occupation. But, if all those people just gave up and quit, nobody would do anything.

Since the age of 12, I have interned in a local eatery in downtown Fresno. Known for the high amount of drug users and homeless people, downtown Fresno is a rough environment for those not accustomed to such things. From the parking garage that people have committed suicide by jumping off of, to the elderly care center that mentally unstable people would emerge from, my workplace was flanked by a multitude of dangers.

And yet, the people working there became some of my closest friends and confidants. Although I chose to leave the restaurant earlier this summer to pursue other things, the family I found there taught me work ethic, strength and morals that will never leave me. But as with any service business, the environment is tough even for the strongest of people.

Vijay Stephen | The Feather Online

The Culinary Institute of America in California educates a student body of approximately 300.

Despite difficult situations and obstacles, there are always those who keep getting back up to face their literal and figurative demons day after day.

Their commitment to excellence and their passion to succeed are a driving force.

Whether it be a passion for your job or even a passion for fame, this eagerness and enthusiasm, and an unwillingness to fail, is what regularly keeps a fire burning long after a negative situation or person attempts to derail someone.

But passion or talent is not enough. The willingness to work hard and smart, despite circumstances, is an essential part of becoming successful. Regardless of what anybody wants to achieve or become, successful people are constantly willing to go the extra mile and capitalize on opportunities. What these successful people have is discipline.

Although it seems extreme, Gordon Ramsay often represents what a chef, and their kitchen, is usually like. From the excessive foul language to the aggressive, violent behavior, cooks and workers often endure these situations everyday. Often building resilience, these young adults either persist, and develop discipline, or quit under pressure. It’s like they say, “if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

Vijay Stephen | The Feather Online

The Culinary Institute of America displays its student’s work all around its building.

Discipline, if applied, may become perseverance — something cooks need a lot of. Enduring abuse, disappointments, struggles and failures, and learning how to overcome them, is what can make people good at their craft. But, being able to learn and grow from these issues make people great.

During my visit to the CIA, I interviewed Assistant Admissions Director, Allison Stapleton, and student, Chloe Chambers. Their amusing stories about life on the campus and with teachers excited me and showed me what passion really was. Chambers even whipped out a card she keeps in her pocket with her “whys.” She explained that her card held her reasons for persisting and continuing, even through hardships.

From the stories Stapleton and Chambers told me about the school and the campus’ 300-member student body, the community within the environment seemed to stand strong…

After my initial tour of the school, Stapleton allowed me to walk around the school alone to take pictures. While I took pictures of the main pastry kitchens in the culinary institute, I watched as two students were emphatically bereated for their dessert lying in front of the instructor.

Lifting up their dessert, the teacher slammed it back down on the counter—in a seemingly showy manner— and continued to shout at the students. My attention was then diverted to the students enduring the teacher’s remarks – they were laughing!

Confused at first, I remembered when Chambers told me about a teacher who purposefully shouted and made a show of scolding students in front of visitors. Apparently done with his tirade, the teacher spoke in normal tones now pointing out inconsistencies and other things wrong with the desserts.

Vijay Stephen | The Feather Online

During junior Vijay Stephen’s visit to the Culinary Institute of America, he was offered one of the student’s desserts being evaluated by the instructors.

Looking at me directly, he gestured for me to come closer. Cutting a piece of the white and brown cake before him, he handed me a piece while saying, “try it for yourself.”

So in the end, maybe it’s all about why your doing something, not what your doing. Day after day students and professionals alike continue enduring life’s derailing manner and dedicating themselves to pursuing their dreams.

Through my work experience, my time on The Feather and during my visit to the CIA, I started to understand what it takes to become successful and “make it”. It takes perseverance, sacrifice, sound judgement, hard work and grit. That is what I hope to do.

Whether it be working in a dingy bakeshop for experience or learning at a premier culinary school, all I can do is commit to a lifestyle of excellence and a consistent dedication to my craft.

For more information on the Culinary Institute of America, check out their website.

For another column, read COLUMN: International student recounts struggles, anxieties from foreign country.

For more articles, read Plagiarism affects teachers, unprepared students or Americans practice civic responsibility, benefit individuals, community.

Vijay Stephen can be reached via Twitter or email. 

The following slideshow features images of the food and buildings at the Culinary Institute of America.

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