Cooking School Graduate
The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago
When Liz Bryant was a senior in college, she worked for the school's food service department for extra money but discovered something more—a serious passion for the hustle and bustle of creating and serving great food.
Once she graduated from college, she went to work for an advertising agency but never lost her desire to work with food. She ultimately decided to pursue her dream by attending cooking school.
The Best Things About Cooking School
One of her favorite classes in cooking school was based on using all natural, vegetarian ingredients, because it challenged her. "It stretched me because it was about using healthy, fresh vegetables. I have been really trying to incorporate that in what I do now. Lately, I have been conscious of using more vegetables in creative ways." She especially tries to utilize this concept when cooking for her family and often refers to the book "Cooking For a New Earth" by Carl Jerome.
What surprised her most was how physically demanding the job is, including lifting and carrying 20-30 pounds at a time. "Even in your small space, you are constantly on your feet and moving back and forth between the stove and the prep-table."
Other requirements of culinary school included organizational skills and "being able to produce something in a short-time frame while multi-tasking and paying attention to food safety." Something that was highly stressed in cooking school was mise en place, a French phrase meaning "everything in place." According to Bryant, "in a high-end restaurant, no executive chef will tolerate a messy food station. You have to be organized; you have to have everything at your fingertips."
Getting Real-World Experience
Bryant obtained real-world experience at a restaurant within her school. "We served breakfast and lunch on Saturdays and dinner once a month. The patrons would pick from a menu that the students created." She enjoyed the experience of working with other people and learning from the chefs. "We had to work in teams and produce high-quality meals. I enjoyed meeting people and the chefs who were actually working in hotels and restaurants."
Balancing Life and Cooking School
Bryant chose a school that allowed her to balance her culinary education with the demands of her life and schedule. Besides a full-time job, she also had to figure in her commute and the cost of cooking school. Her school offered a full-time program to obtain an associate's degree as well as a part-time program on Saturdays to obtain a certificate. "The school fit into what I could do, and the rest was up to me. I trusted my own work ethic and determination would get me going."
Advice for Future Culinary Students
Her advice to future culinary arts students: find the best cooking school possible depending on the student's situation. "I was working full-time. I knew, given my job, that I could never predict being off of work at five o'clock. That was why the institute was perfect for me. Of course there were Saturdays when I would have loved to sleep in or go to the beach, but if you really feel a passion for something, it's up to you to prioritize. I sought out a program that I knew would work for me."
Life After Cooking School
Although her school offered a job referral program, Bryant was able to find a position in a popular restaurant through contacts she had made herself. She found a mentor in Allen Sternweiler, owner of Allen's – The New American Café in Chicago. "He was confident he could teach anybody, but what Al was looking for was knife skills, knowing how to cut a tomato, a sense of design, and the ability to multi-task. He let me have a taste of every part of the restaurant. I butchered, I did pastry, and I worked my way up to the evenings and weekends, which is really when the fun, creative stuff happens."
After several years in the restaurant business, of which she has fond memories, she now schedules her own hours by working as a part-time caterer for brunches and cocktail parties and creating occasion cakes. Bryant says she gets jobs by word-of-mouth and through friends who fall in love with her creations when she hosts her own parties. "I will often do work for a friend who is a real estate agent and offers her clients a house-warming party for up to twenty couples."