It’s the Small Moments That Have the Most Impact
Culinary Arts student Dee Gomez overcomes self-doubt with a reminder of why she cooks.
Dee Gomez came to ICE's Los Angeles campus to pursue a career in food and travel writing. Her goal is to better understand traditional and modern cooking techniques and what it's like to work in a kitchen, before writing about how culture has impacted food around the world. This week, she shares her challenges in the kitchen classroom and a momentous dish.
Growing up, I heard my friends talk about all the traditional dishes that their mothers and grandmothers would make for them or teach them to cook. My mother, on the other hand, made grilled chicken as dry as her martinis. From ages 8 to 12, I survived on nothing but potato chips and TV dinners. At that same time, I started watching cooking videos, Googling types of food from all over the world and consuming every season of “Top Chef.” All I wanted to do was eat pitas filled with gyro meat smothered in tzatziki or learn what pad thai was, or even just try any Chinese food that wasn’t from Panda Express.
Coming to ICE, my cooking knowledge was solely derived from Netflix and YouTube. The first few weeks in the kitchen were daunting. Did I say daunting? I mean terrifying and overwhelming. I’ve always had a hard time when I can’t do something right on the first try. Mistakes are to be expected when you’re first starting out. However, as the hyper-critical person that I am, I felt very defeated. Even when the only criticism on one of my dishes was that it was under-seasoned, I was filled with frustration and self-doubt. I was starting to think, why? Why do I continue to come back when every day feels like I’m crashing and (sometimes literally) burning? Then, one day, during our Intro to Beef week, I got my answer.
On that day, we had about four dishes to cook and present with teams of three. I was in charge of the boeuf bourguignon. The classic French stew is not too glamorous or complex, and I was excited to try it and make it. It was one of the only dishes in our recipe book that I had heard of because in 2009, I watched the movie “Julie & Julia.” The film is about the incredible cook and author, Julia Child, and the woman, Julie Powell, who documented her way through Child’s most famous cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” In the movie, there’s a scene that cuts back and forth between the first time each of them made boeuf bourguignon. That scene had a significant impact on me, sparking my interest in cooking.
In the days leading up to cooking the boeuf bourguignon, my confidence going into the kitchen was at an all-time low. Beef week included grilling steaks and everyone was excited, talking about grilling steaks since they were young or reminiscing about grilling with their dads. I had never grilled beef before — or anything — before ICE, and I didn't cook my steaks properly. Nonetheless, I put everything I had into the boeuf bourguignon. While tiny droplets of scorching hot oil shot up, I seared and caramelized the stew’s ingredients before adding an I-just-got-dumped amount of red wine to the pot. After almost two hours of the pot slowly simmering on the stove, I tasted and seasoned vigorously. Very steadily making sure enough beef and stew went into my bowl, I burned my hand on the hot pan that I used to reheat my mushrooms. I gently plopped glazed pearl onions on top as a garnish, and with a sprinkle of minced parsley, the dish was complete.
My forehead was glistening (I don’t sweat, I glisten), and my hand was slightly stinging as I set the bowl down on my chef-instructor’s table. As my teammates and instructor were taking their first bites, my self-doubt had me believing that I had done something wrong or that it needed more or less of something. Then, one of my teammates swallowed and said, “Mmm, that’s really good,” and went back in for another bite. My other teammate and instructor nodded in agreement and kept eating. That’s when it hit me: That is why I do it — why I think most of us do it. It’s that small moment when someone tastes something that you’ve made and smiles or makes that “mmmm” sound and goes back in for more.
Even when it’s one dish out of a week full of utter disasters, that one success makes all the burns, sweat (glistening) and stress tears worth it. Even when those feelings of frustration and failure creep up, I just put on a fresh apron, try again the next day and continue to remember why I do it — for that little moment.
Find your purposeful moments in ICE's culinary arts program.