Mise en place ingredients on a sheet tray  including vinegars, spices, and seasonings

Choreography in the Kitchen

ICE Los Angeles student Emma Winkler shares her career change from dance to cooking.

Emma Winkler is pursuing a dual diploma in Culinary Arts and Restaurant & Culinary Management at the Institute of Culinary Education's Los Angeles campus. She dreams of opening her own restaurant one day.

Dancing choreography is a series of steps, set to music, filled with passion and I have come to find that cooking isn’t much different from dance. The steps are your recipe and the music is the honing of knives, clanging of pots and sizzling of your first masterpiece. When I decided to start culinary school, I was leaving behind a career in the dance industry that lasted for more than a decade. What I didn’t know was that dance prepared me for this change in more ways than I could have ever imagined.

I started working as a professional dancer when I was 13 years old. I trained sometimes six to seven hours a day in Los Angeles and worked in the television and music industries. My love for food really developed during my time as a dancer when frequent travel provided endless opportunities for trying new restaurants and cuisines. In fact, some days, I cared more about what restaurants were in the area than actually getting on set and dancing. I was always the first person wondering when the next meal was and where I was going to eat. What can I say? I love food.

Emma Winkler in class at the Institute of Culinary Education Los Angeles.

In order to document my food adventures, I began photographing my food and sharing my experiences on social media. People were starting to ask my opinions on places to eat, what to order or even what I was cooking for dinner. I started throwing parties, cooking for my friends and using any excuse to make a meal. My love for cooking was quickly growing and I knew I needed to do something about it. I would dream of my life 10 or more years from now and I saw myself making people happy with food.

When I made the decision to enroll at the Institute of Culinary Education, I knew it would be quite a transition and I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I have never worked in the food service industry and honestly, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into. Although, I really wanted to find out and I knew this was the place to do it.

One of the things your chef-instructor will teach you on the first day of culinary school is the importance of mise en place. This, for those of you who may not know, is French for “everything in its place,” a phrase that can apply to many aspects of life. It basically means that if you prepare and have the tools or ingredients necessary to complete your task, you will transcend into a rhythm of ease. It’s very much this way in dance. To complete your first pirouette, or turn, you must first know the basics and have the proper form and technique to turn without (quite literally) falling on your face.

By the end of my first week at ICE, the choreography was starting to set in. You learn the lingo, the flow of the kitchen and the steps to complete a recipe. They start to become muscle memory, and now, I feel like I am right where I am supposed to be. To anyone struggling with the difficult decision of changing careers, take the leap — I’m sure glad I did.

Set the stage with career programs at ICE's Los Angeles campus.

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