Photo by Gideon J. Gallegos-Sanchez on Unsplash

Seeing the Signs

Life as a Student

Trying to figure out what to do with your life at any age can be overwhelming, stressful and exciting. I thought that at 24 years old I would have a good idea which direction I wanted my life to go, but that wasn’t the case. There’s no question that I’ve accomplished things I’m proud of, including earning a Congressional Award Gold Medal, publishing a book and managing a couple of blogs, but there was still that nagging question, “What do I do with my life?” Ultimately I realized my path involved food—and more than just eating it.

lauren jessen culinary student institute of culinary education

Let me back up for a second. As I mentioned, in 2014 I earned a Congressional Award Gold Medal and, along with my sister, co-wrote a book about our experience, titled Youth’s Highest Honor: Your Guide to Earning the Congressional Award and Building Life Skills. The award is a program that teaches invaluable life skills through participation in community service, personal development, physical fitness and expeditions, and is considered the highest award that a youth can earn in the United States.

But despite the sense of achievement I felt from winning the award, publishing our book and managing a youth empowerment website, Carpe Juvenis, I was still trying to figure out my next step. Would I write another book? Absolutely—but in the future. Would I get a corporate job? Maybe, but in what industry? Or should I entertain the idea of pursuing my love of food? It doesn’t hurt to look into it. Lauren Jessen Award

The concept of having a career in the food industry didn’t click for me right away. In 2011, while working on a degree in media studies at Claremont McKenna College, I started a food and film blog called A Dash of Cinema.

The idea was that I would recreate the food you see characters eating in movies, as well as new recipes inspired by movies. At that point, I had pursued a few film internships at Hollywood production companies, but it hadn’t occurred to me to pursue my love of food in a professional setting. There I was, spending all my free time pairing recipes with movies and enthusiastically searching out the best places to eat around Los Angeles.

Somewhere between college and writing a book, my love of food turned into a passion, and passion gave way to obsession. I could no longer deny my interest in the food industry, and I loved the idea of building a foundation and learning from chefs who had real-world experience.

So I toured some culinary schools, met for coffee with culinary school graduates and read as many articles as I could get my hands on about the pros and cons of culinary school. After looking at culinary school options around the country—and even a few overseas—I knew that the Institute of Culinary Education was the best choice for me.

In particular, I was excited about the option to earn a double diploma in Culinary Management and Culinary Arts. Learning how to fabricate various meats, cooking without a recipe and understanding the science behind food are all important to me, but so is knowing how to manage food costs, best practices in marketing and all the other business skills needed to open a food establishment. The dual program is a unique opportunity to learn all of these skills and how to apply them in a real-world setting.

professional kitchen

I’ve been in culinary school for about a month, and already I have learned basic techniques that have changed the way I cook and view food. For instance, I now prepare all of my ingredients before starting to follow a recipe, a practice known as mise en place. I’m more aware of food safety precautions, so now I’m more careful when I thaw food and reheat leftovers.

I have also become braver about making stock and buying whole chickens to truss and fabricate myself. (There will never be a need for me to buy overpriced chicken breasts again!) Most importantly, I am gaining a deeper understanding of the science behind food and how ingredients and cooking methods work together, which has allowed me to experiment more in the kitchen.

Culinary school is a marathon, not a sprint: but every day I wake up even more excited to delve deeper into the food industry. I can finally say that I have seen the signs and have acted on my passion for food—and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

Eager to explore your future in food? Click here for information about ICE’s career training programs.

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