One of the first lessons students learn in culinary school is the meaning of mise-en-place. French for “put in place”, it means that ingredients are prepped, tools are gathered, and everything is organized before cooking begins. It’s a grounding philosophy that keeps your head clear and your body poised to make things happen.
After almost a year in the BU kitchen, I have become intimately familiar with the concept. As part of my Gastronomy degree, I completed the Culinary Certificate program last spring, and was honored to be awarded the Julia Child teaching assistant position for the Fall 2015 semester. From September to December (that flew by), I fastidiously ‘mise-en-placed’ my way through veal stocks, bread dough, handmade pasta, fresh ricotta, Thai green curry, Punjabi greens, tres leches cake and much, much more. I gathered produce for daily recipes, measured ingredients for morning demonstrations, peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes, and washed caseloads of chicken backs for the stockpot. My corner of the kitchen was rarely without a project.
Student Claudia Catalano presents her daily experiences in the BU Gastronomy culinary lab on her new blog.
Since I began pursuing my MLA in Gastronomy in 2012, I’ve always dreamed of taking the Culinary Lab. I’m a good home cook, but I’ve never been formally trained in proper French technique, food safety, how to perfect timing, or how to cook for big crowds. Yet for the past two and a half years, I would make excuses about how impractical it would be to enroll. It’s a big commitment, but I finally decided in December that I would be full of regret if I didn’t include the lab as part of my Gastronomy degree. So I took a leave of absence from my job (yikes!) and now spend 4 days a week, from 10:30 AM to 6:oo PM, at 808 Commonwealth Avenue, the home of the BU Gastronomy program.
What a fulfilling way to be spending my time. Not only am I being introduced to professional cooking techniques, but I also have the privilege of learning from 21 well-respected chefs who will be teaching the program this semester. Michael Leviton of Lumiere, Mary Ann Esposito of PBS, Barry Maiden of Hungry Mother, and Jeremy Sewall of Island Creek Oyster Bar are just a few of the talented instructors with whom I will work during the 14-week class. And, of course, there is the much-anticipated 2-day segment taught by the program’s co-founder, Jacques Pépin. What a thrill!
As part of the course assignments, I am required to keep a daily journal of my class experiences. I have decided to treat mine as a blog, which you can view here: www.thegastronomyfiles.com. If you’re thinking about enrolling in the Culinary Lab, this is an inside view. Take a look and you may decide to make your dream a reality, too.
The Culinary Lab is offered each semester and meets Monday through Thursday from 10:30 AM to 6:00 PM. Besides counting as elective credits in the Gastronomy MLA program, students who successfully complete the lab receive a Certificate in Culinary Arts from Boston University.
The Culinary Arts Certificate Program at Boston University is one of a kind. It was founded by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin in 1989 when Pepin suggested turning their highly successful cooking seminars into a full semester course. The program was designed around French cuisine and technique but also highlights other ethnic dishes and cooking styles. The intent was not necessarily to produce chefs – although graduates have certainly pursued that goal – but to teach those interested in food how to cook.
A class of 8-12 students has been held every semester since its beginning, and Pepin still makes guest appearances to teach. There are a few core instructors but the majority of classes are taught by a rotation of Boston’s best chefs (think diversity but also networking). The program also takes field trips to stage in local kitchens, visit producers, and work with other food professionals like writers and photographers. Additionally, students are exposed to cooking in volume by hosting large events for the Seminars in Food, Wine & the Arts. Upon graduation, students are very well rounded in cuisines, techniques, methodology, and Boston food culture.
Whether students want to go into the kitchen, use their knowledge to support other academic work, or just want to make dinner for friends and family, the Culinary Arts Certificate Program is worth every minute.
If you aren’t convinced that you need to take this class, perhaps Katherine Shae and Tianyu (Cici) Ji can persuade you. Katherine and Cici are MLA Gastronomy students currently taking the Culinary Arts Program and were interviewed about their experience (and love for!) the class.
Interview with Katherine Shea, expected graduation in May 2014
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m from West Hartford, CT. Most of my jobs previous to working in the food industry were related to teaching (both of my parents were teachers). I did a sustainable agriculture program in Italy for the last semester of my bachelors at UCONN and that is what prompted me to apply for the gastronomy program. Since the switch to gastronomy/food industry I’ve worked at a restaurant (Front of House) in Cape Cod, Whole Foods (Specialty), Allandale Farm and a couple other farms in Maine for the summer.
How far along in the program are you and what do you plan to do after graduation?
This is my last semester in the program and I am not entirely sure what I want to do with the degree but I would love to be in the field of Agriculture (perhaps policy).
Why did you chose to take the culinary arts certificate class?
It is definitely the best class I’ve taken in the program. I chose to take it because I went to a Jacques Pepin lecture last year with my class and a fellow Gastronomy student asked Jacques what advice he has for people going into the field. His response was to start with learning how to cook. He explained how anything related to food: food writing, policy, business, all stems from the basics of cooking. Recently, our class had the pleasure of having Sheryl Julian visit and she reiterated that same notion. She explained that her training in Culinary allows her to understand exactly what it takes to make a dish that she is critiquing.
What do you hope to do with your culinary training?
I know that I won’t work in a professional kitchen after the program, but I am sure that the skills I’ve learned will be useful in my life and future career.
Would you recommend the class and why?
Until the Culinary program, I had no idea how much was behind just cooking. The technique and skill involved is amazing, and learning from the best chefs in Boston is an incredible experience. I think everyone in the Gastronomy program could benefit from trying the culinary program. I strongly urge Gastronomy students to take the culinary class, you will learn a ton, have fun, and make great connections in Boston!
Interview with Tianyu (Cici) Ji, expected graduation in December 2014
Where are you from?
Why did you choose the Gastronomy Program?
The Gastronomy program is a good combination of academic and hands-on experience.
What do you plan to do after graduation?
I would like to have a restaurant after studying in major food countries.
Why did you chose to take the culinary arts certificate class?
The culinary arts program is a one-of-a-kind experience in the world. Our instructors are from the business in Boston, and what they do are not only about techniques, but also good attitudes of persons in the industry. I learned a great deal from each and every one of them.
What do you enjoy about the culinary arts program?
The intensive program is well designed. There is one field trip almost every week plus special events in the semester. The chefs/instructors are helpful in the kitchen. I got the chance to stage in some of the best kitchens in Boston. This experience is so unique.
What has been your favorite dish to learn to cook?
I can’t really name a favorite dish, because they are all so fantastic. Cooking is not difficult, but it takes practice to make the good food right.
What has been the hardest part about the class?
Remembering the dishes in a short time. Learn to cook efficiently with recipes. Take notes.
Would you recommend the class, and why?
There is no better way to learn about food except for cooking it and tasting it. The culinary arts program allows me to think of food in a classic perspective and that is always important before going deeper about the gastronomic aspects. After all, food is for people to enjoy. I would be a great loss were I not in the culinary arts program.
Audrey Reid is president of the Gastronomy Students Association, manager of the Gastronomy at BU blog, and in her final semester of the Gastronomy Program. She has a BS in Chemistry, is a graduate of the Culinary Arts Program, and is earning her MLA with a concentration in Food Policy.