With both anxiety and giddy anticipation, I went to my first college class yesterday in over 12 years. I am now a student of the Pulaski Technical College Arkansas Culinary School.
The class was Baking 1, not really a newbie’s course. I took it as an elective, and it just happened to fall first on my schedule this week.
Before leaving the house, I was a little nerve-wracked. Do I wear the chef’s coat? Take the baking/pastry kit? Take the massive textbook? Do I need to pin my hair up?
I decided to wear street clothes but take the coat along, plus my kit, book, and some hair pins. I was having an unusually fabulous hair day, so I was glad those didn’t get used.
Driving to Pulaski Tech’s South campus (nearly to Benton), I missed the exit. I knew it was a tricky one, and I missed it anyway. No problem, I was early. Turned around and got there fine.
Walking in the building, I realize I’ve forgotten to bring my class schedule. Did I mention this is the exact nightmare I’ve had for 20 years or so, in one form or another? But in today’s reality, I was able to step into the library, quickly print out a new schedule, and find exactly where to go. Done.
I even had time to stop into the Finish Line Café, run by the culinary program. I was glad to see one young man behind the serving line who was obviously passionate about the food he had created. He encouraged me to try his thin crust chicken and bacon pizza. And yes, it was every bit as delicious as promised. Not as healthy as the salad I had in mind, but delicious.
The baking class is structured like many of the culinary classes, in a six-hour stretch, once a week. The first portion of time (not yet sure how much) is lecture, and the rest is in the kitchen. We’ll even get out early if we clean up quickly. The first day, disappointingly, we were only in the classroom. But, things had to be gone over — syllabus, rules, dress, safety. Turns out I didn’t have everything I needed to go into the kitchen. Still need non-skid shoes. Chef pants. A hat. These would have been good to know ahead of time, but that’s OK. There was even a bit of confusion about the hats, which are new, and I had to check in the office after class to see exactly what was expected.
I really like the instructor. He seems to be the quiet riot type. Mild mannered, very personable and funny. He had been the general manager of Boscos and The Butcher Shop in Little Rock, and now he and his wife own a boutique cake shop, The Blue Cake Company.
Side note: In discussion with some student veterans, I found that most instructors at PTC, being part-time instructors and real-world chefs, are fairly easygoing and ego-free. I also gathered which instructors to give a wide berth (just one or two). Mental note taken.
The class itself will cover yeast breads, quick breads, pies, pastries, cakes and frostings, cookies, custards, frozen desserts and varnished breads, whatever those are. I guess that’s why we go to school.
The Arkansas Culinary School was recently evaluated for accreditation by the American Culinary Federation (ACF) and Accreditation Commission for Programs in Hospitality Administration (ACPHA). Although final word hasn’t arrived, things look good, which will be good for graduates of the program. Our instructor explained that the school is still young, and the restaurant community is just beginning to consider it as a feeder for their businesses. “If you consider school a job, and do your best,” he said, “it will benefit both your education and the school’s reputation. If we (PTC) look good, you look good, and vice versa.”
The instructor had us introduce ourselves, tell a bit about ourselves and state our reasons for taking the course. This exercise revealed the true variety of students within. There were 20 students, and among them, a nearly perfect division of race, age, and background. There were at least five or six retired or displaced workers starting a new career for themselves. Many had a background working in foodservice, but there were still a good number of us who had not.
Ryan, a young guy working in the industry, said his favorite part was the rush, when things get really busy. I’ve heard this from several restaurant kitchen junkies.
Another young man said he was a third or fourth generation culinary professional.
I mentioned that I write a food blog, and Amanda from across the room pipes up, “Yeah, I follow your Tweets!” What a wonderful world.