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Posted on Jul 20, 2011 in Dear Diary, Food | 22 comments

Getting School’d

Last night I got to do something really fun.


Any guesses as to what that was?


How about now?


You may have already seen me tweeting about it, but last night I got to audit a culinary school class at Stratford University!


Culinary school has been something that has been percolating in the back of my mind since I was still an undergrad, although it definitely took a backseat to other things once I graduated. Since seeing fellow blogger Amanda take the leap and follow her culinary dreams (as well as a few encouraging comments from family members) it’s something I’m starting to look back into.


Honestly, when I asked if I would be able to observe a class I expected them to tell me no. Who needs someone standing over everyone’s shoulder while they’re all trying to learn? But Stratford agreed and was more than helpful in arranging for me to audit an evening Fundamentals of Baking class, taught by Chef Logan.


It started off in a classroom where the 8 students in the class had to take a quiz to review what they had learned the last time. Time spent in the classroom was very shortlived, however, and after passing out the recipes that they would be working with today, we hopped over to the kitchen! On the docket?


Sour cream pound cake. Mmm.

Hey batter batter batter!

One thing that I would have to get used to if I did decide to go to culinary school?


Holy heart attack. The butter. Butter in the cake, butter in the icing, butter, butter, butter. It probably sounds really lame, but one of my serious hesitations about whether I’d want to take this leap revolves around the fact I’m not sure how my weight loss would fare in a situation like this.

Something's Cooking

Fundamentals of Baking is one of the core culinary classes that all students have to take at Stratford, so the class was a mix of Baking & Pastry concentration students as well as Culinary Arts students.


Chef Logan told me that each chef instructor is different, and structures their class differently. Some might have more time spent in lecture, but she preferred to do her demos in the kitchen. The evening classes go from 6 PM to 10:30 PM, so best to make use of that time! And even though I was just observing and not actually handling any food, the time still flew by. The first part of the class was spent with each student baking an individual pound cake.

Cake me.

Which I didn’t actually end up getting to taste because I left just before the very end of class (while they were all cleaning, so I didn’t want to be in the way.) I’m sure they were delicious though!


Don’t be sad for me though, folks. I got to do more than my fair share of decadent eating! After the pound cakes were in the oven, the class set off to make cream cheese icing for the carrot cakes they had baked the class before! So I did, in fact, learn something new even just as an observer.


Like how to properly layer and ice a cake!


Start by slicing the top off of your cake for an even surface (the top part is henceforth labeled your “yum-yum”, and is yours mine for the snacking!)




You then eyeball slicing your cake into thirds (I need one of those spinny-cake-platter things like whoa) with a serrated knife, and ice the middle layers individually.


Another thing I learned? You use the bottom of the cake as the top of the cake by flipping it around! That way you know that your cake top will be perfectly flat. Who knew?


The final prep-step is to give your cake a very thin crumb coating. This is a super fine coating of icing that’s sole purpose is to fill in any extra cracks and trap all loose crumbs on the cake’s surface. That way, you won’t get crumbs in your final layer of icing at the end! You have to put your cake back in the fridge at this point for all the icing to set, so I didn’t actually get to see the final stage of icing. I did, however, get to see how marzipan gets made, and enjoy watching the students make decorative carrots out of it.


Marzipan = almond paste + confectioners sugar + light corn syrup. I tried a tiny little ball of it (I don’t think I’d had marzipan since I lived in Poland!) and it was so sweet I almost died. But hey, it was almond-y, so I survived. 😉


Don’t worry, along with all the carrot cake, icing samples, and marzipan nibbles, I still worked in some kind of nutrition:


Hehe. Carrot cake… and a carrot! Tina, aren’t you proud?

All in all, it was an awesome class, the students were all really fun and welcoming, and Chef Logan is awesome. She was a career-changer (in government contracting, no less!) when she decided to go back to school to pursue a culinary career so her experience really resonated with me. Honestly, from reading other bloggersexperiences with culinary school, I was expecting to be totally rattled and overwhelmed, and for my desire to go myself extinguished but I have to say, I feel like it’s the opposite. I feel like perhaps the culinary classes might differ from the baking classes as well in terms of general hecticness, but everyone I talked to in the class just seemed so, well, happy. And while I’m not in any position to be going in the NEAR future by any means, this experience has definitely put the whole kit and caboodle back on the table.

Have you ever considered going to culinary school? Or considered starting a career in the food or nutrition industry? Are there other people out there that, like me, are torn between the food-side and the nutrition-side (i.e. culinary school vs. becoming a registered dietitian)? That’s where my mental struggle still lies. Last night’s experience was so eye-opening, and was definitely encouraging, but it’s still so hard to convince myself that this is a leap I could potentially take.


    • Hahaha, yes, I did! I lived there for a few years when I was a kid — my dad worked for the State Department so I actually grew up primarily overseas.

        • I wish I remembered a single word of my first-grade Polish so I could say something witty here. 😉

          • It’s okay. I quit Polish classes for gymnastics. I can sing a mean Polish Christmas carol or birthday song, though.

  1. To answer your questions: yes, yes, and yes.

    I really, really, really want to go into the nutrition side, but to be 100% honest, I don’t subscribe to the idea of nutritionism. I actually think the scientific and chemistry focus of most RD programs is inaccurate (I’m a huge believer that you can’t break food down into it’s parts, if so, then we’d just be taking a pill with all the correct amount of nutrients). So finding a reputable program that aligns with my beliefs is a toughy.

    And I’ve dreamed of having a restaurant, but I just don’t think I’m cut out for food service. 😛

    So for now, I just blog about it all. But it would definitely be nice to have some formal education to back up what I’m writing about.

    • I think that’s how I feel about it too. I’m not sure I was made to work in an actual kitchen environment (AHH THE PRESSURE!) but I think I just really want to be able to refine my technique, further my education, and do it all on a topic that I (clearly) love. Ahh, the dilemma…

    • I’m right there with the two of you. Love to cook, LOVE to. I’ve dreamed of having a restaurant. But, I can’t see myself actually having to deal with the pressure of a restaurant. So, I have yet to find an appropriate outlet for my love of cooking and sharing what I cook. Good luck to the two of you, I love both of your blogs!

  2. First of all, that looks SUPER fun. I always have the idea of going back to school for baking/pastry arts in the back of my mind.

    If you’re torn between nutrition and cooking, what about a degree from someplace that combines nutrition and culinary arts like the Natural Gourmet Culinary Institution in NYC?

    • Ooh! I haven’t heard anything about that before, but it definitely sounds like something that warrants looking into. Do you know if they an accredited school or any kind, or just a private institution?

  3. Looks like you had a blast! I think I would enjoy taking cooking classes as a recreational activity in my spare (haha) time.

    • I mean, I’d lovelovelove to take recreational cooking classes too, obviously. But what I’m talking about is more along the professional lines, clearly… which begs the question of whether it’s worth it for my career goals too. TOO MUCH TO CONSIDER!

  4. Gretchen I think if this is something you want to do, then do it! I wanted to go to pastry school and learn how to bake bread, etc. I don’t really remember what changed my mind about that though.

    That carrot cake looks delicious — I don’t know if I’ll ever be brave enough to make a cake like that with layers though. I think I’d get too frustrated!

    • Just think of it as a way to get more frosting into your mouth with each bite. When I think of it that way, it seems worth it! 😛

  5. Hey Gretchen- I have been following (and enjoying) your blog for some time. You look amaaazing. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I absolutely love to cook/bake and find little time to do it, or when I have ample time- no one to eat it. In lieu of that I am a student volunteer at the Salud Cooking school through Whole Foods, awesome program where i essentially get to take the classes for free for the small price of manual labor: setup, assist the chef and students during class, and clean up afterwards. I am not sure if Salud exists in DC. If not check out Sur la Table or other local area cooking stores they generally offer reasonably priced classes as well- generally about the same as a nice dinner out.

    • Christy! I just realized I never responded to this even though I meant to — my bad! I definitely need to look into whether any of the WF in this area offer those classes, it sounds like it’s right up my alley! That being said, I do know that there is a Sur la Table closeby that I can try to hook up to as well. Anything to get more skill in the kitchen, right? Thanks for the tips!!

  6. While I have never been to culinary school as a student studying to become a chef, I have taken many culinary classes. I’ve taken cooking classes in Italy, Costa Rica, and Germany. I’ve also taken cooking classes with Japanese chefs, so I am a master at sushi and miso soup. I consider myself to be quite the amateur chef!

  7. Thanks for the shout out!! If you ever want to talk more about the (crazy) decision I made, just holler. AND I think you should come up and spend some time at L’Academie. They are also great about letting students tour and they often let them eat lunch with us if you time it right. They also have really helpful information sessions on some Saturdays. It’s an incredible journey. You can tell from my past few posts it’s not super easy, but it’s SO fun.

  8. I think a lot about this too. I wonder if there is a cooking school (or several) that focuses specifically on more nutritionally-minded, healthy foods? Perhaps something into which you could look?

  9. Have you read Daily Garnish’s blog? She has a whole series of posts on when she attended culinary school (which I think are so interesting!).

    • Oh my gosh, yes, I DEVOURED them all! Such a great look into the realities of it, which are so, so crucial. Augh, still torn!


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