My path to this point is evolutionary and much more mundane. I grew up in small-town upper Midwest during the ’60s and ’70s. My mother and her mother were both good cooks. Mom was moderately adventurous for the time. She would occasionally insert into the irregular rotation of family favorites a European recipe from the newspaper or a magazine, and occupying special place in that irregular rotation were a few special, authentic dishes, such as a proper Swiss Fondue taught her by a Swiss student, the Stuffed Grape Leaves brought by a friend of the family who had spent time in Greece, and a few Japanese-style dishes from exchange students. The trouble was that it was often difficult to find the correct ingredients, because supermarkets of the time, though overflowing with food, carried for example only standard American Swiss cheese, not the Jarlsberg, Emmenthaler, and Gruyere necessary for fondue, and the "French Bread" would have made a Frenchman laugh or groan, depending on whether he was required to eat it. Proper Japanese ingredients were simply impossible. But what mattered was that there was a modest curiosity about food, that new flavors would appear from time to time, that we had a good friend who had traveled widely in Europe and taught us to enjoy wine simply by drinking it, that there were sometimes specialty meats such as smoked beef tongue, that there were sometimes imported cheeses and the like. Food was not exalted, but neither were mealtimes a fuel stop: we enjoyed our food. Though I approached adulthood, therefore, with an open mind about food and a willingness to cook for myself (if little skill), the process of Choosing a Career seemed a rather grimly pragmatic business, and I chose engineering, a good solid career that seemed to suit my abilities. The notion of cooking professionally never crossed my mind for an instant: I had no interest in it, and further, I don’t recall even having a concept of the profession, perceiving it as something one could or would want to do.
Over the next fifteen to twenty years, after a false start or two, I established my career as a software developer. I lived alone, and usually cooked for myself. Though my skills are still minimal, I rarely use recipes, and am interested in new ingredients and flavors when I find them, which is beginning to happen more frequently as ethnic and imported foods become more available where I live and some new, chef-driven restaurants open. I eat out infrequently and seek out well-prepared, interesting food when I do. With hindsight, I can see the pattern beginning that has brought me here today, though I’m still far on the other side of the tipping point.
In the mid-1990s I met and married my mate, Edith Swiatek, without whom I will say right now I could not be doing this. I am very grateful not only for her love and support, but that she has made me a better person, more open to the possibilities in life. By 2000, we have moved to Minneapolis. We are now in a modest metro area and have access to a wide variety of ethnic foods and many excellent chef-driven restaurants. We eat out more often, and I get ideas. I’m still the same mediocre cook with bigger plans than I am usually able to execute well, but I’ve got clear aspirations to better. In addition to doing all the cooking for my family, I am also cooking/hosting the major holiday feasts for family and close friends– high points of my year.
Sometime between then and now, I think within the last couple of years, I crossed a line. I’m paying attention to my food, and my skills are improving– I can execute my ideas more successfully more often. When I shop for food or consider the night’s menu (often coincident activities) I think in terms of flavors and techniques. I don’t know where that line was. I doubt there was any one event. Most likely, it happened the way human learning usually does: you struggle clumsily in ignorance for a long time, until one day you realize that some time ago you accumulated enough context and detail that you got it.
I’ve done well professionally in the nine years we’ve been in Minneapolis. However, late last year it became clear that it was time to move on from my executive-level IT position. In January, I went to Hyde Park, NY, for a week-long "Boot Camp" at the CIA, a gift from Edith. I loved it. It was exciting. Edith and I began to discuss an idea I’d never considered seriously before. Could we afford it? What about afterwards? One day at a time, she said, and encouraged me to accept the challenge I have been drifting towards.
I want it to be clear that if asked, I would still answer that I don’t have any skills. That’s why I’m going to culinary school. But now I can see the possibilities. And that’s why I’m going to culinary school.