10 Valuable Lessons I Learned in Culinary School

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Hey everyone! My name is Payton Spear and I am a student here at The Culinary Institute of America. In my time on campus, I’ve made a lot of memories and learned a lot of lessons. I’m writing this blog today to tell you some of the many things that the CIA has taught me so that I can not only be successful as a student, but also as a chef in our industry. Thank you and happy reading!

  1. Mise en place is life for everything.

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Knowing what to put first on your list is always tough for me because I always think everything is a priority. Whether they be in or out of the kitchen, I always think that things all need the same amount of energy, and that’s an easy way to burn yourself out. Coming to the CIA helped me so much, though, because the chefs and advisors taught me how to spot what really matters and how to see the most important things in a list. This skill also helped me in organizing my life and daily schedule because I saw how much time I could dedicate to each task. Now I understand and manage with the same eye. Seeing how I can make the most of my day is always a plus.

  1. Having good time management skills lead to a balanced life.

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There never seem to be enough hours in the day, and there are always too many tasks on the list, but just like in lesson number 1, learning to see what is important is a major asset to your schedule. My days are usually pretty packed, whether it’s kitchen classes, Student Government Association, tours, or my other work on campus. The key that I found to keeping a level head through the day is organizing my time and balancing it out. You can’t be stuck in the dorm all day studying; it’ll end up being counterproductive and you won’t know what’s happening on campus. All work and no play is simply impossible here at the CIA! With our countless clubs, events, and campus activities, there’s something for everybody—which means there’s bound to be something that will interest you. I do all of my activities because I enjoy being a part of something bigger than myself. The people I’ve met along the way have made my life better; whether I’m stressed about a test or missing my family, they have been there for me.

  1. Show you care. A necessary component to success in this industry is passion.

A chef can teach anyone to ice a cake or make an anglaise with enough practice, but what they can’t teach you to do is care about your work. That’s all natural and our chef-instructors look for it every day because they had the same look in their eyes. Be thirsty for knowledge and always ask why we do things a certain way. Show that you want to be here and the chefs will guide you and even respect you for it. I believe passion is a necessary component to success in this industry. Without passion and joy in what you do every day, you won’t have the drive to work your hardest and make the best possible product possible.

  1. Use every opportunity you get to do better than the day before.

We as students grow every day. Our knowledge, skills, and life lessons are all expanded because of the experiences we’ve had here at CIA. One big thing I discovered is that if you open yourself up to new opportunities, you’ll have learned something new that you didn’t know before. I may not have found my calling in breads or entremets, but at least I got the chance to try them before I started working in the real world. Even in fundamentals class, it was full of new experiences because the CIA way was a whole different learning experience. The growth I see in myself from when I started in almost unbelievable. I started with the same people in my class that I’ll be graduating with and I have seen the growth in each and every one of them, too. As a class, we support and teach each other new things all the time.

  1. Get involved and give back when you can.

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I never considered how fortunate I was until I made volunteering a regular occurrence and made sure to constantly keep myself grounded. Dr. JJ (one of my past professors and a huge role model for me) has offered every opportunity to anyone interested in helping. The events at CIA that allow you to give back to the local community and to other students on campus are absolutely amazing. Even now, I’m an orientation leader for accepted students because I know exactly what it felt like to be in their shoes and I want them to know somebody is here for them from the day they arrive on campus. I plan on keeping community service in my life even after graduation because nothing made me feel better than to help another person.

  1. Appreciate the little wins and learn from your mistakes.

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Every day isn’t going to be your best day; we’re at school to make mistakes and learn, and that’s all right. It’s important that on “those” days, you see the little wins where you can get them. Yeah, you may have not made the perfect sorbet base, but your mousse was light and airy, exactly like it should be. You can’t control the situation, but you can control how you react to it and your perspective. This such an important thing to learn because of how often we have situations like this happen in the industry and in life.

  1. Mistakes will happen; just try to think of solutions and not excuses.

Probably one of the worst things you can say to an instructor is, “I swear, chef, it’s not my fault!”. Hearing those words puts them in the wrong mindset for whatever you’re about to say next. Chefs understand that we’re learning a lot of new techniques and that there are bound to be mistakes. What they want us to learn is that there’s no point in wasting time placing blame when you could be putting that energy into coming up with a solution. That shows them that you’re quick on your feet and can find a solution when being put on the spot. Use this mentality in all aspects of your life and you’ll see a change.

  1. Networking can lead to lifelong connections and a dream internship!

One of the biggest reasons I chose the CIA was because of the amazing connections made available to me simply because I was affiliated with this school. You may not know it yet, but you are networking every day, even as a student. You never know what your classmates are going to be doing 10 years from now. We learn from some of the best people in our field and to have the chance to network with them is amazing. Even getting a recommendation from one of your instructors could be enough to change your life.

  1. Treat everyone with respect.

While on my internship at the Four Seasons in West Palm Beach, they had one rule that was taught to guests and employees alike: treat others like you want to be treated. That simple rule changed the way an entire resort was run, and my internship was made so much better because of it. It is also a point that is stressed at the CIA. No matter where you are or who someone is, be sure to follow this rule. Respect should never be lost in this industry.

  1. Have fun while you’re here!

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Yes, you are here to learn, but be sure to savor every moment and enjoy the time you have here while you can because time flies by. The things I learned, the friends I gained, and the memories I made will always have a special place in my heart. So, don’t stress too much, and get ready for the time of your life. We can’t wait to see you when you get here!

I hope these lessons help you someday just like they helped me!

By Payton Rae Spear

Payton Rae Spear