Becky Rodriguez, The Best Decision I Ever Made
“I attended a tour of the CIA two days before I would have started back at my other university where I was still enrolled [for music and education]. I was hooked. So I decided to take the leap of faith, and this was the biggest—and best—leap I have ever taken.”
How did you become interested in your major?
Throughout my life, I had two different loves; and for as long as I can remember, I talked about either becoming a musician or a chef. Both brought out different elements and levels of creativity, and I felt inspired, alive, and “in the zone” whenever I performed either one. One day, I talked to a close friend who knew that I had a fascination for baking. I can remember my friend saying to me, “I think culinary school would be good for you, and I can tell you have a knack for it. Why don’t you try looking into it again”? That moment turned on a thousand light bulbs in my head, and that night I went home and started to research culinary schools and the culinary world. I was so intrigued with everything I was reading; the more I read, the more I didn’t want to stop.
I stayed with my grandparents a lot when I was growing up, and my favorite part of the day was cooking in the kitchen with my grandma, learning about different foods from my family’s home country of Costa Rica. My grandma and I even have special recipes that only she and I know, and I will forever hold those dear to my heart. I realized that food is a delicate art that stimulates all of the human senses, and challenges the mind of the chef and of the consumer. I wanted the opportunity to learn about and create this art. I wanted three aspects to be fulfilled in my life: my mind to be challenged, my art to bring happiness to those I serve, and my heart to be ignited. This is why I found myself standing at the doorstep of the baking profession.
Who most influenced your decision to pursue this career?
There are quite a few people in my life who have influenced my decision to come here and pursue this career. One of the biggest parties would be my mom, dad, and older sister. For as long as I can remember, they were behind whatever I was doing at the time. Between dance lessons at five years old, volleyball clinics at 12 years old, music lessons at 18 years old, and now culinary school at 20 years old, their encouraging faces have always been present in my fan club. Another person of the many I have to give thanks to is one of my music teachers from high school. He taught me that you only have one life to live, and that life is about finding a way to make your mark on the lives of the people around you. To do that, you have to first find what makes you feel alive, so those around you are inspired in the same way. When it comes down to it, though, nobody told me to pursue this career; it was a process of self-realization. I am just glad that I had these people and many others behind me.
Did you have to overcome any obstacles or challenges to come to the CIA?
I essentially had one day to make my decision on coming here. I am a transfer student, and previously attended another university to study music and education. It just so happened that I attended a tour of the CIA two days before I would have started back at my other university where I was still enrolled. After I attended the tour, I was hooked. I loved the atmosphere, the passion of the school, and its reputation, but I still had a decision to make—do I go back to where I was comfortable, or take a leap of faith and hope I would be accepted to culinary school? The pressure led to a very long 10-hour car ride home, and lots of back-and-forth thinking about one of the biggest decisions I ever had to make. I realized that if I would have gone back to my old college, I would have constantly been thinking, “What would have happened if I would have pursued culinary school?” So I decided to take the leap of faith, and this was the biggest—and best—leap I have ever taken.
Why did you choose the CIA?
The tour sold me. My tour guide was Eric Jenkins, and as the tour went on, every word he said was more passionate about the school than the words before. His excitement and charisma were contagious and I became more and more excited. As I walked through Roth Hall, every kitchen made my eyes wide in awe; I watched the students work, and secretly envisioned myself wearing that uniform and doing what they were doing. Every time I thought I had seen everything, we came to a new kitchen with students studying something completely different, Eric would share some new interesting fact about the college, or a student whizzed by balancing 30 loaves of freshly baked bread on a tray. This place seemed like a whole different world, but my eyes couldn’t blink because they were so wide with amazement. I wanted to experience the magic of the CIA for myself, and I wanted to be held to their standards; and so I rolled up my sleeves and made it happen.
What do you like best about the CIA?
I love the fact that everything here moves at such a quick pace, but in a good way. I have been here for three months, and in that time, I have gained more knowledge than I ever thought possible…but the beautiful part is, I don’t feel overwhelmed. The teachers and staff here at the CIA selflessly help you in any way they possibly can. The chefs make sure you have the information down pat—they want you to have a better education than they did, to learn more than they did, and to ensure that the next generation of chefs and pastry chefs are ready for the industry. I also love the reputation and opportunities that are available here, which are created by the chefs-instructors. Not only do they teach you how to cook and bake; they teach why ingredients work together. As soon as the students think there is no more to learn, the chefs remind us that knowledge has no end.
Do you belong to any clubs or participate in any activities/sports on campus?
I work two jobs as a facility assistant at the Student Recreation Center and as a tour guide. I also volunteer for the Welcome Team—those are the current students who help new students move into their dorms and answer any questions they and their families may have. I am also about to turn in my registration for spring intramural softball.
What are your career goals or plans right after graduation?
After graduation, I plan on working for as many great pastry chefs as I can, and broaden my horizons in knowledge and skill as far as they will go. In the long run, I would love the opportunity to own and operate my own bakery; but above all, I aspire to make people happy, create, and see what life throws my way.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering attending the CIA?
If they are considering the CIA, they’re already on the right track. Before they come here, though, I would tell them to be sure this is something they want to pursue. Get experience in the field, research the field and everything it brings, and if cooking or baking is what drives you to wake up in the morning, you are definitely on your way to making the right choice. No doubt this is a big decision, but what is important to remember is, if the CIA and the culinary world is something that is constantly on your mind and something you feel drawn to, your conscience is obviously trying to tell you something—and there is every reason for you to believe it.
Chef Becky Rodriguez majored in baking and pastry arts management at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. She is a baking and pastry chef at The Garden Hotel in Garden City, NY.