Welcome. I set about writing this journal to capture my thoughts and experiences as I attend and participate in Boston University's Culinary Arts program. This is a 14 week program - so things will happen rather quickly. It is my intention to provide you the reader, with a sense of what it's like to breakout into a new career. In my case Culinary Arts.

My Background

The idea of cooking for a living never really crossed my mind. That all changed in May of 2003, when after 23 years in the computer industry my career ended. Of course, like everyone else that has been in my shoes, the first thought is too find something, anything. After a couple of months of filling out dozens of applications, sending out god knows how many resumes, it became apparent to me, that the door had really closed behind me. Fortunate like most people I have very good friends, and friends are what is needed the most in a situation like this - to help get your head on straight; think clearly. My close friend Diane came to my aid in the early part of the Summer by offering me a job cooking lunch at her bistro here in town. Diane is an accomplished chef (pastry, and executive). It was through this experience working with Diane, that I discovered - besides loving to eat, that I really liked cooking.

The rest of the story follows.....

Week 1 (January 12 - 15, 2004)

Boston University - yeah man, I not thought in a million years I would end up here. I applied here when I was a senior - majoring in psychology was my dream then. And that's all it would ever be, due to my SAT scores being so low, BU wrote me response to my application "...Sir, your scores are not up to par...We do not feel (at this time) that you meet the necessary requirements in becoming a Freshman here at BU.....blah, blah, blah....

It's the first day - Monday, January 12th. F-ing freezing outside (-40 below - something like that). Left the house (Clinton) at 7:10 am. Arrived at Alewife (in my humble opinion, Boston's "T" is still the best way to navigate the city) at 8:20 am. Switched to the "B" train (Green Line) at Park Street - this is the train that takes one to BU. Rode the B train to the BU West stop - arrived at 9:10 am. Class begins at 10:30 - so I have time to kill. I locate a Starbucks nearby, grab a chai, and a Boston Globe, and relax.

8 students in my class - this is a small class, AND I am the only guy (God still loves me!) To start things off, we received several books to be used throughout the program.

  • Oncooking; Techniques from expert chefs / sarah r. labensjy - alan m. hause
  • Jaques Pepins Complete Techniques
  • Le Repertoire DE La Cuisine
  • Food Lover's Companion
  • ServSafe Essentials

We spend the majority of the week becoming acclimated with the kitchen and each other. Chef John Vyhnanek, is our primary chef instructor (other chefs participate throughout the program).

Each day is divided into two parts. In the morning we lecture from 10:30 - 12:00. Lectures are based on what's being put together in the kitchen during the second part of the day. In the morning, Chef Vyhnanek, discusses with us what we will be preparing in the kitchen after lunch, it's origins (e.g., soups, sauces, other chefs, French influence on cooking, etc.)

The Work Area

Before we begin any cooking in the kitchen, each student is responsible for creating a "work area". The work area is the place where we do our personal prep work. It consists of the following items:

  • Cutting board
  • Moist towel underliner
  • 1 or 2 quart stainless steel (s/s) bowl
  • 1 high heat plastic scraper
  • 1 wooden spoon
  • s/s tongs
  • 12" balloon whip
  • Vegetable peeler
  • His or her knives (French knife, boning knife, paring knife, steel)
  • His or her Instant Read Thermometer


Of course, when working in a kitchen safety is of the utmost importance. Working with knives, and hot liquids could spell disaster if others are not aware what you are carrying when you pass by them. A major Emphasis has been placed on talking to each other in the kitchen when carrying these items.

Clean up

As you can image the second most important aspect of running a successful kitchen, is it's ability to keep things very clean. In a restaurant kitchen strick rules are followed in the sanitation of the various tools which are used in the kitchen to prepare food. Water temperature, cleaning solutions, drying solutions, pre-rinse, pre-wash. The use of the dish washer. Washing pots, glasses, s/s items, etc.

Knife Skills

Another extremely important skill to master before becoming a chef. Sharpening is very important; the type of stone to use, and the technique. John recommends purchasing a Norton 2" sided oil stone from Home Depot. And a bottle of mineral oil from your local CVS. A little oil is added to the stone; using the course side first, and the stone perpendicular with your body, begin by elevating the knife 22 degrees. move the knife away from you, then towards you again, keeping the blade at a 22 degree pitch.

Cutting vegetables. As with skinning a cat, there are also many ways to cut a vegetable. We used the following types during the week:

  • Coarse Chopping
    • Parsley - First remove the sprigs and stems. fine chopping; horizontal, then vertical until very small pieces.
    • Garlic - start with individual cloves. Cut each by using the rocking motion of the knife.
  • Dicing
    • Onions
      • Peal onion, usually first layer only
      • Cut vertical "North to South Pole"
      • Lay onion half flat, cut vertical slices to disired thickness
      • Make a horizontal cut in through the middle of the onion half
      • Turn onion once again on it's side and cut perpendicular
  • Mincing
    • Shallots
      • Peel and dice using dicing onion technique
      • Mince shallots

Preparations for the week

We prepared some very delicious items this week. Here is a list:

  • Stocks
    • Veal
    • Chicken
    • Fish
    • Valoute
  • Broths
    • Beef
  • Soups
    • Clam Chowder
    • Butternut Squash
  • Sauces
    • Tomato
    • Hollandaise
    • Bigarade
    • Pesto

Misc. Terms

Working as a chef, there are terms that become as important as a sharp knife, or clean pot. They are:

  • Mise en Place - this is a French term which means "everything in it's place". Organizing, measuring, and preparing the ingredientsbefore getting started is key to a successful recipe.
  • Roux - another French term meaning reddish brown. Roux's are constructed using salted butter, and flour. Used as a thickening agent
    in soups, sauces, and broths.Chef Vyhnanek recommends a 60 to 40 ratio. 60% flour, 40 % butter.
  • Mirepoix - A mixture of carrots, onions, and celery. Used to add flavor to stocks.

In Summary

At the conclusion of my first week, I realize that Boston University's Culinary Art's program is exactly the type of program I was looking for. Short but concise, surveying the many different cooking methods and styles. French oh the French, I can't help but realize that I will also become a master in the French language after completing this program

After completing my 14 weeks, I should have a much more extensive "repertoire" of recipes (which my son Bryan will be thankful for) and perhaps the basic skills to land a really cool cooking job - perhaps at a restaurant in Boston - only time will tell...Look out Emril Languase you about to get some competition!