Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Focaccia with Tomatoes & Oregano; Plus, My First Day Back to School as a Baking & Pastry Arts Student!


So, why would a perfectly sane(ish) grown woman with a graduate degree in literature and a freelance writing career decide to take on unpaid work and go back to school to learn an entirely new trade, possibly embarrassing or even humiliating herself in the process?

That is an extremely good question.  I was asking myself that very thing this morning as I was pulling on the most unflattering pair of checkered chef pants you have ever seen and tying my hideous-yet-sensible black nun-like kitchen shoes,  part of my required uniform as a brand-new culinary student in the baking and pastry arts program at a local, respected-yet-affordable school that I'll call U of Trix. 

And what does all this have to do with focaccia?

You see, yesterday,  as I was making sure my chef's coat and apron were pressed, gathering together notebooks, pens, Sharpies, my knife kit, text books, and going over all of my course requirement lists and checking them twice, I had something of a panic attack: "What was I thinking signing up for this? I have no idea what I'm doing! I do not want to be in a kitchen full of teenagers! I'll feel old! I AM old!" And so on.

I realized that what I really needed to do was try to remember why I had felt compelled to embark upon this mad path in the first place. I needed to bake some bread.


When you decide to bake bread at 4 in the afternoon your options are somewhat limited, so I decided on focaccia. It turned out to be the perfect choice; after all, this was the first real bread I ever made.

As soon as I started to mix the ingredients, I felt myself begin to relax.  (The glass of wine didn't hurt either.) That yeasty smell, the feel of the dough, the way my spinning brain began to slow down and focus ... these were the things about baking I had fallen in love with right from the start.  I felt my courage returning. 

And guess what? I needn't have been so worried. I was over prepared for class, a fairly usual state of affairs in my life,  thanks to my OCD. The whole age thing didn't bother me like I thought it would.  I mean, if being that young means being simultaneously bored, terrified, and extremely awkward, as so many of my fellow students appeared to be, then I'm glad to be past all of that. Besides, there's one guy in there who I swear must be at least 5 years older than I am. What a grandpa!

After listening to a lecture about baking processes, we did some straightforward leavening experiments in the kitchen, so I didn't even have a chance to make a fool of myself. (There will be plenty of time for that later, when we do macarons.) Of course I plan to faithfully record my (modest) successes and inevitable kitchen failures right here.

But what about the focaccia, you ask? What's the recipe? Is this a food blog or isn't it?  I used the exact same recipe I did the first time I made it, only I changed the topping based on what I had: this time it was tomatoes, garlic, black olives, kosher salt, and oregano.

I was certainly tempting fate - if my bread had come out badly, I would have been a complete wreck for class! Who knows? Maybe I would have stayed home with my head under the covers. But fate decided otherwise, and it came out beautifully. Whew.

I know that doing something professionally is a far cry from doing it as a hobby, and I realize that I'm running the risk, however small,  of ruining something I love to do.  But that's a risk I'm willing to take. No, working in a frenzied kitchen is not my long-term goal, though I'd certainly give it a shot. I know that many chefs crave the adrenaline rush that comes with being impossibly, insanely slamming busy, but I most definitely do not. Is there a little Tasty Trix bakeshop in my future? Maybe.  Half the fun is not knowing what the future holds. 

Stay tuned!






36 comments:

  1. This is SO exciting! I would visit a Trix bakeshop everyday! :D I admire you so much for all of these amazing things you have done and are doing! :D Can't wait to hear more about culinary school!

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  2. Congratulations on going back to school to learn something new! That's so exciting and I admire your guts to follow your heart!

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  3. I'm proud of ya, babe! You're a brave gal!

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  4. Yumm this looks fabulous! I am a huge fan of this as you well know....delicious and as usual you are making my mouth water for this !!!!! wowow

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  5. Trix,

    I think you're hardly alone on this one. . .so many of us have thought/are thinking about culinary school. Blame it on FoodTV (or tempting food blogs like this one!), but I'm pretty sure you've got a lot of company out there!

    So kudos to you for giving it a shot. . .and heck, interning isn't that bad a deal, right? I did the same thing a number of years back, interning for a while in the pastry kitchen of a wonderful chef in Minneapolis. While my feet didn't enjoy it too much, I LOVED the experience and wouldn't trade it for anything.

    Knock 'em dead!

    Cheers,
    Doc

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  6. I chuckled reading your post! I did the same thing about 10 years ago and loved it, but the real world aspect of it did not enthuse me as much. I found (after stints in restaurants and bakeries) that people were not as demanding for quality as I was and that cost was the guiding factor in most commercial establishments! (if it can be done cheaper with inferior ingredients, so be it); at least that was my experience in the Dallas area.
    A childhood friend did that too in Paris and she is now working out of her home kitchen in Beirut and has a loyal clientele who is discerning and appreciative.

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  7. I give you so much credit for going back to school! I wish I had the guts!

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  8. I think what you're doing is so GREAT!! I say-- Chase Your Dreams :)

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  9. Congratulations! It must be exciting. Bread looks Yumm!

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  10. Best of luck! It won't be easy, but I hope you find it rewarding. Pastry kitchens are a lot calmer than the culinary kitchens if that is any comfort to you.

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  11. wow thats so cool you will shine in your class, awesome bread as well

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  12. wow,it's a great focaccia,i love it!

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  13. It is great to chase and live the dreams. Good luck babe. You will do well for sure.

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  14. Well done, you! You should be so proud! What a great adventure. Oh and the foccacia is not bad either lol

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  15. how exciting!!!! you are my hero. I keep thinking about doing something along those same line, my husband is encouraging me, but I somehow find something else to do and push school off to the side. Maybe after we are done paying for our son's law school, I can start a whole new chapter like you. Have a great time, I am jealous. Keep us posted!

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  16. I will stay tuned!!! No doubt!

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  17. This is an exciting journey for you. When I went to cooking school, students came from different ages. The foccacia looks great with a fantastic texture. I'll be looking forward to your adventures.

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  18. Hey Trix,

    Wow! We are kindred spirits. I too had another career and a degree, which I have abandoned for cooking. I've been accepted to a culinary school in NY and will be heading off next year. I have been fretting about being the old lady in class, with two kids etc... plus, I am also a bit OCD, my husband will say more than a bit!

    Bravo! I am eager to read how your saga unfolds. Plus, I love focaccia! Good luck!

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  19. I think it's great. Most of us have learned cooking backwards making millions of mistakes and learning the hard way. How good is it to get
    years of experience and learn to do things the right way??? Remember, 30 is the new... 18!

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  20. Sounds exciting! And it would be so cool to open a bakeshop! Your focaccia looks perfect!

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  21. that's really cool that you're going back to school to learn more about what you love to do which is cooking and baking :)

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  22. I know exactly where you are - I was there myself about 10 years ago. Went back and studied baking and pastry and then worked pro for a while. I think it's a balance that everyone has to figure out for themselves. For me, I preferred the quiet existence of baking for fun - because when my mortgage was tied to the quality of my perfect bread, it was stressful.
    But I'm back in the kitchen again, an enthusiast I say, and loving every moment of it. I am thinking good thoughts for you, and can't wait to read about your school adventures on your blog! Do good work!

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  23. yea .... I found your post on page 14 ... whew... good for you, going to learn something new...do keep us inform, heck, post each lesson so I can learn - a correspondence certificate from U of Trix would look great hanging on the wall

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  24. wow, your focaccia looks amazing. Good for you for chasing down that dream, Don't let anything get in your way!

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  25. I am in awe! I wish I would have had the courage to do something like that when I was much younger. I will follow your adventures with much interest!

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  26. Sounds fun. I'm filming the students at the culinary school we partnered with tomorrow. They'll all be in whites but I'll be behind the camera. I'm also making foccacia for guests this weekend. I thnk I'll use your recipe. Thanks

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  27. Will look forward to more recipes from your baking school.

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  28. Kudos to you!!! I want to go back to school as well and they are actually starting a Culinary School in my hometown. Not sure how advanced it will be :)
    The Foccaccia bread look amazing! Keep up the awesome work!

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  29. Hooray! You go Tasty Trix. I, too, worry that culinary school would ruin my love of cooking (due to my severe recipe ADD, I wouldn't make it through week one anyway). Beautiful Foccaccia! Whenever you feel too exhausted from school to post, just remember that we are all waiting with bated breath to hear of your latest adventures.

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  30. I am really excited for you! Good job on the focaccia - and I bet you have more real life experience than most of those snotty-nosed kids in your class anyway! That certainly counts for a great deal.

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  31. that is so so amazing you are going back to school. It takes so much courage to follow a dream! This bread looks incredible - i love love making my own bread - nothing better.

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  32. This focaccia looks amazing! Best of luck with school!

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  33. Trix, you're an amazing woman. You're smart, funny and talented. And brave. How many of us dare to take that step out of our comfort zone and do something completely new? I felt truly inspired reading this post. You go, girl!

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  34. Thank you SO much everyone for your sweet and supportive comments, it really means lot!! Plus, it's nice to know there are other crazy people out there ; )

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  35. If I've a chance to do so! I would love to go to the baking school too.

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  36. congrats on the return to school! I'm constantly cursing myself for realizing my love of food later on in life - also, why did i have to be passionate about a career in which 40 is retirement age?

    p.s. i want to thank you again for all your support, you were right - getting away was exactly what i didn't know i needed!

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