Culinary School During COVID? Really?

For some of our students, the pandemic was a catalyst to follow their dreams, a lit up billboard directing them forward to seize upon an opportunity. “The pandemic provided an opportunity for me to change careers, something I had been looking to do for several years.”
Leigh Group Shot

Culinary School During COVID?  Really?

“Most of my friends and family thought I was crazy!” – Leigh Whittaker, PCP

How does one spend their time during a pandemic?  Binging that series on Netflix?  Reading that book that’s been on your list for far too long?  Forging ahead with that home improvement project that has been on your “Honey Do” list for years?  How about going to culinary school? Wait, what!? What kind of person decides to enroll in culinary school in the middle of a pandemic?!?! Imagine choosing to spend your time submerged in the hustle and bustle of busy commercial kitchens with new classmates, new instructors, new rules and restrictions. And yes…face masks. These could very well be insurmountable obstacles to some (rightly so, we take these things very seriously), but for others, when the time is right, it’s right. We spoke to four current CSCA students, who all felt the magnetic pull of the kitchen back in September of 2020 despite, and in some cases because of, COVID.

For some of our students, the pandemic was a catalyst to follow their dreams, a lit up billboard directing them forward to seize upon an opportunity. “The pandemic provided an opportunity for me to change careers, something I had been looking to do for several years.” said Leigh Whittaker of the Professional Chef’s Program. Leigh has always loved cooking, so she saw this new pandemic lifestyle as an opportunity to follow her heart. Leigh was not alone in this, however, Carol Glidden felt similarly. ”The pandemic made me realize that I wanted to pursue my dreams of becoming a chef rather than postponing it.” Times like these really make a person reflect. Carol realized she didn’t want to put off going after her dreams any longer, and nothing was going to stop her, not even COVID.  She enrolled in the Certificate Pastry Program and loved it so much, she transferred into the more extensive Professional Pastry Program.

For others, it was just the right time to gain more culinary knowledge, as simple as that. Thomas O’Hara, who is no stranger to professional kitchens, said “After 4 years working in kitchens I wanted to polish my skills and fill in areas where I lacked knowledge” so he joined our Professional Chef’s Program and never looked back. Paula Kuzontkoski, one of many career changers, felt now was the time to dive into the Professional Pastry Program. “It was something I dreamed about for years, but since I was strong in math and the sciences, I felt obliged to set an example for girls and young women aspiring to train in STEM-related fields.” A worthy cause, but she was bitten by the culinary bug. After a friend completed the program and recommended it, Paula knew she was about to embark on a new life path.

Regardless of how they got to this point, it was their passion for food that outweighed any apprehension they may have felt about attending…and there was definitely some apprehension. Leigh said that “most of my friends and family thought I was crazy to attend classes in person”, which had some merit in her book, but she also knew she needed to try. Similarly, Paula had her reservations, but she “wanted this opportunity SO badly that I was willing to take the risk”. During what is a very strange and scary time in all our lives, these budding chefs sought out something they needed for themselves, something that would bring them a bit of happiness when it was sorely needed. The stress and nerves seemed to go away once they got to CSCA.

Once Carol started, she realized how many precautions we were taking. “With reduced class size, traveling/quarantine policies, and extra physical protections, I think they’re [CSCA] doing exactly what the CDC recommends which makes me feel cared for.” Hopefully, we are building a safe community where every chef can feel cared for like Carol. When fear is eliminated, food can be the focus. And what are we here for, if not the food?! If you’ve worked in a professional kitchen during this crazy time, like Thomas, you may recognize what’s happening at CSCA as the new standard, but he still felt that it’s “been nice to see how other people have become comfortable in the kitchen.” That’s what kitchen life is all about – working together and rooting for each other. Even during COVID, this still shines through. It’s no wonder when you have incredible Chef Instructors leading the charge. “I feel as though all the chefs and people who run the school genuinely care about my wellbeing and progress in the program.” said Paula. “Learning from such smart, talented Chef instructors has allowed my cooking to evolve significantly in the last year.” noted Leigh.

The students have even begun to enjoy some things about this new way of working too. Carol tells us “Due to COVID, the size of the classes (number of students per class) has been reduced by the school” and that has been one precaution she found to be actually helpful to her progression as a pastry chef. ”It is almost like private tutoring….I will be forever grateful that I was given the unique opportunity to train with only 3 other students.” In fact, that’s most students’ silver lining of the pandemic. According to Thomas “I appreciate that people are acknowledging personal space more. It can be cramped in kitchens sometimes.” Don’t we know it! Ultimately this whole experience has given our students something they wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise.

Paula felt “privileged to have a challenging, rewarding focus during these unsettling times (my training at CSCA), and to have on-site contact with the staff and co-students twice a week. It has gone a long way to preserving my love of life and positive attitude during COVID.” And preserving one’s sanity has been very important yet somewhat illusive these days. Leigh tells us “My experience at CSCA has been one of the most rewarding in my life….Being able to attend classes in person throughout the pandemic has been a godsend.” In a time where it’s increasingly difficult to make face to face connections, here were are! Thomas let us know that “the opportunity to learn and grow during this time is amazing, considering so many others have essentially been on standby.”

In many ways, it does feel like the world is on standby. So many of our favorite places and spaces are unable to welcome us right now, or even worse have permanently shut down. Creating a safe space to learn, grow, create, and thrive during COVID has been our goal. That has actually always been our goal, but it seems even more crucial these days. Hopefully everyone out there has found something to help them through the pandemic, like our students, but if not, consider igniting your passion by enrolling in Culinary School – yes, even during COVID. And if enrolling in a culinary program isn’t in the cards just yet, join us for a class or two – our COVID-safe Recreational Classes are in full swing and ready to help you raise your culinary IQ.  No matter what, we’ll be here welcoming students into our kitchens and safely filling the world with culinary joy. #dowhatyoulove #lovewhatyoudo

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