My last day of high school was only a little over a year ago, and yet here I am today celebrating another last day.
Today was my last day of classes at the Institute of Culinary Education.
During this program, I have had the opportunity to learn from true masters in this industry like Chef Simon Cass, Chef Penny Stankiewicz, Chef Jeffrey Yoskowitz, and Chef Kathryn Gordon. I have met incredibly talented individuals in both pastry and culinary who I hope to collaborate with one day in the future, and I have proven to myself that while this industry is tough and unforgiving, I still love every minute of it.
However, the most important thing I learned in my journey through this course hasn't been a technique or a recipe–it's been a sentiment a chef shared with me. I'll get to the message at the end...
My final project assignment was a fully decorated three-tier wedding cake. This cake turned out to be one of the most creatively straining cakes I’ve ever constructed. The day before the first design draft was due, I sat hunched over my dining table sketching until 1am. Nothing I drew looked cohesive or interesting and I was desperate to challenge myself and create something dynamic and unique. The prompt was “autumn wedding” and I really wanted to capture the feeling of autumn without designing something that was tacky or childish.
Chef Penny, my chef instructor for my final module and founder of Sugar Couture was the one who taught me my most important lesson. She said something to me that changed my entire outlook on cake designing and art in general: “Creativity is a muscle just like every other muscle in your body. In order for it to get stronger you have to exercise it. You can’t sit around waiting for ‘inspiration’–inspiration isn’t going to strike down upon you every time you’re designing a cake. You have to sit there and struggle through bad ideas until something usable comes around.” My view of art has always been that you were either blessed with a naturally creative mind or you weren’t. I have always resented the fact that ideas never came as easily to me as it seemed to come to my classmates and colleagues.
When Chef Penny said that to me I realized that I wasn’t the only person working in a creative field that doesn’t feel creative all the time–and that was incredibly comforting. The night I had to design this final cake, I very much struggled through the creative process. I sat there for hours googling autumn flowers and leaves, swatching colours, sketching, erasing, and sketching again. It wasn’t until I stumbled across a random stock photo of crushed leaves that I thought to myself–Could I translate this texture to cake? Would it look cool?
Soon after that eureka moment, I stumbled upon acorns laying in the grass at a park. I picked one up and immediately knew that I would somehow incorporate it into my design. I had forced myself to find my inspiration and it had resulted in a beautiful cake I was very proud of.
Of all the things I learned from my months at culinary school, what Chef Penny told me may have been the most important to me. I wanted to pass this message along to anyone who reads this, and any artist who doesn’t always feel creative.
I am sad that we are done, but I am also excited for what’s to come! I wish all of my classmates luck on their externships and future endeavors! I hope to see all of us succeed one day. And a special thank you to ICE for an awesome 100 classes.