Crop and Chop: A designer and wanna be chef.

Erin Essex

Cooking and graphic design may not have a whole lot in common, but to me they do. Cooking and design can both experience great creative highs and sometimes devastating vision compromises (that is the subject for another blog). One of the most inspiring similarities is the concept of the team, the brigade. The idea of working together and learning from a superior/one another in order to better yourself and therefore better the company, be it culinary or creative.

I have had the wonderful opportunity to take classes with some talented chefs. The Rolling Pin in Brandon, Florida offers so many classes and great cooking experiences while I lived there. One of the best things they offered was the opportunity to assist in classes in exchange for credit for more classes. It was great because you got the opportunity to learn but have some free dinner!

I participated as an assistant in these classes several times, with medium to mild success. It was an overwhelmingly humbling experience to be a fish out of water again, to feel like you have no idea what you are doing.

Let me explain.

After 9 hours working as a designer, pushing pixels around all day, I would break from my computer screen to touch things in the real world! Assisting in these cooking classes was always nerve racking. There, I would be on my feet for 4 hours doing mise en place, serving wine, plating and washing dishes as well as taking direction from the guest chef of that evening.

While assisting under Chef Tatiana where I was so nervous and tried so hard to get my brunoise consistent enough to get a satisfied nod from her, I did not. Crushed and embarrassed I finished service as best I could and made it a personal mission to get better. Which I have been tirelessly working at in my free time.

Then when assisting for Chef Richie Farina (on Top Chef season 9) I remember being so nervous and panicking. My first task was to toast some sesame seeds in a dry pan with out burning them. Seems simple enough right? Well, I think I was over analyzing myself far too much and treated those damn seeds like they were priceless. Nervously, I presented Chef Richie with them and…hooray! — He told me they were fine (not great but fine) and got me to calm down.

Tre Wilcox (Top Chef season 3), with his unmistakable laugh, told us of his work trying to make it as a young chef. Listening to him tell stories about working under Chef Wiley Dufresne, of wd~50, and how much he shaped his career. Attention to detail is key, and a little food coloring never hurt anyone.

Watching and listening to how these chefs not only show extraordinary patience but taking the time to make someone else better was inspiring. Knowing that someone had shown them to same compassion in their young career helped get them where they are today is a great take away from my experiences with them.

I know for me, in my work, I have a hard time exercising patience sometimes. I think what I gained most of of cooking classes, aside from better knife skills, is to exercise better patience when it comes to people that work under you. Encouragement is a powerful tool and direct critique can encourage growth and light a fire to do better.

    Erin Essex

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