Thursday, May 21, 2009

Chef Viverito

Somewhere in the basement of Roth Hall at the Culinary Institute of America, 11 students fidgeted in their slightly too small chairs and narrow bench tables. The room was filled with a mixture of anxiety and excitement--this was the first class that they would be required to use their brand new school-issued kitchen knives.

Chef Viverito finally strode in to class. He looked relatively young: I guessed somewhere in his early 30s. He had short black, wavy hair that matched his jet-black eyes. His nose was quite pointed in a nearly triangular way that complemented his angular chin. He took a seat on the stool at the front of the room, leaned back, crossed his arms in front of his chest, and sized us up.

"So how was your first day of cutting fish?" he finally asked in a sharp, stern voice. It was more of a rhetorical question than anything as we had just a couple hours before at 530am scaled, cleaned, and fabricated nearly a 100 fish--for some of us it was the first time they had done it.

We all mumbled something inaudible.

"Good. Because that's what you're going to be doing every morning for the next seven days. Today was a bit crazy because it was the long weekend and we had to do extra work, but you're going to increase your speed and intensity." He paused, turned away to look at something, and then looked at us again.

"Ok. Welcome to Fish Identification and Fabrication!" he said as if we were going to regret it.

"And congratulations! Of all the fish instructors you could have gotten, you got the hardest one!" he malevolently smiled. "My class is THE most difficult and you will have to earn your grade here. None of this 'everyone starts with a 100 or an A' crap. All of you start with a zero, and all of you will earn every single point. Just coming to class and doing your homework will not get you an A. All of that is already expected of you. Why should that be anything special?"

"I'm not gonna give you a pat on the back and say 'Ooo, you came to class and did your homework--Good job!?" He made a face and mock-applauded. Then, before we had time to laugh, he became serious, "If you want an A in this class, you have to go above and beyond that. This isn't high school anymore."

In reality, the majority of us were post-college students in their twenties. We just sat silently. He stood up and looked down at us.

"Although I am the most difficult fish instructor, you should actually be thanking your lucky stars. Because you are going to learn the most about fish and you're going to be the best fish cutters at this entire school for the 7 days. I'll be damned if the other class after us is going to be better than you. And I'll be damned if you fail this class" He jammed his finger on his desk for emphasis as he delivered that impassioned statement.

"Actually, scratch that," he suddenly said to himself. He changed back to his I-don't-give-shit tone of voice. "I couldn't care less if you fail. It's your money. You can do what you want with it. Just paying for this education doesn't mean you'll get a good grade or even a good education. I mean, I'll give you the resources, but you have to use it."

"Wait. You know what? It's not even your money. It's your parents money. Go ahead and waste their money. And if they call me and start complaining, I really don't give a damn," he paused here and defiantly looked at us, as if waiting for someone to breakdown and cry and run out of the room.

At this moment, I excitedly thought to myself: Man, what a BADASS!

"Alright, let's learn about some fish."

And learn we did.


Some of my favorite endearing quotes from Chef Viverito.

"Did you take kindergarten? Because for some reason, you can't seem to count the number of fish we need."

"Wow, you seriously do not want to listen to me do you?"

"You've got two seconds to ask me "Chef, what am I doing wrong?"

"I like you all as people, but when it comes to following directions...Jesus!"

Saturday, May 9, 2009

I See Dead Animals

It's been two months since I first came to the CIA and an entire month since I last updated. Apparently the second three weeks of school was much more time intensive than the first three weeks, which we call blocks here at the CIA. Since many of you may be curious as to what the curriculum is like here, I might as well describe it now:

The degree I am pursuing is an Associate’s degree. This degree takes four semesters of 15 weeks each in addition to a 18-21 week internship at a restaurant of my choice, for a grand total of approximately 80 weeks. The school runs on a progressive block system, where every three weeks a block is completed and a new block begins. It goes from Block A to Block U.

Right now, I’m in Block D, with 16 more blocks to go. This means that every three weeks a class graduates and a new class enters. This also means that things repeat themselves every three weeks in some kind of perpetual déjà vu. Teachers start to lose track of what day it is or what students are in their class or feel like they said something before to the present class when they actually haven’t or repeat the same story they told yesterday thinking that we haven’t heard it before. So we don't think in terms of dates or days of the week--it's simply Day 1,2,3,4,5...all the way to day 15 (5 school days in a week). This three week block system also means that the meals repeat themselves every 21 days.

Since this is a culinary school, we make food. This food is then served to the rest of the campus. The CIA is unique in the sense that the students and the food staff are the same people. We are actually paying the school to be a part of the food service staff for the entire campus. We also pay for the food they buy to feed us. In essence, we pay the CIA to cook and serve ourselves food they buy with our money. Kudos CIA, you’ve found a great way to legally exploit student labor!

But I’m not complaining. The food here is like an 8 out of 10. Some days I’ll get burgers and fries, but other days I’ll get sea scallops and chorizo-stuffed squid or braised beef short ribs or shrimp and lobster etouffee, replete with a variety of pastries, cakes, and other desserts freshly made that morning. It’s damn good food over here.

Anyway, I just started my 4th block for a total of 10 weeks, and I have stories from each one (which I’ll share at a later date) that will rock your world. Well, maybe not rock, but at the very least tickle your fancy.

I’ll share one today:

So one of the main reasons for my absence from updating my blog was Block C. Block C was like the anatomy lab of medical school, the very first class we take at medical school and the foundation of medical knowledge. If you ever went to certain medical school in Texas, you may remember the days where we would wake up at 7am and trudge on over to a building full of dead people. Then we would cut dead people for like 4-6 hours straight. Then we would spend another 2-4 hours just studying and looking at dead people and name every single obscure muscle or fact about them. Anatomy lab would be so intense that we pretty much had no life--the irony was that anatomy would be the easiest class we would take…

At the CIA, Block C is Seafood, Fish, and Meat Identification and Fabrication, one of the very first classes we take and the foundation of culinary knowledge. As part of the AM shift, I would get up at the god awful hour of 4:30 in the morning. If you ever heard of the phrase “getting up at the asscrack of dawn” referring to starting the day at 600 in the morning during the winter, then starting at 430am in winter is “getting up at the hairy butthole of dawn.” I mean, who else gets up at 4:30 in the morning? Apparently only rainstorms and worms because every morning for a week I trudged over to school soaked on wet sidewalks infested with worms.

We’d then get to class and that smelled like Chinese seafood markets and oxidized blood. Then we’d cut dead fish, lambs, cows, veal, etc. (if you can eat it, we’ll cut it) for 5 hours. Then we’d have lecture for another 4 hours about all the different cuts and species of animals that we were responsible for. At the end of the day we’d smell like we crawled over a pile of a fish bones or a slaughterhouse floor. You didn’t even have to smell us to know that we were cutting dead animals all day--you could tell us apart simply by looking at the amount of blood that was splattered all over our clothes, the crazed, exhausted look in our eyes, and our slow abnormal gait as if the Zombie Apocalypse had just occurred.

Block C took over my life. But the story doesn't end there. Just before Block C started, I talked to a classmate who was about to finish Block C. I asked him what the chef for Fish ID and Fabrication was like (we had a different chef for Meat), and then he looked me dead in the eye with a mock-serious tone: “Chef Viverito will own you." I simply brushed this off with nervous laughter thinking, “Surely Chef Viverito can't be that bad…”

Well, I was wrong.

To be continued...

Next entry: Chef “I-Will-Tear-You-A-New-Asshole-If-You-Don’t-Do-As-I-Say” Viverito

Monday, April 6, 2009


The following is a true story. For once, no creative exaggerations, no hyperboles, no spins. Believe me, this crap actually happened today—I can't make this stuff up. It disgusts me to know people like this roommate are making YOUR food.

It was Sunday. The setting sun pierced through the blinds and made the entire dorm room glow a brilliant yellow, and Andre the Giant (he's the cool roommate) and I were quietly sitting at our computers pretending to work waiting for our other roommate to wake up (I mean, for chrissakes, it was already 6:00 pm). Finally, Asshole started stirring in his bed. We both pretended not to notice.

Asshole groaned and sat up. He lurched himself off his bed and scratched his exposed butt crack as he walked to the bathroom with his tooth brush. Andre and I waited for him to close the bathroom door. We then looked at each other.

You want to do this now? Or you want to do this later? I mouthed to make sure we were on the same page. He signaled back with his hand and emphatically pointed downwards, NOW.

The toilet flushed, and we returned to our computers, the keyboards going clickety-clackety.

Asshole brushed past us again and starting looking for his clothes and phone. He started to dial.

I threw a look at Andre. Now what? my eyebrow arched. Andre just looked at his computer.

Asshole began dressing up and started gabbing away on his phone. After a few minutes, Andre turned in his chair and looked at him squarely:

“You going out buddy?” Andre probed.

“Yeah.” He grunted, his back to him. He returned to his phone. “Oh yeah? That’s fucking awesome…”

“Uh, when you coming back?” Andre pressed.

Asshole finally looked up at him, somewhat surprised that he asked that. We never asked him when he was coming back. “Fuck, I don’t know,” he finally said and turned back to his engrossing conversation about where to drink tonight.

I took my head phones off, placed them on my desk, crossed my arms, and turned around to face him.

Completely oblivious to the increasing tension, Asshole continued to snort and chuckle on his phone and searched for his keys and wallet. When he got his jacket on, he started on his way out.

I stood up and stepped in between him and the hallway.

Several long seconds passed as he finally looked up at me and then looked at my roommate. He finally stopped talking in mid-conversation, suddenly aware that something was up. I looked him straight in the eye:

“You got a minute buddy?”

He blinked, narrowed his eyes, and then said through his teeth, “Dude, I’m on the phone.”

“Yes, it’s quite obvious that you’re on the phone…” I returned evenly and flatly.

He raised his head and cocked it to the side, still sizing me from the corners of his eyes. “(Yo, can you hold on a minute?)...All right, what is it?” He was clearly annoyed that we were taking up valuable seconds of bar time with his friends.

Ignoring his threatening demeanor, I pushed on: “Do you know what happened last night?”

He suddenly got defensive. “Dude, I know. I already talked to Andre about it. It’s cool.”

“This isn’t the first time it’s happened and we had to clean it up...” Andre pointed out.

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry. It’s not going to happen again,” he said looking towards the door.

Andre continued, “Well, you said the same thing two weeks ago and I don’t want to sleep at night having to worry about you coming in and—”

“Look, man. Do you think I enjoy doing that? It’s humiliating. I don’t like enjoy doing that.

I could not believe it. Asshole was trying to turn himself into the victim here. I fired back:

“Well, I didn't enjoy cleaning up the mess the first time, and Andre didn't enjoy cleaning the bathroom floor after you pi—.”

“Look, I’m trying man. I am. I already said I was sorry and it’s not going to happen again—what else do you want me to do?”

He placed his hands on his chest and looked at us as if he was innocent. We were simply at a loss of words for what an asshole Asshole was being.

“Are we done here?” he said scornfully, his phone still in his hand.

I finally gave up and moved aside.

“All right.” Rolling his eyes and shaking his head, he brushed past us and puffed in disbelief at the gall we had shown to bring up what happened last night. He put his phone back to his ear, “All right dude, I’ll be right outside in a sec” and slammed the door behind him.

Andre and I just stared after him.

“Can you fucking believe that guy?” I finally said in disgust. Andre put his fingers over his face and shook his head.

“Yeah, well the worst part is my Tupperware is still covered in urine…”


Friday, April 3, 2009

Open Letter to Food Network

Dear Food Network,

You may not know this, but one of my earliest memories of your network was watching Sara Moulton on her show Sara's Secrets. She was frying something (I forget what), but the thing I remember was when she used a wooden spoon to test whether or not frying oil was hot enough. She stuck the spoon in the oil and waited to see whether or not bubbles came out of it. This she explained was because the oil was so hot, that even the minuscule water molecules trapped in the wooden spoon were being cooked out.

I was blown away. She had demystified one of the reasons why I never got consistently good results with deep oil frying for me. To this day, I use that method to test the temperature of my frying oil.

So...what the hell happened??? Where are all the old school chefs that actually educated us as the cooked? Wolfgang Puck, Sara Moulton, Mario Batali, Ming Tsai, Tyler Florence, even Emerill Lagasse--where did they all go? All we have left on the show are surburban queens like Paula Deen (bless her heart) and Rachel Ray and upcoming chefs/cooks with fake plastic smiles that creep me out. Are you trying to tell us that a good meal is one where we cook with 2 lbs of butter in 30 minutes or less and pretend to like it?

You used to be about having shows that taught us that cooking need not remain mysterious and left to the pros. You used to empower the average American to make decent, home-cooked meals that brought families and friends together, connecting them through a common love for food and fellowship.

Sadly, no one cooks for the sake of cooking any more on the show.

Every show has been turned into venue for entertainment. Mediocre cooks making dumbed down and uninspiring food. Crappy cooks interviewing Zookeepers of all people on their own talk show. Celebrity chef turned douchebag challenging local food establishments and then being humiliated in staged throwdowns. A resume-exaggerating chef in ridiculous situations and unrealistic premises churning out mediocre food to people who deserve to have food made in an organized, well-thought out plan (like a real chef would do). A fatass eating inordinate amounts of the unhealthiest food known to man and FAILING every time.

The worst: A former model calling her own show SEMI-HOMEMADE and expects her food to TASTE GOOD??? And what's up with all these fake-spontaneous weekend getaway tours to drive-thrus, diners, and dives on $40 or less? What am I? A cheap bastard with a fanny pack around his fast-food engorged waist? How is this edifying? Is this even entertainment?


The best educational show you have is Good Eats, and even then, I can hardly swallow the corny jokes and bad sketches. Food and cooking should be about bringing the kitchen closer to the cook--you are instead drawing the cook out of the kitchen into the TV living room.

And all I see now on FN is a whore who works for money instead of food.

For shame.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Once upon a time...


First, I would like to clear some misunderstandings. On the surface, this blog may appear like a simple collection of entertaining short stories about the adventures of a culinary student. And if that's what you get out of it, then that's fine--I have entertained you, which is one of the goals of my blog. Unfortunately, if that's the only thing you get out of it, then I have ultimately failed.

Though cursing may be fun to do and mocking others an ego-booster and though at times I will use this blog as a medium for frustration peppered with obscenities, I want to be clear: I take my decision to come to the CIA quite seriously.

Although easy to do, I do not want to write a blog that is just about scathing criticisms of the CIA school system and witty insults of my peers. Let me tell you a story about what this is all about.

"Once upon a time a boy thought a six figure salary and job security was the path to happiness. But after chasing money and safety for a couple years, he realized he was miserable. So he decided that pursuing dreams was more important. Not knowing how the story will end, he is now at the Culinary Institute of America with nothing but a knife kit and a cook's uniform. Will he have what it takes to be a great chef? Or will he be burned by the fire?"

If you took the time to look around, you may have noticed that this is an exact copy of the little paragraph in the neat little picture at the top of this blog. And that is exactly why I put it at the top of my blog.

This is the unfolding real-time story about a young man who has taken one of the most, if not the riskiest gambit in his short life. He has no idea what the rewards are, how he will succeed, or how it will end, but the one thing he does know is this: he does not regret.

So, if you are:

1) having a quarter life crisis,
2) considering a career change from a secure, high-paying but otherwise joyless profession,
3) unsatisfied with the way things turned out with the choices you made in life,
4) need inspiration or encouragement to make "that" move to chase your dream,
5) and/or simply want to live vicariously through me,

then, I am talking to YOU. A word of caution: Though most everyone has a dream that is different from their career or living, the decision to pursue that dream instead is NOT for everyone. For some reason, many successful career changers, when talking about their decision to choose something so drastically different and risky, always say something like this:

"Even though I was making a ton of money as a (insert respectable profession here) , I was unhappy. Ever since I was a kid, I've always wanted to be a (insert ridiculously, almost laughable job here). There was no choice--I just knew I'd had to go for it!" This is usually where an immediate relative or close friend gives her support: "Without a doubt, I always knew he/she would be successful."

For them, it was easy as pie.

Well let me tell you the other side of the story.

For me, this was by far the hardest decision I've had to make. I was well on the path to getting a job that had high security and would pay at least a $250,000 starting salary. And believe me, I had been working my ass off my entire life to get that job and was just two years away from sealing the deal. No rational person would easily give up years of hard work and a job like that just so he can pursue a dream of being a chef. Would you?

My decision took over 2 years to make: endless wandering late at night agonizing over whether to stay or leave, heated and emotional arguments with my parents who did not understand me, hundreds of pages of reflective writing, countless sleepless hours in bed of fruitless thinking, months of clinical depression, dozens of pills, one deep contemplation of ending it all, and the constant feeling of being lost with no hope of finding my way through it all. It was a dark, dark time.

I didn't have a fairy godmother who gave me a pumpkin carriage and glass slippers and tell me to go get the job of my dreams. Hell no. I had to crawl and claw my way out of a dark tunnel that I made for myself without a flashlight. Long story short, after two, long years, I had gathered enough information, support, and above all, the courage to make that leap of faith that had me convinced that what I was doing was something I would not regret.

So if you're like me and you are considering on gambling it all for a shot at a cherished dream, then take it slow, chew the facts, learn more about yourself, and make sure you know what you know what you are getting yourself into. The thought of it may terrify you, but I promise you, once you make it far enough down the tunnel you will eventually see a small speck of light at the end. And when you do, latch on to it and don't look back.

Monday, March 23, 2009



HE is coming.

THE Ferran Adria.

If you don't know who this is, then let me give you a hint:


Not the shit. But THE SHIT. Capital S-H-I-T.

This guy runs arguably the best restaurant in the world. THE WORLD. Not best restaurant in Spain. Not best restaurant in Europe. But the whole freaking world. A big claim you say? Well if you can single-handedly revolutionize the way people thought about food and cooking the way Heisenberg and Schrodinger revolutionized physics with quantum mechanics, then by all means, take the title. I mean, for chrissakes, this man runs his restaurant at a loss and he is still thought of as the best chef in the world.

Wait, what was that? AT A LOSS? ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?

How in the world does a man that charges over 250 EUROS for a meal at the best restaurant in the world lose money, and yet still make enough money to run it?

Cook books and lectures.

His elBulli series "books" (read: massive tomes) go for on average 130 EUROS. I can't imagine what he charges to speak for an hour. I bet he could shave his face and sell the shavings at a price higher than saffron threads.

Anyway, this man is like a chef demi-god. He is probably lightyears ahead of everyone else the way he thinks about food. Although called the godfather of molecular gastronomy, a name give to modern, untraditional means of cooking by pretentious and condescending food geeks (technically all cooking is molecular gastronomy), he himself hates the word and rejects what it implies.

When you hear about molecular gastronomy or had its derivatives for a meal, often times the food serves as vehicle to show off a particular technique. But Adria is the opposite. He only uses a technique as the vehicle to show off a particular food. He will search for a way to get to the essence of a dish or ingredient and often times, conventional means are not sufficient. So what does he do instead? He simply invents a way to achieve his goal, never losing sight of what it's all about...the food. Now that's a chef.

Anyway, as you can tell I'm pretty psyched about him coming to our campus for the first time ever in the history of the CIA and hopefully I will get to see him and shake his hand and then blush and giggle like a middle school girl who just got a note from a friend saying that Billy the captain of the basketball team wants to meet her after school.

So to conclude this unabashed, ass-kissing admiration for Adria, the demi-god of chefs, I will give a short list of his other accomplishments:

- Adria once challenged Bobby Fischer, Gary Kasparov, and Big Blue to a chess match, and then checkmated all of them at once with a single salted, sardine.
- The real reason Dr. House has a cane is because he once gave Adria a wrong diagnosis, who then proceeded to crush him so hard with: "You idiot" that his leg collapsed underneath the sheer humiliation and awe.
- Adria created a food so awesome that even he could not eat. But he ate it anyway and become even more awesome.
- Adria actually solved the world economic crisis several months ago by making a recipe with only a leek, a fermented egg, and a sweet potato. But after realizing doing so would make his restaurant earn a profit and ultimately destroy the world by upsetting the fabric of his loss-profit paradox, he invented a kitchen tool with the power to travel back in time and killed his past self with a whisk right before he made the recipe. The slick bastard.

Feel free to post any other Adria accomplishments you have heard and I'll add them to the list.


Friday, March 20, 2009

Let there be Blogging!

Hello Reader!

I am going to preface this by saying: Yes, I do not shy away from using gratuitous curse words. I think they are quite powerful and I also think when used properly it's effective in getting my point across through blunt omg-did-i-just-read-that? shock. Plus, it can be as funny as hell.

In addition, if you do not understand or have difficulty with the following terms:

1. Verbal irony
2. Subtle sarcasm
3. Hyperbole
4. Creative exaggeration
5. 1st Constitutional Amendment

Then, I suggest you learn them quickly in the next few sentences because you will more than likely be confused and offended. So that's my disclaimer. You have been warned--like it or leave it. If you leave, then in my opinion, you're gonna be missing out.

Because this blog is going to be fucking awesome.


I am currently a student at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, NY. Why I am writing this blog? Because the chefs who come from here are one of a kind.

Who really cares? Well, you should care because this person might actually be putting food down your throat one day...and you wouldn't ever trust a total stranger to put something in you, would you? "I mean, what else do you put in someone's body?" (BTW, for all you foodie bookworms, yes, that quote is from Buford's Heat, so don't go around saying the P word).

So what do I mean when I say that chefs who come from the CIA are one of a kind? Do I believe that we are the best?

Well, hell yeah! I paid a freaking ton of cash to be here, so it better be the best education a would-be chef can get. One year costs approximately ~$25,000. And I'm going to be here for at least two years, if not four. Do you know how many slices of Brooklyn Di Fara's margherita pizza that is? A shit-ton. (For you metric users, that's shite-tonne.) No wonder they call it the CIA--Cash in Advance. (ba-dum crash!)

Money aside, I do believe that the CIA has some world-class chefs and instructors. It has the reputation of being the Harvard of culinary schools. And trust me, reputation goes a LONG way in this industry (more on that another time).


For a school with the reputation of Harvard, it sure has its share of incredulous dumbasses, unbelievable idiots, legendary fools, epic emos, and oh yeah, just pure-mental crazies on crack.


Which brings me to the reason of why this is an anonymous blog. ANONYMOUS. Posting this on my Facebook, though it would make for some interesting scar stories, would certainly have undesirable repercussions.

Now, readers will fall into two groups: 1)Poor saps who stumbled upon this mistakenly by looking for some disillusioned Central Intelligence Agency blogger, or 2) friends (or friends of friends) who I have personally invited to read my blog because I believe my life here is just so darn more interesting than yours.
(I jest, I jest!--please do still consider investing in me in the future.) So please SUBSCRIBE, I won't invite/ask again.

Oh and when leaving comments, never refer to any part of my real name. Do not give hints that will lead my enemies to me. If you want to mail me something, bake it in a cake and pretend its from my aunt. They will skin me, stuff me, roast me, and carve me for the next day's grand buffet for the things I will be saying about them.

Suggested aliases: The Great One, Master of the Universe, Dr. Awesome, Lord Vader, etc. But I will also accept Chef-Sous, because not only is that a clever pseudonym and homophone, it means "Chef Under." And right now, I am under a bunch of crap. Debt, pressure, 4 part-time jobs, chef-instructors, books, name it, and I will somehow be under it--especially when the shit hits the fan.

So yeah, that's me. Chef-Sous. A guy who had a quarter-life crisis, changed careers, and became a culinary student extraordinare blogging about the underbelly of the Culinary Institute of America from his dingy dorm room shared with an alcoholic and a 6'6" giant that could crush my head with his biceps. So enjoy and take a shower after every time you read my blog.

I do.