A reflection.

Written on May 5, 2016, the day after my final.

As I sit here typing with my wrists aching from chopping so fast in the last 48 hours, my hands torn apart from those spicy Italian red chilis, my belly full of Scotty’s bread pudding, Rachael’s kibbeh, and Valencia’s ricotta, I cannot help but notice the joy and lightness that fills my heart.

I am so proud of our Chef team – seeing everyone’s plates today at the end of the final today blew me away. It has been an amazing semester working with a unique, loving, and wonderful group of peers that I now think of as family.

Reflecting on my journal from day one until now, I see so many transformations that have taken place in my life – within the kitchen, among my peers, in regards to the way I think about food, and so much more.

I would like to share just a few of the many ways in which this culinary program has impacted my life.

(This is a lengthy one.)IMG_0262


The Knife.

Before this program, I never used onions or garlic in my cooking, even though I enjoyed their flavor, because I found them inconvenient to chop up. On Day One with Chef Barry, I did not particularly enjoy spending our four hours in the kitchen hunched over my board painstakingly trying to brunoise, chiffonade, and julienne. The knife was unfamiliar territory and I found it so uncomfortable. Yet as we delved into recipes, many Chefs corrected my posture and advised me to choke up on the knife. I became well-versed in onion tears and garlic fingers. Chef Michael Leviton’s passion for his own knife inspired me – I stopped fearing my own knife and began chopping what was on my board with confidence. While I am still slow and steady, chopping is no longer a chore but an act of enjoyment, especially when my knife is razor sharp.

Chef Etiquette.

Learning proper chef’s etiquette has been invaluable. Our many Chefs’ emphases on mis en place, maximizing time, utilizing ingredients, working clean, and being consistent have really had an impact on the way I wield myself in the kitchen and on the resulting product of my food.

No longer am I spending extra time going back and forth to a recipe. Rather, before starting to cook, my mind has already mapped out the fine details: Okay, so make sure the blanching water gets put on first and have your ice bath at the ready…For this part, I need the small frying pan and a wooden spoon…hmm egg whites, I need a whisk for sure…and when should I pre-heat that oven? I need a 125 temp on that salmon before it comes out. I’ll save that lemon rind for some nutty gremolata on top, and these broccoli stems can come home with me for soup.

Proper planning and attention to detail has brought an immense amount of clarity to my brain, has saved me time, and made me more consistent as a cook. I can be faster and have more focus on the actual cooking process, which is great.

Final projects complete!

In the beginning, I was afraid to taste my food.

As a very health conscious eater, I was worried about the amount of butter, sugar, flour, and salt that I would have to eat during this program. However, as the days went by, I shook off this fear, realizing that tasting food was essential to making a good dish, essential to making me a better chef. A little of anything was not going to hurt me anyway. This was a huge breakthrough. By tasting,  I learned that lots of the same flavors that we enjoy from butter, cream, and salt can be derived in healthier ways, such as using vegetable purees, acids, and yogurt. I also understood why fat is so tasty – after all, fat is flavor. 

A thick skin.

Yes, I did burst into tears after I set my final dessert plate down – it was just an emotional release waiting to happen. But, I will say that this program has toughened me, brought me immense confidence within the kitchen, and has shown me that I am much more capable than I thought.

I remember the first day in which we had to present our sauces. I was trembling and could not figure out how to make it look less like a blob on the plate. I covered it in saffron (of all things!).  Laughing as I look back on this event, I am amazed to reflect on what types of food and technique that I have had the courage to present in front of my peers and these top Chef instructors along the way. Working on the fryer and grill have been brand new machinery for me, and yet I managed to pull of a fried appetizer for our Market Basket with Chef Chris, a grilled squid salad for Chef Michael, and so many curries and creations along the way.

Thick skinned bagels.

Finding my voice.

I remember the first few weeks of the program when I was afraid to say, “BEHIND YOU!” in fear of sounding rude. While I still speak in a softer voice, the line “HEY BEHIND YOU HOT!” translates to care and concern for others, rather than anything rude.


I have never tasted steak or lamb before this program; working with meat has been fascinating and enlightening. Chef Barry’s butchering days were very educational.   I really appreciated working with the whole animal, understanding where its parts came from and why we had to cook a shank differently than a tenderloin. I am proud to say that I can cook a decent steak now!

I wondered, before starting this program, if I would enjoy eating meat after tasting it. However, in fact, the opposite occurred. While I enjoy the technique and skill that I have gained from butchering chickens, searing steak, and braising lamb, my preference for meat has not changed. In fact, I might even like it less than I did before, now that I can recognize the smells and flavors of the product so much better than before. Isn’t that interesting?

Chicken Roast.


There is a resurgence, an awakening, for my interest in Indian cooking. During the course of these three months, I have realized that my palate knows Indian flavors quite well. I was motivated to practice my masalas and chapati making skills. My mom has given me cooking advice everyday. Toasting and grinding my own fresh spice blends is a new favorite hobby – it makes all the difference. I cannot wait to dive deeper into my country’s cuisine.

Yoga and food.

I cannot help but reflect on the ways in which this culinary program has impacted my yoga practice. While being in the kitchen all day long has not exactly helped my posture, this exposure to food and the elements that surround it have heightened my senses. I smell better. I taste better. I am more alert in my listening. I am aware of my peripheries. I understand the force of fire. Cooking brings me to the present. Remaining steadily focused on a task, such as mincing garlic, despite the changing environment around, is meditative. I even use cooking metaphors while teaching my yoga classes now, and my students seem to really enjoy it.



Metiga and I on graduation.

Ultimately, this program has made me realize that there is a reason for why being in a kitchen makes me so happy, and that I can make delicious food. Chef Barry mentioned the “fire in the belly” feeling on the first day of class – throughout this program I have experienced that feeling and passion for cooking and feeding others.

I am so grateful to the staff, the Chefs, and my peers for this great experience.

While my journal started as a homework assignment, it has blossomed into a beast feast of it’s own nature.

I will most likely be continuing to write in it for a while.



Day ?: Finals

If I told you how many chapatis I have eaten in the last 48 hours, you may not believe me.

They are the final addition to my menu – they are the last thing I must perfect.

While of course, I am “tasting” to take notes, I will admit, there is nothing better than a fresh chapati hot off the tava, smothered in ghee to soothe these rampant nerves.

This week is finals. My last week of culinary school. I cannot believe it.

Funny enough, my phone has decided to stop working this week as well. I haven’t had time to think about getting a new one yet, and it is actually nice to be disconnected, especially during this week of constant chaos. So while I don’t have any fun and delicious snapchat stories to share (so sad, I know), my level of productivity has been incredible.

Work, work, work, work, work.

Today is the beginning of my final project. This afternoon, I will be prepping everything as fast as I can before the time runs out.

Tomorrow is service for my teachers – five top chefs in Boston. They are all incredible. They will not overlook any of the small details.

I am so excited. Excited because I love being in a busy kitchen. Excited because I love what I am cooking. Excited because of the adrenaline.

I am so nervous. Nervous because I am on a time crunch. Nervous because of that caramel that I pray turns out fine. Nervous because there will be variables that I have not accounted for.

Anyways, it’s going to be great.

The most important thing, I know, is to put my heart in the food, always. I am sure that will give it the umami I am looking for.

Check out my little menu.

Menu-SoniaMenu-Sonia 2Wish me luck.

Talk to you on the other side.

love love

Day 49: Ramps, Tubes, & Tentacles

Sorry I haven’t given you words.

This week, I’ve been thinking in tablespoons, dreaming in dishes, making up menus. Last night I was up into the early parts of the morning working on costing out my final project menu…deciphering things like the cost of ⅛ tsp of chili powder per serving on my entree and 2 oz of chocolate in my dessert. I felt like I was back in high school again, although let’s be real, I was much much better at mathematics then. Anyways, I am sure I made it more complicated than necessary, but it has been super insightful thinking about food in numbers and understanding how to successfully make a profit while running a restaurant.

Can you believe that in just one week from today, I will be finished with my final?

All of this aside, I have been well fed this week. Let me tell you about it.

Monday, we worked full lunch service at Island Creek Oyster Bar. I was on hot apps, making parsnip soup and fresh ricotta gnocchi.  I kicked myself a few times for asking silly questions to the chefs, like where the “tasting spoons” were. Overall, an exciting, fast-paced experience of working in a grand restaurant kitchen. The ceviche and taro root chips were my favorites.

Lunch service at Island Creek.

Tuesday was Middle Eastern day with Chef Cara from Oleana. Homemade hummus, pita, kibbheh, sarmas, lots of bulgur. Yum day.

Tuesday’s Feast.

Today, Wednesday, was our last market basket with Chef Michael Leviton.

The ingredients we had to use were:

  • Ramps – what on Earth is this beautiful thing? A wild leek.  A spring beauty.
  • Whole black sea bass – my chance to roast it whole.
  • Squid tubes and tentacles – yikes.
  • English peas – I can deal with this.

Ready, go!

Funny enough, we all managed to cook the more exotic items somewhat decently, but those gosh darn peas…

“ALL OF YOU, and I mean ALL of you, have served me UNDERCOOKED peas,” remarked Chef. Oops.

Meet ramps.

I learned a few lot of things…

I learned that using the grill is incredibly simple. Not scary. And that the charred flavor imparts such a lovely contrast in dishes. I also learned that big tongs are necessary – I set my forearms on fire by grabbing the little tongs that I typically like to use.

I realized that I can cook a whole fish, something that I have been wanting to try for awhile. I just need to add way more salt (Salt x 10) and budget enough time for it to cook. FYI, according to chef, a temperature of just under 130 degrees internally is what you need to have it flake cleanly off the bone.

I discovered two new foods that I liked today and had to make a wish. Ramps are so special! Spicy, fresh, and perhaps one of the most beautiful things I have ever eaten. And squid? Who knew I would like it so much. Previously, I had only met calamari in fried form, and I really don’t eat fried food ever. But man oh man, seared squid is delicious, and squid the grill is something else.

My grilled squid.

Just some food for thought – while ramps are $14 a pound, squid is maybe half that cost. Hmm.

What a week so far. Going home to rest, read up on filter feeders, and dream of summer barbecues.


Day 46: Bread?

Today was supposed to be BREAD DAY.

I could not wait to get my hands dirty in sticky, wet flours.

I was ready to wrestle with glutenin and gliadin.

I was even looking forward to the sting my nose from the sour yeast. And of course, the aroma of browning crust in the oven.

Chef Priscilla Martell, veteran bread maker and bakery owner, gave excellent demos in the morning – slapping the dough on the table, forming bagels, kneading and mixing, revealing the threads in the live, natural starter. What an exciting day ahead of us, right?

Chef Priscilla shows us the active starter.
Beautiful threads.


Just as we set up our stations in the kitchen, a shadow fell over me. I felt strange.

Am I seeing things? Everything looks…hazy. Is it smoke? What is falling from the celiling? Are you seeing it too? OH MY GOODNESS, EVERYONE OUT!!!!!!!!!!!

No, it was not a fire. Thank goodness.

Something about the vents reversing, blowing gross dust particles into the entire industrial kitchen. We all were sneezing and coughing. My chef coat was covered in “soot” or whatever it was.

And in result, bread day, you could say, ran away from us.

Gluten 1, Sonia, 0.

Instead, I walked home in the lovely seventy-five degree weather, made a coconut milk mocha milkshake, and took a nap in supta baddha konasana next to the window, with a blanket of sun streaming across my waist.

Bread Day to be continued. All is well.



Day 45: More Pastry

I am happy to report that…

There are good people in the world.

I arrived at school with a big smile on my face. It had been a good morning – I had responded to a few nagging emails and had even made some headway on my final project. Yet just when I thought I had caught up on life, just when I was feeling a bit settled, the carpet was pulled from beneath my feet. Somehow on my way to school this morning, ear cocked to the right as I chatted with Mom and knives slung across my torso, my little purse decided to slip off my shoulder. I had lost my pocket book.

I emptied and re-emptied my bags, searching, like a dog chasing its own tail, until I finally confirmed that my suspicions were true. Giving Valencia a nod, I raced out of class onto Commonwealth Ave.

My search was in vain. The street was teeming with people of all sorts. Students, professors, homeless, everyone and anyone you could imagine.

Defeated, I spent the next half hour on the phone, cancelling important cards. Thankfully we were doing more pastry today – something that was sure to cheer me up.

I kept a little “don’t-worry-be-happy” vessel of chocolate chips on my station too. That helped.image

French Macarons – chewy, sweet, perfectly smooth. Ours came out wonderfully, despite the fact that we almost committed an unforgivable crime. Metiga and I had switched the sugars on accident, and luckily caught the mistake just in time to quietly throw away our wrong batter and start fresh, before Chef noticed.

Vanilla Macarons with Coffee Buttercream

Bostock – A delightful almond toast. Like an almond croissant.


Pate choux filled with chocolate pastry cream– A nice little review after making these with Chef Jean Claude too. Very cute.

Chocolate Cream Puffs

Poached pears – what a great technique to learn. These were my favorite. You know why? They reminded me of the canned pears my mom used to give us back in the day.

To poach a pear.

I was happy that everything my team made today was quite successful. I had made peace with the disappearance of my pocket book situation too.

AND THEN, as we were washing bowls galore, I got a call from the Boston University police. Someone wonderful had found my purse! Party at the dishwasher.

I could not resist leaving a nice box of cream puffs with the cops. It only seemed right.


Day 44: Island Creek Oysters

We are all sitting in a Thai restaurant today for lunch waiting for our food. As we stare at the decorative fish tank, filled with exotic and beautiful fish, the first thought that comes to our mind is, “Okay, so how would we fillet that flat guy?”

We spend the rest of the conversation discussing how we would cook the silvery guy in the back, the fat black one, and the tiger striped one to the left.

Yes, we are a strange bunch of kiddos.

Today, it was Island Creek Oyster Day. Out the door at 7 am, we rode over to Duxbury Bay, took a boat out on the water, and got a chance to see how oysters were spawned, raised, and grown.

I am on a boat. Woohoo.

Did you know that oysters are hermaphrodites? Or as the boy showing us around at the farm explained, “so they can first be a dude and then be a chic.”

Spawning Oysters.

Did you know that oysters live off of algae?

Algae for the oysters.

Did you know that oysters purify 50 gallons of water per day?

This tour truly made me understand why oysters are such an exquisite item and special food. So much work goes into cultivating them.

Carrying home fresh bay breeze and a bag of Island Creek Oysters, we returned to school for some time in the kitchen.

We shucked oysters.

We filleted all kinds of fish.

We cooked a lot of sea creatures.

Hello Mr. Salmon

Today, I worked on a GIGANTIC salmon.

Holding it by the tail, I scraped the scales off. It was quite heavy and many times wanted to slip from my grip. Scales went flying everywhere, on my face and chin. I filleted it and scraped the spine for pieces I could use for tartare. No waste.

Then I grilled it and it was delicious.

Good eats today.

Chef grilled some oysters.
Team 1 on crab cakes.
My team’s beer battered clams.
Mr. Salmon’s belly grilled. 
Team 2’s whole roasted Branzino.
Team 1 on seared scallops.
Team 4 on poached fluke.

Am I the same girl that used to be afraid of fish?



Day 40-43: Jean Claude and more.

First, the good news.

There is more sun. The walk home in evening light does put a skip into my step, despite the fact that I am buried under my knife case and bags of various food.

Now the other news.

The days are getting longer and yet moving faster, if that makes sense. Early starts. Late nights. Final projects. Tick-tock. These next three weeks are going to fly by.

I missed you all last week. However, I can’t not share some quick recaps from some amazing days.

Day 40: Catalonia Day with Chef Dante!

Potato and Smoked Mozzarella Croquets.

We made recipes from his childhood. Steak Candy, the most delicious cornmeal cake with vegetables, and smoked mozzarella potato croquets.

Day 41: Four Seasons of Pasta with Chef Sara Jenkins from NYC’s Porsena and Porchetta restaurants. This was a night event that we helped Chef to cater. Besides lots of handmade pasta, we made the most delicious pea-mint raviolis. The best part was that after all of the guests were fed, we got to celebrate in the kitchen with leftover Italian wine and the homemade pasta that we had made. A very fun night indeed.image

Day 42 & 43: Jacques Pepin and Jean Claude

We had the opportunity to Skype with Chef Jacques Pepin, the founder of our program. Unfortunately, he could not make it in person.

Talking with Jacques.

I asked Chef: “Chef Jacques, how do you stay healthy while living a chef’s life, long hours, high stress…”

Jacques Pepin responded without blinking an eye, in his jovial voice, “You drink a lot of wine!” We all laughed. Then, after pausing, he continued. “And, well, you know your body. The life of a chef is tough, tasting everything and at the end of a long day, all you maybe eat is a piece of bread and cheese. This is why it is also important to work with really good ingredients.”

What an amazing teacher.

His partner Chef Jean Claude spent two days with us, creating magic right before our eyes. The 80 year old pastry chef spun sugar from his fingers. He was loving, he was cross, he was incredibly ambitious, and our strictest teacher ever.

Chef said, “Pleez don’t show zis photo to mi wife!”

He yelled at us. He grandfathered us. He kept us on our feet moving for two good 9 hour days. He would not eat until he made sure we were first fed. We followed him around with a small plate of food and kept encouraging him to leave his choux pastry for just a moment to take a few bites and get some energy.

Eat something, Chef!

When he became really cranky towards the afternoon, our program directors gave him a cup of “water” which he later revealed to us with a wink, was actually some nice white wine. That really cheered him up. A true Frenchman.

“Sonia! Who iz Sonia?!” He asked, pulling out the first slab of puff pastry that met his palms and reading the label on the plastic film.

“Me, Chef,” I said, raising my hand and speaking loud enough so that he could hear me. He was rather hard of hearing.

“Okay, so, well, we are going to use your puff for the orange tart. I hope you don’t mind. And now we will all see how well your puff pastry came out,” he said quite firmly in his heavy French accent.


He unwrapped it, pounded it intensely with his rolling pin, cut it in half, and paused. “It is perfect.

I emitted a sigh of relief. “Well, you are a great teacher, Chef.

He turned to the others and while lovingly brandishing my nose with his finger, he said, “See, she is a diplomat. She should run for president.”

Maybe. But I was not just throwing out nice words. We had spent the whole previous day under his watchful eye, painstakingly making this prized dough.

We shared a feast with Chef Jean Claude, and before he left, he kissed us each on both cheeks.

Fresh Orange Tart, Kouign-amann, Cheesecake, Choux Pastry Swans, Noisette Cookies
Salmon en Croute with wine, of course.

What a special man, what a special experience.