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Baby Steps

Posted on 21 September 2010 by Mădălina

The last two weeks left me a little overwhelmed. For some reason, I anticipated chef school to be a lot easier than it turned out to be. The schedule is absolutely brutal, the course load is demanding, and the chefs have a zero-tolerance attitude.

It’s one of those things that you really have to love, or else you’re just not going to last—the good news is, that I really do love it.

On most mornings, I’m up before sunset and the rest of civilization, just so I can catch the train to Toronto. My skills course starts at 7:30 a.m, but the chef expects us to be in class at 7:00 a.m. sharp—this means I’m out my door at 5:15 a.m.

My first few days were pretty embarrassing—I felt like baby Bambi learning to walk for the first time (or whatever the culinary equivalent of that would be). In a simple knife skills lab on the first day, I cut my fingernail on my middle finger quite severely. I was too embarrassed to say something, so I just cleaned it up, bandaged it, and moved on.

[Scottish Baps, ready for the oven]
[Shiny Scottish Baps]

That was day one. Day two, I burnt my left hand picking up a hot tray that just came out of the oven. I routinely bake, so DON’T even ask me how I managed to f*ck that one up. I blame it on the first week jitters; it’s really challenging to be expected to bake in a foreign kitchen.

This semester I have five courses: Hospitality Math, The Art of Eating and Dining, Baking and Pastry Theory, and Baking and Pastry Skills.

The theory course consists of literature and complicated food science stuff—this is where you learn how gluten formation affects bread densities, or why your cookies came out flat.

[Cloverleaf Rolls, ready for the oven]

[Cloverleaf Rolls, a little burnt, but thats okay]

The skills course is the grunt work—this, in my opinion is the most challenging, but also the most satisfying of the courses. The skills class is around 5-6 hours long, usually with no breaks. WHAT? 5 HOURS? …yep. For the record, 5 hours passes by really quick when you are prepping for 4 or 5 different bread varieties.

The usual process for every skills class is that the chef demonstrates a recipe, then you head back to your station to follow the demo accordingly. The pace of the class is quite fast, and you have to be on point with your time management, or you won’t finish the recipes set out for that day.

[Fantan Rolls, ready for the oven]

[Fantan Rolls-- not quite perfect, but that's okay]

If you are not in full uniform, pressed and clean, you might as well stay home because you’re not allowed in class. Oh, and not to mention that if you miss more than 3 classes throughout the semester, you fail.

Weeks 1 through 6 are spent strictly on learning how to make bread– we’re half way through week three, and I’ve had my carb fix. There’s so much work that goes into proper making bread, that just repeating it exhausts me: First there’s the scaling, then the making of the starter, then the proofing, then the shaping, then the bench rest, and then finally the baking.

I now walk through the bread aisle with a greater appreciation for perfectly round dinner rolls, or lump free loafs.

What I’ve learned so far:

- Having a compatible, and competent work partner makes a world of a difference

- You can’t rush bread—it’ll be ready when it says it’s ready.

- NEVER touch a hot pan that just came out of the oven. Yes, it’s hot and yes, it hurts.

- It’s okay to suck—I’m LEARNING.

- It’s weird going to bed before the sun goes down, and even more strange waking up at what I used to consider the ‘middle of the night’.

- Don’t go out to a TIFF party the night before your morning class, because you’ll be tired and you’ll curse the entire time you’re in class.


19 Comments For This Post

  1. Corinne Says:

    Looks like you're off to a good start=)
    Do you get homework? For the "regular" classes, and the skills one?

  2. mădălina Says:

    Corinne – YEP! homework for all my classes.

    The theory homework is typical stuff like reading, and research, etc.

    For the skills class, I have to do things like practice piping, and improve my knife skills. Right now, we have to take care of a sour-dough starter, which requires us to 'feed' it every 12 hours. You basically have to add flour and water, so that the yeast continues to live, and expand. It's a 10 day project, and on the last day, we make sourdough.

  3. Anonymous Says:



  4. Elvira Says:

    my sister started culinary school as well, i sent her a link to your blog, maybe she'll read it and enjoy it like i do!

  5. Savannah, Acts of Sweetness Ambassador Says:

    Hi Madalina!

    Just wanted to comment that the Acts of Sweetness team (we were at the George Brown Culinary orientation with our antique milk truck handing out the cookies..) love your blog!

    Your photography and creativity is so interesting and we love reading your adventures of culinary school. Very well documented :)
    If you ever feel like sharing your posts, please do! We have an online baking community that would love your blog:

    so please feel free to share!
    All the best,


  6. laura Says:

    Hi Madalina!

    Glad to see that you're off to a good start at Chef School. I see you're in the new baking labs, which are so much nicer than they used to be!

    Looking at your work reminds me of my first semester, and it does get easier. Or at least, you get into a routine, and you get more used to it! It's awesome that you're able to document your journey along the way!

    Best of luck, and I look forward to reading about the rest of your semester.


    PS- Are you in the 1 or 2 year program? Also, if you have time, you should look into Tastes of Tomorrow.

  7. Lisa Says:

    Your rolls look fantastic – true bakery quality. Keep up the good work.

  8. Nadine Says:

    I loved reading this post and seeing the pictures! Culinary school sounds really intense!

    Your bread looked awesome – nice job! Can't wait to hear more!!

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Maddie you are so inspiring!

    Your dedication and professionalism is so awesome. Although demanding, you will totallly pull this off and continue to be amazing at what you do. I almost want to say I wish we could look into a magic ball and see you in 10 years-what cooking show you will host and the amazing articles you will be featured in, but at the same time, that's no fun because it's so exciting to track you and hear of all your new culinary adventures and tales. Although that sounds creepy lol, you get my drift.

    Thanks for all the updates..keep em coming, well as much as you can stand because I'm sure you're super tired, but they really are great!

    Keep up the good work! Jack Lake is going ultra gourmet in the future lol..Maddie's bakery situated right next to Eric's paintball ;)


  10. Avanika [YumsiliciousBakes] Says:

    This is such an awesome post. I've always wanted to go, this is the closest I'm going to get atleast at this moment!

  11. Sofia Says:

    Hi Madalina,

    I’m so glad to come across your blog. I live in Toronto and was always curious about the George Brown Chef School. I take the Continuing Education classes once in a while, but its just not the same :) Your pictures look awesome, looking forward to reading more about your experience.

  12. Smooshe Says:

    hm… sounds like the course I took last year…. except I see water bottles and cups on the tables… that was a no-no…… Sounds fun though! It gets easier, I promise!!

  13. Mădălina Says:

    Funny thing is that the bottle/cup were the chefs! My work station is right across from the communal ovens, and a lot of junk ends up accumulating on there from people checking up on their work!

    I’ll be sure to keep you guys posted– next post should be up soon.

  14. Kat Says:


    I’m glad to stumble upon your blog because I do plan to go to pastry school after I graduate as well. I just love reading about culinary students and their experiences. Looking forward to your future posts! :)

    Love the photos btw!

    Kat from Baking Between Cities

  15. Jandee Says:

    I love your posts. They are hilarious! Baking bread is one of my most favorite things to make, however, I’m not in culinary school or anywhere close to that skilled. Keep working hard, your bread looks amazing :)

  16. anuta Says:

    hi! mady, tine-o tot asa. supeeeeer.te pupa tusa

  17. Pam Says:

    Thanks so much for sharing AND for my favourite blog! I have to admit that I am living vicariously through you. My dream has been to go to culinary school and maybe one day I’ll make it! Just have to wait for my son for graduate George Brown first. (that would be REALLY embarassing – going to college with your mom)

  18. Maya Mayne Says:

    I was curious if you ever thought of changing the structure of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?Orangeburg Roofing & Painting, 512 Breezy Dr., Orangeburg, SC 29115 – (803) 566-8577

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