The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, St. Helena,
Calif., associate degree in baking and pastry arts
Pastry assistant, Chez Panisse Restaurant and Café, Berkeley, Calif.
Growing up in a farm town in northern California, I have always
thought Chez Panisse to be the epitome of California cuisine. I
have admired the work of Alice Waters, executive chef, founder
and owner, and her commitment to local, organic farms, since I
was a little girl.
THINGS I LEARNED THAT
I DIDN’T KNOW IN CULINARY SCHOOL
The impact the food industry has on the environment; how
picking local, seasonal ingredients is not only better for the
earth and soil, but also gives the best flavor to the final product
I plan to transfer to a four-year university and pursue a bachelor’s
degree in nutrition and environmental ethics. I hope to work at
a restaurant during this time, preferably one committed to using
local, seasonal ingredients.
“Katherine, wake up. You’re late!”
my roommate yells, shutting off
my alarm clock that I’ve “snoozed”
at least three times. I stumble out
of bed and brush my teeth while
collecting my belongings for work.
No time to eat. I tear off a chunk
of stale bread and rush out the
door to my car.
6: 30 A.M.
I’m stuck in traffic on the Bay
Bridge. Commuting from San
Francisco to Berkeley is like
waiting in line at Disneyland. I
glance out my window as the fog
clears just enough to view the
sun reflecting off the blue waters.
The Golden Gate Bridge hides
somewhere beyond that thick
blanket of mist.
I run into work and change into
my chef coat. I have 45 minutes
until my chef arrives. I review the
menu for the day, gather mise
en place, take inventory of the
freezers, walk-ins, reach-ins and
dry storage, clean and sanitize
the pastry station, and finish
my setup just as my boss walks
through the door.
I greet her, adjust my chef coat
and tighten my apron. We chat
briefly about the day. Mia Ponce
is a young and talented pastry
chef with years of experience
and a natural ability to teach
others. She reviews her changes
to the menu with the pastry cook,
Patricia Salvati, and me, and
leaves us to our work.
I’ve finished piping and baking
my first set of 60 cookies, and
I’m halfway through shaping and
baking the rest. I usually make
two or three types of cookies
every day to pair with ice cream
and sorbets on the lunch menu.
It’s deep into summer, and Chez
Panisse is swimming in stone
fruits and berries. My favorite
is Rainier cherries. Today, we
are roasting Rainier and Bing
cherries to pair with a flourless
chocolate cake. After finishing
my last batch of cookies, I grab 4
lbs. of cherries and begin pitting
each one by hand. It’s a process
that takes time, which I don’t
have today. I look down at the
bright red stains on my apron
and hands. The fruit’s acid eats
away at my skin. I finish my prep
work and begin assisting Patricia
with building apricot tarts and
prepping fruit for a nectarine
and plum cobbler.
Just minutes before 11 o’clock, I
begin my work on Chez Panisse’s
most important dessert—a bowl
of fresh fruit. When I first began
working here, I felt that serving
fruit in its natural state showed
little talent on behalf of the chef.
Then I discovered the art and skill
it takes to know exactly when
fruit is ready to eat—how it must
feel, look, taste and smell. The
fruit is too delicious to cook, with
full, lasting flavor and a bright,
crisp texture. Today, I select
Kashiwase Farm Flavor King
plums and Middleton Gardens