Surviving a CIA Boot Camp

Judy Lawson has a degree in Gerontology, is a Certified Food Handler, and coordinates Townshippers’ Association’s Food for Thought learning luncheons in Magog, which connects English-speaking caregivers to information expert-led resources. She writes about successfully surviving a CIA boot camp.

No, not that CIA, but the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York where more than 2,000 students each year crisscross the campus in chef’s outfits studying for a food industry degree in culinary arts or sciences. This CIA is known for training some of the finest chefs in the world, it also offers immersion boot camps for food enthusiasts like me.

After four years of providing lunches for Townshippers’ Food for Thought, and preparing over 300 meals in 2017 (so far), I decided it was time to step up my game and enhance my cooking skills at a Culinary Boot Camp.

Sixteen of us, all sharing a passion for food came from a variety of places and stages in life, I was the only one from Canada. We looked the part — dressed in crisp white double-breasted jackets, tall chef’s hats, aprons, and neckerchiefs, that instilled cooking confidence.

Chef Dave’s lectures covered a lot of basic skills in a short amount of time. Everything from knife skills (choke up on the handle) to mise en place (get everything in place) to kitchen etiquette (aprons and hats are never worn outside the kitchen).

Luckily, many culinary terms are French and my knowledge of the language came in handy (but I cringed at the pronunciations). It’s fun, though, to remember to use high heat when sautéing . . .  so, the food jumps (il saute) in the skillet.

Moving into the professional kitchen, we practiced our knife skills — chopping, mincing, and dicing — and watched pasta-making, salmon-searing, and deep-frying. Then we got down to business. Divided into teams, we started preparing dishes for dinner while Chef Dave and second-year students strolled around advising and assisting . . . and pointing at the clock.

In an unfamiliar kitchen, we struggled and bumbled to find equipment and ingredients, and agonized over when to prepare which dish so all components of the meal would be ready together. It was hot. It was chaotic. It was tense. And it was heaven. The kitchen was full of energy, rosy cheeks, enthusiasm, and laughter.

At the end of the day, we sat down together in our not-so-crisp chef’s outfits, raised a glass to our hard work and tasted our creations at tables of white linen. We were physically and mentally exhausted.

The next day, we were fresh, eager and ready to chop (it must be those magic chef’s uniforms). We were given a guided tour of the campus to see in-session classes: pastry making, cake decorating, wine appreciation and more, before being treated to an exceptional lunch at the upscale student-run French Bistro where eagle-eyed professors watched student chefs, assessing their every move.

We had no time to linger, back to the lecture hall to learn technique after technique (it’s boot camp, after all). Then to the kitchen to truss chickens, prepare sauces, and craft fresh pasta of various shapes and sizes. The aromas were succulent and intoxicating.

What a difference a day makes turning us into confident cooks – stirring, tasting, and balancing flavour. We knew where things were and we knew what to do!

Will this culinary training be apparent in the Food for Thought lunches? Time will tell. All I know is that cooking is hard work and timing is everything. And that this boot camp was a culinary dream come true.

The fifth year of Food for Thought lunches will start up again at St. Paul’s United Church hall in Magog on Friday, September 8. Our guest speaker, Jennifer Bauer, Life Coach, will offer Tips to Create a Balanced Life. On the menu: Fragrant Butter Chicken with basmati rice (vegetarian option available), homemade coleslaw and for dessert – mini Pavlovas with fresh fruit.

Food For Thought sessions are open to everyone. The presentations are free, a small fee of $7 is charged to cover the meal.

This project is a CHSSN initiative funded by Health Canada through the Roadmap for Canada’s Official Languages 2013-2018: Education, Immigration, Communities, and the Tillotson Coaticook Region Fund.

For more on Townshippers’ Association and our activities, keep reading this weekly column in The Record and visit our website You can also follow us on Twitter @Townshippers and Connect with Townshippers’ offices in Sherbrooke at 100 – 257 Queen, 819-566-5717, toll-free: 1-866-566-5717, or Lac-Brome at 3-584 Knowlton Rd, 450-242-4421, toll-free: 1-877-242-4421.

Published: Keeping in Touch column, Sherbrooke Record, Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Photo Credit: Courtesy Judy Lawson

Photo Caption: Judy Lawson, who coordinates Townshippers’ Association’s Food for Thought learning luncheons in Magog, is pictured taking a Culinary Skills Development Boot Camp to enhance the Thought meal preparation for the upcoming season of learning luncheons which start up again on Sept 8.