what is a garlic clove? (and other downfalls of a long commute to culinary school)

 so…how do i begin? well, let’s just say that i had some other posts planned to come before this one, but after last night’s debacle i felt i needed to divulge the darker side of commuting to culinary school (from Philadelphia to New York). in the summer, while still living in the garden state (in Princeton), i took the NJ transit train into the city. it took about 1.5 hours, with 10 minutes to walk to school once in manhattan. sometimes, after class, i would have to wait around a while for the next train, but in general the commute was fine. nothing to write home about. (actually the only part to write home about was getting to decompress and talk food and life with ann marie… that part was good.) sometimes i felt there were too many stops along the northeast corridor. and there was no wi-fi. and not so comfy seats. and sometimes crowded trains. but overall, i got to class on time and that was what mattered.

jump to living in Philly: i start taking the (Bolt) bus. i love it. the seats are comfy. there is wi-fi. the walk from the drop-off in NYC to school is more or less the same (about 2 blocks more actually), but it usually gets in earlier than anticipated, which always feels good. but then, in the last few weeks, i start noticing changes – the honeymoon period was ending. the wi-fi started getting spotty. the bus no longer arriving ahead of schedule. until finally…. last night happened.

i arrive for a 3 o’clock departure and there is no sign of the bus. i stand around with restless passengers. 15 minutes go by. then 30. finally a bus appears. we don’t push off until 35 minutes behind schedule. then, no wi-fi, so my productivity immediately diminishes (and the risk of overloading my data plan increases). we start hitting traffic far too early in the commute – not even out of Philly yet – and i panic. the bus driver must be panicking, too. he knows he has already blown it by being late to work (although technically, even with his delay, i could have still arrived on time for class). so, being concerned about traffic, the driver takes us on a route i’ve never seen before. and i’ve been through the Lincoln tunnel many times. but the driver goes his unusual way, and instead of avoiding traffic, he drives right into even more congestion.

long story short, what should have been a 2 hour bus ride (or less) becomes a 3 hour 40 minute disaster. and at this point, i’m already late enough for class that i am considered “absent.” fortunately, i arrive in time to partake in all the cooking (and i have the option of making up the class if i want), but i’m so frazzled and disappointed to be arriving late for the first time, and for one of my favorite chef instructors. [while on the bus in traffic, contacting classmates about my late arrival, my face literally fell when i heard the news of who was teaching and knew that i would be late. ann marie and susan (my classmates) knew my disappointment before i even said anything.]

and then, this is where the really painful part happens… i enter the classroom. frazzled. ready to work. ready to make up for my late entrance. i realize that my neon pink shirt is completely visible through my white chef’s jacket and i didn’t have time to change it. ugh… fail. and i don’t even say “fail” but seriously… fail. i start working with my team to figure out who is making which sauce, and as i read my ingredient list and go up to grab the produce, i pick up a bunch of scallions and in a befuddled way start to say, “this is…” and, before i finish, the chef says “scallions.” right. of course. i knew that. “so….. what are…..[my eyes scan the bowls of produce]…..garlic cloves?” i can’t believe the words have come out of my mouth. she picks up the garlic and starts to point to a clove, most likely as confused as i am about the question, but generously she doesn’t reveal what is running through her mind. i’m so ridiculously embarrassed and baffled by my own question – i think i even touched the chef’s hand apologetically as i explained that, of course, i’m completely and totally 100% clear on what garlic cloves are and that she needn’t worry about my garlic competency. i slink away to my table with my garlic.

i later asked my teammate if “any other onions were being used” when i meant to say “ovens” – so clearly something was going on with my brain. [i mean… i don’t remember ever playing on a football team… and i don’t think i was concussed on the bus ride… ?] all that to say, the night definitely could have gone better. but many of the sauces turned out really well. and i enjoyed working with my group (thanks lee, jennifer, trinette!), and really appreciated their patience. i noticed ann marie and susan going out of their way to make me feel better, too. (thanks for cleaning the blender and for covertly snagging me some burn cream!) oh yeah, i burned my hand a bit. that happened, too. but all that to say, there will be bad nights with anything. just like there will be bad dishes or meals or social situations, and you always have to make the most of them. and in this case, i still got to enjoy three hours of cooking with a chef that i admire, and with classmates whom i am grateful for and really respect. thanks guys. NGI wouldn’t be the same without CTP 215.

until next week… and here’s hoping for better bus fortune from now on. [and the pictures above are from some nicer moments on my commute: sunrise over Philly from the Bolt bus; and morning light on the US Postal Service building in NYC.]


8 Comments on “what is a garlic clove? (and other downfalls of a long commute to culinary school)”

  1. Christina says:

    Oh Tae — what a frustrating night! I have to confess, though, that I giggled at “what is garlic cloves”… Here’s hoping your commute is better from here on out!

  2. tae says:

    thanks Christina! yeah it was bad, but i can definitely laugh at it now : )

  3. 3wholeplates says:

    Oh man I forgot about the neon pink shirt, it kept catching my eye all night.I was going to ask you if you knew you could see it but then I thought it probably wasn’t the right time, ha. We all have our bad nights, luckily your culinary skills more then make up for it. Especially your ability to perfectly salt everything 🙂

  4. hi there! I’m so glad we found each other through the wonders of the twitter-verse! And this entry just reminded me of my many, many lonely commutes to NGI… although I took MegaBus because I found it was slightly cheaper plus it picks up at 6th & Market. Anyway, I’d love to get together some time– I’m working at the Franklin Fountain now– maybe you could stop by some time? I’d love to give you a kitchen tour and chat about NGI!

    • tae says:

      hey, so glad we found each other, too! it’s nice to be able to meet other culinary folks in Philly and share experiences. and i’m glad you mentioned MegaBus because I just discovered that it lets off closer to where we live (and if it is cheaper, then that is even better!). thanks!

  5. Ashley says:

    I’m debating (dying to actually) going to NGI but I can’t find many people online who are willing to chat about the school. Could you give me your take on it. I’m trying to do my research, because I’d be moving to NYC from Canada! I have no clue about living in New York and want to just get some advice about the program, what you can do after etc. I would appreciate any info you have for me at all!!
    Thanks so much, love your blog…this commute sounds horrific. This may be what I’m in for if I go!

    • tae says:

      Thanks Ashley! I’d be so happy to answer all your questions about NGI! I’ve had a great experience there these past 6 months. I will send you an email so we can chat more! And thanks for checking out the blog, I plan to get back to it soon : ) -Tae

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