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Cooking Up a Dream Career

Getting off the career path can be a blessing in disguise, and a tasty one for the author's wife.

My household has mirrored the experiences of so many others, with my wife Cynthia getting off the career path about 10 years ago to stay at home with our children and do all that she could to help nurture my career.

She was the one, for example, who was home while I pursued an M.B.A. degree on nights and weekends, and who watched the kids when I needed free time to write a book about the bond market.

Staying at home has seemed worth it for Cynthia, and she has had many wonderful experiences with our children these past 10 years, attending school trips and fairs, trick-or-treating on Halloween and watching them in dance school and so on. To a parent, these experiences are priceless. Still, she has been getting the itch in recent years to pursue her interests -- in her case, her love for cooking.

Beginning in October, Cynthia began attending culinary school at the Institute for Culinary Education (ICE) in New York City, one of the oldest and most prestigious culinary schools in the country. The program is rigorous, with Cynthia attending class on both Saturday and Sunday from 9 to 5. The work doesn't end there, as Cynthia is required to complete lengthy assignments that occupy large chunks of her free time.

Although most of the assignments are written, there are other tasks assigned that are far removed from the office work she once did and this is what helps make the work so interesting for her. One recent assignment required that she slice foods such as carrots and potatoes into very specific shapes that it would seem only a sculptor could achieve.

What a timeless skill cooking is, and what enjoyment it has brought to people throughout the ages! And what a far cry from emailing and faxing! (Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, as yours truly can attest.)

Rapture on Returning to Work

Cynthia is beaming over her pursuit. "The first day in class I had to fight back the tears five times. I couldn't believe that I was finally out there doing things for myself again," she says. "As one of my instructors said to the class, 'there was no turning back.' I was on my way!"

The program immerses students into the entire cooking process, from the history of food and food culture, to selecting and preparing food, to running a restaurant. In fact, ICE offers a separate program in culinary management.

Cynthia's program will give her a diploma in culinary arts, and it crams the equivalent of roughly two years of college into about a year. Throughout the year, Cynthia will get a chance to hone her newfound skills, by getting special access to the kitchens of top restaurants, by working as an apprentice on a few occasions, and so on.

"The school focuses on core essentials such as in the use of knives and the impact of cutting methods on food texture and taste," Cynthia says. The goal is "making sure that we know every basis element of cooking so that we have a solid foundation to build on."

One of Cynthia's instructors, Juventino Avila, was nominated for "Best Latin Chef" in 2001 by

Time Out

magazine, is an alumnus of top Latin restaurants, and is currently writing his own cookbook. He has impressed upon his class the importance of being well prepared, telling students: "From here on, it's living and breathing cooking and food. No more


," only food and dining magazines while in training, he instructed.

Following the formal coursework, Cynthia will obtain a 210-hour "externship" at a New York restaurant before moving on to become a chef. The externship is extremely appealing because the Institute has ongoing relationships with many of New York's top restaurants, including Union Square Cafe, Restaurant Daniel, Le Cirque, Chanterelle, Babbo and Aureole.

Recent ICE grads have also gone on to Rialto in Boston, Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., as well as food-focused media outlets such as

Martha Stewart Living



Food Arts


Wine Spectator

and the Television Food Network.

Cooking Up a Storm

Institute for Culinary Education

Cynthia has a great opportunity to learn from the best of the best. I sure hope there are leftovers!

When Cynthia finishes her externship, she will become a chef, perhaps in the very same restaurant that she externs in. From there, she hopes to open a restaurant once she has polished her craft and learned the trade. Sure, it's a lot of work, and where these pursuits will take her, we can't know.

Perhaps that is the best part about it. Cynthia won't feel pressured to make money, and can focus instead on just enjoying her experience. She will be able to feel content that she is doing what really interests her, flexing a freedom of choice that all strive for.

In other words, in cases where a couple has been financially successful, the woman (in most cases) should see it as an opportunity to pursue other interests, particularly those she might not have pursued had she stayed on a single career path before having left it to build a family. Seen this way, women can view diversions away from their career paths as a blessing in disguise, enabling them to pursue interests they might not have been able to pursue otherwise.

There are endless opportunities for women to pursue what interests them when they feel that they are ready to move beyond childrearing, whether it's cooking, a foreign language, a sport, volunteer work, etc.

Men can do their part by helping the women who have helped them in their own careers. In some cases, this means that it will be the man's turn to make the sacrifices. For my part, this means that I'll be watching the kids on nights and weekends while my wife is out cooking up a storm and pursuing a dream long put on hold.