Mise En Place: How I Became a Chef

Oh blog how I have missed you!  I have had a series of bad luck this week that caused me to have to step away from the computer.  First off, on Sunday when I made that absolutely delicious Smoked Mac and Cheese, I had a bit of an accident.  I learned the valuable lesson of NOT wearing flip flops while grilling.  I had my charcoals ready, burning red hot in my chimney.  As I went to go transfer those coals to my smoker, one little lump of coal slipped out of the bottom and landed right on my bare foot.  Of course it stuck to my foot from how flippin’ hot it was but I couldn’t reach down and grab it because I still had a full chimney in my hand! It was bad.  I haven’t been able to cook since i’ve been hobbling around pathetically!  I hope to be back into the kitchen very soon, if not tomorrow!  Injured foot aside, I also got hit by a nasty storm that decided to knock out power and internets leaving me blogless.


Well I am back now!  I decided that since It seems i’m starting to gather an audience (someone’s reading this right?) I figured I wanted to let you as the reader know about me, not just the food I make.  My main goal in creating this blog was to continue learning something new.  I was hoping this would build some strong friendships and would allow me to feel comfortable enough to chat with my fellow foodies and keep learning!  So this will be my official introduction!  I am going to tell a story that is very special to me, and is the core as to why I became a chef.  It all starts with a tattoo. . . .

This is my chef tattoo located on the back of my right arm.  It started out as just the chef, the banner at the bottom reads “Mise En Place”, which is a cooking term meaning “Everything in it’s place” got added later, which is the key to my story.

As most sob stories start out, I had a rough child hood.  I was loved, I had a wonderful family, got along with my brothers great, lived middle-class, problem was – my mom was very sick.  She had an unknown disease that she fought for answers from as early as I could remember and all throughout my teen years.  She was always there for us, but us siblings needed to sort of form our own bond and responsibilities.  My duty I loved to do was cooking.  I would never turn down making after school snacks or even dinner.  It wasn’t something I had to do all the time, my mom was still there, but if she was sick it would be the duty I would take over.  My mom had her ups and downs, some months were really bad, some were really good.  As a kid I saw too much, the fear of losing your mom not just once, but repeatedly through childhood certainly did a number on me.  This caused me to have post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, social anxiety, separation anxiety, and agoraphobia.  I was able to function, until high school.  My emotions got the best of me and the normal stresses of the average high schooler was just too much to handle.  I went home schooled.

Fast forward to 18.  I had to unfortunately go through a sinus surgery.  It was supposed to be routine and simple out-patient deal.  Unfortunately thats never the case for my family!  There were some complications and I was left lounging on the couch recovering for quite a while.  This is when I fell into the wonderful world of Food Network.  I could only watch so much Judge Judy and Jerry Springer.  I fell in love with Paula Deen.  I loved her welcoming personality, her dishes were so comforting and her family dynamics were something to be jealous of.  I loved her!  At the time of my recovery, it was a Paula Deen Marathon that would end in the Biography of her at the end of the week.  Naturally, I had to watch it.  I was all excited to hear all about her life and how she became the wonderful woman she is on the show.  As I watched, I expected the usual “I loved cooking, I became a famous chef – taadaa!”.  I was absolutely amazed when the show started off by her admitting something huge “I was Agoraphobic”.  My jaw dropped.  Here I am, struck with the same disorder so badly that I couldn’t even go to school, and here she is, my idol and a recovered agoraphobic.  I watched the whole thing, nearly in tears, wondering why I can’t do the same things she is.  I have always loved cooking, but I never felt I could amount to anything.  After I watched the entire episode, I was inspired beyond belief.

I waited patiently for my mom to get home.  Once she did, I was bouncy and giddy and excited.  I managed to gather myself and squeal with joy, “Mom, I want to go to college and become a chef”.  My mom, slightly stunned, went “Ok Danielle….you can go to college and become a chef”.  Of course, I know what she was thinking, I have been out of school for 5 years now because I wasn’t emotionally able to be mainstreamed, and now I want to head to college and become a chef.  I understand that she must have thought this would be a passing phase, I would realize I couldn’t do it, and continue to live life as a hermit.  This was not a phase at all, I was determined.

I had looked up colleges, went to open-houses, and worked with my mom to see what we could afford.  I fell in love with the Art Institute of Chicago.  It was a bit out of our price range, but my mom was so happy to hear I was finally ready to move on and heal that we were just going to make it work.  Unfortunately, another road block in my life.  My gall-bladder went out, and I needed another surgery.  This was right at the time of my entry to go to Art Institute.  This also set me back a bit emotionally, I lost a bit of my momentum, and was worried I would have to wait another year to enroll at the Art Institute.  I kept hearing the suggestion to attend my local community college.  I kept turning my nose at it, feeling like I wouldn’t get a “real” education from a community college.  I wanted to go to the biggest and the best.  In time, my mom said she feels this would be the best option.  All things considered, she was right.  I haven’t been to school in 5 years, how do we even know I can handle it?  I enrolled in the College of DuPage in their culinary program, I was still bummed about this.

I bought all my knives, uniforms, new clothes for regular classes, new book bags and ready to take on this new chapter.  I sat down at my first class, cooking 1101.  I was still unhappy to be sitting at a community college, I had my mind set that I just wouldn’t like it.  My chef instructor walked in and greeted us.  “Hello class, I am a full time instructor for the Art Institute but I will be working here part time”  Art Institute?  You mean, the same exact place that was thousands of dollars more than this one?  And I will be learning from you?  I knew from that moment I was home.  I stayed at the College of DuPage for 3 years.  I got my Associates Degree in Food Service Administration and Culinary Arts, with honors.  I was president of the Culinary & Hospitality Club, and earned the title of Market Chef at the college.  I did have my ups and downs, It was by no means smooth sailing.  I did have to drop out of a class strictly because I was not ready to serve the public in our class-run restaurant, I did go back and take the class when I was ready though.

In my second year at the college, I got my chef tattoo seen above.  I had asked my tattoo artist to put the banner “Mise En Place” under it.  He disagreed, he didn’t like words and felt it wouldn’t look right.  I agreed, and let him have his way.  I’m thinking it was just a sign that It just wasn’t the right time for it.  After I graduated I had all this emotion in me and I had a change of heart with my tattoo.  Mise en place, everything in it’s place.  This meant a lot more to me than just having my meat prepped, water boiling, spices set out in front of me.  I finally had my life together.  I overcame Agoraphobia and all my other emotional problems, strictly because I wanted to be a chef.  I felt I had made an incredible change in my life, and I got Mise En Place added to my chef tattoo.

Everything was finally in it’s place.