I don't know how to start, other than to say that you are all incredible. Thank you all so much for taking the time to give me such incredible advice. I wish I could repay each and every one of you for the gifts of wisdom you've given me. I know I sound corny, but just know that as this young culinary student is walking around the kitchen at school every day, your words are recycling in my head, and giving me strength.
After the many helpful responses and suggestions, I went back to school today (Monday) and had my practical. I nailed the first dish (the first full-points I've ever earned on a dish) carrots vichy, and did pretty well on the rest as well (ended up with 35/40 points, the best score I have gotten on a practical). I realize it is a small victory, but it meant the world to me to see improvement. It seems that a common pattern in culinary school, possibly the culinary world as a whole, is a long period of working hard, without noticing much improvement, and then having a feeling of plateau and achievement (like today) for a short time, in which you notice that you have improved all of a sudden. Does this sound familiar?
What I did differently today, in large part due to the advice I had been given, was try to relax, focus on myself, and actually, seemingly counterintuitively, focused on perfection in my dishes. I realize that makes me sound like I previously had low standards, but that was not the case. It was more that I was very focused on rushing through, and not on the quality of the dishes. For instance, this time I recut my carrots three times because I didn't like the sizing of the cuts I made at first. This is something I never would have done before, as I was too concerned with plating and moving on. My theory for why this helped was that I was much more focused on the precision of every step of the process for each dish, which helped my perspective and understanding of the entire process and where I fit into it time-wise. In addition, each time I completed a part of the process well (i.e. found perfect flawlessly sized cuts on my board) I got a confidence boost and relaxed a bit more, clearing my mind to think. But this is just a theory.
I feel PrairieChef spoke specifically to this saying I should use all the time I had. I was one of the last people to finish today, but I was finishing calm, collected, and with an understanding of exactly how much time I had left and how much I needed.
gobblygook - Your words were specifically very helpful. Your advice gives a good perspective and breakdown of the process of learning a trade through a school. Your guess at the difference between the real word method and classroom method are dead-on. Often times I am looking around and trying to do things in step with my classmates, thinking that as long as I do what they do I am alright and keeping up. But I cannot account for whatever they might have on the stove, in the back of their mind, or whether they actually know any better than me. I am really hearing that I need to stop comparing myself to them. And I'm on my way to doing that and becoming more secure in myself.
Mummuh - I have people in my class that are like that, asking questions that I subconsciously was too fearful to ask. From the beginning I have been grateful for them rather than laughed, because their questions benefit everyone. You are brave. Thanks :-)
PeteMckraken - Thank you for your wisdom. I told my girlfriend what you said about there being two kinds of people in class, and we both agreed it is a good thing for me to repeat to myself when I become insecure in the kitchen.
chefbuba - I resonate very much with your description of your education and journey. It encourages me to hear how your life has turned out, and reminds me that there are many areas of the culinary industry besides busting my ass in a restaurant. Thank you.
To everyone else, you all have impacted me this weekend. It was a tough one for me, as I felt so disheartened. I now feel hopeful. This community blows my mind. I am floored by the amount of support available to someone like me, and all I feel is gratitude. Thanks everyone. I would love to continue this discussion, if anyone has anything else to add. I am sure I am not through the storm by any means.