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Gaining Confidence and Creds

Kris Longwell, culinary boot camper at The Culinary Institute of America
"CIA Boot Camp far exceeded even my wildest expectations."

Kris Longwell's Story

The love of good food has been a tradition in my family for as long as I can remember. So I guess it should be no surprise that at an early age I found myself tinkering around in the kitchen.

After graduating from Texas A&M with a degree in architecture, I stumbled upon theater and moved to New York City to attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. It was there that I met my soul mate, Wesley Loon. Over the next 20-plus years, I performed in professional theater productions around the world, and eventually moved into the corporate world as a marketing professional. Throughout this time, my passion for cooking never wavered, and Wesley was my biggest culinary fan.

In 2013, I made a grilled shrimp salad with a nice cilantro dressing, fresh tomatoes, and other good summer ingredients. It looked pretty, so I posted a picture of it on Facebook. Within a couple of hours, it had over 200 “Likes,” with lots of comments about how wonderful it looked as well as requests for the recipe. A week later, I posted another dish and received the same reaction. That got me thinking about starting a food blog, just for the fun of it, and How to Feed a Loon was born. In 2014, we added videos, and the blog started getting noticed by people in the television industry. I began to think to myself, "I hope I am a credible cook." I have studied a lot about cooking and developing recipes over the years, but still I wondered: "Would people trust what I’m doing and saying?"

Then, in the summer of 2014, Wesley and I were married after 25 years together. One of the wedding presents we received was a gift card for The Culinary Institute of America. After browsing the CIA website, we immediately knew that the perfect use for it would be Culinary Boot Camp—Basic Training.

I have to say, my week at CIA Boot Camp was one of the most challenging and fulfilling experiences I have ever had. Our instructor was Chef Rudy Speckamp. It’s hard to find the words to adequately explain how amazing he was. He is a Certified Master Chef, and his expansive knowledge of food and technique, combined with his no-sugar-coating critiques and precision-oriented, yet compassionate style of teaching, were inspiring.

There were 12 of us in the class, each with different degrees of expertise in the kitchen, but all with 100% eagerness to absorb everything that Chef Speckamp and the CIA had to offer. We spent the first day learning about proper knife skills and observing Chef Speckamp as he flawlessly displayed his skills before we took to our own stations. The following days were all about learning techniques and putting them to use. We were divided into four teams, and each one cooked a multi-course meal to be consumed by the entire class promptly at 6:30 p.m. each day. We learned everything from dry-heat cooking to classic and contemporary sauces to moist-heat and combination cooking. On the last day, each team prepared a meal based on ingredients in our “market basket.” We developed the recipes ourselves, with the guidance of Chef Speckamp.

CIA Boot Camp far exceeded even my wildest expectations. Throughout the week, I discovered that I did have a lot of knowledge about cooking and the world of recipe development, which gave me confidence. There was, however, still plenty for me to learn.

My experience at the CIA was incredible. It was hard work, no doubt, but the sense of accomplishment that I felt in completing Boot Camp was like nothing I have ever known. If you love cooking or just love good food, I would highly recommend the CIA’s Boot Camps. Trust me...there is one for every culinary passion.

Have a culinary adventure of your own and register for a CIA Boot Camp now >

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