There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by people truly passionate about something to bring out the passion in yourself.

Perhaps the best part of culinary school isn’t the school itself, but finding yourself in the midst of like-minded people who encourage you to do your best at things that truly interest you. I thought I loved food, but now I’m surrounded by people who really LOVE food. It’s incredible to sit and listen to everyone talk about everything from ingredients to ideologies. They’re comparing restaurants they’ve visited, chefs they’d like to work for, talking about their goals and aspirations. I don’t usually feel like I have much to add, but I learn so much from them.

Picture stolen from Cindy

It’s been a kind of rough couple weeks, trying to get settled here, get used to my new kitchen and new chef, and try to find where I belong. I’ve not always felt very adequate and I haven’t always met my own expectations. Some things, like those stupid crabs, I let get the best of me. I think overall I’ve been a little bit negative. But being in such a positive environment is a huge encouragement to keep going. It’s amazing to be immersed in a culture that opens your eyes to see beyond your own horizons. I already feel like I’m pushing for higher goals than I was when I got here.

This weekend, we all got together for a dinner party. Eric and Joel have a globe in their apartment, and we spun it. Where it stopped was the country we’d be cooking from.

Saudi Arabia it is.

I almost didn’t participate because sometimes I feel a little intimidated cooking for people who aren’t family, especially something I’ve never made before and when I think might be subject to critique. But I gave in and showed up anyway, and I’m glad I did. We started the day by going to an interesting neighborhood of Paris with a large immigrant community. There we were able to find spices we needed for cheap, and some other unique  ingredients that aren’t readily available in your typical Parisian supermarket.

We went home, cooked, and then met again for our meal. Having not known anything about Saudi food before, it was fun to sample a variety of food from a culture I know little about. Saudi food draws influence from all across the region, from northern Africa, the Mediterranean, to India. We had everything fattoush, a popular middle eastern bread salad, to a delicious chicken dish cooked in a tagine. I made cheese-filled pastries similar to borek.

If anything, this post highlights the glaring difference in the quality of a picture taken by Cindy and a picture taken by me.

Some of the excellent food we enjoyed…missing from the picture are the meatballs and Eric’s dessert (I think it was yogurt, dates, and honey, to which he mixed about half a bottle of vodka and then put in the freezer. probably not very authentic as I don’t believe vodka is legal in Saudi Arabia, but interesting all the same, and tasted strangely reminiscent of banana). my little cheese things are on the baking sheet.

I forgot how much I love stuff like this. At home I used to try to cook weird things from around the world and test strange ingredients and unfamiliar recipes on my family, but I after a while of working all day in the kitchen, I lost the energy to come home and do fun things like this outside of work hours as well.  Its hugely inspiring to be immersed in a world where everyone around you is investing in the same things you are. It’s good to be somewhere your skills and abilities have value, because sometimes out there in the real world, that’s a rare feeling.