Who Goes to Culinary School: Cameron Crowder

May I introduce you to Cameron? She is a career changer who

Cameron Crowder pastry chef

Cameron Crowder, Culinary Student

personifies the courageous people I meet at culinary school who decide to to take the plunge and embark on a new life in the food world. This doesn’t for a minute mean that they plan to spend the next several years working in a restaurant. On the contrary there are literally hundreds of other job opportunities that await them when they finish their studies in culinary school. Here is Cameron’s story:

I grew up fully expecting to become a writer. My parents, teachers and anyone else who read something I wrote would always say, “Cameron, you’re a born writer,” with the kind of authority in their tone that seemed to add “and you’ll be wasting your life if you try to do anything else.”

So, after dabbling in other directions ranging from drama to architecture, I earned a BA in comparative literature from the University of Virginia (UVA). I even won a prize for my thesis. Anyone who knew me at the time assumed that graduate school and a glorious career in academia, teaching and writing books on obscure French novels was to be my lot in life. I thought so too.

A few months after graduating, I visited the home of my former advisor, the head of UVA’s comparative literature department, to talk with her about graduate programs I might apply to. Her home’s walls were full of built-in bookshelves stuffed with not just with literature, but cookbooks too.

As we sat on her front porch sipping tea and talking about school, I felt a little guilty about the fact that all I wanted to do was curl up with a stack of her cookbooks and read or bake something in her lovely, well-equipped kitchen. I recall that when she realized how interested I was in her cookbook collection, she remarked rather prophetically, “If I hadn’t become a scholar, I would have been a baker.”

It didn’t seem like a life changing moment at the time. But, those words did something to me—they gave me permission to do what I wanted rather than just doing what I knew I was good at. If this professor, who was as brilliant as anyone I had ever met, considered baking a legitimate career choice, then so could I.

About six months later, having chosen not to apply to grad school, I was on the verge of losing my job and my home. My parents, with whom I was still living, and the company I worked for were both moving across the country. Every part of my life was up in the air, just a few weeks away from changing drastically for better or for worse.

Miserable and panicked, I finally asked myself this question: If you had all the money and security and recognition you could ever want, if the only person you had to please was yourself—what would you do? Several answers came to mind (my interests have always been too numerous to be convenient), but the one answer that stood out was becoming a pastry chef.

Wisteria at CIA Entrance, Courtesy of Cameron Crowder

Wisteria at CIA Entrance, Courtesy of Cameron Crowder

Once I found the CIA’s (Culinary Institute of America) website, it took me all of about 30 minutes to decide that going there was the right path for me. I honestly never looked back.

I sensed from the beginning that any obstacles and doubts I might encounter would be temporary and well worth the effort to overcome. I quit my job almost immediately.

I began working as a baker for a coffeehouse, waking up before dawn to make muffins, scones, cookies—anything that goes well with coffee. Eleven months later, I arrived at the CIA and still can’t believe how bold a turn my life has taken; how fortunate I am to be here, how lucky I am to be certain of what I want to do at a relatively young age.

I concede I may end up a writer after all, but not of literary criticism.

Desserts at CIA Courtesy of Cameron Crowder

Desserts at CIA Courtesy of Cameron Crowder

Food writing (and food photography) is much more to my taste.

* You can follow Cameron on her culinary journey. If you scroll through the archives of this blog, you’ll find other culinary career changer profiles.*