Gluten Free Culinary Student

A few days ago I posted about my visit to Johnson & Wales University in Providence, RI for the Culinary Arts/Culinary Nutrition program.  I had applied earlier that week and during the visit I was told they were just waiting for my previous college transcripts, but my application file was on someone’s desk waiting to be reviewed.  I called on Tuesday to make sure they had received my transcripts and was told that they had and would be doing an evaluation worksheet on them to see if any of my previous courses would transfer in.  Before hanging up I asked when I should expect to hear an admissions decision and was told “Actually you were admitted yesterday, Congratulations!”  To my shock and surprise I have been admitted to my dream school.  I’m still kind of numb from it I think, don’t get me wrong I am beyond excited and I know that this program is going to be difficult, tiring, long hours, lots of hard courses (especially for the culinary nutrition aspect of it).

My Passion

Growing up I have had several real passions, cooking (thanks to my grandmother), photography (thanks to my dad) and pathology (again, thanks to my dad who every Christmas gave me presents revolved around it: dissection kits, anatomy coloring book, which I still have, and amazing anatomy pop up books).

Like I mentioned above, my Grandma Lu has had a huge influence on my love of cooking.  A few months ago I wrote a post about her (you can read it here).  She is truly an amazing woman who I will forever be grateful for. Ever since I was little she has been a huge encourager in my life.  My Grandma Lu is a rock in our family, always keeping her children and grandchildren a priority no matter what is going on.  She is a sweet little Italian lady who doesn’t have a problem telling you how it is.  She hasn’t has the easiest of lives but she is one tough cookie, with a positive attitude.  I have so many fond memories of her. If you don’t mind I want to share a few memories and little things about my grandmother:

  • When I was younger she taught me how to make chicken soup from scratch – I was about five or six and she pulled a chair up to the stove next to her and taught me how to cut veggies and make a soup with what you had on hand.
  • When my parents divorced she gave me a little card with the “Serenity Prayer” on it and I still have it to this day.
  • No matter how bad things got she would say “This too shall pass”
  • When I was born she came to the hospital with a crocheted santa and I still have it – actually in a few weeks that santa will be 29 years old.
  • I have always been told that I am a mini-me of her and to me that is one of the best compliments that anyone could ever give me.
  • She is a fantastic cook – she used to cook for the Priests at her church and when I lived with her I would often go and help her.

Seeing as she was so willing to help me when I first started to look at JWU 12 years ago I figured she would be excited for me now.  The hard part is she has Alzheimer’s.  I called her yesterday to tell her the good news and she was so excited for me and kept saying, “Wow you are going to be a chef!” “Oh that is a great school” “I have Alzheimer’s and I don’t like that I have it”, and then would continue to repeat the conversation over and over again.

I haven’t been around for five years so her progression is a bit hard for me.  My other family members are a bit more used to it but I am not.  I cried like a baby after getting off the phone with her.  I know she is proud of me and I just wish I could express to her and share with her how much of an impact she has had on me and this passion of mine.  I tried to explain it a bit yesterday and she kept saying she has some recipes and cookbooks to give me. She was looking for her brown folder of recipes – which are coveted by many.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her coveted collection of recipes has been given to my Aunt Lisa (her youngest daughter). I so badly wish I could take her Alzheimer’s away, but nothing will ever take the love I have for her away.

She is definitely a huge influence for me. And I told Bryan last night that when times get tough in school please remind me that I am doing this partially for her.

My journey

I have been dreaming on and off about JWU for the past twelve years.  While in high school this was where I wanted to go, but when I hurt my left shoulder at the beginning of my senior year, when I fell down/off stairs that had no railing, I gave up my dream.  My grandmother really wanted to me to go and even offered to help me if I changed my mind, but at the point I couldn’t lift anything more than five pounds.  After many doctor visits, physical therapy and an MRI I was told that it was nothing just some tendonitis.  A little more than a year later I was still in physical therapy and one day they had me do this one stretch called the “superman” and that was it, tears streaming down my face, couldn’t talk, couldn’t put my arm down or up.  They called my mom to come get me and she made a phone call to Dr. Peace who performed a surgery on her torn rotator cuff a few years earlier.  I got an appointment the next day and sure enough, he took one look at the MRI and saw the tear right away.  I had torn my rotator cuff a year or so before and apparently had torn it even more the day before.  Not long after I had my surgery and started the recovery process, however my left should will never be 100%.

Instead of pursuing my dream of culinary arts I changed plans and attended a local college and changed my major about five times (I’m not joking).  After a semester of attending classes full time and working part time at the school I was offered a full time job there and started taking classes part time.  Four years later I left there and enrolled in a Photography school in California.  Working at a school I was that obnoxious prospective student, calling and emailing them a million and one questions before I accepted the offer.  I packed up two suitcases and my camera bag and flew across the country to tackle this goal of becoming a photographer.  Three months into school I was told that they were under investigation for falsifying admissions information (I had asked them about this issue before enrolling and was ensured they were not involved). Needless to say I left after that and moved to central California where I lived and worked (again, in higher education) for five years.

During all of this, I never gave up my love of food and cooking.  Over the years I’ve made some amazing friends who also love food, cooking and experimenting. It is also during this time that I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease.  At first for someone who loves food, especially pasta and bread this new life style was a bit depressing and scary.  “What was I going to eat?” Thankfully though I approached this new lifestyle and diet like another adventure.  I cleaned out my cabinets of all food that contained gluten and went shopping for some new goodies to try.  I started this blog to help myself and hopefully help others.  My big thing was I didn’t want to be that person that says “Oh I had to give up everything I love”, so instead I started taking my favorite recipes and adapting them to be gluten free.  It has turned out rather well, there isn’t much that I miss or can’t have.

Then Bryan came along…well actually we have known each other for six years now.  Every few months over the five years that I was in California we would exchange e-mails to see how the other was doing etc.  I went to visit him last summer for a week and that started it all.  After not seeing him for five years it was like we never missed a beat.  He truly is my best friend.  After he got accepted to law school in Rhode Island we started talking about me moving back east to be with him and to be closer to our families.  In July I moved to New Jersey and then we moved to Rhode Island in August.  After searching for jobs and not finding anything I decided I should start looking at going back to school.  I was looking for nutrition programs because ultimately I want to work with families who have food allergies.  During my search I found that JWU offers a Culinary Nutrition Program.  I about fell over – Culinary Arts and Nutrition combined, it couldn’t be real, could it? So Bryan and I started talking about it and decided that we will go to their open house and check it out.  Bryan said I should request my transcripts and apply before we went so I did.  He has been beyond supportive of this desire of mine and I can’t thank him enough.

I feel even more in love with the school after visiting it.  I asked as many questions as I could about doing the programs and having Celiac Disease.  Everyone I talked to were very encouraging about it and there have been several students who have done this.  And now here we are…starting in March I will be a Culinary Arts/Culinary Nutrition student at my dream school – Johnson & Wales University. Best part is, I’ll be doing this Gluten-Free (as best I can!)  Needless to say once school starts I’m sure the blog will change a bit, I’ll be posting about my experiences as a gluten-free culinary arts student in a not so gluten-free environment, some recipes etc.

So Grandma Lu this is for you – I love you more than words can express, thank you for instilling in me the love of food and being creative with what you have and making something wonderful out of nothing.


6 thoughts on “Gluten Free Culinary Student

  1. Jenny-what a beautiful story of your grandmother! You’ll do great in school and I know you’ll love it! And your blog will have to suffer because my blog (that isn’ much at all!) suffers because I do pathology all day and don’t have time to blog pathology at night! But have fun, study hard and I’m excited to read about what happens! Good luck!

  2. Congratulations! What an exciting thing to do at this point in your life. There are so many possibilities for you after you graduate. Maybe you’ll become an expert personal chef who helps newly diagnosed celiac patients! That would be so great. Whatever you decide, remember that your readers will be cheering you on.

  3. Congratulations! That is so exciting! Tuck this little bit of info in the back of your mind – just up the road an hour in Worcester, MA are lots of good GF dining options. Wild Willie’s is great for burgers and The Boynton has great GF pizza. Good luck!

    1. Hi Ellen,

      Thanks-I’m actually from the Worcester area – you should check out the 111 Chophouse also, a fantastic GF menu!

  4. This is a beautifully written post and I know your grandma would be so proud of you! We have J&W here and I was thinking about going but along with my other student loans, just cant swing it financially right now which depresses me. I can’t wait to read more abour your adventures!

    PS-love the pic of you two 🙂

  5. I very much needed to read this post. What a inspiring journey. I honestly think i started to get watery eyes. Anyways, your words has in many ways, turned on a light in my journey. Thank you and i as well will be looking forward to reading more on your culinary travels….

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