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Dec. 18, 2021

Escoffier Cooking School with Kelsey


In this episode, we connect with Kelsey Harfert from Wisconsin. She grew up loving food and attending Fish Fries at an early age on Friday night. As an adult in 2018, she created a food blog called The Tasting Spoon. And this year, Kelsey took her cooking knowledge to a new level and she's attending an online cooking school called the Escoffier Institute. We'll connect with Kelsey and learn about food blogging, and take a deep dive into what it's like to go to an accredited online cooking school.

Connect to: http://www.thetastingspoon.org/

Our website: https://www.voice4chefs.com/

Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/MichaelDugan)

Transcript

Kelsey:

Awesome. I'm so happy to be here.

Michael Dugan:

So can you tell us a little bit about your childhood and what it was like growing up?

Kelsey:

Yes. So I am from this small little town in Wayne, Northern Wisconsin. And I grew up with both of my parents and my sister who's a year older than me. I grew up always having food on the table. My parents always provided for us, which I know that you know, many people unfortunately aren't able to have that luxury. But I feel blessed being able to grow up that way. And so I just always remember coming home from school and you'd have a snack and then my mom would make a wonderful meal. I remember it always used to be some sort of, you know, quote unquote, meat and potato meal, because that's how my dad grew up, always having protein, some sort of potato and then like a vegetable salad. And so that's what my mom would always put on the table and we would all eat dinner together. I would always watch my mom in the kitchen. And you know, I would watch my grandparents when we would have holidays and things together, the feeling that they had after they created these dishes. Served it to us and saw our reaction how heavy we were and brought us so close together that I thought I want to provide that for people you know, I want that satisfaction and gratification of watching others enjoy what I'm preparing for them. I started cooking with my mom in the kitchen. And so now kind of fast forward. Whenever we go to my parents house. I always bring all the food I'm always making all the food in her kitchen.

Michael Dugan:

Really?

Kelsey:

Yes. So my mom doesn't cook at all when I'm over there.

Michael Dugan:

So that must be a luxury when you come to visit.

Kelsey:

Yes, yeah, they love it. They watch my stuff on my Instagram and my blog and things and they're always like, well, you know, maybe you could make this when you come over or so it's fun to connect that way with them.

Michael Dugan:

Wow. So what do you like to cook for them when you visit?

Kelsey:

Well, so I actually eat pescatarian which is so you know, my main meat would be seafood. Okay, but I have absolutely no issue with making or preparing or feeding others meat. My boyfriend of seven years he eats me almost every meal. You know we raised chickens we've raised pigs and turkeys and ducks and so he harvest those and he goes hunting and meat is a big part of his life. So when we go to my parents we we like showing them something different other than the meat and potato type thing.

Michael Dugan:

Yeah, let's dig deeper into the seafood. What do you like to cook?

Kelsey:

Oh, yeah, we well, we love fishing. We have so many lakes up here. And so we get out fishing a lot and we love making you know the Wisconsin fish fry every Friday night. So it's a staple here. And we've we've created a really awesome beer batter recipe as well as kind of a lighter Cajun cornmeal type fish that's really fun for us to both enjoy because you know it's seafood obviously saw the joy with him. Otherwise we love making tuna steaks. We love sushi. We love making anything with shrimp or crab or lobster. Yeah, we just delved into Lobster Mac and Cheese for I think it was for Christmas. I served it as a side dish. I don't know why I've never made it in the past but oh my gosh, it was so good

Michael Dugan:

Lobster Mac and Cheese. I see it on menus. I've had it I've cooked a lot of different dishes with lobster. I love Lobster Mac and Cheese.

Kelsey:

Yeah. And I think why I didn't make it for so long is because I'm like, I'm going to take this beautiful piece this beautiful expensive piece of meat and cut it up and put it in cheese. I'm like this cannot be right. Yeah, it is just so wonderful. I love cooking all sorts of different seafoods. We really love just, you know, regular white fish or even we'll find swordfish at the local store shark we've made before. It's fun to do things like those two types of fish because they hold together really well. They're kind of like a steak and so grilling those in the summer throwing like a simple veggie slaw or something over on a little lightness. It's delicious.

Michael Dugan:

It's funny because I'm from the Pacific Northwest and Seattle. And we have Dungeness crab, we have halibut, and we have all kinds of seafood so when you're talking about seafood, I just oh I get so hungry. I want to literally go out to the store and just get some crab get some scallops and get cooking.

Kelsey:

Yes, I know well and that's just it, you know if I if I could have it my way. I would have just seafood for every single meal all I would need to eat is just a seafood platter.

Michael Dugan:

Yeah, so we're gonna pivot a little bit and tell me about your schooling like, where did you go to school and where are you going to school now?

Kelsey:

Yes, it's kind of a whirlwind because I went to Stevens Point University of Stevens Point. for six years. And I got my Bachelor's in Social Work and Bachelor's in Sociology. And then right out of college, I got a job working in the social work field. So during that job, I'm happy but I'm feeling kind of stagnant because with just my Bachelor's, there's not a lot of room to progress and move up. I am always thinking like, well, how can I better myself or do something more so recently, I just graduated from Capella University with my Masters of Social Work. And so that was about a two year program. It was online other than a residency which was held in Florida for two weeks. I graduated with that. Literally, I want to say like seven months ago, and then just this past month, I decided to enroll in culinary school that had happened. Well, I came across it online because I'm like, Well how would I be able to swing this you know, I still need to have a full time job but I'm so passionate about this and I feel like in my heart you know, this is the right pivot for me because having six years of just straight social work is really draining. I looked into the schooling through a Escoffier and it's actually based out of Colorado, They are the only accredited US 100% Online school. Which is mind blowing to me and many others. They're like, what how are you doing that?

Michael Dugan:

Yeah, definitely. Tell us more.

Kelsey:

Yeah. And so I did a lot of research on it. I talked to a lot of people there. I'm just like, How can this be real? Everybody at the university is so helpful and just willing and wanting to help and answer questions and talk to you. And so finally I made the decision, you know, to jump into this. And so how it works is it's 15 months. It really goes through so many different ins and outs of cooking and recipe creating basics for you know, knife cuts and sanitation and also a lot of ins and outs of the restaurant industry and business management. The final project that you're kind of working on throughout the 15 months is a business proposal. To offer a bank you know, to get that dream building or you know, anything like that for a restaurant. I feel like it's really going to set me up well for a lot of different avenues for moving forward. How the schooling works. Day to day is the week's go from Wednesday to Tuesday night. Each week we have an assignment like a hands on assignment, do so for example, you know roasting a full chicken and then breaking it down and serving it with a certain sauce having Eggs Benedict and your you know eggs poached perfectly with using this technique and then making your sauce for that and things like that every step of the way. You have to take pictures and kind of record what you're doing and how you're doing it.

Michael Dugan:

Wow, I would not have expected that.

Kelsey:

Yes, it's a lot of criteria. It's at first the first week I'm like okay, this is overwhelming all the criteria that we have to submit you know, to get full points and things like that. But now I feel like I'm in the flow of it and so it's getting easier. It's just something that I would have never thought in my life I would be doing, you know this 100% online while still having a full time job and making it work for me. It's just amazing.

Michael Dugan:

Do you have flexibility with it? Or is it a structure time every day?

Kelsey:

No. So they are very flexible. They encourage us to be at the class sessions because you know, of course it's live and you can ask questions and interact, but they do record everything. I'm a firm believer in just being there for the class participating, you know, because otherwise then you have the the option to not watch the recording. Right?

Michael Dugan:

That's true, and you could let it slip.

Kelsey:

I'm so interested in this kind of stuff. Like it's exciting. It's great. I think that that's what resonates with me the most is that I am so intrigued and interested in wanting to learn whereas through my social work degree, I'm like, you know, this is interesting. I'm learning a lot I'm helping others but this eye, it just brings so much joy to me and passion. It makes me just genuinely happy. So I think that this is a really great life term for me.

Michael Dugan:

and the food tastes good. Yes.

Kelsey:

And my homework is eating food.

Michael Dugan:

That's great. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the chefs that you're connecting to in the school?

Kelsey:

We actually how they have this first class structured two instructors, or chefs who teach two different classes, but during our live sessions, they come together to teach us together and they're really different types of chefs. So it's fun because we get to learn from both of them. I think that they are just wonderful because they are you can tell that they're just so passionate and they love cooking and teaching others about it. They're wanting to help you they're wanting to communicate with you. They're so knowledgeable about what they're teaching you you know if somebody has a question or kind of challenges them like could we do it this way? Or could we use that they're so open minded to hearing things like that and saying you know, if you don't have this tool at home, you could definitely get by with using this, you know, because some tools in the kitchen industry are so expensive. Oh definitely. Yeah. So they're really flexible with it and you can just tell that they're there and they're there because they want to be so it's really been a positive experience and the chefs there so far are just amazing.

Michael Dugan:

What makes it unique about connecting online and going to cooking school, how do they pull it off? I mean, how do they keep you connected?

Kelsey:

Well, I know and that's what I thought too, you know, because it's just so unorthodox. You know considering how hands on this type of work is, but I really believe that if you don't want to be there, then it's not going to work out for you. You know what I mean? Do you have the passion and this is truly what you want to be doing then you will make sure that you're there you're getting the assignments done just kind of like with anything in life, you know, but with this because it is so unorthodox and so hands on. It really does take a lot of time and energy to complete but it's all positive time and energy while you're doing it.

Michael Dugan:

We're gonna move forward and actually move backwards a little bit and take you back to when you had this fork in the road. This decision that you made to start an online blog what what was the reason? What was it like?

Kelsey:

I had created the tasting spoon in January of 2018. I think it was mostly because so I have an Instagram account. I just love plating my food and taking pictures of it. You know, I think people call that like foodies or whatever the internet calls that but I absolutely love. Yeah, I love making beautiful plates. And so I would always just post my picture on my Instagram account and you know, say what it is and that was the end of it. And everybody's like, why can't you post the recipes. Can't you elaborate on this or when are you going to come? Out with a cookbook and all this stuff? I mean, I really didn't know that you guys were so interested in this. So finally I'm like, you know, I'm gonna do this and long term goal will be a cookbook one day down the road. There's just so much time and effort that goes into that. I don't think right now is a great time for me. So in 2018 I'm like, you know, I think that a blog would be doable and a way for me to just kind of grow my audience and connect to different people and it's been wonderful and I've done both of those things connected with a ton of people daily and grown a lot of my following. And I think that people are really benefiting from it, which really makes me happy. It was three years in January and I had finally put a search bar on my website because at least personally, I'll go to a website and the first thing I'll do is look for a search bar because I know exactly why I'm at that website. So I've gotten a lot of feedback that that's been helpful, which is awesome. And I also just this month was working with a local graphic designer and so she had come up with just this beautiful logo and kind of backdrop picture for my heading and everything. I'm getting all of that positioned on there too. And it's just exciting stuff.

Michael Dugan:

Yeah, that is really exciting along your journey. Is there anyone that you admire? Is there anyone that mentored you or is there any chefs that you follow?

Kelsey:

Back when I was actually 14. There was a local bar and restaurant, you know, in my small hometown, that my mom was really good friends with the owner and she's like, my daughter is interested in this cooking thing and and she's ready for a job to get out there and things and so they put me in there as a dishwasher. I worked there, I still sometimes go there and bartender if they need a bartender.

Michael Dugan:

Wait a minute, so you still go there to bartender, even though you don't work there. Is that to get your fix or is that to help them?

Kelsey:

I'm kind of both you know, and it's funny that you asked if that's to get my fix because I think that is part of it. You know, I just love that atmosphere. And right now I'm not getting any of that, unless I go and eat somewhere. I think it really is both of those things because it feels good to be there and it feels good to help them out. I worked my way for years at that restaurant from dishwasher, just prepping the food for the line and then being on the line. And then eventually being the kitchen manager there. The lady who had taught me through all these years she taught me just so much about the different ins and outs of the restaurant industry and how to make an I was young so you know, she's teaching me how to make different soups, stocks or you know what ingredients or spices go together well for this type of meal then years later there I am running the kitchen, being the kitchen manager and ordering the food and it was just awesome. And then learning the different stuff in the dining room with waitressing and bartending out there. So I honestly can say that I went through every position at that restaurant and learn the ins and outs and to this day I'm thankful for it because I really feel like I learned so much from doing that. I feel like everything always comes full circle and so now back to now going to culinary school and I'm able to take the things that I had learned way back when and apply it now.

Michael Dugan:

That is amazing. It's almost like it fueled your fire for what you're doing now.

Kelsey:

Yeah, I think so. And it's fun, you know, just being in class and then teaching some things and I'm like, oh, yeah, I do you remember doing that or, you know, it'll, it'll bring back a memory which is just fun to relive.

Michael Dugan:

Definitely. Have you traveled and tasted the world? Are there any places that you can think of that are really memorable?

Kelsey:

That's something that we are wanting to do more of we have we really want to go to Louisiana because we love Cajun spicy type food. Okay, and of course the crawfish and all that fun stuff over there and crawfish boils. So we'd love to experience that otherwise we we always try and find you know, if we have to make a trip here or there or a couple states over we'll always research different restaurants or diners that have maybe been on Food Network or are famous for a certain thing , just so that we can kind of broaden our horizons and get different ideas for one day when we have our own place. I think the most exciting place that we've been to would be Hawaii. Yeah. And we had gone to a luau there. That was just amazing. The atmosphere, the traditional things that they do there, you know the big pig roast in the ground. And they had just all of their fresh seafood and everything. And I mean, that was very memorable.

Michael Dugan:

You know, it's funny that you mentioned the Luau. I went when I was younger and my brother won the Luau contests like dancing, doing the hula up on stage. And then we ate Pou and Pou is not one of my favorite foods.

Kelsey:

Oh my gosh, me neither.

Michael Dugan:

Yeah. It was a staple in in history for people from Hawaii.

Kelsey:

Right? Yes. And it's funny that you mentioned that because, you know, they were talking all about the Pou there. And then we try it and we're like, oh, this is what all the hype was about. It was just funny.

Michael Dugan:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. So do you have any favorite cuisine that you cook or that you like to eat?

Kelsey:

I really like cooking and eating a broad variety of things. But we do really like making like I said, some Cajun dishes. I also love making Mexican food. I think just because I really love different spices and things personally in our lives. Every Tuesday, we'll have some sort of Mexican dish whether it's tacos or case ideas or a burrito bowl. Just different fun things like that and you know, sometimes a margarita and live up to the Taco Tuesday name.

Michael Dugan:

Oh, yeah. What are your top three favorite entrees?

Kelsey:

So I guess going back to the Cajun part we back was probably been like eight years now. But back when I was in my early years of college, Josh who was my significant other he came and visited me and I was actually sick that weekend. And so he says I'm gonna make you this warm, hearty meal. I think it'll be good for your cold and you know, cuz you get a cold and people think you should drink soup or whatever. I'm like, Okay, and so he ended up making the homemade crawfish Etouffee. He was so pleasantly surprised that I loved it because he was thinking. Okay, I'm gonna bring this crawfish into this girl's college apartment for the first dish that I make her and I just absolutely fell in love with it. So we make it all the time now. And for anybody that's not familiar with crawfish Etouffee. it's so simple, really to make. And it's just with a simple roux and some tomato paste and any kind of seafood stock some vegetables, like celery and green peppers. You just cook it down and it makes this velvety kind of tomato based spicy seafood dish and you can serve it over rice or mashed potatoes if you want. It's just so delicious.

Michael Dugan:

Have you ever had that? Oh, I've had it. I've actually gone to New Orleans a couple times and I had twice there. Oh yeah, I love it. I don't really do well with spicy food. So I usually get it toned down a little bit but I love the flavors of New Orleans and oh and Cajun Creole but usually on the low spicy side toned down spice, which is okay. I love New Orleans food and the music and ambience and Louisiana is the culture is just amazing.

Kelsey:

Yeah, we really need to make it there.

Michael Dugan:

I think that it's a really special place. And everybody talks about it. But until you go there and experience the culture, the music, the food and the people. It's too hard to put it into words. It's just a very, very special place. Awesome. So another question. Sorry another question. I ask our guests and our chefs and culinary artists. What is your favorite desert island dessert?

Kelsey:

Oh gosh. I would have to say desert island dessert. That's hilarious. First of all that question. I'm going to have to say turtle cheesecake.

Michael Dugan:

Oh, do you make it or do you eat it?

Kelsey:

Both five out at the grocery store or we have some awesome local Whole Foods store with bakeries inside of them. They'll make you know the mini little cheesecake the turtle cheesecake and it's like, I can't not buy it.

Michael Dugan:

You know it's funny because I've made probably 20 Different kinds of cheesecake can experiment and became obsessed with cheesecake. As a kid. I did not like cheesecake because my parents would always order it frozen. And then I worked in a French restaurant and learn how to make it from scratch. This obsession happened where I had to try different flavors and blends and things like that. What I discovered is that Bailey's cream Frangelica lots of different liquors blend so well with cheesecake, but I've never made a turtle cheesecake. How do you make a turtle cheesecake what goes into it?

Kelsey:

So I actually just last year had made a really wonderful one for my mom's birthday. And so backstory about turtle cheesecake or turtle candies. I grew up with my mom and that is her absolute favorite candy until this day still. Anything turtle flavored you know? So the chocolate caramel and pecans is generally like a turtle candy. So I think that's how I grew to love this turtle cheesecake. Turtle ice cream or anything like that. What I do is I just make, you know, a traditional cheesecake base, which you could swirl in Carmel or something in there. But if you want to keep it simple, you just do the cheesecake base and then usually you make it in like a springform pan so that there's a little room left at the top. Load the top full of Carmel sauce, chocolate sauce and the pecans and maybe a little coarse salt, sea salt and so then when you bring it out to the table. Wherever you're gonna present it to, you take the springform off and all the toppings and stuff just ooze down the side and onto the platter and it is just so delicious. Yes...

Michael Dugan:

It sounds really amazing. I would be stuck on a desert island eating turtle cheesecake. Yes. Another pivot here is to think about things that you've cooked and maybe even when you worked in the restaurant business, do you have any kitchen disaster stories?

Kelsey:

So we've been hosting holidays at our house for probably the last four years now. Otherwise, it was always at my parents house. I think two years ago, we were hosting Thanksgiving. And we always have the candied sweet potatoes. So my mom always makes them that's her dish that she always makes and she always brings probably because it would just kill me to put the amount of sugar that she puts in those. So she'll bring those and then when you know right before we're ready to eat She will load them full of marshmallows, and then you put it in the oven on broil. And so my mom's always like, Okay, you have to watch these. We can not bring the marshmallows and I'm like Yeah, Mom, I know. You know, while I'm trying to do 50 other things. Yeah. So this particular year, the whole top of the marshmallow is lit on fire inside of my oven. I'm like, Mom, I thought you were watching the marshmellows. Wow. And she's like no, Kelsey, I totally do have to watch it. So I open the oven and there's just flames like they were literally on fire. Oh my gosh. And so I panicked, and we got it out and we were able to salvage the casserole with scraping off some of the marshmallows A year after we obviously I'll have to joke about it and now I don't take my eyes off of those marshmallows. In the oven.

Michael Dugan:

Oh my gosh, that's that's a good story. You know, I've heard many from chefs and restaurant owners and culinary artists that I've talked to in the past few months and it's fascinating to me what people come up with. That's a good one. As far as summing things up today. Are there any lessons that you could share with someone that wants to start a blog and you know, things that they should think about? Or any words of wisdom.

Kelsey:

You always have that voice in your head? Should I do this? Should I not do this? You know, will I excel at this or will I fail? At this? And I think with blogging it's not like there's really any rules behind it. You know, you can do whatever you want to do at your own rate and put out whatever you want the community to know about you or, or what you're representing, you know, and I think it's just such an amazing and positive atmosphere, to share your food with the world and to share your food with others who without your blog, you would never know who they are. It's just such an awesome way to connect with so many other people who are interested in the exact same thing as you. I always say, you're probably sitting there thinking like, I'm the only person going through this or wanting to do that and it's so not true. You know, put yourself out there and you will learn that there are millions of other people who are going to learn from you and learn from what you're trying to do and because you're putting yourself out there.

Michael Dugan:

That's a great message. Is there anything exciting that you have going on with your blog right now? Anything that you're going to be sharing this year or planning for this year?

Kelsey:

Yeah, so I you know, my blog, I feel like from 2018 has gone through a lot of twists and turns, just like normal life does. But so there's stuff on there from paleo meals to keto meals, you know, currently within the past year I've been putting a lot of low calorie meals on there, which I've found a huge need for I guess, you know, a lot of people are interested in that movement for weight loss and things I'm going to continue with the low calorie food. I love presenting how you're able to still eat what you want and what you desire and what makes you feel happy and full and satisfied while still still having your own dietary needs. You know whether it's if you are working on the keto diet or vegetarian or vegan or you know, whatever type of thing you're into, you can still have pizza, you can still have pasta, you just have to find what's right for you. And so I'm just going to continue showing the community that you're able to do that with the different recipes I come up with and you know, I hope that everybody continues to appreciate it. And I hope that I continue to connect to so many amazing people and hear their journey and share my journey with them. You know, I think that that answered the question. I'm not sure I don't I don't think that I have anything specific for this year other than continuing with my journey for schooling which I've been sharing, especially on my Instagram. I've been sharing that that's calcium underscore the tasting spoon, but I share a lot of my stories with you know, the weekly assignments and things which it sounds like a lot of people find, you know, fun and interesting. Who knows where the blog will go this year.

Michael Dugan:

Definitely. And maybe there's a cookbook in the works down the road. Yes, there definitely could be. I'm excited to hear more about your stories around cooking school. So I'll definitely be following you and I hope that our listeners will too. Well, Kelsey, I just want to thank you for coming on the show today. And it was a pleasure to have you and learn about your blog and your stories and all the experiences that you're having.

Kelsey:

Yes. Oh my gosh, thank you, Michael. And, you know, it was an honor that you reached out and that we were able to have this awesome conversation today. And like I had said earlier, it's just so fun to connect with others that are passionate about the same thing and, you know, we can just continue to fuel each other's fires and keep moving forward.

Michael Dugan:

Well, like I tell our guests you are truly a