Notes from the Test Kitchen: So you wanna be an intern ...
The L.A. Times Test Kitchen is always buzzing with activity, whether we're testing one (or several) recipes, exploring a particular cuisine or ingredient, styling a dish to shoot for an upcoming Food section, taping a television segment ... or having fun in the adjacent photo studio (above). And every day is different.
In addition to our full-time staff, we host interns from culinary schools all over the United States, including international students. These students receive hands-on training as they learn the finer points of recipe testing and development (how to read a recipe, wording, problem solving, adapting for the home kitchen and testing for consistent results). The students also learn tips for food styling and interact with chefs, writers and food professionals of all kinds.
And as much as they may learn from us, we also learn a lot from them. Hailing from various regional and ethnic backgrounds, each intern brings a unique perspective and passion to our kitchen, whether it's discussing the secret intricacies of Texas-style "bowl o' red" or sharing a mother's technique for making Chinese bao. What we all share is a deep love of food.
On that note, I'd like to start introducing you to some of our interns. Meet Michael Osborne, currently interning from The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
I'm a Texan, grew up in Waco, and have lived there for the majority of my years. My interest in cooking was kindled as the byproduct of a divorce in 1990. Self-preservation was my motivator. My ex, a farm-raised West Texas girl, had been a wonderful cook, and when it came time to feed and fend for myself, I knew I had a lot to learn. ...
Totally self-taught, I started as a demo chef for a large Texas-based grocery chain. Each day, I interacted with store customers and taught them how and what to make for dinner. This led me in two more directions. I started teaching cooking classes in the local community-college continuing-education program, and I started catering.
My professional background is rooted in other creative pursuits besides cooking such as freelance writing, advertising, television production and a stint or two as a radio personality. I've worked on both sides of the camera over the years, and I'm no stranger to the microphone.
When the big recession hit me squarely in the beezer, I began having a crisis of credentials and decided it was time to earn some genuine culinary bona fides. I put my business in the freezer and headed off to the Culinary Institute of America.
That move has proved to be a good one. Not only have I had a chance to learn from top-notch chefs and instructors, but also lots of new doors are opening. The L.A. Times is a case in point. Part of the school curriculum involves a five-month internship in the food industry. Most of my fellow students concentrate on high-end restaurants for internships, but I wanted something different. With a background in writing and an eye to the future that includes penning articles about food and blogging, the test kitchen seemed a perfect fit for me. Though at age 55 I may be something of an anomaly as culinary interns go, I've been around long enough to realize there are more ways to make it in this business than sweating out 80-hour weeks in the restaurant trade. I'm an old dog who has landed in a pretty plum spot, and I'm learning lots of new tricks.
Part of the appeal of the test kitchen is how the job description varies from day to day. Testing recipes, measuring out components, cooking and baking are only parts of a much larger picture. This internship puts me in contact with writers, chefs, restaurant owners, equipment manufacturers, TV producers, art directors and photographers, not to mention some of the top food journalists in the country. Before heading west to start this chapter of my life, I didn't know exactly what to expect. I knew I wanted to keep my mind, ears and eyes open and that I wanted to soak up as much knowledge as possible. What for me is one of those lifetime chances has exceeded all expectations. I'm quite a lucky guy.
-- Michael Osborne
Photos, from top: From left, Noelle Carter, Joe Moon, Michael Osborne and Leo Rubin. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times. Michael Osborne. Credit: Noelle Carter