So you wanna be a Test Kitchen intern ... Meet Leo Rubin
As I type at my desk, I can hear that the interns have just turned up the music in the Test Kitchen. Again. Johnny Cash is at full volume, and my intern, Leo Rubin, is singing along to "Ring of Fire" while everyone preps a wide range of recipes (creamed spinach, beer ice cream, walnut praline shortbread, cornmeal pancakes ... and Peking duck) for a photo shoot tomorrow.
It's just another day in the Test Kitchen.
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 regions and with diverse ethnic backgrounds, our interns bring unique perspectives and passions 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.
Michael's since left to resume studies at the CIA. Here I introduce Leo, also on loan from the CIA (and our current resident DJ). -- Noelle Carter
Hey y’all! My name is Leo, and I’m interning here in the Test Kitchen. I originate from the great state of Tennessee, the one and only home of country, and THE music city, Nashville. So why am I out in Southern California? Well, after eight months of basic culinary training at the Culinary Institute of America, students are unleashed on the world for 18 weeks of in-the-field-experience called “externship.”
I am about halfway done with my associate's degree at the Culinary, as we lovingly call it. It’s an interesting place to go to school. You live, work and breathe food. You can forget about the freshman 15 and say hello to the freshman 40.
So why food?
I would attribute that to my upbringing. Back home my father was a restaurateur, and he now runs the Culinary Arts Center at our local food bank. Dinnertime has always been sacred in our house. It’s the one time we turn of the TV, log off of Facebook and maybe even put down the iPhone. As much as I hated it as I kid, I miss it now that I am gone. We'd all convene in the kitchen and work as a team to make dinner. Dad would do all the grunt work, putting me and my little sister on “prep.” Mom would usually act as the supervisor, making sure we stayed clean and that there were no knife fights. It was some serious family bonding.
This is what inspired me -- that food could be much more than just sustaining oneself. We used food to bring our family together.
In my brief time in the Test Kitchen, I am starting to understand the lengthy process that a story goes through from conception to publishing. The numerous tests, the photo shoots, the editing, all of these things play their part in completing a segment. The most amazing thing is with each recipe we test, I learn something new and fundamental about food: the ingredients, methods, ratios and techniques. Not only has it been fun blasting electronic music and cooking all day, but I have learned that my prospective career is not one that is static and limited to a restaurant kitchen. I cannot describe how enjoyable, and at times challenging, it has been here. We get to dip into a different style of cuisine, experiment with new techniques and try new methods ... daily. This experience will certainly be one that I look back on and say “that helped shape me into what I am today.”
Ultimately, I want to study gastronomy (how food and culture relate) and food journalism. Interning here is a perfect glimpse of what I could do when I'm done with school. It's an introduction to how a newspaper food section works. Although I'm at the bottom of the proverbial food chain, I feel very involved in the whole process. I'm surrounded by people who truly know food.
-- Leo Rubin
Photo: Leo Rubin (from left), Tara O'Reilly, Noelle Carter and Joe Moon. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times