An Incredible and Inspirational Man

I believe a smack across my hand with a ruler may be in order! I’ve been penning this blog for two years and although I’ve mentioned his name before, I have never once told you how much this man means to me:

Wait a minute… that picture is FAR too prim and proper to be Chef Jeff Igel…. HERE’S what my mentor REALLY looks like:

Or perhaps he’ll approve of THIS pic.

He’s in his second favorite environment. All that’s missing are a bag of his beloved Cheetos and an ice cold brew!

Why do I adore Chef Jeff (or CJ, as he’s permitted some of us to call him)? Without turning this post into a mushy affection fest, let me count the ways.

First, there’s CJ the family man. I find it incredibly inspirational that he makes room in his ϋber busy schedule to attend his son Jake’s athletic events, spend time with his daughter Cassie (who also attends FVTC), and to take his wife Paula out on a date night. As he’s said many times to his students, a successful life is about making a perfect balance of work, family, and personal time. CJ seems to be talking the talk AND walking the walk very well.

As if his ethics and moral character aren’t enough, he’s got an overall snappy happy Monday morning attitude, too. Aye carumba! I don’t know what kind of happy pills are being thrown into his Wheaties in the morning, but the man has a spring in his step and a smile on his face regardless of the nasty a** attitude that his cost controls students bring into the classroom with them on Monday mornings. He always seems to find a way to make his enthusiasm infectious. When the class starts at 8:30, we’re all grumping and bitching, but by 11:30, we’ve laughed, learned, and left MUCH better people than when we walked in the door.

I love (yes, I’m going to use that big “L” word, because “I have a fond affinity for him”, just doesn’t cut the mustard) Chef Jeff for his insatiable appetite for bringing out the very best in his students, and his talent for possessing the perfect timing to help us become better people. I’ve experienced it first hand, and I’ve also seen him do it with even the most unmotivated and stubborn of his students. He’s got a gift and he’s using it well! There have been times during this educational experience when I’ve felt defeated and was sure that I’d never make it through the semester, but Chef always knew what to say or do to keep me encouraged and pushing forward. Like last year, when he showed an incredibly inspirational video to us in his ethics and professionalism class. He gave me a heartfelt challenge to ponder what I wanted from my life and to continue chasing my dreams….so I did!  Besides that, he’s constantly making me laugh. Like the time I helped him with some administrative phone calls for the FVTC Cultural Cuisine event and he nicknamed me his “call girl”.

It’s been said that success in life is rarely achieved without first having a passion and willingness to work at making it happen.  While I believe that to be true, I also believe that an equally important step in the process is to find someone who encourages us and nurtures the seeds of self-confidence and enthusiasm that are surely needed along that long and winding road to the finish line!

Over the past two years, Chef Jeff has been an incredible source of knowledge, inspiration, and motivation to me.  He’s been my cheerleader when I needed one the most.  He’s helped me to dust the cobwebs from my brain, weed out my self-doubt, and begin to grow a beautiful garden of knowledge in my brain and happiness into my soul.

He is definitely one of a kind, and I will forever be grateful to him for what he’s done to help me along this amazing journey.
CJ, I am now and will forever be grateful to God for bringing you into my life just when I needed you the most…

In celebration of all things Chef Jeff, I think it only fitting that I share with you one of his grilling rub recipes. This rub brings the perfect flavor to a piece of brisket or flank steak and it’s the perfect treat to chow down on while watching your favorite ball game!

Chef Jeff’s Big Money Rub

Paprika Spanish                ½ Cup

Brown Sugar, light           ½ Cup

Salt, Kosher                        ½ Cup

Chili Powder, light           ¼ Cup

Black Pepper, coarse ground            ¼ Cup

Garlic, granulated or powder            2 Tablespoons

Onion, granulated or powder            2 Tablespoons

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The Exit is This Way!

Have you ever been on an amusement ride as it burst into the light of day after having spent a good deal of time inside of a dark tunnel? As we move from the darkness into the light, it can be somewhat uncomfortable. As our eyes squint and strain to adjust to the bright light, it can cause headaches and a sense of weariness…yet the bright light can be equally invigorating and enlightening (no pun intended). It’s a great feeling for some to know that they survived a rough ride and are almost home.

Truth be told, that’s how I’m feeling right now…

Please don’t misunderstand, though – I’ve absolutely loved my adventures at Fox Valley Technical College, and I wouldn’t trade the past 2 years in for anything! It’s true that I’ve faced some enormous challenges physically, financially, and emotionally during my time in school… but I’ve learned and gathered a lifetime of information, acquired skills and cooking competencies that I never imagined I’d be able to grasp the concepts for, met some amazing people, and formed friendships and networking circles that will lead me to wonderful places in my career. My point is that graduation is finally in sight and I’m finally at a place where I can see it clearly. In just 14 short weeks, I will walk across a stage and receive a certificate to memorialize my great achievements in higher education. What an amazing accomplishment that will be for me! I’m not going to stand here and pat myself on the back until I’ve actually crossed the finish line, but what a great feeling it is to be proud our own efforts!

When times are challenging, it’s hard to believe how much we can achieve when we are firing on all cylinders. So many of us beat ourselves up and fail to stop and take an inventory of our accomplishments. What’s worse is that we never congratulate ourselves for the successful moments. Overcoming obstacles is hard work, so when you jump a hurdle, take a bow and pat yourself on the back…you deserve it!

One of my final classes is Advanced Culinary Development. The class is a comfortable blend of knowledge, fun, and downright terror. The final exam is a pass/fail, which means that no matter how well I do on assignments and quizzes all semester, I MUST pass the final exam to pass the class. If that’s not considered pressure, I’m not sure what would be.

The final exam consists of prepping for and cooking a 5 course meal within a 2.5 hour window of time, without the use of recipes or calculators. Of course, we aren’t being asked to prepare easy things like buffalo chicken dip or macaroni and cheese. Oh no siree! The items that my classmates and I will be required to prepare take a major amount of preparation time…dicing vegetables into uniformly sized pieces, filleting a fish, THEN cooking it, butchering a whole chicken to create an “airline breast”, etc.), very little of which we’ll be allowed to prepare for prior to the exam. To make the exam even more stressful (yes, that’s possible), the dishes will be judged by a selection of industry chefs and instructors. Obviously, the next few weeks of classroom time will be spent learning how to make and perfect the dishes we’ll be required to cook for the exam, but I’m not taking any chances. I’ve already prepared Brian to the fact that by the time Halloween rolls around, he may never again want to see another piece of pan smoked chicken, broccoli with hollandaise sauce, or delight his palate and senses to vanilla crème brulee. No worries… Brian’s nickname will hereinafter be known as “Hoover”…

If you’d like to join the culinary fun, why not hop on the crème brulee train with me?! There are many different variations and flavor profiles that you can prepare this dish with, but in my opinion, nothing quite matches the creamy texture and silky smooth vanilla flavor that is found in a traditional crème brulee. Rather than try to improve upon perfection, I think it’s best to show you a tried and true recipe from a great food blogger that I follow. Just click the link and/or photo below to be transported into a dimension known as the world of delectable treats!

VANILLA CRÈME BRULEE

How to Face Challenges without Losing Your Sanity

REALIZATION: As I’ve grown older, the percentage of my days that have been filled with unforeseen challenges has increased in direct proportion to my ability to tackle them as they barrel into my world like a bull in a china shop. I have become quite the matador. Not that I wanted the job, mind you, but I’ve realized that it’s much easier to face and fight than to flee in fright.

Let me tell you, that was NOT always the case. In my mid 20’s and early 30’s, I had absolutely NO idea of how to handle challenges and problems…so I didn’t. I tried to run away from them, shield my eyes from them in hopes that they’d go away if I ignored them, and I even numbed my brain up with drugs and alcohol in an attempt to forget about them. Newsflash… it didn’t work. I failed…miserably. The great saying “live and learn” really has applied well in my life. After all, I’m an anal retentive perfectionist who HATES to make the same mistake twice.

I’ve got great news, dear reader! I’m about to share the secret to my success with you. It really IS possible to face challenges without losing your sanity, and I’m walking talking proof of that fact.

FACTS

In the past 2 weeks, I’ve simultaneously faced the following challenges:

  • Financial woes forced me to find creative ways to buy a week’s worth of groceries for a family of 2, with less than $15. (TIP – Buy a lot of beans and rice!)
  • Juggled my schedule effectively enough to work 3 part-time jobs, take 5 college classes, write two blogs, exercise, made time for God, and necessary time to socialize and sleep.
  • A diagnosis from my doctor that was less than stellar. Basically, there’s no cure for what ails me. My time on this earth is very limited. Newsflash… EVERYONE’S is. I’ll keep on living a day at a time.
  • The death of my beloved mom. After a 5 year battle with Parkinson’s disease, she put on her angel wings and flew home to be reunited with my dad on August 28th.
  • Mom’s memorial service 4 days later. As if the reality of her death wasn’t enough, I had to deal with family controversy and personality clashes as we said goodbye to the world’s greatest woman.
  • A sewer backup in the apartment next to mine, which decided to come pay us a visit, too. Joy…. Pure joy.

So how did I make it through to the other side? How is it possible that I wasn’t carted off to the funny farm?

ANSWER – My call to action

  1. Believe in yourself. Believe in your ability to overcome adversity. Never underestimate your power to gain superhero strength when you need it the most. Oh, and eat bacon. Or chocolate. Maybe both simultaneously! They are fuel for the gods and goddesses of the world…
  2. Ask for help. Don’t rely on your heart and mind to carry you through life’s storms. We were not meant to face challenges alone. If you’re a person of faith, use it. Lean on the God of your understanding. Don’t forget that where two or more are gathered in His name, there is strength. If you don’t have family to lean on, ask your friends for help. Cry, scream, have a hissy fit. You may get a few odd stares, but I guarantee that SOMEONE will listen and be a shoulder for you to cry on. If nobody in your circle of friends will help you, email or call me. I’ll do my best to help you. I don’t care if we’ve ever met or not. You are important enough for me to care about helping you.
  3. Wear your rain gear. Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.

Photo credit: Simply Me

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