August 22, 2011 1:20:53 am
Culinary lessons from Paris and alternative degrees from world over
At a farewell dinner for a friend leaving for an MBA,our hostess,a naturally gifted cook,prepared her usual menu: barbequed fish,roast chicken and two salads,an ample meal for her ten female guests,all obsessive weight watchers. This time however,she added to her scanty repertoire,a fragile puff pastry,a fluffy and light quiche topped off with an apple pie served with fresh cream.
Our hostess,in her mid-30s,has just returned from a short course at the famed Le Cordon Bleu in Bangkok,where for three months she worked under renowned chefs,attempting to understand the finer nuances of the French culinary technique. Her classmates included a 40-something banker from New York,a model from Italy and young chefs looking to improve existing skills. Her day began at dawn,she was judged on speed,recipe accuracy and on how flaky the pastry eventually turned out (she usually scored a six on ten). The course,though,is not just for those looking to make a career out of cooking,but for anyone who relishes the adventures of a food journey. The hostess,however,is in the process of making a 360 degree turn career wise: from a sought after personal trainer,to potential caterer.
There was a time in India when a career change in your 30s signalled a midlife crisis. Going back to study,as well,was unusual unless it was an executive MBA,sponsored by your company. In the West right now,universities and schools have become safe places to weather the economic crisis: you might as well update your professional skills and improve your resume if youre facing the axe. In India,though the lot Im talking about isnt entirely driven by economic compulsions,there seems to be a back-to-school movement for alternative professional degrees or simply to perfect a hobby. I know at least five people whove enrolled in the Cordon Bleu course this year,and the institutes counsellors now routinely make visits to Delhi to interact with potential students looking for guidance. Currently,in my immediate circle,I have a 40-something friend doing a PhD from Cambridge,another contemplating a make-up course from Singapore,and one enrolled in Harvard,in a course designed for small entrepreneurs to make the transition to a bigger league. (She confessed that for the first two weeks she struggled to keep her eyes open in class,she found the lectures so boring.)
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Since many of us think back on school and college days nostalgically,its easy to envision campus life as stress-free and pat ourselves for not giving up on our intellectual dreams. From the outside,it certainly seems easier than tackling a lousy boss or trudging along in a career youre not ecstatic about. Even though it means being dragged out of your comfort zone,surrounded by strangers a lot younger than you. I can imagine doing something fun,like a cooking course,but the thought of sitting in a classroom listening to someone talk and then going back home and studying for exams fills me with dread. That part of life is supposed to be over by now. Life as a 30-something student is not meant to be easy,but it is rewarding,since by now,youve figured out what youre good at and what you want,unlike your teen years where many decisions are hit or miss. Its never too late to get back into the educational realm. Even Ian Fleming only created James Bond at 45. Theres hope yet.
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