Pastries and Determination

By Crystal Tadeo

Cooking and baking have always been my passion. Now as for turning cooking and baking into my career, I never thought that I would take it this far. For as long as I can remember, I loved to see people with smiles on their faces and how their eyes rolled with satisfaction while they ate my food. The first time I was told that I should go into the culinary field, I thought to myself, "Yeah right, my food is not that good." Nevertheless, the more I cooked, the more people told me that I should really think about making this my career. Then one day I decided that I was going to go for it and make something of myself.

When I decided to go into the culinary field, I was attending the California School for the Blind. The staff and students helped me learn who I am and helped me to express and acknowledge that. Then shortly after graduation, I made my first visit to the California Culinary Academy. I was scared and excited at the same time.

In the fall of 2000 I graduated from the California School for the Blind and from John F. Kennedy High. That fall I decided to go to the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I wanted to attend this center for many reasons. The most important thing I needed to know was, Could I function as a totally blind person if I were to lose the rest of my sight? The Louisiana Center taught me that I could do anything if I really put my mind to it. On entering the center, it was my belief that I had all the skills I needed, with some exceptions. To this day, I cannot thank the people at that center enough for what they have given me. My confidence and determination have improved immensely. It was a bumpy ride but we all must go down at least one bumpy road in our lives to get to where we want to go.

After discussing my plans with my rehabilitation counselor I was informed that no assistance would be given to me. My counselor believed that I was not capable enough, and maybe I should look into another field or start working in the fast food industry. I left her office that day feeling very upset. That evening I talked with my mother, who said, "Crystal, if you really want this, then you won't let anything or anyone get in your way." I do not think she realized how much this affected my determination. The next day I called the school for an application.

My parents helped me put down the fee for the application and enrollment so that it would secure a spot for me in the next starting class. I remember receiving a letter of acceptance and how happy I was. It was necessary to relocate from Redwood Valley to San Francisco, and that was accomplished within a week.

When I went to my orientation I remember being so nervous and overwhelmed with excitement. While observing others, I realized I was not the only one who was feeling this way. We were all introduced to the president and head chefs of the school as they welcomed us into one of the greatest culinary experiences of our lives. Then we met the instructor who would be teaching and helping us get our safety and sanitation certificate. We had four days to study a 400 page book, and all I could remember is thinking, How am I going to do this?

Since rehab was not assisting me at this time, I had few resources. At the end of that day I spoke with the chef and explained my situation and he told me with a reassuring smile that I need not worry; that he would cover every inch of our text to the point where I would not even have to look at the book. When it came time to take the test, he had the test enlarged and ready for me to take it with the rest of the class. I never had to worry about a test after that because they were more than willing to help me. The Department of Rehab did eventually assist with expenses.

After two weeks of lecture we were finally able to start with the hands-on lessons. The first month that I was there I got very frustrated trying to keep up with the rest of the class and trying to familiarize myself with my setting and surroundings. It was hard because I had to take twice as long and work twice as hard. It also did not help that there were people that doubted me, which made me doubt myself. There were times when I wanted to quit. I just asked, Why should I believe in myself if no one else believes in me? However, I had to remind myself that there were people who had faith in me more than I ever had for myself, and that kept me going. Another hard thing was having a chef that did not really believe that I could succeed. I remember how he would always give me the easiest tasks and always be looking over my shoulder. I used to get so aggravated with him that finally one day I said, "Chef, just back off and give me a little slack." He stepped back with this look like I had just slapped him, but he also gave me a look as if he was saying, "You're going to be OK."

My chef and I still had a long time before we could trust each other, but in the end it worked out to be great. Once in our cake curriculum I was in the back room and said, "Someone's cakes are done." I knew this just by smelling the food, and my chef looked at me with such amazement. After that day my chef and I connected, which made things a little bit easier. Granted, we still got into our tiffs and had various differing opinions on certain matters. My chef did things that showed me that he was really trying to understand my situation. He would make sure that I had a front row seat for all the demonstrations and always had me come up and help him so that I would get the hands-on skills. I explained to him that this was a better learning tactic for me, and he made sure to involve me in as many demonstrations as possible. I arrived every morning between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. just so I could practice and prepare for the tasks that would be asked of me that day. Sometimes I would even be there before my chef, and he was pleased with my eagerness. I took pride in what I was doing because this is the one thing that I wanted so much and I did not want to fail. There were times when people told me that I was too hard on myself. I had to be hard on myself as far as taking what they said was good and making it great. I always wanted to do better. For my final project in my cake curriculum, I spent about 80 hours making the candy flowers for my wedding cake, and I truly felt that they were the best flowers that I could have made. My chef told me that they were some of the most beautiful flowers he had ever seen. I know that I have done things that people thought a blind person could never do. I have made candy that looked like real fruit by using my imagination. I have worked with a pot of 350-degree boiling sugar and then poured it onto a table and kneaded it like dough with my bare hands.

Who would have ever thought I could do such wonderful things as a blind person? I feel that I have conquered the impossible. There were so many people who had so many doubts in me-even my family. I would get strange looks walking through the halls of my school; especially when I used my cane, which was just about always. There were a few students that came up to me and asked me what I was doing there and why I carried a cane. All I had to say to them was that this was one of my dreams to be there. Some walked away satisfied but others just walked away and shrugged or said something such as, "You have big dreams, I hope that you can do it." There were days that things like that absolutely killed my spirit and made me want to give up. One of the hardest things for me happened one day when I boarded BART after school. A middle-aged man commented, "Does that school have no morals, how could they let a blind person go there?" I was so mortified, I actually spent that night crying and wondering why anyone would say something so mean and undeserved. Once again, that was a time that made me want to quit. I told myself that maybe he was right and that perhaps I was just making a fool of myself. It took a while to get over that, but my good friends had confidence in me. There were great chefs that gave me support and encouragement. There was this one chef that made me feel like a real person. We would always joke around. Once, he yelled from the second story, "Hey, no blind people allowed." I would yell back, "Oh yeah? Discrimination!" Everyone was looking at us as if we were crazy, and we would be laughing so hard.

This was one of the most challenging stages of my life. I have to thank the people that were there for me because we all need a support system. I know that I needed one 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Although I also have to thank the people who had their doubts in me. Without them I would have never pushed myself to the limit, but I did and I reached my goal. I received my Certificate of Pastry Arts.

If I had to do this all over again, I would. This whole experience gave me a new perspective on life. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you cannot do it, because you can.

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