Jason Zenobia

Fire and Knives: My First Day at Cooking School

Jason Zenobia takes a risk pursuing the work he loves, describes his first time at cooking school, and shares his recipe for Shrimp and Scallop Linguine with Shallot Parsley Cream Sauce.


(Julia Child) and Le Cordon Bleu helped bring classic French cuisine into the American kitchen. Now the institute is closing its 16 cooking schools in the U.S. Some chefs think that’s a good move.

Curt Nickish, NPR News 12/20/2015


Just before the turn of the century, I was approaching 30 and the only thing I was good at was getting fired from temp positions. Friends I’d known since childhood were turning their temp jobs into permanent ones. They were getting promoted and even starting their own companies.

Cubicles, computers, technical manuals … none of these things were natural parts of my life. Even though I was doing it for a living, no one I knew could picture me doing it. Explaining my various jobs to friends and family, they always had the same response:

“I’m sorry, it’s just really hard imagining you in a cubicle.”

The final straw was a technical writing gig that ended when I misused my computer so severely, it had the cyber equivalent of a nervous breakdown and needed its memory erased.

My father taught me to always celebrate getting fired, so that night I opened a bottle of champagne and prepared shrimp and scallop linguine with shallots and parsley for me and my future husband.

Brent listened to me whine a bit before offering some wisdom.

“You know,” he said, tearing off a piece of crusty bread and dipping it into his plate, “you’re pretty good at this cooking thing.” He tossed the bread into his mouth and refreshed his wine glass. “Maybe you could try doing that for a living?”

My first thought was to tell him how ridiculous that was, but I couldn’t figure out how to back it up.

“I mean,” he continued, taking a sip of wine, “I’ve watched you in the kitchen for years and you seem happy when you cook. Why don’t you try that for work?”

Now I had my rebuttal.

“Work isn’t supposed to be fun!”

He gave me that look. The one that says, Bullshit!

“Bullshit!” he said.

The next day, I called Western Culinary Institute and arranged a campus tour.

“Campus” was a grand term for the dingy, dirty, wet, gray cluster of old buildings nestled next to the freeway. But inside, the various kitchens were clean and bright. As soon as I saw it, I felt a kinship with the bustle and steam and the cooking spaces crowded with dented equipment and young chefs elbowing each other out of the way. Paper hats, cravats, towels, bowls, spoons, blowtorches and knives. Oh, the knives! Big knives, tiny knives, curved ones and thin ones and cleavers! I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them.

My tour group passed a cluster of teachers and students on their break, smoking in the alley. Our guide tried to avert our gaze to the breakfast kitchen across the street. I made eye contact with a man who had a scar running from his forehead down to the side of his nose.

He nodded and chuckled as I passed, flashing his crooked, white teeth in my direction. It was like, Where have you been? We’ve been waiting for you.



Shrimp and Scallop Linguine with Shallot Parsley Cream Sauce
(serves 6-8 as an appetizer; or 4 as an entrée)

1 pound linguine pasta, cooked al dente
3/4 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and thawed
3/4 pound large scallops, thawed
1 small shallot, minced
1/8 cup dry vermouth or other dry, white wine
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
parsley, minced
salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil

This is a very simple dish, suitable for the beginner cook. Make sure your pasta is ready before you begin. If you like, you can keep your cooked linguine tossed with oil in a covered bowl in a warming oven while you prepare the sauce.

Keep the frying pan hot for this dish. Every time you add a new ingredient, be sure that everything keeps bubbling away and that the liquids continue to reduce.

Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat for a minute or so. Add the shallot and sauté for two or three minutes until fragrant, translucent, and tender. Don’t let the shallot burn or the dish will be bitter.

Add the shrimp and scallops and continue cooking for five minutes, or until the seafood is opaque and firm. Here, it is especially important that the pan be hot enough to cook down and reduce the liquid.

Add the vermouth and reduce for a couple of minutes. Add the cream and allow to thicken. Salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon over al dente pasta and sprinkle with parsley. A nice, crusty loaf of bread is great with this.

Champagne is a good pairing, if you’re serving this as an appetizer. If you do it as an entrée, try a nice, dry, French white, or a light red. Chinon is a lovely, light (red) cab franc that pairs very well.


Jason Zenobia

Jason Zenobia is a trained, professional chef, writer, and whiskey enthusiast living in Portland, Oregon with his husband and three cats. He is a Sagittarius who loves to travel, run barefoot on the beach, and find new uses for the word "fabulous."

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