Cynthia McCloud Woodman
My mother was, and still is, an excellent cook. Growing up in the 60’s meant watching The Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child in black and white. My mom was a product of the “Julia” movement, and instead of meatloaf and hamburger soup, she made lobster, Swiss fondue, crepes and soufflés. Both my parents were world travelers and adventurous eaters, and we grew up eating everything! (My mom took me to Europe for a six week “vacation” when I was 18 months old.) They’d host black tie parties in our home and my mom would make all the food.
Our neighborhood was a wonderful mix of cultures, so I learned to make latkes from my “aunt” and Scottish shortbread from our Glaswegian neighbor and Mexican food from our nannies. Pâté was served on New Year’s Eve, and Eggs Benedict for special occasions. Eggs Royale or lox and bagels is one of our family’s favorite “birthday breakfasts”. In high school I’d make meringues or shortbread after school.
When I went off to college, I bought a book on Easy French Cooking at the student store and cooked my way through it. Instead of Campbell’s soup and ramen, I’d make quiche, Soupe a l’oignon gratinee or French omelets.
After I graduated college with a BA in English, I traveled, by myself, for 3 1/2 months all over Europe. I was so excited to see Paris, and visit the same cafes that my idols, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Seurat and Matisse frequented. It was in Paris I first tasted poires belle Hélène. It’s still one of my favorite desserts. Two weeks in the Greek Islands introduced me to the wonders of Mediterranean cooking. But England was where I really fell in love.
I returned from Europe and had absolutely no idea what to do with my life. When you get a degree in English, the next step is back to school to get some kind of useful skill. My mom suggested a culinary school in San Francisco.
The California Culinary Academy was a 16 month, full-time intensive program. Divided into four sections, we learned classical French cuisine, restaurant business, front of house, and “grand classical buffet” which was served every Friday evening to the public.
In addition to our French curriculum of garde manger, pastry and production, we took one week each of classic Italian and Chinese, food and wine pairing, sausage making, specialty wine and cheese classes. I also took additional electives in North African and Scandinavian cuisines.
After graduating from the CCA, I immediately left for England with $500, and a one way ticket. My dad, done with financing my “education”, told me I could stay in England until the $500 ran out. Determined to stay as long as possible, I got a job on my very first day in London, cleaning rooms, and cooking breakfast at a bed and breakfast.
After that, I lived and worked in a pub, a French restaurant, a wine bar across from St. Paul’s Cathedral, and a catering company in Wimbledon. Some of those jobs I did at the same time. I called my dad for the other half of the plane ticket a year and a half later.
The next chapter
I met my future husband working at an English restaurant in Pasadena. We married in 1988. We decided to travel around the world on our honeymoon. We worked 6 to 7 days a week pulling double shifts to save up enough money.
Once we got married, we put all our wedding gifts, and a few possessions into storage, bought two round the world plane tickets and traveled throughout Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, India, Greece, Egypt and Europe, with no reservations. It was in Thailand we first tasted Pad Thai, and in the markets of Singapore we experienced Hot Pot. We sampled all sorts of satay with peanut sauce on the streets of Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Indonesia.
Back to school again
While the idea of being a “chef” is interesting, the reality is that very few people make it, and that graduating from a cooking school only makes you a pretty well trained peon.
The hours stink. (Think…holidays…Christmas Eve…Mother’s Day). So back to school for a teaching degree, (Think…180 days of work a year…summers off…2 weeks at Christmas…decent hours) which is what I did for a living. I retired from teaching after 30 years in 2022.
Why I don’t call myself a “chef”
Having gone to an accredited culinary school, passing exams, and earning a “Master Chef” degree, I still don’t consider myself a chef (even though I could technically use the term).
Anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant knows there is just one chef. He or she is the general of the kitchen. Under the chef de cuisine, you have a sous chef, chef de partie (station chef), and chef de commis, which is like an apprenticeship. In order to become an executive chef or chef de cuisine, you have to go through each station. Our instructors in culinary school started apprenticing when they were in their early teens and worked their way up the ladder.
Do you have to go to culinary school to be called “chef”?
Nope, but you do have to put in the time, hours and grind. The respect and rank is earned, and it takes years of hard work to achieve the title. I don’t call myself a nurse just because I can put on a bandaid, and I don’t call myself a chef just because I went to cooking school.
So here we are
Once my kids got to be older and more independent, I discovered I could marry my passion for cooking, with writing and traveling. Working full time, I hoped to help my friends prepare easy, quick meals.
Because of my extensive travels, and desire to feed my family a healthy, home-cooked meal every night, What A Girl Eats was born. My motto is, “Healthy food with a global spin“, which combines my love of travel with my passion for cooking.
Since starting my website, (we don’t say “blog” anymore). I’ve traveled throughout Europe and the US, helped found the California branch of the Tiramisu Academy, appeared on local news,
been a judge on a cable television pilot,
a judge for the Tiramisu World Cup in Treviso, as well as several food competitions in the US.
I enjoy reading and learning about food, wine and cultures. One of my favorite books right now is called Salt a World History. (Affiliate link)
Disclaimer: Ok, so by this time you’ve figured out that I am not a girl. In fact, I haven’t been a girl since Dittos and Candies were in style. I’m using poetic license. It’s just that “What A Woman Eats” didn’t have quite the right ring…neither did “Broad”, “Chick”, or “Gal”. In any case, I feel more like girl than a woman most of the time.
You made it!
Phew! If you made it this far and would like to work with me, check out my Work With Me page!
Thanks for reading!