Introducing Nathan Noland, Classic Pastry Arts student and our new Hot Plate contributor. He’s been in New York for over 10 years and lives in the West Village. When he’s not in the kitchen, he enjoys playing piano, watching bad reality television, and spending time with Ella, his fourteen-year-old Labrador retriever. Check back regularly to read all about Nathan’s adventures inside and outside of The FCI’s kitchens!
When I was a little kid growing up in Colorado, I’d make oatmeal cookies with my Great Granny Pauline every weekend—big, lumpy, super sweet creations that stuck hopelessly to the roof of my mouth and required large glasses of milk to wash down. It was a bittersweet moment because, while I loved spending time with my feisty Granny, the cookies themselves were disgusting pucks of indigestible goo that somehow had both charred bottoms and uncooked centers, with bits of eggshell thrown in for extra crunch. She was a horrible cook, ruined every recipe she attempted, and her kitchen had a persistent burnt fish smell that stemmed from a botched pan-frying effort involving Great Grampy’s hard-caught rainbow trout. While it seemed unlikely, Great Granny Pauline was my inspiration for learning to bake and cook on my own, if only because I knew that even a six-year-old could fare better in the kitchen than her and I was tired of the tummy aches and vomiting.
Given that I started out on the rough side of the tracks and didn’t have much exposure to culinary experiences that would broaden my abilities in the kitchen outside of Wonder Bread, gallon-sized tubs of margarine, and five-pound blocks of government cheese, some might think it’s amazing that I’d remain as interested in food as I am today, but my cooking instincts came partly by necessity. My mom worked long hours at odd jobs to make ends meet, and because I was the oldest it was expected of me to take care of my brother and sister and keep them fed while she was away by whipping up whatever little there was in the house to work with. Generally that meant lots of boxed mac ‘n’ cheese and Top Ramen, but every so often we’d get chocolate in the house that I’d use to expand and improve on what my great grandmother taught me by making big batches of homemade chocolate chip cookies and brownies. While they weren’t made with the best quality ingredients available and probably wouldn’t hold up to the memories I have of them today, at the time everyone thought they were incredible—delicious, bite-sized retreats from fractured realities that I’d (perhaps in my earliest attempts at drowning mixed bags of emotions in baked goods) devour entire pans of in a single sitting.
As the years went by and circumstances changed and improved for me, baking and binge eating still remain strong themes in my life. And it doesn’t just stop at things that I’m making from scratch: From weekly college pizza eating contests in Seattle, to my gluttonous forty-cupcake eating spree at the Beverly Hills Sprinkles Cupcakes over a ten-day trip to L.A. last year, to an episode involving Amsterdam’s most special brownies that I’m still not ready to talk about, to my spontaneous obsession with trying out hundreds of different macarons from dozens of pastry shops on a typically dreary Paris weekend earlier this winter—my devotion to eating—and sharing my finds with others—has no bounds.
This unrelenting passion for good food is what has ultimately drawn me to make pastry my life’s primary endeavor by enrolling in the Classic Pastry Arts program at FCI, which begins this week and runs Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings through graduation in early January 2010. For the past five years, I was the studio manager for a fine art photographer named Matthew Pillsbury, who’s work and exhibition schedule took me all over the globe. As luck would have it, a lot of that time was spent in Paris, particularly the past year when I assisted him on shoots for a commissioned series of images from all around Paris with the French Institute. The time I spent in France experiencing the great pastry shops and restaurants, more than any other influence in my life that came before it, is what ultimately caused me to make this major life career change and push in a new direction. Whether the end result finds me one day owning my own bakery, writing about food, or working on the staff in some capacity of a food related television or radio show remains to be seen—I’ll be thrilled to be playing a role in an industry I have always been passionate about! I’m excited not only to be starting class and learning how to make pastries myself that I constantly obsess over when I’m in Paris, but also to have the opportunity to share my experiences with you as I work my way through the course via the FCI blog.
On top of reports on classroom activities, I’ll also be covering a wide range of other goings-on around campus, as well as sharing some adventures on the food scene in NYC and around the world. I’ve had the fortune of leading a most curious life that has blessed me with a quirky sense of humor, a myriad of awkward memories I tend to mix into whatever story I’m telling with no warning, and an obsessive compulsive relationship to food that drives the very beat of my existence. From the falafel joint on my street corner to the tasting menu at Le Bernadin; from my favorite Sichuan restaurant in Paris to the poularde en vessie at the Bristol; from the best tonkatsu in Japan to the breathtaking views over drinks at the Park Hyatt Tokyo—I love it all.
And I can’t wait to share my thoughts, stories, and experiences with you this year during my time at FCI!