At WTTM I said I like hamburgers.  Truth be told, my suit fits the way it does because I like a lot more than just hamburgers.  I like to eat and I love to cook.  I’m Cajun, and Cajun men cook.  I paid for college by working on offshore oil rigs and used to get off two hours early to cook for the rig hands.  I took this experience back to school and learned that girls who were eating ramen and Mini Ravioli off a dorm hot plate would enjoy a home cooked meal.  My grades may not have been very good, but I made a lot of new friends!

I’ve continued to cook, mostly because I love seeing people happy.  My family knows that during the holidays I’ll usually retreat to the kitchen.  I make braised short ribs or meatballs for my brother and dad, mac and cheese for my sister in law, and pho for my wife.  For my wife’s family I usually make macque choux, a Cajun stewed corn dish.  The best part is my son is in there so I get to hang with him and pass along what I love.  Dean Jarley and Tiffany Hughes are fond of my gumbo.  For the team in the Office of Professional Development I’ve cooked turkey and dressing, chicken and grits, chili, and jambalaya.  To me, food is love and I love all of these people.

But cooking also serves another purpose.  If you don’t eat, you die.  So lots of people who aren’t as passionate about food treat mealtime as just another check box.  Kind of like a lot of students treat the classes they have to take.  Just another step to the end of the day.  Just another step toward graduation.  Unfortunately, when you do that you miss out on so much.

For example, you can make chicken ragu.  If I were doing it, it’d look like this.

Start off by chopping an onion, two stalks of celery, half a bell pepper, and three carrots.  Chop small, but not fine.  You want some tooth to the veggies.  Then crush four big, plump garlic cloves.  Sprinkle a bit of salt on it and using the back of your knife, crush the garlic into a paste.  Set all this aside.

In a heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Working in small batches season and then brown eight fat chicken thighs.  Start skin side down and get them good and browned, kind of caramelly-colored.  Be sure to spoon off the excess fat that is rendered so you’re browning and not boiling the thighs.  As they brown, set them to the side in a bowl.

You should be getting some deposits or bits on your pot from the chicken.  Don’t worry, this is called sucs and it’s gonna help a lot.  Crank up the heat a bit and throw in your veggies.  Keep stirring them and scraping the bits.  Add back a bit of the chicken fat as needed.  Season with salt and pepper.  The salt releases water that will help with your scraping.  Add your garlic.  When the veggies are getting soft, I like to add a half cup or so of red wine to deglaze.  Something dry but flavorful like a Zinfandel or Malbec.  But you can add anything; beer, white wine, dry sherry, vermouth, brandy, chicken stock, water.  I made this with chunks of pork once and used apple cider.  Yum!!  Scrape up the last of the bits and stir.  Your liquid will take on a rich brown color and smell awesome.

Open two big cans of good crushed tomatoes.  I found a fire roasted brand at Publix that I really like, but you can use plain store brand as well.  Canned tomatoes are allowed to ripen on the vine longer than fresh tomatoes so they’re sweeter.  Season with a bit more ground pepper.  Now for some herbs.  I like thyme and a bit of rosemary.  Maybe a good bay leaf or two.  But you can experiment with oregano, marjoram, and others as well.  Have fun, make it yours!  Add a pinch or two of red pepper flakes.  Reduce your heat to medium low.  This is where you get to be an artist.  Take your time.  Enjoy yourself!  Stir this until it gets nice and bubbly and everything is coming together.  Taste it for salt.  Good?  Cool.  Needs a bit?  Add.  Too salty?  Add a pinch of sugar….seriously, it works!  Don’t freak, it’s all good.

Now add your lovely browned chicken thighs back to the pot.  Bury them in your sauce.  You don’t need to add the skin if you don’t want to.  I like to have it in there for flavor, but I pull it off later.  Kinda like oysters in my gumbo.  Cover, reduce your heat to low and let it go for at least an hour or two, until the chicken is falling off the bone.  You’ll want to check it every now and then.  Just beware that taking the lid off not only releases some of the trapped heat but it also makes your kitchen smell awesome and people will want to know when dinner is ready.

I like to serve my ragu over polenta.  That’s a nice way to say yellow corn grits.  I’ll save my polenta recipe for another day.  But you can serve it over pasta, rice, risotto, a big hunk of toasted bread….whatever.  Do what you like, it’s your damn kitchen and you’re the boss.  Seriously, you spent this much time and came the far, didn’t you?  Are you gonna give up now?  Take ownership.  Take pride.  Take CONTROL!!!!!  BE THE ONE!

Or you can go to Publix, buy a jar of “Ragu,” dump it on some chicken and be THAT one…

If you treat your classes like meals, you can get to a desired end result any number of ways.  You can address hunger by putting whatever in your stomach just like you can pass a class by just checking assignments off a list.  But did you learn anything?  Did you really address your hunger for knowledge and information?  Did you add to your story?  Do you have a new skill or experience to talk about?  Did you meet new people that can be part of your network?  Something or someone that changed your perspective or added an interesting chapter to your life.  Something that made you different from the other 2999 College of Business grads that will walk across the stage with you.  Something that can help you get to the one.

Then again, maybe you just aren’t hungry the way others are.  No problem.  There are plenty of schools out there that cater to people just wanting to get through.  You never have to actually go to school or do anything extra, just sit online and take quizzes.  You can get a degree that frames up the same as one from UCFs College of Business.  But our college gives you a unique opportunity to take it further.  To be more than just another meal.  To be something different.  To get something out of it!

Just remember no one can do it for you.  It’s up to you to be the one…