I was out to dinner with my roommate on Saturday, enjoying a meal at a chain restaurant when he started firing off culinary questions at me.
He's semi-new to the "professional cook" game, but no stranger to the industry. He hails from India where his family owns and runs hotels. We were engaged in a lengthy debate and discussion about food and recipes when he stopped and said..
"Man, dude, your gonna be a great chef.."
Now I dont know if its my humility, or the fact that I have a hard time thinking Im anything special, but there was such a mixed reaction from me when he said it.
On one hand my chest swells with pride at such a compliment, but on the other theres a cold chill down my spine.
Ive been thinking about it alot for the last two days and Im left wondering "what makes a great chef great? Knowledge? Skill?"
This question is nothing new to the culinary debate ring, I have heard it debated a million times before.. but in the end Ive come to this conclusion...
I dont care.
It sounds funny I know, but I really dont care what "makes a great chef" because we all know deep down the answer to that question. Passion, Commitment, and Information are all really good answers.. and in a sense all true.
But from where I stand right now, from what I know and what I have seen the only real answer for me is Understanding.
To know what Julia Child knew... to know what MK Fisher knew... to understand that at the heart of it all cooking, nah, food is about the meal. Its about the togetherness, the bond that happens while sitting down to a meal.
Understanding that we all desire, we all love and want, and during that brief time at a meal we each co-inhabit the same moment in time, the same desire for company and comradery.
What is a real chef?
Our grandparents, our fathers, our mothers, our brothers and sisters, our friends...
They are all chefs, if when you sit down to a meal with them they see through your eyes and you through theirs.
Its not about fame, its not about money, its not even about having the best menu or recipes. Cooking isnt a competition, at least it shouldn’t be.
Sitting down to a meal with those you care about and sharing that brief moment where the world ceases and time stands still.
When I think back on it, when I really think about it what I picture in my mind is visiting my grandmother in Philadelphia.
The oven was always on, the stove always full of pots and pans. The aroma of meatballs and tomato sauce hanging heavy in the air. Her, ushering her five grandsons into the small nitch of her apartment that served as the dining room to feed them. The look in her eyes as she stood over us all and smiled as we stuffed our little faces.
A Chef, by any other name....