I’ve been thinking a lot about two subjects.
One of which was Ruhlman's entry about Masa, the other was the conversation I had with a classmate about her desire to leave the food industry.
It wasn’t until I began to think about them both, together as a single issue or thought that a question popped into my mind.
Why DO we choose to cook?
Cooking is one of those really weird human traits sometimes. Some people cook when they get depressed or stressed (Ever seen someone’s mother go hog wild in the kitchen after a family member or friend dies?), some people cook for the sheer joy of it (Julia Child, oh why have you left us?!) while some cook for pure profit (Countless chains and franchises).
So what is the most common motivator? what is the one most common thing that draws us to do that work that is sometimes deemed as so manual labor, so below normal working "class"?
To be honest I don’t have the answer. I have theories and thoughts about the subject, but definite answers.
For years I have been asking people why they got into cooking/the food industry. The most common answer has always been, and probably always will be, "I love to cook, so I thought why not". Now there have been a few exceptions to this rule.. Some of the more interesting responses I have heard have been:
"I want to be a celebrity chef"
"My mom and dad said I had to choose something, so I choose this"
"I was bored"
"I don’t even like to cook, but my mom thought it would be a good idea"
Serious as a heart attack here, honest to god replies.
Underlying all of this though I’ve found one common trait in all the serious cooks I’ve ever met. As gruff and dirty as we seem sometimes, as angry and cold as much of us tend to get in the kitchen sometimes, were all there to provide a service to the public, to our fellow man.
My classmate was quoted as saying:
"It’s the mentality of the business, everyone just cares about themselves. I want to, I don’t know, help people. That and its all about food, just food."
But what if it’s really more then that? What if it really IS about helping people?
At the end of the day when you get home from work do you say to yourself "I did a lot of good today, I helped people.", probably not. It’s really not a forward thought on our minds, but I think it exists in the back of our minds.
I know, for me and only me I speak here, that when I get home from a job in a kitchen I say to myself:
"I cooked some good stuff today, I made people happy, and that’s why I love to do what I do".
There’s truth in that, I’m left to wonder how many cooks/chefs also say that to themselves. I know I can’t be alone in how I feel about it, because how many chefs hold their breath and wait for the table to smile when they put out that first special of the night? How many go that extra mile to ensure the guest is happy?
We may not be in a third world country building wells, or on a Mercy Ship feeding hundreds of relief/humanitarian workers (Tyrone I’m looking at you buddy, Kudos!) but some of us "Help" people by making them smile, make them forget about the world outside for five minutes and enjoy an hour or so of tranquil peace.
I reread Ruhlmans post again and found a quote that provides insight into what I’m saying and Ill leave you on that:
“Some people accumulate the money a little bit all year,” he continued, recalling a specific customer. “Old woman. ‘Masa, I come here once a year.’ Herself. Not fancy.” The thought of this woman, who saved all year each year for one of his meals, here in the dimly lit, quiet restaurant, moves him, and I see he is about to cry. He rubs his eyes to stop himself. “That’s all we can do, you know. A hundred percent. That kind of face, when I see, I love. I’m soooo happy what I did. I spend a long time working. This is my best customer. Even no money. They understand. That’s why I can do.”