Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Some Assembly Required

So as I near the end of Devil in the Kitchen I notice the numerous signs of greatness and success that are present in so many of this style of book.

Bourdain had it in Kitchen Confidential, White has it in Devil in the Kitchen, and I can only imagine what Phoebe Damrosch has in store for my eyes in Service Included. Stories of mental stress, physical pain, and emotional anguish on the path to achieving a goal in a field that takes no prisoners and fails to know the meaning of mercy.

What separates a lot of these stories from today is they are memories of a time before "Das Netwerk" ruled the face of the culinary world and the Michelin Guides reach had not yet landed on American shores.

What stories are going to emerge from the new culinary scene I couldn’t foretell. In my heart of hearts I hope they remain somewhat the same as the stories and books I've come to love and feed myself on.

Its a cruel thought really, to hope to read about people obsessed; about people so focused and centered on their kitchen that the world outside it passes on without so much as a second thought. But that’s the reality of it isn’t it?

White does a fantastic job of showing us the reality of a man possessed by a goal, a dream that he can’t shake. After receiving his second star he was flooded with press, many of which followed him around like hungry dogs looking for a bone. But still he stood behind a stove, slaving and beating his body to pulp. For what?

Love of his craft.

Passion. Passion above all else is what separates greatness from mediocrity. You can make a living in this field. You can go into your shift at a hotel or restaurant and work your 8 hours and return to your life outside the kitchen. Chances are at that pace you could do it for years, Slow and steady wins the race right?

Perhaps. But what if there is a desire for more? To go beyond just "work". Its love of a craft that pushes us beyond that. It’s the wanting to taste, smell, make everything we can that forces us to strive for the greatness.

So what’s the blueprint for this insanity? Honestly, can there be one? If the definition of Chaos is the absence of order and control then perhaps that’s a choice that would come close. But these Chefs aren’t chaotic. The "whirlwind" that White so vividly describes around him so often in his book is not chaotic. Matter of fact its fluid, controlled, and focused. From the outside looking in, to the uninformed, it would seem like a ballet performed by drunks.

So what keeps it together, what keeps it so clean and focused?

Again, Passion.

The last question on Chef LiPuma's pre-day one quiz for the kitchen portion of Caterina is":

"What is the one thing that is required to cook well in Caterina?"

The answer he’s looking for... Love. Love is Passion, Passion is greatness, and Greatness is good food.

Try everyday as though your under the gun, push yourself as though every single one of your guests is a Guide reviewer, go faster, go harder, go longer.

The cameras, the stories, the fame and fortune are second to the best plate you have ever put in front of a customer.

I was told yesterday after a very bad morning that I shouldn't be so hard on myself. If I'm not hard on myself now, or ever, then someone else will be. If not, then I will never be as good as I feel I can be. Without effort, without passion, this life is just a slow ride; And it will always be a work in progress.


TGJR said...

Absolutely loved this post. I've been following this blog for a while because I once thought I would end up at CIA or FCI but thought for a minute that I would be a computer networker so i went to school for that for 3ish years... bad move. Now I'm in food science at the same university but still considering after my internship trying to stage at a restaurant or some merit on either coast and working my way though. I work as a line cook at a restaurant in town, family owned (about 70-80 seats) with a decently ambitious menu. I strive for perfection with every plate with my heart and soul, must like you wrote on this post. Part of me wants to feel that rush, that 7-10 hours of madness that happens in some restaurants (ours is usually only 5 at the very most). I want to know if I can handle it, different menu to learn every night or week. Having a chef breath down my neck, waiting for me to stumble so he can tear into me so badly i want to either quit or try harder. I'm stuck on a precipice... Half of me wishes to try my field which would be the safer and more than likely more lucrative move... The other half of me wants to try to live on next to nothing and work for whoever can teach me something and bust my ass in an industry that as you said "takes no prisoners and fails to know the meaning of mercy." And through it all I'm afraid that maybe I just don't have it to be MPW great or Keller great... that scares the... well it scares me a lot. Perhaps it's that fear that will keep me from that greatness... only time will tell I suppose.
At any rate, thank you for your great posts. And thank you for listening.


The O said...

Very well said, Foodist. Much of what you say can apply to any career, but you vividly describe how much more necessary passion is for every chef. Out of my many years of cooking at the OG, I felt I was one of few cooks there that actually enjoyed the cooking and took pride in what I created (hence why noone else bothered with garnishing, etc). Your post makes me realize one of the few nice aspects of working at that place. :)

The Foodist said...


Thank you for reading!
The most I can say about your career choice is you have to pick the avenue that you feel is the best for you. Im not happy anywhere else but in a kitchen. I take the good days with the bad and when I go home I feel Ive done something worthwhile. Dont care if I make money or am famous, I just want to go home feeling good (or feeling beat to hell on a bad night!)

Maybe you could use that food science degree in conjunction with a certificate degree from a culinary school? I know the CIA offers shorter certified classes or even the American Culinary Federation has programs which will allow you to become a Certified Culinarian (C.C.) which is essentialy what you graduate as out of the AOS here.

Whatever the case, thank you again and please keep reading!

The Foodist said...


Those were the days werent they? Taking pride in your work regardless of your field is something everyone should do.

I know any animals that you treat will be in great hands!

btw.. how did the Boards go?!!!

The O said...

Oh the boards....they went. That's the best way to describe it. I came out feeling like I failed, but so does everyone (I hear). I wrote a blurb about it a couple posts ago on my blog if you want some more details. Overall though it was an intense 6 hours lol.

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