I remember reading a post from a well-know chef who proclaimed that cooking is not a life or death trade, it is, after all, only food. I am sure that his point was to remove some of the “holier than thou” references associated with celebrity chefs and restaurants, but still, the statement made me wonder. After a bit of cursory research I found some interesting facts to begin with:
- There are 16,700 results for “It’s Only Food” through Google
- There are over 1 billion results for “Food” using the same resource
- The United States boasts somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 culinary college programs
- The National Restaurant Association counts more than 990,000 free-standing restaurants in our country (not including business and industry accounts, hospitals, schools and office complexes)
- More than 13.5 million people work in the U.S. restaurant industry, that’s 10% of the workforce
- There are 2.2 million farms in the United States and between 3 and 4 million people who work on them
- The per capita average monthly food expenditure in the U.S. is $302 and nearly 50% of that is spent in some form of restaurant
- We use food analogies to represent countless events and goals in life; breaking bread, bringing home the bacon, weddings, birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, graduations, and even funerals
- One of the greatest events of all time was “The Last Supper”.
“A baby is born; it cries, it is fed, it is content. From our first moments of life we have a close bond with food. Is our first feeling of contentment love for our mother or love for the food that she brings us?
Food can be addictive, it can become an aphrodisiac, it can inspire creative thought, it can represent artistic genius, it can make us remember, it can make us forget. Food is the universal language, the one thing that can bind people of different beliefs and backgrounds and can even bridge the gap that cultures tend to create.”
In the Shadow of Cooks – iUniverse Publishers 2007
How important is food, really? Certainly, as stated above, it provides sustenance, and in that regard is essential, but is it really significant in other ways? Is the time and effort on the part of seasoned line cooks and chefs really meaningful or is it, “just food” after all?
When I work with serious professional cooks and chefs, when I see and feel the passion they have for their work, and the feeling of accomplishment they exhibit after a great service or even one special plate of food, I know it is more than just food.
Those who use food as simply a way to fill their stomachs and view quantity as more important than quality, attention to detail, exacting preparations, history and tradition, artistic presentations and building intense loyalty to the source of superior raw materials might disagree, however, I am confident that those who read this article feel, as I do, that food, in every respect, is important beyond its physiological benefits.
Those who live to cook, understand that their craft is able to stimulate all human senses and in the process reward, honor, sustain, excite and comfort all who participate in the act of dining. Cooking provides these cooks with a deeper meaning than many other professions. Cooking is intelligent, somewhat intuitive, reflective, honest and artful. Those who wield a French knife, sauté pan and tongs, are not just warriors in Dante’s Inferno, they are graceful advocates for and protectors of tradition, trade secrets, and a tactile language that makes them complete.
Those who proclaim that it is only food, lose sight of the cycle of life and the role that these raw materials and cooks play in keeping our ecosystem fresh and vibrant.
The soil is built to support life. Plants grow to provide nutrients for animals and mankind, and through the process of harvest, keep the soil vibrant and return oxygen to the air we breathe. Animals graze, grow and mature off this fertile land and provide protein that supports our healthy bodies. Cooks, care for the beauty of this bounty and through training learn to respect what the land and the farmer has passed on to them and cook with a passion reflective of their appreciation. The chef/artist uses the plate as a canvas to give credit to the farmer and the land, to demonstrate the care that the cook has taken through preparation and tempts the diner while painting their work on the plate. The diner is given the opportunity to smell, touch, taste, see and even hear the food that has passed through many parts of the cycle for their full enjoyment. Is it really just food?
Far too many people dedicate their lives; their time and energy; their passion and talent, to raising, growing, processing, cooking and enjoying food for anyone to consider it anything less than essential, and important in every respect.
We should always praise and respect those who handle and discuss this most important part of life and living: farmers, artisan producers, cooks and chefs, writers and historians, educators and consumers. It is not just food, it is a symbol of life. I am proud to be part of the cycle.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
The picture in this article is of a kitchen that was always one of my favorites to work in: The Balsams Grand Resort, under the guidance of Chef’s Phil Learned and Charles Carroll.