I COOK, THEREFORE I AM.

Painted in Waterlogue

Everyone, at some point in time during his or her life, is in search of purpose. “What is it that I was meant to do? What contribution can I make with the natural tools I was given? What will make me feel as though I made a difference?” Some may actually find this purpose. It might be as fundamental as being a great spouse or parent, while others find that in addition to this, the work that they are involved with is part of their grand design. A few may be born with a particular gift, or talent that leads to this meaning, while others, through exceptional effort and dedication, learn to be as expressive through a career as the one born with a gift.

Unfortunately, many never find that meaning either because they could never seem to connect the dots, or something in their life environment built a feeling of apathy. To these individuals, work is often considered a four-letter word, a means to an end, a way to earn a paycheck and survive. This feeling among some has always confused me, and although I understand a person’s sense of insignificance, I also know that they could have the ability to rejoin the search for meaning if they would choose to do so.

I have known people born with a gift or innate talent who squander it, which is disturbing. Those who are not fortunate to have a genetic inclination to be a musician, painter, poet, theologian, teacher, scientist, basketball player, finish carpenter, or chef, but who work extraordinarily hard to compensate and build the necessary skills are the ones to be most admired. A person’s quest for purpose is one of the most fundamental needs that keep a person breathing every day.

Abraham Maslow, the author of the Hierarchy of Needs referred to this as “Self Actualization”, or the ability to be all that you can be – the ultimate motivator. You can see it in the eyes of the person whose quest is en route to completion. It is in the eyes of the musician on a stage, expressing what they know and who they are; you can see it in the eyes of a street painter who smiles at the beauty that he or she is trying to capture on canvas, and you can taste it in the food that a serious cook or chef prepares day in and day out for a discerning public. This sense of purpose goes beyond a paycheck, beyond the trials and tribulations of the position, beyond the good and the bad times; this sense of purpose is an acknowledgement of meaning.

I read an article the other day pertaining to how we might focus on the issues of long hours, meager pay, and split shifts that are all too common in restaurants and that impact on chef’s, in particular. This is not a new topic, but it is one that deserves contemporary dissection. I do certainly believe that cooks and chefs should be paid a wage that recognizes their skill and commitment of time, especially when this skill and commitment is responsible for a restaurant’s success. I am less concerned about the hours invested in the job. Any professional career requires a level of commitment that goes beyond 40 hours. This understanding is universal whether you are a doctor, lawyer, computer programmer, architect, musician, writer, etc., etc.

The issue of life balance is something that is not limited to the hours that you work, but rather how you prioritize and organize your time, how you build other interests into your schedule, and how you are able to turn off your career for those moments when other life priorities come into play. Those who have found their meaning in work WANT to invest the time.

The issue of pay is certainly important. We need to earn a respectable wage to support a lifestyle, we should be paid a wage that reflects our talent and commitment, and we should feel valued by ownership in terms of their willingness to reward us, but do not confuse compensation with a sense of meaning and happiness. Pay is a short-term fix if a person has not found their purpose in the job that they do.

There are plenty of cooks and chefs who work for the paycheck, and every restaurant understands this. It is, however, the cook or chef who has found his or her meaning behind a range who helps the restaurant reach its goals. These hard working, sometimes naturally talented individuals get up every day knowing that what they do is important, it is part of the grand design for them.

These are the cooks and chefs who always take those extra few seconds to taste-season-taste. These are the cooks and chefs who would never sacrifice the need for speed for the exact placement of a food component on a plate. These are the cooks and chefs who smile at the delivery of beautifully fresh caught fish, perfectly marbled beef, and crisp, fresh produce that still smells of the earth from where it came. These are the cooks who take appropriate care of these treasured ingredients because they know how important it is to respect the source of their work. These are the cooks and chefs who have found their meaning.

“Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it.”

Stephen Hawking

I have oftentimes been humbled as a cook by individuals who have highly perceptive taste buds, and a true understanding of how to blend flavors in extraordinary ways, but am even more humbled by those who lack those attributes but practice, practice, and practice until they get it right. These are the individuals who relish the opportunity to spend time in the kitchen, oftentimes way beyond a designated “shift.” To me, those who are most concerned with the hours they are working are generally interested in being somewhere else more than with those who are involved in their purpose. So be it, there is room for every level of commitment in food operations and I respect both, but know that once you find that meaning, real happiness is evident.

Every great restaurant has a kitchen filled with those cooks who have found their purpose. Every great restaurant experience that I have ever had as a cook and as a customer is due to the passionate commitment on the part of the cooks, chefs, and service staff. When a restaurant staff has meaning so too will the experience that the guest enjoys.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

― Pablo Picasso

What greater gift than to nourish others, to respectfully handle the gifts that farmers extract from the earth, to prepare these ingredients in a manner that expresses your personal signature, and to make people happy with the flavors, textures, aromas and visual excitement that cooking brings. I cook, therefore, I am.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericaventures.com

COMING SOON:  “The Event That Changed Everything”, by Paul Sorgule

A work of fiction that covers the travels of two cooks from Buffalo to New Orleans, The Adirondack’s to New York City, and eventually on to Vermont.  Follow their trials and tribulations and their lives that are forever changed by the Event.

Available in late 2014 or early 2015 on amazon.com and iuniverse.com.

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