The average worker spends 40 hours per week on the job, that’s 90,000 hours over a 45-year career. A professional cook who becomes a chef may spend 50-75% more time than that. In some cases that’s more time than a cook will spend with family and friends and sleep combined. This type of dedication seems illogical if the end result is just a job and a paycheck.
Why is it that some gush about how much they love their time in the kitchen and more often than not, look forward to those 10-12 hour days of painstaking work, hours and hours on their feet, intense heat, and incredible pressure from every angle, while others dread another day in Hell’s Kitchen? Is it simply that some people are made for this work and others are not? Could it be that some refuse to look at the downside to working in restaurants? Is it the theoretical difference between Type “A’s” and Type “B’s”? Or, could it be that certain individuals have or go after those epiphany’s that set a different course for their lives and connection to what others call “work”?
Most of my friends are cooks, chefs, restaurateurs, winemakers, or are someway or another connected to the food business. If you were to ask me why this is so, I might say because I spent so many hours working in the field that these were the only people I had a chance to meet, or more than likely I would state that these are the people who inspire me, make me want to be better at what I do, make me laugh, and provide the benchmarks for “what could be”. I suppose there were those epiphany moments for me, those transition events or experiences that allowed me to think that what I did was (is) important, but if I were to try and tell what those moments were, I would be lost. Lost, not because I couldn’t think of any moments but rather lost because there were and continue to be – so many. After the first few such moments, people tend to seek out more, more opportunities that will allow them to reflect and push forward with even greater enthusiasm.
I have always enjoyed taking cooks on those journeys and watching the light bulb go off. When they occur it becomes nearly impossible to keep any cook from connecting, self-assessing, and glowing with possibilities. It might be that first local chefs meeting where a cook gets a chance to network with others who have the passion, or it could be dinner at a cutting edge restaurant where the chef is breaking new ground, yet again it could be a trade show or culinary competition that opens a cooks eyes to where the business is moving.
Sometimes, and I find this one the most rewarding, it is going back to the source of cooking and visiting a farmer or a cheese maker, or an artisan bread baker tucked away in a farmhouse bakery in the middle of Vermont. It could be a short experience working in the vineyards with a winemaker who views the grapes as his or her children – due the same respect as a member of the family. When a cook witnesses the limitless commitment that these artisans have for their craft, the product, and the importance of what they do, he or she begins the transition from job to calling.
A cook may not envision dedicating most of his or her energy and time to the craft like Thomas Keller or Grant Achatz. The cook may never fully understand how a small vineyard in central France can be cared for and nurtured for four or five generations, each individual dedicating his or her entire being to growing superb grapes and watching as nature helps to turn the grape juice into a spectacular wine, but I know that the experience of being with these individuals makes every cook self-assess and consider either making the commitment or looking toward a different career.
I watched an extraordinary documentary film the other night and experienced yet another one of those epiphany moments. The film: “A Year in Burgundy”, follows the lives of a few multi-generational wine makers in Burgundy, France while very naturally demonstrating the passion and joy that each draws from their calling. I have had a few opportunities to spend time with wine makers in France, California, Oregon, and New York and have always felt incredible respect for their commitment, but this movie went so much further in defining what “the calling” means.
I know so many extraordinary chefs who feel a sense of purpose in what they do, are consumed by a drive to always get better, and have developed a talent for constantly reinventing themselves in the kitchen. Whenever I am around them, I feel inspired. Whenever I spend time with them I find myself wishing that I could add another 20 years to my career, learn from them, and push myself in a new exciting direction.
Certainly, at one point, working in a kitchen for me was a means to an end. A paycheck that allowed me to have a reasonable life. At some point that paycheck became a calling and I have not regretted that transition for one moment (well maybe a moment now and then).
Whether you work 40 hours a week or 70, what you do is an important snapshot of who you are as a person. Those hours can be dedicated to the paycheck (certainly important) or to the pursuit of something much more significant. When your job becomes a calling, the doors open to so many possibilities. I encourage you to seek out those epiphany moments, push yourself to be inspired and act upon that inspiration. Enjoying what you do for a living is a very important part of life – make it count.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
**The Watercolor photo is of Master Chef Anton Flory who was my original mentor and inspiration. RIP chef.
****ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT A HOLIDAY GIFT FOR A COOK, CHEF, OR FOOD ENTHUSIAST? If you enjoy the articles in Harvest America Cues, you will certainly enjoy my second novel: The Event That Changed Everything, available from amazon.