This is my 295th article (story) for Harvest America Cues. When I hit 100 I was certain that I would run out of topics and things to say, but so far that has not been the case. Some articles strike a nerve and tens of thousands of people will read and many will comment. Other times I may write a dozen articles with only a few hundred viewers for each. I never really know what it is that you will respond to – this is part of the motivation just like planning a menu in a restaurant and then waiting to see how guests will respond. I continue to write simply because it provides an outlet for what I am feeling about this business that is truly a part of me.
Sometimes I write about the parts of this business that are inspiring, sometimes about the challenges that seem to make it impossible. Oftentimes I write about those extraordinary days in the kitchen that are nearly perfect, while other times I reflect on the things that piss us off. Quite often I try to point out the daily routine and the single focus that chefs must have to stay afloat, and then there are times when it seems appropriate to talk about a desire to spend as much time as possible with the people who call the kitchen their home. In all cases, it is what it is, this life in the kitchen – the good, bad, and ugly.
As many of us know, there are days when we look in a mirror and say: “this is nuts – why am I still working in restaurants?” But, then those reminders crop up that demonstrate that this may be the best business imaginable to work in. You never know which day will appear as a cook puts on his or her uniform and walks into a kitchen for another 12 hour shift.
On those days when I would have felt challenged to justify this type of work – something would come to light that made me see the wisdom in endurance. I feel privileged to know many extraordinary individuals who are connected to this food business. I know hundreds of cooks and chefs who would not even entertain doing anything different, who look at what they do as a calling. I know knife manufacturers who certainly are in business to remain profitable, but who take the greatest pride in seeing their tools help chefs with their daily tasks and who relish any opportunity to hang out with those people in chef whites. Some of my best friends make the uniforms that cooks and chefs wear. They do so because this business allows them to earn a profit and maintain a lifestyle that is important to them, but what really gives them a spring in their step is to see those cooks and chefs hold their heads high with pride in the uniform and what it represents. I know farmers who are excited to present their crops to a cook and anticipate what that craftsperson will do to bring out the flavor of the items that they cared for. I know some exceptional people who sell coffee for a living and who are nearly beside themselves with the opportunity to make the perfect cup and watch a customer smile when he or she realizes that this might be one of the best things ever consumed. I seek out any opportunity to work with anyone crazy enough to think that they can open a restaurant because: “Wouldn’t it be great to serve the food that we enjoy making”, is what gets them up in the morning (even though their odds of success are significantly less than 50%). Most importantly, I am totally stoked to see a young aspiring cook who worked in one of my kitchens, or sat in one of my classrooms, step into that first job at the helm of a kitchen. Whenever I feel despondent about this business I only need to think about these people.
We all know that people work in restaurants for a variety of reasons, some of them noble and altruistic, but many simply because it is a way to earn a living. The restaurant business needs them all and must come to grips with the fact that many will not see my deep seeded enthusiasm for what happens in a kitchen as being realistic or inspiring. So be it, I understand this quite well. Chefs and restaurateurs will need to figure out what it takes to rally the troops and accomplish the tasks ahead.
So, what has inspired me to write these reflections today? Two things have given me that boost of adrenaline that makes it difficult to sleep at night until I jot down my thoughts:
* I finished watching a DVD (for the third time in a week) that I purchased with great anticipation. If you are involved in any aspect of this food business I urge you to rent or buy it as soon as you can. “Spinning Plates” is a story about three restaurateurs who on the surface are dramatically different, yet in their hearts they are exactly the same. One is a husband/wife team who opened a small Mexican restaurant as a way to pay the bills and strive for a better life. Another is a family perpetuating a 150-year tradition of operating a neighborhood restaurant that not only serves food, but also more importantly serves as the heart of a community. The third is Grant Achatz and his restaurant “Alinea” that has received international acclaim and the coveted Michelin 3-star rating. The food and style of service between the three could not be more different, but once you scrape away this obvious difference, their hearts are all about the bigger role that they play. The story defines what it is about this business that still allows me to write and reflect. This is a calling that provides opportunities to be creative, builds an environment to attract wonderful people who love to be around each other, serves a definitive need that people have to be welcomed and taken care of, and gives families, in many cases, a chance to do this together.
How many chefs have dreamt about the opportunity to create traditions around food, traditions that allow family members and friends to work together and to do so with the objective of making others happy with your work. This is the restaurant business.
*Second, I am in the process of reading the draft of a friend’s new book. He is a chef of extraordinary caliber, a generous person who views his work as a calling, a first class leader, and a dedicated storyteller. The book is (sorry – can’t reveal it yet) heart warming and truly inspirational. It is the type of book that requires me to stop every now and then and reflect on my own experiences and even jot down some ideas that I absolutely must remember and develop. When I read this I know that I am not alone in how I feel about the profession that chose me.
I only hope that, in some way, I can pass on this feeling that many of my friends and colleagues share. This is such an important business with purpose and meaning. If I can take part in relaying that message in 2016 then I will have accomplished something significant.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC