There is something inherently gratifying about making things with your hands. Developing and fine-tuning a set of skills that have been passed down for generations help to build pride in a profession that is timeless. In my mind there is something in everyone’s DNA that craves this ability and opportunity to build something, to make something that is a tangible example of what a person is capable of, something that the creator and the recipient can experience.
When a cook holds a perfectly balanced, wet stone sharpened and steel finished French knife in his or her hand, there is a sense of completeness that connects the mind, heart, and soul. The tool is an extension of what the body was meant to do, the brain craves to connect with, and the heart strives to find. Handling beautiful produce picked or pulled from the soil, scaling fresh caught round fish, cutting into that fish with a razor sharp filleting knife as if it were passing through butter, or trimming a tenderloin in preparation for steaks on the grill is something that requires not only skill but also a respect for the ingredient and passion for doing it right.
“We live in a society enamored by passive entertainment and increasingly invested in the virtual experience. Fewer of us have jobs that show us the tangible results of our efforts. Rarer still are full claim on a project or creative license in our work. It leaves a gap, I think, in how we live – in how we exercise the innate physical and creative abilities that make us human.”
February 16, 2012
There is a unique set of skills and aptitudes that a serious cook must possess. This requires a commitment to learning, understanding, and practicing the craft that separates a “hack” from the real deal. When a cook is on point – beautiful things happen that enhance the guest experience. This experience will include the tactile process of chewing, the aromatic process of stimulating the olfactory senses, and the visual stimulation that combined define the joys of dining.
Everyday that a cook ties on an apron, he or she is able to make a connection with the product, the farmer, his or her senses, and the dining public. This is what inspires cooks to invest the time and energy that it takes to be successful in today’s kitchen. It would be difficult to find another job that is more demanding and at the same time more gratifying than cooking.
Some may separate “What they do for a living” from “How do they live their life”, but professional cooks are able to marry the two statements and answer with pride: I cook – therefore, I am. Yes, we are blue-collar workers – we work with our hands creating wonderful dishes from wonderful ingredients. Yes, every day that a cook walks through the door he or she is privileged with the opportunity to make something tangible, beautiful, and delicious.
Unless you have invested your heart, mind and soul in the process of cooking, it will be difficult to comprehend the love that those of us in cook’s whites have for our chosen profession. Of course, just like many other professions, there are days that we would just as soon forget, but those times are quickly set aside when a cook looks at a perfectly prepared and presented plate of food. “I created this. My signature is on this plate, a signature that represents my passion, and my investment in skill development and understanding of methods and techniques.”
The typical definition of Blue Collar rarely does justice to this passion and commitment, and unfortunately has, over time, been viewed as a choice that is distant from the ideal. I, for one, would much prefer to braise a perfect lamb shank, than complete an income statement, trouble shoot an errant misstep in writing computer code, or battling for the upper hand in a legal case – but that’s just me. I know that nearly every cook, with whom I have had the pleasure to work, would agree. This is why cooks seem to be infatuated with posting pictures of their food on Instagram or Facebook. There is a tremendous amount of pride associated with making something worthy of a digital image. Praise to those who balance the books, invest my retirement funds, write computer code, or represent us in court when it is necessary – this is not the career track for those of us who have the need to make things that you can touch, smell, chew, and savor.
Traditionally, a Blue Collar worker is defined as a laborer who works for an hourly wage and who focuses on manual, hand tasks. But in reality – cooks and chefs are just as adept at intellectual work. In fact, their job requires many of those essential skills that define the White-Collar worker as well. Cooks and chefs are problem solvers, planners, designers, researchers, and artists who need to spend considerable time studying the history of a cuisine, the dynamic influence of culture on traditional foods, the methods of the painter and sculptor, and the detail of the architect and engineer. Proper cooking and the ability to function in a fast-paced, ever-changing, highly competitive work environment demand nothing less.
If I sound biased – I am. The work of a cook is the work of a tactician with the finesse of a painter. We (those who cook as a way of life) are proud Blue-Collar workers, proud to finish a day’s work physically tired, sore from relentless manual work, drained from the heat of the kitchen, yet able to show the fruits of our labor and relish the enjoyment that diners had as a result.
BLUE and PROUD OF IT!
PLAN BETTER –TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training
**PHOTO: Prep in the Balsams Grand Resort Kitchen in the 1990’s – Under the direction of Chefs Phil Learned and Charles Carroll.