There is something fulfilling and yet final to the news that Bob Dylan is being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Many have chastised the decision by the Nobel committee to award such an international honor to a troubadour who spoke of unrest, a generation’s lament, and blatant hypocrisy. Yet, to those of us who grew up with Dylan it was a type of validation or even a sense of closure to a time that shaped society. Dylan continues to tour, sing (sort of), write and record even today, but his voice doesn’t ring with the same confidence or strength as it once did a few decades ago. He is still there, he is still speaking his mind, but he remains significant for who he was rather than who he is today.
How does this apply to you and I – to cooks and chefs, to restaurants, and those who make a decision to pursue a career in the kitchen? What Dylan professed in the 70’s not only set the course for change, but also predicted that there would be an end to what we thought was the “right way” in order to make room for the next wave of change.
“Come gather round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown”
-Bob Dylan – The Times They are a Changin
Cooks and chefs lament about a kitchen culture that somehow portrayed adventure, excitement, danger, a life of excess, male bonding, and an underworld mentality that only those who were in it would understand. It is this “Kitchen Confidential” world that drew many to kitchen life in the 90’s and beyond. This was a place where you could push the limits of endurance, social interaction, avoidance of political correctness, and somewhat masochistic behavior and feel that it was all “acceptable”, even expected. Whatever your outlook on this environment might be – the times they are a changin.
“There is nothing so stable as change.”
If you push aside the pirate behavior, and the “this is the way it is” attitude, there were some important philosophical changes that took place while everyone else was fixated on the rough and tumble vision of the cook and chef. These philosophical changes are the things that should (at least in my opinion) be the result of a generation of cooks that survives, while the carefree, in your face demeanor of cooks continues to evaporate.
What are those philosophical changes that make our industry and our jobs more meaningful and beneficial? Take a look at what we (cooks and chefs as a whole) have accomplished since Dylan wrote those generation defining lyrics:
 FIGHT FOR FOOD INTEGRITY
Cooks and chefs have been on the front lines for change in food standards and what information is provided so that consumers can make intelligent buying decisions.
 FRESH IS ALWAYS BETTER
In the 60’s it was difficult to find a fresh vegetable in a restaurant kitchen, or if it was fresh, then we cooked it to “death by steamtable”. Today – fresh is an expectation.
 GREAT COOKING IS A BUSINESS OF RELATIONSHIPS
Chefs led the charge towards making connections with the source, learning how their ingredients were raised or grown, and giving credit where credit is due – the farmer, more than anyone else, determines the quality of the restaurant meal.
 PROFESSIONALISM = RESPECT
We no longer need to hang our heads when we say: “I am a cook”. In fact, we can hold our heads high because people are learning to respect the cook for his or her skill and the creative spirit that exists in kitchens.
 DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION ALWAYS WINS
Kitchens are no longer camps for white Anglo Saxon males. Kitchens have grown to become the most diverse work environments around.
 NUTRITION IS IMPORTANT
Over the past few decades we have become not just aware of how important it is to prepare items in a manner to protect their nutritional value, but have gone a step further as we have become ambassadors for this process.
 FOOD SAFETY IS A MORAL OBLIGATION
Sure, there is a legal obligation, but more and more we find cooks who take their responsibility for food safety very seriously.
 CHEFS NEED TO BE LEADERS AND NOT DICTATORS
The environment of the screaming chef dictator who believes that he is the only source of wisdom in the kitchen is fading rapidly. Chefs know that if they are to be successful it is imperative that they build, develop, and retain an effective, cohesive team. This takes leadership.
 NOW WE UNDERSTAND FLAVOR
We have accepted the science behind cooking and in the process have learned the how and why that makes all of us better at our craft.
 REAL COOKS SHARE AND TEACH
It was very common just a few decades ago, for cooks and chefs to protect their methods and recipes from others. Today, we know that an important part of our job is to develop others, to share what we know, and to take on the role of teacher.
 FOOD IS AN INTELLECTUAL PROFESSION AS WELL AS A TACTILE ONE
Suddenly, people are graduating from college with a degree in culinary arts, food chemistry, food history and gastronomy, and nutrition. Academics are learning to accept what we do as a scholarly discipline as well as a trade.
 FOOD CAN AND SHOULD BE AN EXPERIENCE
In the sixties food was still viewed more as sustenance. The restaurant experience was far from exceptional (aside from a handful of exclusive operations). We have come a long way – today the restaurant experience involves a connection with all of the human senses.
The question is whether or not each cook or chef accepts and lives by this new kitchen order and the philosophical changes that came about while Dylan continued to teach all of us about character and integrity.
“People (unfortunately) seldom do what they believe in. They do what is convenient and then repent.”
How much of what is stated above is a reflection of your actions and not just beliefs? Do we all walk the talk and have we learned enough from the changes that have been brewing for more than 30 years? Do we still have a desire to hang on to the stories of kitchen antics and fail to see just how significant we are in the role of a modern professional cook? Do we accept change?
“There is nothing so stable as change.”
Stable – only if we accept the inevitable nature of change and see it as a fresh start – a new call to arms. Although there are still far too many chefs and cooks that cling to the “take no prisoners” kitchen of the 1960’s, there is a growing number that are welcoming something new, focusing on the positive change that we created (sometimes unknowingly), and practicing what is being preached. Where do you fit?
Those who embrace change will more often than not benefit from the experience. Those who become one with change – align with the philosophy of a modern cook, or at least acknowledge the inevitable nature of change, are likely to enjoy the ride.
“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”
On December 10 – Dylan will walk across the stage in Stockholm, Sweden to receive his Nobel Prize. He has always been an unwilling recipient of honors, and it is still questionable as to whether or not he will actually show up, but when his name is called it will signify an affirmation of a generation, support for the need for change, and at the same time a sense of closure to the way things were.
To all of the cooks and chefs with whom I have worked, here is one of my favorite Dylan verses:
“May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
And may you stay forever young”
-Bob Dylan – Forever Young
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**Picture from Girl and the Goat Restaurant – Chicago
Using Prisma app for photo enhancement