What we believe is drawn from our life experiences, our history, our family and friends, our heritage, and what we do during our time on earth. That may sound a bit too philosophical, but it is based on reality. To a large degree, and maybe even larger than we admit – what we do in our work lives helps to define what we believe just as much as what we believe helps to define what we choose to do for work. For cooks this is certainly true, and very important to understand.
A manifesto is a written statement of what a person believes, the actions that he or she might take as a result, and justification for all of the above. Here are some beliefs that might come from a serious cook:
- COOKING, TRUE COOKING IS DEEPLY ROOTED IN MY HEART AND SOUL
To be a career cook is to dedicate your professional life to everything about food: the source of the ingredient and how the farmer/rancher/fisherman performs his or her craft, the methods of cooking, the flavors that are present and those that might be created, the right equipment and its care, those items that complement what you cook, and the experience of approaching every human sense with your skill set.
- A COOK’S HANDS TELL A STORY
There is no argument that a cook’s hands are as core to his or her success as is the ability to taste and savor. The hands guide the tools, assess freshness, determine degrees of doneness, skillfully assemble finished foods on a plate, and start the process all over again.
- I COOK, THEREFORE I AM
It may seem challenging to state that cooking is so closely aligned to a persons identity and even value, but, as is the case with some other walks in life, cooking is to many – their purpose, the reason that they demonstrate to others that they are able to contribute in a significant way.
“Food’s my only bag. It’s my gig, my art, and my life. Always has been, always will be. I’m always battling myself – the part of me that says I can and the part of me that says I can’t. My greatest gift has been that the part of me that says “I can’t” is always, always just a little bit louder.”
― Marcus Samuelsson, Yes, Chef
- MY COOK’S PALATE IS WHAT DEFINES MY REAL VALUE IN THE KITCHEN
Once you strip away all of the sizzle that comes from a restaurants’ ambience, the branding of the operations’ connection to the ingredient, the beautiful presentations on the plate, and the impeccable service that may be the calling card for a restaurant – it is the flavor and taste of each item that excites guests and brings them back. A cook’s palate including flavor memory, taste buds, and olfactory sense acuity will separate him or her from the cadre of others who wear the apron and toque.
“A good cook is the peculiar gift of the gods. He (or she) must be a perfect creature from the brain to the palate, from the palate to the finger’s end.”
-Walter Savage Landor
- MY KNIVES ARE AN EXTENSION OF MY HANDS
Of all the tools in a kitchen that are at a cook’s disposal it is the knife that truly demonstrates his or her ability to convert raw materials into a finished product. The best cooks are masters of control when it comes to directing the knife to its assigned task. A cook’s knives are to him or her as a Stratocaster was to Hendrix and Clapton – the instrument of his or her craft.
- THE SET UP OF MY COOK’S STATION IS SACRED AND MUST NOT BE MESSED WITH
Mise en place is the most common battle cry of the cook or chef. Making sure that there is enough of the right ingredients at hand, that a station is set in such a way that the cook need not even think about where to reach, and that this order is maintained throughout service, is the single most important step in ensuring a successful shift on the line. This is the cook’s personal domain and it is essential that it remain so. All cooks know not to mess with another’s mise.
- AS A COOK I COMMUNICATE THROUGH THE FOOD THAT I PREPARE
If you want to know me, if you have a desire to assess my abilities, if it is important for you to enjoy a very important part of who I might be – then taste my food. This is how a cook communicates his or her being.
- BURNS AND CUTS ARE THE PRICE TO PAY FOR BEING A COOK
To those in other professions a cut or burn would signify a problem, maybe some level of failure, and certainly an event worthy of pause from their work routine. To a cook these burns and cuts signify his or her standing among peers. They are a battle cry and even a badge of honor. Until you are able to present the scars of the kitchen you will rarely find acceptance among other cooks.
- SWEAT IS A GOOD THING – IT SHOWS THAT I LABOR TO CREATE
Kitchens are hot! The raw heat generated from 500 degree ovens, 800 degree char broilers, and humidity that exists from simmering and boiling foods as well as an active dish machine would be, to some, unbearable. To a cook, this heat is almost welcome – it is the sweat that drips off of a cook’s brow and runs down his or her back that demonstrates the value of hard work.
“Don’t expect success to fall from the sky if it didn’t evaporate from the sweat of your hands.”
― Matshona Dhliwayo
- THE PLATE IS MY CANVAS
All solid cooks are frustrated artists. They have an innate ability and desire to create but may not find an appropriate avenue through painting, sculpting, writing, or playing a musical instrument, but they are able to demonstrate their artistic ability through a plate of food. Unlike other art forms, this outlet allows the cook to appeal to all human senses, not just a few. Cook’s paint their art on a dinner plate every day.
- THE TEAM of COOKS, DISHWASHERS and SERVERS AROUND ME IS FAMILY
One of the most fantastic things about kitchen work is the amount of dependence that a cook has on each and every other person who works in the front or back-of-the-house. Trust is essential, understanding is required, patience is a virtue, pride in each other’s success a given, and support through their failures is commonplace in every successful kitchen. We are family.
- TIME IS NOT AN EXCUSE – I WILL MAKE IT HAPPEN
In the end, there are no excuses when the customer orders a dish and waits anxiously for its arrival. Insufficient mise, excessively busy nights, cooks and servers who call out or don’t show up, a cook under the weather, or faulty equipment does not matter. If you didn’t find the time to accomplish tasks before then you and your team will find a way to adjust in favor of the guest. No excuses!
“Either you run the day, or the day runs you.”
- I RESPECT THE CHAIN OF COMMAND
Some may balk at “yes chef”, some may not particularly care for the chef or sous chef, and some may find a chef’s decisions in the moment to be incorrect, yet for the good of the needs of the kitchen, in the moment, cook’s know how important it is to respect the chain of command.
- BUTTER, BACON, SHALLOTS, GARLIC, SALT, PEPPER, AND MIREPOIX
When all else fails, a cook knows that butter, bacon, shallots, garlic, salt and pepper, and mirepoix will come to the rescue. A cook can create incredible dishes with the mastery of these ingredients.
There may certainly be other items to add to your cook’s manifesto – these are some of mine. This is partially what I believe as a cook. What do you believe in?
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training
**Photos: Chef Joe Bonoparte at Myrtle Beach Culinary Institute, my hand, the line at Cochon- New Orleans.