It was 1964 when Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones sang: “Time is on my side, yes it is.” I wonder now if there is any truth to that statement. When you are 14 years old, as I was, time seemed endless – boredom was a choice that some elected to dwell in, while others used their time with reckless abandon. While I have one of those reflective moments I thought that I would retrace some of the things that I remember about people over my time thus far. Maybe, there is something that we can learn from the past that will help us accept and adjust to the future – maybe. Quite possibly it’s the little things that make our time have real value – maybe.
“Time has come today,
Young hearts can go their way
Can’t put it off another day
I don’t care what others say
They say we don’t listen anyway
Time has come today”
-The Chambers Brothers
Does this have any bearing on what cooks and chefs do every day in America’s kitchens? Yes, I think so – bear with me:
- I remember when young people could feel safe spending the day with friends, riding bikes, playing ball, shooting hoops, just hanging out in their neighborhood. Parents thought nothing of simply saying: “Make sure you’re home for dinner.”
- I remember when school was a safe zone where aside from the occasional ribbing over what you wore for the day, and the fear of tests, most of us looked forward to meeting up with friends and getting through that math or English class.
- I remember when people said please and thank you because it was the way they were raised to treat others with respect – even when it was forced.
- I remember when you automatically held the door open for the person behind you.
- I remember when watching TV was an occasional treat, not a pacifier for a boring life.
- I remember when we had some chores to do every day and we did them even reluctantly.
- I remember having a paper route so that there was some money of my own that I earned.
- I remember how excited I was to get my early working papers at 15 so that I could jump into that first part-time summer job as a dishwasher.
- I remember the thrill of flipping my first over-easy egg (without breaking the yolk).
- I remember when making sure that my chef coat and pants were clean and pressed was a source of pride.
- I remember my first chef’s knife and how meticulous I was about keeping an edge and polishing the blade on that full carbon steel Sabatier.
- I remember how easy it was to work with and accept everyone in the kitchen regardless of age, height, gender, nationality, race, or beliefs.
- I also remember those outside of the kitchen who were resistant to this aura of acceptance.
- I remember how opening day of baseball season in Buffalo was a day off from school.
- I remember listening with wonder to my first transistor radio that I saved up for with my paper route money.
- I remember that family meal was mandatory – a time when everything stopped and the entire family sat around the table to break bread and talk about their day.
- I remember going out to restaurants as something special reserved for birthdays, graduations, anniversaries, and an occasional family gathering.
- I remember fish fry takeout on Friday’s in Buffalo.
- I remember working in a classic kitchen brigade at the Statler Hilton Hotel in Buffalo during my apprenticeship.
- I remember that first day of college without any real direction in life.
- I remember the years of working in kitchens with incredible people who wore chef whites and aprons with pride.
- I truly remember the thousands of meals served at a number of restaurants where I worked and can still visualize many of the exact menus and preparations.
- I will never forget the cooks, chefs, dishwashers, bakers, pastry chefs, managers, and servers with whom I worked in unison trying to exceed the expectations of guests.
- I remember the competitions, the special events, the pressure of performing, the thrill of success, and the agony of those occasional failures.
- I remember and treasure the friendships created in kitchens – friendships that go beyond a typical bond found in other professions.
- I relished the opportunities that came my way as thousands of students’ eager to become cooks and chefs passed through my classrooms. I treasure their success even more than my own.
- I remember when service was not a dirty word.
- I remember when as a young cook I was more than willing to invest personal time in developing a new skill in the kitchen. I learned about ice off the clock, show platters after hours without the expectation of pay, or that special recipe that a chef held close to his heart by volunteering to stage’ for a day.
- I will never forget that first raw oyster, clam on the half shell, snail in garlic butter, seared piece of foie gras, grilled octopus, freshly made sushi, ceviche, meal at a Michelin restaurant, Wagyu steak, beignet in New Orleans, and Maine lobster roll.
- Finally, I remember all of the travel, the meetings with chefs and feeling the mutual respect that is offered among people of the profession. There are far too many of these experiences to list.
Mostly, I remember the people with whom I have been blessed to spend time with in the kitchen and will continue to do so for hopefully years to come.
“If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day ’til eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you”
Time is the most precious resource that we have, it is also that resource that cannot be renewed. As cooks and chefs, as members of the human race we should never squander the time before us and should never allow that time to be filled with self-doubt, excessive anger, hate, bias, disrespect, or even worse – boredom. Cooks and chefs are fantastic people with big hearts – our environment is one of acceptance, challenge, and respect. Sometimes this is mandated because of the nature of what we do, but I believe that it is present always under that sometimes-crusty exterior. I believe that each of us is inherently good and caring, but that we sometimes allow our circumstances to hide what is true of most. When we watch how during times of adversity human beings exhibit their true positive self, time and again, then we know that the potential is there. When the world seems to turn on us like in Houston, New Orleans, New York City, Vermont, Northern New York and New Jersey during recent hurricanes and floods, California, Colorado, Washington and Oregon during the ravages of wildfires, and terrorist attacks and the fear of pandemics, we can all relish how fantastic people are and can be when they respect the value of their time and use it for good.
Don’t waste your time – seize every opportunity, give it your best, be kind and sincere, remain honest and of good character, and enjoy the opportunities that come as a result. SAY THANK YOU, OPEN A DOOR FOR SOMEONE, CATCH SOMEONE DOING SOMETHING RIGHT AND PAT THEM ON THEIR BACK, AND ACCEPT PEOPLE FOR WHO THEY ARE.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training