WHEN LINE COOKS CONNECT WITH THE FOOD

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It’s the chef’s cuisine after all – right? The role of the cook is to prepare what the chef tells him or her to prepare in the manner prescribed, because that’s what the cook is paid to do – right? Well, this approach omits two very important components of a successful restaurant that serves delicious food: heart and soul. It is very difficult to find the heart and soul in cooking that is demanded rather than felt. Marco Pierre White expressed it well:

“As I’ve always said, cooking is a philosophy it’s not a recipe…….so therefore it’s not just teaching them how to cook, it’s sharing your philosophy and your vision with them. It’s as simple as that. A good chef is a pied piper, they (line cooks) follow him (or her).”

-Marco Pierre White

(Thanks to Chris Hill for sharing this quote)

For that magic to happen in a restaurant, the magic that presents itself in terms of taste, texture, smell, and the visual elements of beautiful food – line cooks must feel the cuisine – they must feel it in their hearts and souls. These invisible elements of cooking come from a deep understanding of the ingredients, the process, the flavors, and all of the nuances that make a style of cooking and specific dishes feel important, feel as if they are connected to each cook in a manner that is difficult to describe but understood when it is there.

The chef may have a philosophy that is strong, appropriate, interesting, and unique; but if that philosophy is not shared by line cooks, then the execution will suffer. To this end it is safe to say that cooking goes beyond technique, although technique is critical. Technique can be robotic; it can suffer from a sterile execution that is somewhat void of emotion. It is the emotion in cooking that makes it memorable. This is no different than the craft of painting or sculpting, or of music, theater, and dance. In all of those art forms there is a difference between the discipline of technique and the emotion of connection.

It is difficult to describe how a person feels the first time that they stand within a few feet of an original Monet, Picasso, or Van Gogh; but when presented with this opportunity anyone will feel the connection and experience the heart and soul of the painter. Without experiencing a connection it might be easy to discount certain types of music. Until you sit or stand within eyesight of a talented musician you can certainly marvel at his or her technique, but when you look at a musicians face, when you experience the full range of emotions that he or she expresses in connection with an instrument – you will be moved. Acting is acting until you witness an actor who becomes the role, who morphs with the character and feels whatever it is that the writer has built into that character. It is no different with cooking. When those line cooks fully understand and appreciate the philosophy of cooking that is an extension of a chefs being, when those cooks put their heart and soul into the execution of that technique – the food will sing. This is when memorable dining, regardless of the type of food, occurs.

Marco Pierre White has it right – it is the responsibility of the chef to hire, train and teach, but it is also the responsibility of the chef to create an educational environment that allows the cook to truly understand and feel the philosophy of the cuisine. Heart and soul are the difference.

This process is, as you would expect, very difficult because it requires a serious commitment on the part of the chef and the cook. There cannot be any weak links when it comes to heart and soul. You can compensate for a cook’s technique by having others pick up the slack, but heart and soul are a different matter.

So, how does this occur? How might a chef create this environment and what will it be like for the cook who comes along for the ride? Here are some thoughts:

[]         COOK FOR THE RIGHT REASONS

It was Mark Twain who offered the most profound words of wisdom:

“The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”

-Mark Twain

Purpose in life is incredibly powerful. Until we find our purpose for existence we tend to wander around, window-shopping for a way to fill the void. Now there are two distinct categories of purpose: professional and personal and it’s up to the individual to establish which one will prevail as most significant. When a cook takes the leap and decides that professionally his or her purpose is to express heart and soul through cuisine, then there is a transformation. Hopefully, these individuals will also find personal purpose that is much more substantial (family, helping others, faith, etc.), but professionally that transformation is critical when building a restaurant that becomes memorable.

When we cook for the love of food, for the passion that accompanies belief in a food philosophy, when there is a connection to the roots of a cuisine, and when that philosophy is shared by all who work in front of the range, then a great restaurant is born, born of heart and soul.

[]         CONNECT WITH THE CULTURE OF FOOD

A deep understanding of the ingredients, their historical significance to a cuisine or a dish, the lifestyle of the people associated with it, and the environmental factors that led to the development of a style of cooking that is to be represented on a restaurants plates is critical to the maturing process of a cook. The chef’s job is to provide the forum for this understanding.

[]         MOVE BEYOND PAINTING BY THE NUMBERS

The recipe is shallow without understanding. The recipe is an essential guide, but the depth of a dish cannot rely on measuring and following steps alone. A dish takes on character and life when the cook applies all of those understandings that give it soul and heart. A cook must understand how a dish should look and taste at various steps in its preparation. This knowledge will allow the cook to make adjustments that are critical to success. What was the intent of this dish, how should it feel to eat it, what are the objectives that tie in with a chef’s philosophy and how should this impact on the guest experience? Ten people may follow the same recipe with the same ingredients and end up with ten different looking and tasting dishes. The one that shines is the one prepared with a depth of understanding.

[]         EVERY MOMENT IS A TEACHING MOMENT

The chef must realize that his or her philosophy is the roadmap that must become essential for every line cook. Throughout every day it is critical that the chef provide the opportunity for cooks to learn and understand more about how to use that map and why a specific route is important. The chef, first and foremost, is a teacher and a guide.

[]         EVERY MOMENT IS A LEARNING MOMENT

If a line cook is committed to being true to a chef’s philosophy then he or she must be willing and able to view every opportunity to learn as essential. Getting beyond the “job” these cooks invest the time and energy in building this depth of knowledge.

[]         STAY TRUTHFUL TO THE FOOD

Once a cook feels the essence of a cooking style and the importance of truly knowing the how and why, then he or she can never set aside that connection – not for convenience, not for speed, not for the demands of scheduling or even the absence of enough help. Don’t sacrifice heart and soul for technique, but never lose site of the foundational importance of solid technique.

[]         DISCOVER THE SECRET INGREDIENT

There was a small privately owned restaurant in the Adirondacks of New York called the Blue Gentian – a European/American style restaurant that served home- style, fresh, and full flavored food in a quaint but comfortable restaurant setting. People literally lined up around the block for the restaurant’s “blue plate specials” every day that they were open. In this small community the Blue Gentian was always full. When asked what the owner’s secret ingredient was, she responded: “Love! I love the food I work with, I love the opportunity to cook, I love the people who work with me, and I love the people who stand in line to buy a plate.” The owner approached her food with heart and soul. This is the ingredient that is lost on far too many restaurants, far too many chefs, and far too many cooks.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Approach cooking with heart and soul and build a deep understanding of the food, as well as the philosophy behind a cooking style, and make it the ingredient that you rely on.

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericaventures.com

Restaurant Consulting and Training

“Be Something Special, Be a Line Cook with Heart and Soul.”

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