I just watched Bruce Springsteen on Broadway and was deeply moved by one of my generation’s great storytellers. Unless you were fortunate enough to be able to afford a ticket when he was live on Broadway, watching it on Netflix is a must. Springsteen was real, sincere, honest, reflective, and authentic. His stories of life gave me pause to think about all that has happened over the past few generations, how events have impacted humanity, and specifically the role that cooks and chefs have played. What is interesting (and certainly not limited to cooks) is how we (those who chose to cook for a living) have continued to do our job because of and in spite of all that occurs around us.
Springsteen on Broadway – Trailer
- While men and women were enlisting in the military to defend freedom during many wars over the past 100 years – cooks and chefs continued to do their job as part of the military and to service those at home who still felt the impact of men and women on the front lines.
- When the allies stormed the beaches at Normandy cooks were behind the scenes preparing meals, sometimes just heating C and K-rations for the troops, even in the worst of conditions.
- When my father worked his way through the trenches in France during WW II he spoke of the kindness demonstrated by village cooks in restaurants and in homes who went out of their way to provide a hot meal.
- When our fleet was bombed at Pearl Harbor there was still a need to nourish our troops as they dealt with the unthinkable devastation.
- When 6 million Jews were murdered, cooks were focused on feeding soldiers intent on bringing those evil people responsible to justice.
- When the war was over, cooks and chefs were behind the scenes providing food in celebration of the end (at least for a while) of tyranny and the bright future before us.
- When the stock market crashed in the 20’s people would often lean on that local café for solace and a brief respite from the tragedy of the moment. The meals might be simple, but the impact was the same.
- When Prohibition was repealed, it was cooks who helped to transition the underground “speakeasy” into the modern American restaurant.
- The Day the Music died in a plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and Richie Valens – symbols of rock and roll – the music that would sustain generations to come; cooks, even those deeply impacted by this loss were still standing behind the range, creating dishes to please the masses.
- When the Korean Peninsula erupted in conflict, drawing thousands more American men and women into yet another war, cooks were right beside them again – doing what was needed to sustain our military.
- When Katrina struck New Orleans with devastating winds and flood – laying communities to waste and ending the lives of thousands – cooks and chefs tied on their aprons of compassion and helped to feed those who found themselves in a state of despair.
- When Maria laid waste to Puerto Rico and a population lost everything – they could at least find comfort in the disaster kitchens that were set-up and manned by volunteer chefs and cooks.
- When the Cold War was at the back of everyone’s minds and many Americans, under the threat of nuclear war, felt the need to create bomb shelters in their back yards, cooks were still on the job trying to spell some of the fear and create a sense of normalcy through neighborhood restaurants.
- When we landed on the moon and America celebrated such a remarkable achievement, people turned to restaurants and the skill of cooks and chefs to create the environment of celebration with food.
- When the Jack and Robert Kennedy were shot and our nation was in a state of shock and mourning, cooks were still on the job to help in that process of healing and building a new sense of hope for the future.
- When Martin Luther King Jr. walked at Selma, cooks and chefs in local diners became aware of how important it was to fuel a sense of equality and celebrate why we are all more alike than we are different.
- When Dr. King was shot, cooks were still able to work through yet another demonstration of hate and find a way to use the breaking of bread to bring us together.
- When women received the right to vote and a time of equal rights suddenly became possible, cooks became reflective of the need to provide that same equality in the kitchen. It would take a few more decades, but today’s kitchens are there for all who love to tie on an apron and practice their magic.
- When Escoffier opened the Ritz in Boston, it was a sign to America that cooking and food would soon become a national passion and within another few decades’ cooks would see their status raised to a level admired by the rest of the culinary world.
- When the first advisors were sent to Viet Nam, cooks were once again called to duty as they kept our soldiers fed even when in jungle fighting conditions.
- When my draft notice came in the mail and a time in the military was all but certain, it was my background as a cook that would help to ease the challenge and place me in kitchens where I felt at home.
- When the Iran Hostage situation crippled the White House and built a generational distaste for the Middle East, cooks still showed up to work, set-up their stations, worked on their mise en place, and proceeded to define what American food would become.
- When the Beatles stepped foot on American soil, we cooked with the same passion for food as they did for a new music.
- When the Earthquake of 1989 leveled parts of San Francisco, it would be restaurants and the cooks behind the range that would help with the rebirth of communities.
- When John Lennon was on the receiving end of David Chapman’s gun, we mourned the end of an era and fought through the confusion while doing our job as cooks.
- When Ronald Reagan fell at the hand of John Hinckley, we cooked on.
- When the Towers fell in New York, and the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania felt the impact of suicide planes on 9/11/2001 – we were afraid, confused, angry, and in total shock, but breaking bread with friends and family helped us to create forums for discussing the emotions that ripped through us.
- When Shock and Awe became the mantra for revenge in Iraq, cooks were once again on call. Little did we know that 17 years later cooks would still be feeding troops in search of justice.
- When the Blue Dress became the centerpiece of the Clinton administration, we leaned on restaurants as a place to shake our heads and crack a few jokes about the lack of integrity among modern politicians.
- When 2008 stocks fought for the bottom and nearly found it, I remember trying to push aside the real fear of another great depression, button up my chef’s coat, sharpen my knives and go to work. People still need to eat.
- When Nixon resigned, some were dismayed, while others were celebrating. Cooks were there.
- When Apple released the first smartphone, and how we lived and communicated changed forever – cooks performed as they had in the past without a blink of an eye – their lives and responsibilities did not change.
- When America elected its first black president we all knew that something remarkable had just occurred and the desire for hope would reinvigorate restaurants as we saw the opportunity to dig our way out of the deepest recession since the 1920’s.
- When the Red Sox won the World Series and broke the curse of Babe Ruth, the stands erupted in celebration and cooks worked overtime to keep up with the demands of joyful followers.
- When Anthony Bourdain’s voice was silenced – cooks were hit hard. He was the person who said what we thought, who gave credit where credit was due, and who felt what we felt. We cooked on in honor of his voice.
- When Wild fires in California burned thousands of homes, cooks were on the scene making sure that firefighters and displaced citizens could at least expect a meal when all else seemed far too desperate.
- When the 2016 election shocked us all, we at least knew that cooks would be there, doing what they do, helping us to either commiserate or celebrate a break from any sense of normalcy, honesty, and integrity.
So, we have cooked during great accomplishments, national disasters, paradigm shifts in society, wars, and conflicts, and every societal change in modern history. Cooks have been on the front lines and in the trenches, on site when hurricanes, fires and floods have laid devastation to countries; we have been there when people celebrated and mourned, when they raised their glasses in victory and hung their heads in defeat; we are still there to do what needs to be done sometimes out of duty, other times as a way to escape thinking about what is before us. Cooks inherently know that they have a job to do, an important job that others depend on. We feed peoples bodies, minds and souls in an effort to help them cope. Just like so many other service jobs, ours is behind the scenes, yet essential – a comfort to those who know that a plate of food is a unifier – a vehicle for healing and knowing that everything will be all right.
Life happened and we continued to cook. Thanks to Bruce Springsteen, our generational storyteller, for allowing me to reflect on a lifetime of change and how everything can point back to the solace of cooking.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Be Thankful, Be Proud, Be a Cook
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training