I haven’t walked through those professional kitchen doors for quite some time now – my tenure as a chef ended a few years back. Even though I am not clocked in – I still cook every day and still reflect positively on my fifty years associated with the profession. Cooking is, and will always be, an integral part of who I am. The kitchen has always been my teacher, the environment is where I grew up and developed into the person I am. Many of my greatest life lessons materialized as I stood behind a range, over a prep table, huddled with fellow cooks during the design of a menu, in a heated discussion with a vendor, taking inventory in a walk-in freezer, chipping away at an ice carving, trying to regain calm through the eyes of an expeditor on a busy Friday night, or visiting tables of guests in the dining room. I am who I am because of my time in the kitchen.
Sure, we all have those moments when that question comes to the surface: “Why am I doing this?” There are ample examples of horrible days in the kitchen where everything goes wrong, or those times when the team just isn’t in sync. But, we quickly make up for it when everything is firing on all cylinders, when crazy busy is accompanied by fist bumps and tired smiles, and when you look at the food in the pass and know that it can rightfully carry your signature. Clean plates returning from the dining room are a source of pride that is hard to match.
In the end, there are far more memories of accomplishment and joy than disappointment and regret. The kitchen is an environment filled with energy and emotion, a place of complex feelings that would be difficult to find anywhere else. This is a special place that beckons a unique breed of individual who is just as complex as the environment where he or she works.
So, in reflection – what are some of the reasons why I can proudly say: “I love being a cook?”
There was always something special about putting both arms through a chef coat, buttoning up, folding up the sleeves, and looking in a mirror. As a chef I represented a proud history of talent, dedication, and service.
Every moment, every day, and every year – a cook enhances his or her skills, adds something to his or her repertoire, and becomes better at the craft. This is incredibly gratifying.
Cooks are the caretakers of the farmer’s work, of the fisherman’s dedication, of the rancher’s passion, of Nature’s bounty, and of the animal’s ultimate sacrifice. This is an honor and a tremendous responsibility.
Of course, there is a routine to cooking – yet every day brings something fresh, an occasional surprise and anticipation of what might be around the corner. It is the anticipation that makes the job of a “cook” exciting, invigorating, and sometimes unnerving. I miss that.
Young, old, male, female; white, black, or brown; conservative or liberal; straight or gay; short, tall; and every religion, and every ethnicity – in a kitchen we are equal – we are one. We learn to accept, understand, and support every person’s right to be different.
Cooks tend to tell it like it is. Hidden feelings and opinions rarely exist. A refreshing transparency is the norm in most kitchens.
Nothing is accomplished in a kitchen without team. It is comforting to know that the person standing next to you has your back. We win as a team or we lose as a team.
What better form of art than cooking? No other art form appeals to all human senses. No other art form is critiqued so quickly – in the moment. A clean plate says it all. To a professional cook – the plate is his or her canvas, and every canvas carries his or her invisible signature.
The rush is real. Unless you have functioned effectively on a busy line with tickets streaming off the printer, the expeditor calling off orders with a cadence, and line cooks responding with a succinct “yes chef”, then you don’t know what the rush feels like. Unless you have been on the edge of crashing with far too many orders bouncing around in your head, only to pull it out at the last minute – then you don’t understand the rush. Unless you have shifted your weight from foot to foot while clicking your tongs in anticipation of those first orders blasting through the kitchen at opening – then you don’t understand the rush. And unless you have experienced the feeling of that last order being placed in the pass after a record breaking evening with no returns – then you clearly don’t understand the feeling of adrenaline rushing through your system. This is the life of a cook.
Forty hours is a joke to many cooks; standing on your feet for 10-12 hour shifts is a norm; bending, lifting, rapid knife work, burns and cuts, strained backs and carpel tunnel hands, swollen feet and pounding headaches from dehydration – this is what cooks endure on a daily basis. When it’s not there – it is ironically missed.
Just when you think you have it down, when everything is routine, and every day is a walk in the park – the kitchen will humble you with mistakes that should have been avoided. Cooks and chefs can never get too cocky.
At the end of the day when your food has been well received, when you can put that prep list to bed, when that rare customer sends back a “thanks for an incredible meal” note, or when you broke another record for customers served – there is a deep seated sense of accomplishment that can only come from work that makes you sweat, ache, and feel totally exhausted. We did it!
 SHARING and MENTORING
What we do in today’s kitchen is an open book. Showing someone else a new skill or a trick of the trade, watching that person adapt to this knowledge and succeed, getting that call two years later when he or she says: “Thanks for teaching me”, this is what makes it all worthwhile.
 MAKING PEOPLE HAPPY
We are not in the business of just filling stomachs – we are in the business of helping to make people happy – to put a smile on their face and to give them pause when your food is presented to them, and to introduce them to something memorable. Making people happy is our primary objective.
 LOOKING IN A MIRROR
When the day is done and we pull the jacket off one sleeve at a time, when we breathe deep and splash some water in our face, and when we look in a mirror – the cook in us can smile and say: “Job well done.” This is why I love being a cook – this is what I miss.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
www.harvestamericacues.com – BLOG
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