OUR DAILY BREATH: THE COOKING PROFESSION WILL SURVIVE

Painted in Waterlogue

THIS IS A LONG ONE – BUT IMPORTANT FOR ALL WHO ARE SERIOUS ABOUT PROFESSIONAL COOKING.

Cooking for others is one of the oldest professions in the civilized world. Cooks have been, and will continue to be, a catalyst for progress and change and their work provides a window into the state of society and the changes that mankind does and will face. Those who are furloughed and wondering what their future holds, those who had a burning desire to learn how to cook for a living before the onset of Covid-19, and those who took the leap and opened a restaurant of their own, may be having second thoughts about their career choice. I can assure you that cooking will survive and once again thrive – history has demonstrated its resilience.

Pride in one’s profession is as important as the skills necessary to function as a member of that tribe of professionals. Pride is something that taken in the right way is the fuel that runs the kitchens from coast to coast and allows those who cook to accept the challenges that they face every day. This crisis is one of those challenges – maybe one of the greatest challenges of the last few generations. Pride recognizes the importance of history and uses that history as motivation for problem solving and renewal. So, in that vein – here is some important culinary history, a snapshot of individual cooks who have changed history and who, through their actions, we might all find comfort and inspiration.

[]         TAILLEVENT (Guillaume Tirel)

A chef to nobility during medieval times, Taillevent is considered to be one of the first truly professional chefs and a master of traditions and new process such as the development of forms of preservation since refrigeration would be centuries away from development. He wrote one of the first books on the art of cooking that depicted kitchen life during these times and serves as one of the early foundations of the development of French cuisine.

[]        BARTOLOMEO SCAPPI

A chef during the Renaissance – Scappi became a well-known master of cooking during his time as chef for Popes Pius the IV and V. He wrote a document (cookbook) called Opera that contained more than 1,000 recipes and some of the first defined connections between food and health – an early predecessor to the science of nutrition.

[]         ANTONINE CAREME

A truly remarkable chef who came into prominence following the French Revolution. Careme spent most of his career working for Talleyrand – preparing some of the most elaborate banquets of the era with incredible sculptures of food and pastry serving as centerpieces for the noble and the rich. He is considered the first master of Grand Cuisine or Haute Cuisine (artful cooking).

[]         AUGUSTE ESCOFFIER

It would be impossible to over-state the importance of Escoffier to the profession of cooking. He is often referred to as a king of chefs. He partnered with Cesar Ritz to open many of the grand hotels of the day including the Savoy in London and the Hotel du France in Monte Carlo. His work with Ritz led to the formation of successful hotels under the brand of Ritz Carlton. Escoffier even opened the Ritz in Boston – the first in the U.S. His contributions include: development of the system of kitchen organization called the brigade, development of Service a’la Russe (service in courses), writing of Le Guide Culinaire – still considered the most important book on an Executive Chefs shelf (it contains over 5,000 recipes), and raising the craft of cooking to a level of professionalism that had not been realized up to that point.

[]         FERNAND POINT

Point was one of the most important chefs of all time. He operated and was the chef at the world famous Le’ Pyramide outside of Lyon, France. He is credited with training some of Europe’s most noteworthy chefs including Paul Bocuse.   Point was a tough taskmaster who demanded excellence and realized this through his restaurant that was considered the most important such establishment in the world. One of my favorite Point quotes is:

“As far as cuisine is concerned one must read everything, see everything, hear everything, try everything, and observe everything in order to retain in the end – just a little bit.”

-Fernand Point

[]         FANNIE FARMER

Never an operation chef, per se, Fannie Farmer was, however, one of the most influential cooks of all time. A very accomplished cook – Farmer ran the Boston Cooking School (one of the first in the U.S.) and wrote the incredible Boston Cooking School Cookbook (Fannie Farmer Cookbook) that is the most published reference of all time. She also developed units of measurement that are still used in the U.S. to this day.

[]         JULIA CHILD

Julia’s husband was a member of U.S. Intelligence stationed in Paris. To establish her own purpose – Julia attended the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school there and quickly became obsessed with and in love with French Cooking. She was amazed at how little Americans knew about real cooking and became determined to change that. She spent a decade researching and writing “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” a landmark cookbook that continues to be an international bestseller. Subsequently she became America’s first celebrity television cook with her show: The French Chef which first hit the airways in 1963. Julia brought quality cooking into every American home.

Julia was a true fan of professional cooks and chefs spending many years highlighting their talents and enjoying their technical prowess. She has been revered in museums, Saturday Night Live, and in recent years- the feature movie: Julie and Julia. Two quotes that summarize her style are:

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

and

“People who love to eat are always the best people.”

-Julia Child

[]         PAUL BOCUSE

Traditions are important as are classic preparations. Few chefs have bridged these as well with contemporary thought as Paul Bocuse. In collaboration with Chef Roger Verge – Bocuse introduced the world to Nouveau French cooking where heavy sauces and loads of butter were replaced with more natural preparations with freshness and simplicity as the primary ingredients.

[]         ALICE WATERS

As is the case with Julia Child – Alice Waters became infatuated with the French style of cooking and later with the importance of natural ingredients straight from the farm and garden. At her restaurant Chez Panisse – Waters introduced America to the first musings of Farm to Table cooking where her partnerships with farmers and respect for simplicity drove dramatic changes in restaurants across the country.

[]         JEREMIAH TOWER

Some consider Chef Tower to be the driving force behind Alice Waters and the California Farm to Table movement. After serving as chef for Waters during the inception of Chez Panisse – he went on to open Stars Restaurant that was at the center of the celebrity restaurant movement. To many he still remains the chef of chefs in America.

[]         CHARLIE TROTTER

Chef Trotter introduced America to the Tasting Menu in his restaurant “Trotters” in Chicago. For 25 years this destination was the centerpiece of fine dining in America and remained one of the top five restaurants in the States for that entire time. His menu that included 7- 15 courses changed every night for those 25 years.

[]         FERDINAND METZ

Many respect Chef Metz for his skill as a Certified Master Chef, his management of successful U.S. Culinary Olympic Teams, his work with the Heinz Corporation, and his unfaltering commitment to cooking – but his efforts in truly building the Culinary Institute of America into the premier cooking school in the world will surely rise to the top of his resume.

[]         DOMINQUE CRENN

The first woman chef in America to win 3-stars from the Michelin Guide – Her incredibly innovative style at both Atelier Crenn and Petite Crenn have won her international acclaim as one of the top chefs in the world. Combining the innovative style of Ferran Adria and the farm focus of California contemporaries her menus create intrigue and excitement.

[]         MARCO PIERRE WHITE

The accomplished original bad boy of the kitchen. White is a no nonsense ambassador for the sometimes obscene work ethic of professional cooks and chefs, a person who ignores his fame and stays focused on the work. He turns his nose up to the sizzle of the title “chef” and would much rather be known as a hard working cook. He has little patience for anyone who fails to cook with the same passion and total commitment that he has adopted for himself.

[]         JOHN FOLSE

Many think first of Paul Prudhomme when New Orleans cooking comes to mind, but Chef Folse is Prudhomme on steroids. He is not just a superb chef and restaurateur, but a celebrated historian when it comes to Cajun/Creole cooking and the lifestyle of those who call the Bayou their home. He loves Louisiana, its people, and their incredible contributions to America’s most authentic melting pot cuisine.

[]         EDNA LEWIS

Chef Lewis changed America’s view of Southern Cooking and its African American influences. She combined history and tradition with finesse to bring this cuisine to a new level and set the stage for others like Sean Brock who followed in her footsteps. She wrote four cookbooks that truly define what Southern Cooking is all about.

[]         MASSIMO BOTURRA

Italian cooking is steeped in tradition and as such was relegated to those classic preparations to be found in most quality restaurants throughout Italy. Massimo, wanted to break that mold and approach preparations with an innovative eye, while preserving enough of the traditional combinations and flavors to protect the history of this great cuisine. His restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy is considered one of the top five restaurants in the world – respecting his new approach to Italian food.

[]         THOMAS KELLER

If you love food, practice professional cooking, and find that cuisine is essential to American culture then you know who Thomas Keller is. His restaurant The French Laundry was rated the number one restaurant in the world and remains in the top 25 ever since it opened in Yountville, California. Since its popularity grew, so did his breadth of offerings in other restaurants such as Bouchon, Per Se, and Ad Hoc. He is now, by far, the most important ambassador of American cooking – recognized throughout the world.

[]         LIONEL POILANE

Travel around the world and visit bread bakers who have committed their lives to the dough and the oven, have a cup of coffee with incredible chefs in every country, visit baking schools and carry on a conversation with baking faculty, and collect all of the most celebrated bread books that you can find and ask one simple question: “Who was the finest bread baker in the world?” The answer will undoubtedly be: Lionel Poilane. Unfortunately, we lost Poilane to a tragic helicopter crash in 2002, but his daughter carries on the traditions that he established in his destination bakery in the heart of Paris.

[]         ALAIN PASSARD

L’Arpege in Paris is one of the top ten restaurants in the world. Passard has been chef operator for 34-years and established himself as one of the truly extraordinary chefs to be found anywhere. What he is most famous for now is his reinvention into the most noteworthy “plant forward” chef in a field of restaurants that would otherwise find cooking with vegetables – incomplete. He has brought the vegetable to the center of the plate and in the process started a revolution in healthy eating and cooking.

[]         ERIC RIPERT

Simply put – the finest seafood chef in the world – operating the finest seafood restaurant in the world. Ripert is also a chef who has found a way to create balance in his life. He has the highest standards while at the same time maintaining his reputation as a calm chef who supports and teaches his staff exceptionally well. Le Bernadin in New York City is a must visit restaurant that should appear on every serious cooks bucket list.

[]         DAN BARBER

Blue Hill in NYC and Blue Hill at Stone Barn are more than great restaurants – they are experiments designed to educate and move America closer to quality ingredients and demonstrate how essential great farming is to great cuisine. The chef works diligently to help diners understand these connections and learn to respect good practice as part of great cooking.

[]         RICK BAYLESS

Having spent seven years living in Mexico engaged in Mexican culture – Chef Bayless and his wife Deann felt compelled to open two restaurants in Chicago: Frontera Grill and Topolobampo (a restaurant within a restaurant) to demonstrate to America what authentic Mexican food was all about. He is a definitive expert in the culture and processes that surround this exciting and very complex style of cooking. His cookbooks and television shows were instrumental in bringing this understanding to America.

[]         JOSE ANDRES

Aside from his prowess as an exceptional chef and restaurateur who brings his passion for Spain to menus – Chef Andres is a true humanitarian who has taken his fame and success to a mission that includes support for restaurant workers and for those who are food deprived throughout the world. Wherever there is a need after natural disasters – Andres World Central Kitchen is there to muster up volunteer support, interact with local governments, find the resources and facilitate the first need in recovery: feed the people. He is the first chef to ever be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

[]         YOU

Time to carry on the tradition, carry the torch for change, and continue to build a dynamic, exciting, innovative, inclusive industry that not only represents what each country is, but what it might become. The profession will survive and those who tie on an apron now or have a desire to do so in the coming months will be the survivors and the face of a business that is so important to society. Stand proud, stand tall as a cook, stand tall as a chef, and be the next contributor to the proud history of a great profession.

PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER

Restaurant Consulting

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

www.harvestamericacues.com BLOG

  1 comment for “OUR DAILY BREATH: THE COOKING PROFESSION WILL SURVIVE

  1. April 19, 2020 at 9:44 pm

    You were not kidding, it was a long one. Being a retired chef, twice actually I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several of these fine chef’s, even the pleasure of breaking bread with Edna Lewis in 97 at the South-East ACF Regional Conference in Colonial Wm’bg., excellent read and a must for any young Culinarian coming up the ladder!
    Thank-You Chef!
    Yours, On the Range,
    Bruce Clarke
    Central VA.

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