I have seen the following quote from Anthony Bourdain many times before, but today it really resonated. It is a statement so simple, yet so profound; so foundational, yet so deep and meaningful; so intriguing and so beautiful. This statement strikes a chord with every professional cook, every chef, and every entrepreneur who owns that intimate corner bistro that opens its doors to a community. This is a statement that strikes a chord with every grandparent who protects those family recipes, every parent who tries to hang on to family traditions, and every friend who seeks to find the best way to project how much they care for another person. This is a statement that resonates with everyone who seeks to demonstrate who they are and what they care about.

“When someone cooks for you – they are saying something. They are telling you about themselves: where they come from, who they are, what makes them happy.”

-Anthony Bourdain

COOK FOR ME is a request that allows the person who ties on an apron a chance to bare his or her soul, to demonstrate how heritage impacts the plate, to talk about joy and pain, memories and challenges, and the love that they have for those who will share what they present through food. This is a big ask, a personal ask, a request to have the cook reveal everything about him or herself.

Cooks never take this request lightly – it is as if the ask was similar to “tell me everything about yourself”. There are few requests that are more personal, few that are more significant, and few that help to solidify a relationship more than: “cook for me”. To a professional – this is an opportunity to shine, to give his or her all, to stand tall and put everything on the table: “This food is a reflection of me, my history, my skill, what I care about, who has influenced me, and a compilation of those experiences that have brought me to this point”.

I paused this morning when I read Bourdain’s words again because there may have never been more important words to cooks; never more telling of why, deep in their heart, a person decides to become a cook or a chef. Once you peel away the necessary layers of: “I need a career, a paycheck, a marketable skill, a way to support my family, a way to fill up my days, etc.” – underneath all of that is a desire to bare your soul, to define what makes you happy, and a way to express that to others.

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“Why do you want to become a cook”? This is a question that many will pose to you as you contemplate a career in the kitchen. Think about your answer; think seriously about how you will answer this question. If you respond by relating to a career, a paycheck, a marketable skill, a way to support your family without giving due consideration to the deeply personal meaning behind it – then you really should think twice. Yes, all of those factors are important and necessary, but they do not reveal what makes a cook a cook, a chef a chef, a restaurateur a restaurateur.

Those cooks, chefs, or restaurateurs who peer out the front window of that corner bistro – minutes before opening the door, are doing so in anticipation of bearing their heart and soul, representing their history and their experiences on a plate, and welcoming others into their space so that they can share all of this. Cook for me is such a personal request and cooking for you such a form of personal expression.

To prepare a meal for someone else is to share everything, giving the guest a chance to find out what makes you tick – a chance to reveal so much that might be missing in simple conversation.

“You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.”

-Anthony Bourdain

Think about those early days of building a new personal relationship. Maybe the first few experiences together were relegated to a third party: a dinner or two at your favorite restaurant, a concert, a movie, or a gathering with friends. One of the best ways to solidify whether or not the relationship has staying power is to invite that person to enjoy a meal that you prepare. This is personal, this is revealing, this is significant. Cook for me is significant.

I have had the pleasure to work with some extraordinary chefs, not always ones with names that roll off the tip of your tongue, but extraordinary all the same. I have shared incredible meals with many exceptional individuals, and I have had the opportunity to experience the work of chefs who take their role seriously and restaurateurs who live to make guests feel at home when they walk through that bistro door. Menus are a fascinating window into the character and skill of a chef, but what is most exciting to me is when I simply say to the server: “Ask the chef if he or she would just cook for me.” Make that dish on the menu that is most inspiring to the kitchen, the dish that resonates to them in the moment, the one that he or she is most proud of – or simply cook whatever you want even if it is not on the menu. I want to connect with the cook, to provide the cook with that opportunity to tell a story and open up a dialogue on the plate. This is exciting for me.

At one point as a chef, I actually put an option on the menu called: Cook for Me. Take a chance and put the entire experience in the hands of the cook and the chef. Give them a chance to be who they are through food. At times it was a diversion from the pace of meeting the demands of a full board of orders, and at other times it caused additional stress – but in all cases, cooks and chefs take the opportunity seriously. Cook for me is significant.

Anthony Bourdain hit the nail on the head when he proclaimed that cooking is a way of telling your story and revealing who you are. What a privilege it is to be a cook, a chef, or a restaurateur. What an opportunity cooking provides to tell your story and share yourself with others. That plate of food is your story, it is a painting that reflects so much about the person that you are.

Cooking for others is a privilege

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One response to “COOK FOR ME”

  1. Anthony Bourdain was quite the story teller, miss his wisdom and wit, why his final act was to take his own life we may never know?

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About Me

PAUL SORGULE is a seasoned chef, culinary educator, established author, and industry consultant. These are his stories of cooks, chefs, and the environment of the professional kitchen.


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