Maybe this is simply way out there and not of interest to anyone but me, but here it goes.  Where do we fit in the big scheme of things?  Seriously – have you ever given thought to this question?  Look around you at the incredible intelligence, innovation, talent, and skill of engineers, mathematicians, scientists, physicians, musicians, artists, economists, product designers, mechanics, theorists, and physicists and their discoveries and inventions.  How can we compare in the big scheme of things?  These individuals started out the same way they we did – just a fairly blank slate with a hunger for life and a thirst to learn.  How did they wind up moving in the direction they did, and we stepped into the realm of the kitchen?

Is it the lifelong pursuit of answers that drives so many to jump into one discipline vs. another or are we destined to windup where we are anyway?  What determines the path that we will take and what fuel feeds the desire to be a world changing scientist who discovers the way to build a vaccine for Covid or learns how to properly braise a lamb shank? Ah – that preverbal fork in the road, that early decision to turn left or right, that fateful event that either inspired us or forced us to choose – interesting.

There are many things that boggle the mind, that are so hard to grasp that we simply put them aside and either ignore them or accept them.  How can someone be so intelligent that they are able to comprehend, let alone work with the Higgs Boson “God particle “(the basis for structure of all matter) that is so small, yet so powerful that mankind had to develop the CERN Hadron Collider particle accelerator in France and Switzerland with miles of round perimeter tunnels that accelerate atomic particles to the speed of light and then crash them together to study the concept and to even think about recognizing that it even exists?

The CERN Hadron Collider:

 How can a person be so knowledgeable and so skillful as to repair the value in a human heart or so talented as to compose a musical piece for a symphonic orchestra of nearly 100 different musicians in their mind before it is put to paper?  Yet many, just like you and me are most concerned with the proper plating technique of a classic dish first developed by Escoffier.  How can we all start out basically the same and move in such different directions and is there any equality in importance?

Plating Technique:

Yes, I think about this stuff and sometimes I am able to put the thoughts aside when it turns from question to headache – but other times it keeps me up at night.  The underlying question seems to always be: “Did I choose the right path and was it my choice anyway?”   Compare and contrast is human nature – we do this from our earliest days of existence.  So and so has something that I don’t have, or he or she receives recognition, and I did not – it is the basis for many disagreements, misunderstandings, anxieties, fights, class structures, and wars.  Does it all begin with that fork in the road?

Obviously, the environment that we are born into has a bearing on our decisions.  Without a doubt there are socio-economic factors that determine whether you turn left or right, and the influence of family and friends cannot be denied.  There is no question that some people are born with a more complex gray matter network sitting on their shoulders, and I guess we can argue that there is such a thing as born talent.  Yet, we come into this world with free will and if you consider how, we start out as a blank slate with a desire to learn and reach a level of independence – we do still have a choice.  Those born with all the trappings of wealth, those who come from caring families, and those who have parents with a commitment to education will have a certain amount of advantage, but there are ample examples of babies born without any of this who choose to take a road that leads to exceptionalism and contribution.  But, why cooking and once that decision is made – how does one reconcile the importance of that decision?

A few realities seem to hold up:

  • MANY HUMANS ARE TACTILE LEARNERS:  Cooking is very much a tactile skill with an end product that can be admired and consumed.
  • MANY PEOPLE WANT TO MAKE A DENT IN THE UNIVERSE: Ours might not change the world, but we can change the life of a person who needed to feel special, even for just a brief moment – changing everything – one person at a time.
  • WE RISE TO THE EXPECTATIONS OTHERS HAVE OF US: We want to make people happy – from that first finger painting that we brought home to our parents, to completion of that project for a teacher, or placing a perfect plate of food in the pass for the expeditor to admire.  That nod or smile says: “You exceeded my expectations”.
  • BRINGING SOMETHING TO FRUITION IS TREMENDOUSLY GRATIFYING:  Every moment of every day in the kitchen yields an accomplishment from an individual plate to a banquet for 500 – a cook’s days are filled with accomplishment.
  • GENERALLY, PEOPLE HAVE A NEED TO BE GOOD AT SOMETHING:  Yes, there are those with gifted palates or an eye for presentation that seems unique, but with lots of practice every cook can become good at what they do – even great.
  • FOR THE MOST PART – PEOPLE WANT TO BE HAPPY:  Working in a kitchen environment as a member of a team, pushing to get better, working through the heat and the sore muscles, putting together a plate of food that satisfies all the human senses, and doing all this every day is something that makes every tired cook happy.
  • IT IS HUMAN NATURE TO KNOW THAT YOU HELPED TO MAKE SOMEONE ELSE HAPPY:  A clean plate returning from the dining room, a guest’s pause to look at the plate from every angle, a few photos to add to their Instagram account, and a thumbs up from the server.  The potential is always there for cooks to make others happy in each moment.

So, how does one reconcile that they chose to learn how to master that braised lamb shank and did not go down the path to become a mathematician who plotted out the trajectory of a rocket destined to dock with a complex space station miles outside of the earth’s atmosphere?  Hmmm.  Well, obviously the path I chose did not set the stage for finding the real answer to this, but I do know that I chose the path, as did many of you, that made the most sense for me or you.  I also know, as should you, that what we all do is important in the big scheme of things because it fulfills our personal need to create, to feed our tactile learning tendencies, it makes people happy, helps them deal with their life challenges, and serves as an important reward for what they do.

Every mathematician, scientist, doctor, teacher, artist, musician, and physicist inherently need great cooks and respects the cook’s ability to feed the body, mind, and soul.  What we do is important and the fork in the road that we faced, and the direction that we chose was the right one for us.  This is a calling in life that is purposeful and meaningful and one that others depend on.  We pay respect to Mother Nature, celebrate the farmer and the fisherman; we develop skills that can take a lifetime to truly master, we paint our greatest works of art on a plate, we feed the body and give hard working people a moment to pause and be thankful and laugh over a delicious plate of food, and we bring people together even when they seem to have irreconcilable differences – we make a dent in the universe.  We may not make the cover of Scientific America, but we make people smile and that means a lot. 


Choose your path wisely and know that it is the right decision

Harvest America Ventures, LLC

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One response to “COOKS AND CHEFS – WHERE DO WE FIT?”

  1. I will try to be brief.
    As a child, I wanted to build robots, still do. But hands larger than mine steered me to cooking, an older profession than robotics. Perhaps because food is easier to understand than servos, wiring schemes, and mechanical tolerances. Or I got lazy and let a job become a passion.

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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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