This is one of those reflective moments – we all have them – a time to think back rather than forward and simply wonder how the future will compare and who will hold the keys to progress. I was reading an article from the blog: www.blog.cheapism.com titled: “33 of the oldest chefs in America”, when that flame of nostalgia kicked in. At first, I thought isn’t it great that these incredible chefs and ambassadors for cuisine in America were still doing what they love at the age of 62-85? Then it struck me: “What will the American Food Scene look like when these trailblazers are no longer around?” What happens after Lidia Bastianich, Thomas Keller, Patrick O’Connell, Jacques Pepin, and Rick Bayless? Maybe, this is morbid thinking (sorry to all of the chefs on the list), but it is something that made me really wonder.
As is often the case, one series of thoughts leads to another, and I started to apply the same questioning to other professions. I watched a video clip of the Tedeschi Trucks Band with guest guitarist Jorma Kaukonen – a terrific example of American R and B with the former guitarist from Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna (in my top five greatest bands list). Kaukonen has mellowed over the years but has also refined and enhanced his skills as a picker using a wide range of genres – he is 80 years old. Looking deeper I found that Carlos Santana is 74, Keith Richards 77, Eric Clapton 76, Jeff Beck 77, the grand-daddy of them all – John Mayall is 87, Grace Slick of White Rabbit fame is 82, Joni Mitchell is 78, and the grand master – Bob Dylan is 80. I can still remember the first time I heard Blowin in the Wind and Big Yellow Taxi and knew that these musicians were changing the world.
If you are an avid reader, like me, then you have been entertained for decades by authors like James Patterson, John Grisham, or Agatha Christie all who range in age from 66-85. Who will take their place on the best seller lists?
The same is true for business leaders who built the standards of excellence for American products and service. It was Steve Jobs of Apple, Bill Gates from Microsoft, and a plethora of others who built the new economy in America. Jobs would have been 66 this year if he had not passed in 2011, Gates is 66, Larry Ellison of Oracle is 77, Richard Melman of Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant Group turned 79, Danny Meyers of Union Square Restaurants is the youngster at 63, and the investment genius Warren Buffet is 91. Who will make up future clubs of business innovators?
Of course, the answer is: there are always plenty of new and exciting leaders to take the place of innovators in every genre, but what will they be like, where will they take their respective industries or what new industries will they create? In so many cases it was the curiosity of the leaders listed that helped them to invent or reinvent a business formula or a product that everyone needed before they even knew that they needed them. It was the need for perfection and innovation that nurtured the work of Charlie Trotter and Thomas Keller who gave birth to the American Tasting Menu; the desire for authenticity that allowed Rick Bayless to envision Frontera Grill and Topolobampo, an understanding of what real service means to bring Danny Meyer to NYC restaurant prominence, a vision of the impossible for Steve Jobs to reveal the first smart phone, and finding a formula for holding reader interest to allow James Patterson and his partners to write or co-write 114 books to date.
I continue to reflect on that article of the 33 oldest chefs in America and appreciate all that they have done. I am part of their generation and have enjoyed working under their influence but at the same time know that there will be others to follow. They will not be the same, but they will be great. Their methods will differ, but they won’t be wrong. Their products will never be the same as Keller, O’Connell, Bayless, Bastianich, Waters, Tower, or Morimoto, but they will be inspiring and delicious. One thing that history has taught us is curiosity is always present and the need to ask: “why and why not” will drive future generations to push the envelope and make that dent in the universe.
There were many that came before this aging generation of great leaders and there will be many that are ready in the wings, sitting on the bench and waiting for their chance to become part of the first string. I will continue to reflect on the past, admire the present, but always look forward with excitement to the future. It is time to pass the torch and welcome a new generation of cooks and influential chefs.
ARTICLE: 33 of the oldest chefs in America
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