One of the worst mistakes anyone can make each day is to turn on the news. If there were good news in the world, you would be hard put to notice through the media. If there were a rise in depression in this country, I would have to point at least one finger at 24-hour news. If they believe that constant disclosure is healthy, I am at a loss to agree. Racial tension, political polarization, more wars than you can count, terrorist threats that would keep anyone up at night, Ebola, unemployment, sexual harassment, a sub-par educational system, product recalls, police shootings, forest fires, earthquakes, global warming, GMO’s, eColi, obesity, diabetes, cancer, missing airplanes and weapons of mass destruction – holy crap, is the world falling apart, or what? Is it really this bad? Is the media simply hyping situations to fill in 24 hours of programming, or is there a plan to keep the entire population on edge? Is it even possible to get a good night sleep anymore without waking at 3 a.m. with cold sweats?
Where can we go to get away from all of this high wire tension? Try working in a kitchen. What is so fantastic about working in a kitchen is that the focus has been, is, and always will be your assigned tasks. There is no time for wandering focus in the kitchen, in fact, when you work in a kitchen, your mind is 100% connected to the task at hand. The rest of the world and its problems will have to wait. Through the lens of the kitchen, there is no room for anything but total dedication to the product, the process and the plate.
As much as we all (those working with food) promote the intensity and difficulty of the job, it is, to most of us, therapeutic. Keep me away from the world problems – real or hyped, I need to tighten up my mise en place. My world as a cook is focused on the edge of the knife, the precise cut of vegetables, the cost conscious trim of steaks and flawless fillet of fish, the spot on flavor of sauces and perfect al dente blanching of vegetables. This is the world of the cook, this is home, this is time well spent, and this is our escape from the anxiety associated with media doom and gloom.
Truly, this is the reality of the kitchen, which brings me to a theory: what if everyone else took the time to simply appreciate what cooks appreciate. What is hate, but misunderstanding; what is war and conflict, but a lack of communication; what is an unhealthy body but simply a result of poor nutrition and a lack of knowledge or desire to cook with a conscience?
Cooks, for the most part, don’t care about differences, they don’t focus on what the world thinks of them, they don’t enjoy watching others suffer, and never whine when they might even have the right to – they simply cook. This is what we do, and yes, it is therapeutic.
So, what if we took a lesson from professional cooks and tried to solve our problems behind a range and at the dinner table. Cooks know that breaking bread is the great equalizer. Sharing a great meal and maybe a nicely balanced glass of wine or artistically brewed beer puts everyone on an equal playing field. Suddenly, it is all about the food, the history behind a dish, the craft of the cook, and the beauty of nature’s bounty. Great food leads to great conversation and understanding. Working behind a line demands great communication and teamwork. This is our life, a secret that until now has not been shared with the general public.
Maybe we should have world leaders work together in a kitchen, talking about their ethnic food preparations and collectively presenting a meal. Maybe Republicans should cook for Democrats and vice versa. Maybe Christians should sit down to a traditional Muslim meal and learn to eat their differences away. Maybe Muslims should spend some time on an American farm and learn about how the farmer cares for God’s bounty. Maybe, we should forget about our differences and instead celebrate the uniqueness that is each of us. If food can be a catalyst for understanding, then use it.
Let’s have a good news network that talks about the great, kind, selfless, passionate, happy and helpful people who are really the majority of the world’s population. Maybe it can begin with cooks. Kitchens and the people who work in them don’t care about how people are different; they care about quality, dedication, passion, hard work and creativity. These are common denominators that bring people together. Actually, what makes people different is what makes a kitchen hum. It is the breadth of culture, ethnicity, and life experiences that helps to create that environment of bonding that makes a great restaurant.
One of the things about working in restaurants that has always made my day, is the diverse makeup of the teams who call the kitchen and dining room their home. I have happily worked with Haitians, Mexicans, French, Germans, Spaniards, Norwegians, Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Ecuadorians, Brits, African Americans, Italians, Irish, Polish, Iranians, Egyptians, and Vietnamese cooks and service staff. These are all some of the finest people I have ever known. In the restaurant we are one, we learn about each others culture and traditions, occasionally get to taste each other’s ethnic foods, break bread, toast the end of a shift with a drink, and get up the next day in service of the guest and respect for the food we get to work with.
This theory of food as a unifying medium may be a bit altruistic, but still worthy of consideration: just some thoughts.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC