Why Do You Cook?Andres Cantu“It’s like I always knew,” explains San Antonio chef Johnny Hernandez, the culinary dynamo behind True Flavors Catering and El Machito, among others. Having grown up in his father’s restaurant, Hernandez had no doubt that cooking would remain the focal point of his life’s work.
There aren’t many of us who can claim such provenance, yet here we are: boiling and broiling, slicing and dicing, turning and burning, all with varying degrees of passion. Slippery floors, stainless steel corners, boiling water, fryers, fires, blades, soaking clothes, no-call/no-shows, safety standards…and the restaurant hasn’t even opened yet. With all the toil and total chaos, why do we do it?
I’ve met many cooks who are only in it for the paycheck. They bounce from restaurant to restaurant and shift to shift with absolutely no love for the food. They get trained and they pump out product as fast as possible. They develop a basic working knowledge of equipment, timers, and station duties, but neither possess nor seek any esoteric culinary knowledge.
On the other hand, there are also those who had no desire to cook until they actually had a chance. For them, becoming a pro cook was serendipitous; in spite of the litany of everyday kitchen reality, they found something that kept them coming back for more. It may have been the way they thrived under pressure. Maybe it was the requisite precision involved in the process of getting plates to customers’ tables. Maybe they’re just masochists. Whatever their particular reason, they found themselves in a kitchen and volunteered to stay there.
And then there are the artists. They, like Chef Hernandez, just know. Some pick up a pen, others a guitar; some a knife, others a measuring cup. For them, an intangible spark ignites within themselves when they encounter that which will consume them. They take their acquired knowledge and create something new and beautiful and scrumptious. The recent surge in Americans’ interest in everything culinary has brought these artists to the front. Its effect on our industry is a two-sided coin, but that’s another story.
There are various types of cooks and their reasons for cooking are diverse in kind. This broad spectrum of personalities and motives truly makes the kitchen a cauldron of possibility. Does reason justify performance in the professional kitchen? Does the reason itself even matter? Why do you cook?