Cooks aren’t heroes. A chef is no celebrity. The crew of a kitchen is a gaggle of socially awkward miscreants and hooligans. The only revelry is in our own heads and from the sideways glance of other cooks with culinary envy. We are in the spotlight of our own minds. To be perfectly clear, when you walk down the street wearing chefs’ whites, you are not being mistaken for wearing a bright blue cape and the paparazzi will not stalk you. Get over it. I cook for sustenance and to provide a bright moment in somebody’s day, if that. The food we prepare is to fulfill an essential need, right up there with the need for clothes and shelter. We are not special, unique or otherwise national treasures. We strive to feed only our insatiable egomaniacal desire to be the best or, more accurately, to be thought the best. There is skill, talent or even gifted. There are also skilled, talented and gifted mechanics. Stock brokers. Poker dealers. The difference of us is that FoodTV exists. And Bon Appetit. And Iron Chef. So we appear demigods. But, no. We concoct this fictional majesty to buffer the wretched hours, pittance of pay, and tax on our physical condition. Alas, the toll on our mental stability is undeniable; substance abuse, destructive lifestyle, wrecked interpersonal skills.
Cooking is a way to live. It pays a wage and just about anybody can get in the show. With time and a little tenacity, it is reasonable to move up the pay scale and rank order of the kitchen. But that is it. If you are a manager, then you are still part of that pan-juggling, pepper-spitting circus. If you are an owner - gasp! - you are merely the director of the sh*t-show, behind the camera rather than in front of it.The hours are the same, the pay might be better, but the broken cooler, dropped bottle of Jack and the server that just got sliced cutting lemons are your problems. You’re welcome.
Cook. Don’t cook. Work the line. Or not. Trash your feet, cower from your weekend, say good-bye to your ability to carry on a conversation without swearing like a sailor. Or not. Cooking can feel good. It can wrangle creativity into an edible form. It can be the only canvas for starving ‘artists’ in need of a way to pay the rent. Rid that orbiting thought that celebrity chefdom is just around the corner. Forget about having the hottest place in town. Bright lights tend to burn out, too. Instead, practice the trade. Make good food. Earn a decent wage and maybe give a young kid trying to get into the business a realist’s perspective as to what is expected for making wholesome, safe food that looks pretty good and tastes pretty good. Elevate the image of the industry if you want that struggle. Preparing food for consumption has been around as long as, well, people. So the mission of changing this field, a field that everybody feels they are expert, is a fool’s errand.
So shut up. Cook some food. Make some friends in the kitchen. Hell, make some good connections with your vendors and delivery guys. Then go home, or to the bar, or to the bookstore, knowing that you just got very personal with a bunch of people on the other side of the kitchen door. They put something you made inside their bodies. That is some pretty intimate stuff. Like the other type of intimacy, do it well and they will come back for more. They may even brag to their friends how good it was. You hang your hat at the end of the day knowing that what you did is grounded in tradition, skill and, hopefully, a little pride.