The Tao of Being A Chef//Why I love being a chef Part II

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by chefmikesworld, Mar 1, 2005.

  1. chefmikesworld


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    I have received several emails about my Eastern train of thought and how I apply these philosophies into my kitchens as a chef, cook, manager and person. I think to best describe my train of thought, I would have to refer to an excerpt of a translation of "Harmony", the Eleventh Hexagram of the I Ching by Christopher Walkert. Here is the translation in part:

    " cultivating a happy balance within yourself you also create harmonious conditions around you. People of all types find it easier to co-operate with you. If you are in a leading position, your decisions will be more constructive and easily followed. And if you are in a learning position, your mind will be more receptive and eager to absorb information.

    While in this state of inner harmony, you develop a new awareness, an ability to sense future developments, to see the consequences of certain ideas and events, and to act accordingly. You relate to others in a more subtle and sincere way. You also rely on your inner resources and are not easily upset by outer events. By the same token you also do not base your self-esteem on your title, social position, possessions or inherited privleges... because you are firmly centered in yourself and harmonize with the cosmic order, you do not live in fear of times of turmoil that are bound to occur now and then..."

    If you are a chef or culinarian you can totally understand why this is one of my favorite philosophies that I apply to who I am and what I do as a chef and culinarian.

    Some of you that know me or have been reading my writings for some time have often heard me refer to some of the Ancient Chinese texts because most of what I have learned from these texts have aided in my becoming not only a better, happier person but also aided in the formation of the chef and manager I have become. The Art of War being an excellent reference to support my claim.

    Several years ago I had taken a management course and was pleased that our reference for this course was "The Art of War" by Sun Tzu. The general gist of the text, although originally intended to be a guide on warfare, was to analyze each and every situation and apply it to your life as you would a battlefield. The most important impression on me through the study of this book, as pointed out by my friend Chef Scott in one of the past issues of The Chef's Office Newsletter was to know your enemy. (I enjoyed sharing the texts that I owned with Chef)

    In our case as culinarians it could be the ovens, our labor force, our perveyors or the examination of all the products that we are permitting to leave our kitchen. Chef Scott had said something a couple weeks ago that I really liked that I refer to as a "Bento-ism" (his nickname is Chef Bento). Chef had said that when everything is black and white there does not seem to be much problem, it is only when the gray appears...Cheffy liked that one...

    One thing I can truly say about being a culinarian, is that as chef's, managers, teachers, and mentors, one of our greatest losses is when we forget that once upon a time we were students and due to the confusion of our ego, we often lose sight of this.

    There have been Chef's in my professional career that have taken me to different levels of being the best culinarian and man that I can be. It was my honor this time last year to visit with the one Chef that always has been a true mentor to me, Chef Roy England.

    I have not seen Chef Roy in about 12 years and have not worked under him directly (although questions were only a phone call away), for about 15 or 16 years. Once upon a life, I was Chef Roy's chief cook, bar-boy and bottle washer. It was awesome that we could hang out, and hopefully I made him proud of the Chef that I grew up to be, the chef/culinarian that he helped mold. It was a humbling experience.

    Chef and Cheffy had some really great conversations, and although not drifting too far off base on the original conversation, I would like to touch base on one of them today...

    Chef and I were discussing how the brigade systems in professional kitchens have fallen by the wayside with the onflux of multi-faceted, franchise and chain restaurants on the constant uprise. This primarily led us into talking about kitchen role-play, more specifically the Executive Chef versus Sous Chef. Chef Scott and I have had this conversation many times and I think this is a point worth discussing.

    Although I have held a variety of positions throughout my career from dishwasher to Executive Chef, I think my most awarding and challenging position has been as a Sous Chef. Whether I was under Chef Roy, or if I was Chef Scott's Executive Sous Chef or Chef David's Chef de Cuisine. These have been some of my most rewarding and most humbling experiences. I had once been asked why and the only reason I can think of is that it keeps your ego in check. Don't get me wrong, I have enjoyed the prestige of the positions I have held in my career but I don't beleive prestige fits into the equation of who I am or what I do in the kitchen anymore. I used to get high on it, now I get off on the challenges I pose on myself or by the standards set by some of the great culinarians that I have worked under.

    Some people really don't realize what a Sous Chef really is, but I thought I would briefly explain my point of view on this subject as well...

    What is a Sous Chef?

    Theoretically, a Sous Chef is the lead saucier and the administrative assistant to the Executive Chef. In reality, it is a whole different world. So let me re-phrase my own question...

    What am I as a Sous Chef?

    I am a visionary executionist. I take a thought, idea, vision, expression and focus on materializing the imagination of my Chef.

    My hands, knowledge, imagination and expertise are tools that I use to express the intention of the Chef that I work under. He imagines and at times develops, I add my own world of method, taste, flavor, color, texture to his idea. I constantly push the envelope, think outside the box and make the world a happier place by expressing the art of two passionate human beings for who genuinely care for who they are and what they do.

    My friend and sponsor for the first leg of Cheffy's trip to South Carolina, Debi Beelow, owner of NV Salon in Greenville, SC said in one of our philosophical discussions that " is the expression of my craft..." Man, it doesn't get any better than that...

    Just in this past year alone, I have taken my craft from the shores of Charlevoix, Michigan to the International Gourmet Festival in Puerto Vallarta, have shared the dinner table with some of the best chefs in the world and yet here I am in South Carolina, humbling myself, learning and sharing daily and becoming one with the food that I produce...

    Pleasing the World,
    One Palate at a time...

    May Peace and Serenity find it's way into your heart and home today and everyday...

    Chef Michael Hayes
  2. rivitman


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    Former Chef
    Nice essay, but I can tell you and I walk (cook) in different worlds. It's somewhat more cut and dried for me. Trust me, i would love to participate in something similar to what I think you are living now. But for me, its:

    1. Put out good food.
    2. Survive physically.
    3. Derive what satisfaction I can from 1 and 2.

    Right now I am up to my neck in brute force kitchen work, and any attempt to meditate for too long results in slumber.

    A good sous or first cook?
    He is absolutely loyal to me. Period. Not the owner, not the restaurant, me. He unerringly acts in my best interests and watches my back. A less skilled cook I can bring up to speed. Then he gets a degree of creative freedom. But if he is not my samurai, my pretorian guard, he's not going to last long.
  3. chefmikesworld


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    Hey Rivet....

    Exactly why I posted this article...wanted this kind of feedback, my article was philosophical in a sense because that is what I believe, and I stand by my thoughts but to further explain myself...

    The kitchen is a battlefield...

    We rock and roll, forget everything else that goes on in life to pump it out, rock and roll the digits and make the numbers...this is who we are and this is what we do...

    I took a lot of feedback from this article and that rocks, which is one of the reasons that I decided to write it...

    First and foremost, we are culinarians, we love food, we love expressing our craft and given the right circumstances we can prove that our craft is an outlet for the starving artist that we are...

    Can some people stand next to me, follow me around for a 16 hour day, understand why I have a calculator in my pocket, understand the numbers, have the passion and love, rock and roll and understand that all else is bullsh**?...Not hardly...Can they understand that the only thing that matters is the final product...the speed, the effeciency, color, flavor, taste, texture and the inevitable ahhhhhhhhhhhh when everything comes into place and the artist behind the craft of developing awesome food has performed to his ultimate perfection of who he/she is and what they do...?

    This my friend, is the ultimate buzz...

    Why waltz when you can rock and roll?

    Chef Mike
  4. artameates


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    Professional Caterer
    random chinese proverb: talk does not cook rice.