You mentioned something with which I wrestle a lot.
"You touch on something I think is ultra-important, but seem to skip past it- the difference between a cook and a chef."
I have tried and tried to be eloquent on this topic. I don't think I have succeeded.
But, here is an excerpt from the book.
There was a long bleak break in the advancement of culinary arts between the Apicius de re Coquinaria of Marcus Apicius in the 4th century CE and Taillevent’s Le Viandier published in 1380. And there never was a gustatory Hippocratic Oath to guide us through those dark times. I think my original jejune geist, although I have never put much stock in sloganeering, could be lifted directly from Hippocrates’ game plan:
"To consider dear to me as my parents him who taught me this art; to live in common with him and if necessary to share my goods with him;
To look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art if they so desire without fee or written promise; to impart to my sons and the sons of the master who taught me and the disciples who have enrolled themselves and have agreed to the rules of the profession, but to these alone the precepts and the instruction.
I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone."
When we decide to become a chef we take a step across a line. We do prescribe regimens. We call them menus. This is the medicine we say you should be taking. And, in a very real sense, those who decide to dine with us are our patients. They entrust their bellies and their health to us. It is our job to make the medicating, the dining experience as pleasant as possible. We take responsibility.
And once you begin running a kitchen you are instantly, like the mantle or not, a de facto teacher. And every apprentice or student to whom you pass on your knowledge is your legacy. In the professional kitchen it is our job to teach the art without fee.
Don’t quibble with me here. Yes, those of us who teach culinary arts outside the working environment require a fee of our students. But, I did give out scholarships, not reimbursed by any governmental agency, every year. And I think you will be hard pressed today to find a medical school for the penniless.
I don’t want to get into the nature vs. nurture squabble here, but I never made a single chef in all my years of running kitchens and teaching. Nobody who ever worked under me or studied under me became a chef because of anything I said or did. It was already there. I've had the pleasure of seeing many of them go on to have their own restaurants, catering companies and even become food directors at hospitals.
Let me try to illustrate this with an example. I worked one time in my life in a “union house.” I stepped into a job as executive chef at a hotel. My agent, culinary, not literary, got me this job. In my 30’s, I had about 12 cooks all of whom were at least ten years my senior and very set in their ways. These guys were hardcore cooks. They knew all the tricks.
From day one there was no question who was in charge. They just knew. I changed all the menus. It was a nearly seamless transition. It wasn’t just that I knew more about cooking than they did. A chef exudes an aura of confidence and command. (I hated this job, by the way, the general manager of the hotel actually made me join the union, one of the most corrupt in the country.) It is difficult to translate this into terms the layman understands. It really does have less to do with cooking and more to do with that unnamable something that some people have and some, clearly, don’t. Yes, the chef is probably more creative than the average cook. That’s a part of it.
Every one of us in that kitchen knew that I was a chef, always would be and none of them ever would be. The hotel actually changed the name of the fine dining restaurant to the name of a dish I introduced to this kitchen.
The chef is the ultimate risk taker. The cook isn’t. The chef puts his ass on the line every time he puts a plate in front of a diner. His name is written all over it. The cook’s isn’t. But, also, the chef knows it’s impossible to do it alone. He relies on the cook and trusts him. There is a kind of love in the kitchen a lot like what I saw in combat. A mutual reliance, where each must pull his weight or all will sink. I rarely fired anyone. When a cook would not hold up his end his peers would push him out of the kitchen.
The closest approximations to an orgasm I’ve ever experienced occurred at the end of evenings in a busy kitchen when we had just put out a couple of hundred – or more - meals, fresh food, well-prepared, timely, hot food hot, cold food cold and we KNEW we had done it absolutely spot on - as well as any team on earth could have done it. Sweaty, covered with food stains, dirty, completely spent and grinning ear to ear at each other. Damn, that felt good! I’d buy us all a drink and we would toast, clean the kitchen and then come back tomorrow and try to top today.
Then there is the pedestrian work. The chef makes schedules, orders the food, does inventories, is responsible for food cost, labor cost, developing menu items, training, developing purveyor relationships, drafting task outlines and job descriptions. While not fun, except for ordering the food, these are the quotidian necessities of the job. The cook does not seek these responsibilities. I could always tell who was destined to be a chef by how they reacted to taking on some of these tasks for me. Some relished increased responsibility. Some shrank from it.
The relishers give me hope for our species.
And I think, to a man – and a woman, for I’ve had many talented women work with me – they would all willingly jump in that foxhole with me again.