Thinking Out Loud

A letter to a chef

By  | 

“Chefs are fond of hyperbole, so they can certainly talk that way. But on the whole, I think they probably have a more open mind than most people” ~ Anthony Bourdain

Dear Chef,
You’re either about to begin a shift that might last for a little over fourteen hours or you’ve just wiped down the work stations after a gruelling day of three hundred odd covers.

After spending a little over five years with many professional chefs like yourself, my respect for what it is that you do and how you do it has most certainly grown over time. I may not be in a position to say, “I know how it feels” because I haven’t worked as a chef or even as a cook before. Having said this, I have watched you in action not only as a food safety consultant but also as a food blogger and I feel this letter is long overdue.

Your true qualification is your passion
Agreed, there are many culinary schools out there that guide prospective chefs and whet their skills. However, what really defines a chef is his or her passion. Time and again you challenge yourself to deliver a dish that not only tastes better, but looks better as well. You are not afraid to make mistakes along the way and experimentation is your middle name. Some of the best chefs I know started off as kitchen porters and slowly worked their way up the ranks. There have also been cases where one did not choose to be a chef but somehow got captivated by it and decided to swap the tie with the apron. This, I believe takes a lot of courage.

You’re not just an artist but an engineer as well
Presentation is key and so is flavour. Plating a dish is nothing short of an art form and to plate it with speed definitely takes skill, precision and experience. Amidst the clanking cutlery, pots and crockery coupled with verbal and printed deliveries of the next order, you’re juggling mise en place, keeping a watchful eye on the stoves, coordinating with the team and adding the final touches to your dish by delicately placing that crowning ingredient as a signature. Focus is everything, focus is rhythm. If you miss a beat or lose your tempo the tune will confidently sound ‘off’ and that results in a domino effect.

A holiday is the busiest day for you
You’ve missed many seasonal holidays and you’re probably going to miss some more in the years to come. It’s especially difficult when your family’s at home wishing you were there with them, instead of the awfully busy kitchen. Being a professional chef makes it hard to sync holidays with friends and family but you tend to work your way around it, which is a good thing.

Lunch break is a myth
I find this quite intriguing – a chef, more often than not struggles to define his or her lunch break timings. Contrary to common understanding – all that cooking and plating actually kills the appetite instead of develop it. Most chefs nibble a little when they see a small window of a break and after that, they’re busy getting orders out as soon as they possibly can. They are somehow tuned to constantly be on the move and multitask. Ergo, no time for lunch breaks.

You are constantly learning
I truly admire your profession and I’m not going to try to seem polite by camouflaging my envy.
Yours is a trade that demands constant learning, experimentation and in some cases, travel as well. Some of the ingredients you work with navigate half way across the world and only you know how to work with them based on your experiences. You watch other chefs in action and in the process of recreating what they did, you re-imagine and reinvent. There is neither end nor dip to your learning curve.

Alice wouldn’t fit in this Wonderland
Stray spluttering ingredients, unsuspecting leaks from the gas line, sharp objects, and much more. You’re constantly facing a hazard of some sort and even if you do get injured, you’re back on the line working with your battle scars, once they have healed. Chefs have explained how hard it is for them to coordinate or stay focused if they stay away from the kitchen for too long. Batty is always in and only chefs can make working in such an environment look that easy.

You speak your mind and you won’t hesitate to
That statement is self explanatory.
As a chef, it’s probably easier for you to work in a multi-cultural system as compared to most professionals from other industries. Your mind is like an open book and this makes you one of the most interesting story tellers as well. It gets even better when you choose to narrate your story through food.

You can be easily loved or easily misunderstood
Chefs are a legion of their own. Regardless of how they portray themselves, their goal remains the same – deliver a good dining experience and make it count. Somehow this message gets lost along the way and some of them are perceived as fierce, disagreeable or downright rude.
Chef, you know what you’re here to do and you should simply put your heart and soul into it.
When I took up food blogging, I was asked by a few chefs, “Should we be afraid of you as well?”. They were joking, of course. My answer then has not changed from what my answer will be if someone else asks me the same question in the future: I speak for myself when I say this- my dining experience will always remain as my dining experience.
I might really appreciate it sometimes and there may be days when what I was looking forward to did not meet my expectations. The keyword here is expectation. Someone else’s expectations cannot define your abilities.
Well, if you were doing a really terrible job, you’d know well before a review got published anyway.
Keep at it, chef. It’s not easy when it comes to being constantly reviewed by people who may or may not know you and you seem to take it in good stride.

The world relies on you three times a day. Who says you’re not a hero?
Here’s to you, Chef.
*clinks glass*

Comestible regards,
Judy Sebastian

Dear Chef blog upload

 

4 Comments

  1. Nomsville

    May 29, 2015 at 12:57 pm

    Very thoughtful and well written! You know, just cooking a single meal for guests can be so nerve-wrecking, making sure everything looks great and tastes perfect, it’s a small taste of what chefs have to deal with on a daily basis! It’s incredible.

    • Food She Blogged

      May 29, 2015 at 1:40 pm

      Thank you very much!
      I agree, it’s not easy. Hats off to our everyday heroes 🙂

  2. Chef and Steward

    July 1, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share about some of the qualities it takes to do the work we do. As a culinary couple, we know firsthand the realities of this life of passion we lead and it is not for the feint hearted. Blessings Judy!

    • Food She Blogged

      July 2, 2015 at 11:12 pm

      Thanks for your lovely words, Kari.
      I agree – definitely not meant for the faint hearted!
      Respect!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *