Craftsman and Cooks

Sunday, Mar 2nd, 2014

craftsman-2-7833982With the flow of younger cooks in and out of the restaurants I work at, I hear snippets of conversations here and there often describing dreams for the future, and the chefs they want to be. Not in a lofty sense, actual names of the chefs they admire most and hope to grow into.

These cooks pour over menus, stare into pictures on the computer, and gather pieces of information through conversation, building a picture of their favorite chefs in their young minds. Sometimes it’s gossipy, someone used to work with someone who worked there and they said once the chef was a dick. Or my roommate worked there and said he kicked all the cooks out and ran service with just his sous chefs. I’ve heard outlandish tales, that one pastry chef was so organized he wrote “go to the bathroom” on his prep list.

But mostly they talk about the food. How creative it is. How different it is. How they want to be able to do that some day too.

The fledgling cooks admire these chefs for their brains, the creativity they bring to our profession, and they too wish to be as inventive as them, making their own mark on the world one day.

My advice to young hungry cooks who want to become chefs one day is this. Be a craftsman first. The artistry will come. Don’t get too far ahead of yourself, and let the chef you are working for be your creative guide while you focus on making yourself the best craftsman in their kitchen.

You’re time will come. And once you get there the most empowering thing you’ll find in your arsenal is your ability to craft the food to fit your creative vision. The most interesting flavor profiles will fall flat if you don’t understand how to shape the products you’re working with in the first place. How to store and protect your vegetables, how to fabricate your meats and fish, how to boil pasta, how to apply heat to different products correctly to consistently transform them into something of quality.

The stronger your craftsmanship is, the more you will be able to execute your creative vision one day, and the better you will be able to teach your cooks to craft your cuisine when you turn them over to your line. Until then, while you have the benefit of repetition, practice with someone elses menu. Craft each component on each dish better than the day before. Pick one thing each day to actively improve. Don’t let the repetition of your station hypnotize you, instead let it offer another chance to improve every time you make it, plate it, taste it. Do this for your chef because one day you want your cooks to do it for you. But mostly do it for the chef you hope to become.

The chefs you admire did this. I guarantee it. No one climbs to the top of their field creatively without having the craftsmanship to back it up.

So you want to be like the chef you admire most? Then tomorrow, when you go in your kitchen, consider yourself a craftsman instead of a cook. One day, when you are creating for your own menu, borrowing inspiration from your favorite chefs career, you’ll look back on this mental transition as a turning point that allowed you to be the kind of chef they are.