When cooking on a hot line, you become very aware of your size. The space it takes to make a 360 is smaller than you realize, but the distance from kitchen to dining room is always further. Taking as few steps as possible to achieve maximum efficiency is the goal, creating a small square in which you operate, mise only a glance away.
That level of awareness carries over into civilian hours. Darting in and out of grocery store foot traffic, your social circle alarmingly close and simultaneously comfortable at the bar. Your body just becomes another tool, a little large for the knife kit, but the concept remains. Depending on how quickly you become serious about the field, you start to treat it like a tool as well. Late night shots and loading dock cigarettes are a cool facade, until you can’t handle twelve hour shifts and brunch service the next morning.
At twenty three years old, five years of pretending to be apart of the field, it’s become apparent that the physical consciousness doesn’t translate mentally. Realizing the influence of mental space has taken much longer to gain, in regards both to myself and others. The effects that it has on performance, professionally and personally, result in the difference between a smooth dinner service, and a senior discount brunch.
The space that energy takes up is infinitely more important. A kitchen full of passionate participants, feeling the intrinsic rhythm and music of prep that transitions into an adrenaline fueled service, flames beating in sync with heartbeats, knife cuts pounding to the tenor of the expediter – it’s all energy bound. So is the kitchen dragged along by the deadbeats and downtrodden.
People are a lot more fluid than they like admitting, folding and twisting into the form that surrounds them. Who surrounds you is the mold, and as with anything else in life, you have the ability to choose what, and who, you want.
If it does not serve the food in some way, do away with it. If it doesn’t amplify flavor, intensify natural color, bring texture or aroma to the forefront – it isn’t needed. It is a distraction and a detraction from the simplistic beauty of what an ingredient can be. This applies to people, as well. If the who’s, he’s and she’s surrounding don’t amplify, intensify, or push you, they are detracting, and draining to the palate. Question which one you are constantly.
Consider too, mentors. Few, far, and rare, I’ve been blessed with too many in this life, each primed with a skill set that I just so happen to need at that moment. You get to pick those too, if you try hard enough. Choosing who you want to learn from is easy enough, convincing them slow down, and teach an incessant, questioning (probably irritating) equivalency of a child, is the hands in the dirt-tearing at weeds-torn fingernails part. Recognizing superior knowledge, experience, and skill is easy. Sacrificing pride, in reality, is more akin to what I imagine a bulb of garlic feels like when it’s being unceremoniously ripped from its dark cocoon of the earth.
Being a chef is more about restraint, and containment, then it is about flourishing gestures, and grandiose experimentation (even though its fun to deviate). Calculated moves, honing of tools, paying respect to the ingredients you manipulate. I’m trying to learn how to live and breathe those practices, in and out of a coat.
There’s no greatness, in anything, before you are good. You can’t be good until you learn how you’ve been less so. Find the chefs (people) that show you by being better than what you are.