Yes, Chef…

So I might be taking on a ‘student’. A friend of the families’ son is doing his commercial cookery course, and feels he needs help. I’ve said I’ll help him as much as I can.
Now, I’ve not yet met this kid. But you can bet the first question out of my mouth will be ‘Why do you want to be a Chef?’
I love asking this question. This is THE question, if you will. The quickest and easiest way to pick the ones who will do amazingly in the industry, and the ones that really, only want a job.

I know that I was an obnoxious teenager throughout my apprenticeship, but at least I was an eager, interested one. I remember during my second year, when we’d just hired two fresh first years, in the middle of a busy service, walking around the prep side of the kitchen only to find one of them asleep. Not a good start. I hear the kid did finish his apprenticeship, and then went on to do some kind of office work.

One thing I despise in chefs, and the apprentices coming through the ranks, is the absence of passion. The absolute lack of fire in their belly- their happiness to settle for mediocre. Those who enter the apprenticeship to leave school, or because they need a job. Not because they want a career, or because they believe in food.

I started in this profession early in life. Some said too young. But I knew what I wanted and I did it anyway. I wake up in the morning thinking of food, I go to bed thinking of food. I do not eat to live, I live to eat. I believe in the food, and the ability to achieve perfection. No one person is perfect, but food can be. Be it in the layer of toffee on a well set crème brulee, which cracks easily and adds the touch of caramel to smooth vanilla custard, or in the pungent saffron broth gently steaming open mussels and poaching prawns. Maybe it’s in the way a tough cut of meat was treated tenderly until in it’s braise, it became soft, tender and gelatinous.

I make no secret of the fact that I have worked in many establishments. Some I have loved, some I have hated, and some, I merely tolerated because it was a new experience, and I knew the next one would appear soon. For example, I tolerated my 6 months in a local surf club. I didn’t enjoy it, but I didn’t hate it either. Most of the other chefs, when I grew to know them, felt the same, and missed the passion of cooking for a more discerning clientele. However, the surf club was a steady job for most of them, and it regularly did 200 people on a Monday night, large numbers for the small area it was in. But, the food was standard, regular pub/club fare. Nothing inspiring. Nothing that makes all your senses tingle with joy. It filled one of the most basic human needs- food.

It is understandable. Our pubs and clubs have their place in hospitality, but by no means do they live up to anything that could be close to the awe-inspiring perfection of food.

To paraphrase Gordon Ramsay ‘the minute you send out a dish that you aren’t 100% satisfied with, its game over. You might as well go home’

Everyone who owns a TV has, at some point, seen an episode of master chef, or Jamie Oliver, Kylie Kwong, Gordon Ramsay, Ready Steady Cook, etc… I’m not as big a fan of Jamie Oliver as I used to be- but my god, do I have a load of respect for him. He is one of those people who you look at and see their Passion for their craft written all over their faces. He just obviously loves and feels fulfilled by creating simple, healthy food. And by changing the way people look at their lifestyles and eating habits.

This wouldn’t be a post about cheffing and associated things unless I mentioned Justin North. PWOAR. Now I’ve had a ‘chef crush’ on Justin for years now. Not only is he good looking, but you can see how much respect and love he has for every individual ingredient on the bench. There’s no throwing down the pork belly and slapping a few things over it. Its tender, gentle placing- almost caressing the thing. That’s where you see his passion. His respect, and his dedication. I also admire him for his fantastic business model. But that’s another story.

can i just say, my brain was going EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

What I started out trying to explain, was how you can see who loves and has passion for food, and who doesn’t. You can see, when you hit on a subject they enjoy- dessert, fish, pasta, whatever- their eyes widen a little, they talk faster, more confidently.
Explaining how to make a crème brulee, then extolling the virtues of how one that is perfectly set, with its thin, cracking layer of caramel toffee, is as close to heaven you can get…

I love being a chef. There is nothing else I’d rather do. So I’m hoping that my possible student has the same passion and interest I do- otherwise, I don’t think I’ll be able to help much. Its frustrating working with people, trying to teach people, who don’t really care. And if this kid doesn’t care, well, I don’t know how I’ll manage to teach him…

 Okay, i’ve ranted, vented, and expressed- tell me what you think…

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