Is It All About The Food?

“I have come to know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good during one’s life; 13 and also that every man should eat and indeed drink and see good for all his hard work. It is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:12,13) Those were the words of King Solomon. Food and drink are a gift, its part of who we are and it is a reward that we all look forward to nourish us on various levels. How many of us have enjoyed good food and drink with friends and it just brought us closer, in fact if we have had a tiff with someone usually being willing to break bread is a step to working to a resolve. Yes, eating and drinking is an intrinsic part of our life as humans, but should it be the main focus and how much emphasis should it be given?


Where does food and wine take on a focus that it shouldn’t- that goes beyond it’s actual worth. I read part of Marco-Pierre White’s White Heat, and I had to put it down. Knowing how he treated some of his cooks I would not have eaten in his establishment- I don’t care how good the food was. Granted, there needs to be discipline in a kitchen that is preparing food at any level for it to be quality. The higher the level of cuisine the more need for focus, discipline, and organization. A solid cook and eventually chef needs to be committed enough and have the desire to improve upon his/her knowledge and skills just as carpenters, or masons, or even graphic artists hone their trade. There is accomplishment and satisfaction when a job is done well and there is ardor behind it.


But what dish or preparation is worth the sacrifice of human dignity? Do I really need to be screamed at to motivate me? If I’m choosing to work for little pay, so as to learn, if I’m acknowledging ‘yes chef’, ‘no chef’ and doing my best should I have my mis-en-place hurled across the room? If I’m not cutting it could I be taught? If I’m a true slacker could I just be let go? Do I have to be cursed at and stripped of dignity because I did not get it just perfect, or at least the chef’s “perfect”? Am I being trained to be a tyrant also? Perhaps.


Why in good conscience should I eat this chef’s food? In fairness to the chef, is so much pressure put upon them to succeed at a certain level that it turns them into tyrants? Perhaps they lacked people skills to start with. Does an unforgiving media, turn out an unforgiving public, that turns out unforgiving chefs? This in my book is unforgivable. Even Marco-Pierre White acknowledged what the pressure was doing to him. Here’s another proverb “17 Better is a dish of vegetables where there is love than a manger-fed bull and hatred along with it. (Proverbs 15:17)


The food industry hires people at various levels and it is a craft and skill that is in high demand. A professional will be conscientious whether cooking at a hospital or at a white tablecloth establishment. Sometimes a contest is fun to challenge ones skills, but does it define who one is? Does someone live or die based on whether they “win” or “lose”?


Unfortunately the media has blown up the image of being a chef and I think we’ve all been affected by the hype to some extent. Reality or perhaps “unreality” shows have furthered this hype. I once saw a serious European competition where a chef who did incredible garde manger work lose out to another chef who perhaps executed a little more efficiently. The “losing” chef (2nd place mind you) was visibly upset that he did not come in 1st and viewed it as a failure, but I feel the real loss was what this chef’s viewpoint of himself and what he was doing became. If this is what being a great chef is then I think I’ve lost my appetite. The nice part was there were numerous chefs that were grateful just to be there and have a shot at working at that level with other skilled chefs and that was refreshing to see.


I guess my point of view is as long as I’m doing my best and striving to learn and improve, I would rather be happy to be number two then unhappy unless I’m number one.



Here’s my opinion and take it as you will- The chef needs to be a leader on many different levels, not just cooking. A chef must be a proficient cook, a business person, an organizer, and an effective manager of people that not only leads by example, but also is effective in discipline and nurturing without undermining his/her authority by acting arbitrarily. No one is perfect but I believe this does not leave room for uncontrolled tirades or an ego that throws things out of focus- bottom line is people are more important than food even though a job has to be done. Although the reprisal part of discipline is sometimes necessary to maintain a standard, discipline comes from the word ‘disciple’, which means a learner so discipline should teach. I feel people react better if nurturing and respect are developed instead of the threat of reprisal. No one’s human dignity deserves to be sacrificed on the altar of haute cuisine. Skills are essential but I feel what truly elevates the cuisine is the love and enthusiasm of the people behind it, when that comes together we are nourished at a level that only technique and execution can never touch. It’s not only about the food it’s about the people too.





3 responses to this post.

  1. Interesting post. Most chefs are OK, but some just cannot treat their staff with any kind of civility at all. I have walked out of restaurants after hearing the chef/owner lose it on someone loudly enouh for me to hear it in the dining room.

  2. It’s too bad isn’t it? But unfortunately part of the animal that exists in just about any type of working environment but especially one that is by structure para-military. It may be ego, but I think many become a product of their training. People skills are not automatic for good organizers and chefs with good technical skills.

  3. JP, great post. I could not agree more with your ideas. Eating is indeed about people, people enjoying company, enjoying food. The core fundamentals of eating and cooking is the neccesisty to eat. May we find enjoyment and pleasure in the company shared or the fine foods we are gifted with indeed. Operating a staff, or better yet communication between any two people, be it boss or employee, wife or husband, parent to child, is all about respect. Respect is the vehicle for teaching, to make oneself feel confident enough to overcome mistakes and feel the desire to correct them. This is the kind of relations that make meals special, to eat from those or with those that exhibit these characteristics.

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