Monday, April 10, 2017

Hogwash, I Say! Cook The Way You Want To!

            One of the aspects of the food industry that I have realized over the years of my career as a Chef is that people can be so serious. Yes, I take pride in what I do and I think that the role I play in the industry has an impact on people’s lives, but why am I expected to have a heavy weighted approach in discussions regarding food?
            Many of you probably agree that there are numerous people in the food industry, that we may label as Foodies, who come across as pompous or event pretentious. This is perhaps why it is presumably expected for others to be the same way. Don’t get me wrong – I believe it is a wonderful thing when someone loves what they do, even to the point where their lives are utterly consumed with related passion, but why must we take such a ridged approach?
            Yes, there are rules in cooking, and many are steadfast, but I am talking more about the areas where approaches are not as strict and could very easily be bent based on personal preferences and taste.
            For example, I am sure that you have heard the statement that “medium-rare” is the optimal doneness for cooking a beef steak… but what happens when someone likes their steak more done? Or when a person does not like their pasta cooked al dente (Italian for “to the tooth” meaning not to overcook; it should have some firmness)? Is it our role as Chefs to tell that person that they are wrong? Where is the line where the steadfast rules and training stop and where personal taste and preferences start?
            Where that line is and the boldness of that line, varies in many circumstances but is does exist, and I believe as an industry expert that it cannot be ignored, or overruled, just for the sole reason that we are professionally trained. I remember working with a Chef in my training days that told me: “An individual of the general public has personal preference and taste buds that cannot be ignored. We must not only learn from them but also learn to accept their perspectives as a part of our ongoing training and fine-tuning of our careers as Chefs. Everyone has an opinion and is a unique individual and should be respected as such.” Wise words well said that I have shaped my career around.
            Here is another example: This past weekend at a BBQ demo I segmented racks of lamb,
seasoned them with salt & pepper, seared them to get a charred crust, and glazed them with mint jelly just before serving. Lamb & mint is classic combination that pairs so nicely together, however I have heard Chefs say "Mint on lamb is so 70's, and has been done too much. Use anything but mint." ...and to that I say "Hogwash! What a stupid thing to say". If something works, why do we feel the need to change it just for the sake of change? Why should we feel inept if we are not embarking on a new journey? I'm not saying that change is bad, or even that it should not be explored, but why at the same time must we banish the past and what works? Why can't we embrace it all?
            I am a fully certified Red Seal Chef, but to me my trades paper is just that: paper. I see myself more as a Chef for the home cook. A Chef for the majority of the households filled with all classes of people, with or without families, that are looking for great meals that are not constructed from obscure ingredients. Meals that are not paired with unfamiliar varieties of wine. If you love food and love to cook, regardless of whether you are professionally trained or not, you are a Chef in my eyes. Does that mean I don’t respect, appreciate or value my certification as a Chef, or other professionals in the industry? Of course not. It means that I can find importance with what we have and at the same time be open enough to appreciate and respect others and their opinions. Opinions are like taste buds – everybody has them.
            As for those mint-glazed lamb chops: I would have shared a photo here of the finished product, but they were eaten up faster than I could get my camera ready... with many people telling me it was the best lamb they have ever had! One of them even wanted to pay me money to reserve them one from my next batch.
            So in closing, in what I hope does not seem like a rant, I welcome you with open arms to share your food experiences with me. No guard must be erected. Let us talk, taste, discuss, sip, and share passion for the nurturement that keeps us alive and keeps our lives exciting and fulfilling. Let us eat, drink, and be merry. Until next time… Happy Cooking.

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