If you’re passionate about cooking, sometimes you must get out of the kitchen to cool down, but that doesn’t always mean it’s wasted time. There is just as much to learn out of the kitchen as there is in it.
I was never into reading as a kid, and I’m sure many people can relate. I passed on reading so often that by the time I was twenty years old, I had only read one book cover to cover. Sounds pitiful, huh? I thought so, too. But it wasn't because I disliked reading, but rather because I read very slow and that always put me off from it. This was disheartening because I loved to learn more than anything in the world and there was almost no better place to get information than from books! With a little bit of passion and determination, I decided it was time to tackle this issue head-on.
So, I recently picked up a book that was recommended to me called Letters To A Young Chef by Daniel Boulud, a world-renowned chef who has carved his legacy into the history of culinary arts, alongside other great chefs. I thought to myself “I’m still young, there has to be something here for me to learn, and it’s by a chef so it can’t be that dense of a read.” I took a chance, and I guarantee you it was well worth it. The following paragraphs will give an overview of what I read, what I took from the book, and most importantly, how I have personally seen the things talked about in this book affect me in my everyday culinary journey.
The book is described as a true guide for those who are young looking to become a chef, but I think anyone of any age can benefit from reading this book. As long as you have the passion to accomplish a dream, anything is possible, no matter your age!
Starting out with a chapter called “Do You Really Want to be a Chef?” can’t be more fitting and educating. Becoming a chef is a hard job; there are long hours, years of grunt work, low compensation and it's a highly competitive industry. These are just a few negatives of the journey to becoming a chef, but the book doesn’t outline these to turn you off, they are there to help you understand where your passions lie. If you truly aren’t passionate and putting in everything to stay that extra hour, ask the hard questions, observe and adapt your techniques and really hone the craft, then becoming a chef may not be for you. If you choose to go down this path, when traveling from restaurant to restaurant, you’ll come to learn that the most successful chefs are the ones giving it their all to be the most skillful. This is important because most great chefs don’t become great chefs because they wanted to be, they became great chefs because they wanted to be great at the skills a chef possesses through being passionate with everything they do.
Passion is what keeps us chefs going in this business. When we get to learn new things and see the smiles on guests' faces upon consuming the first bite of food we produced, all those years of hard work instantly became worth it for us. This topic is covered much deeper later in the book in a section titled “Desire, Drive, and Focus” where the book dives deep into what makes being a chef worth it in the end. Even comparing trading recipes to trading baseball cards as a kid and calling the notebooks we carry around with scribbles in the “Holy Books.” They are referred to as this because they carry all the recipes and instructions on how to reproduce a dish from a given restaurant making it one of a kind.
There are a few chapters that I think are noteworthy in this book and that resonated with me more so than others.
The first one is “Attitude and Teamwork” which provides guidelines on how to take criticism from others with a grain of salt but learn from it at the same time. Any time you can improve on something, that just means there is more to learn in the cooking industry. Don’t take things personally because the cooks around you only want the best for you and sooner or later end up becoming your second family. This is because they’ll do anything for you, and you also spend an unprecedented amount of hours with them working side by side to keep everything running smoothly. This chapter also talks about cooking for fellow chefs and how it basically becomes a friendly war of who can create the most interesting dish. This is usually the time when we get to show what we have and enjoy it with others productively.
The second one is “A Special King of Life” which covers the extensive dedication needed to achieve success not only as a chef but also as a cook. This means working holidays, weekends, nights, and so on. The time when other people are normally free is when you are normally working the hardest. There aren’t many jobs that compare to being a chef so it takes a special breed of person to keep up with it. Some say to be a chef is to be married to food.
Third and most important, is the chapter titled “The Ten Commandments of A Chef”. This covers some cardinal rules that all chefs come to learn and live by as they see new things and have new worldly experiences. If there is anything to get out of this book I think it’s this is the chapter to remember. Each commandment is short and to the point but cover a pivotal aspect of being a chef. These ten points are:
- Keep your knives sharp and take care of your tools.
- Work with the best people.
- Keep your station orderly.
- Waste not!
- Season with precision.
- Master the heat.
- Learn the world of food.
- Know the classics.
- Accept criticism and push yourself.
- Keep a journal of your recipes.
I feel like all of these topics are self-explanatory but drive the basis for how most chefs function in modern kitchens. These commandments were not developed overnight, they have been fostered and honed over many decades of cooking excellence to be what they are today.
You may or may not have noticed that I didn’t touch on the topic of flavor, and this was intentional. Flavor is an expansive topic that is unique to every single person and is usually the last thing that any person masters in a kitchen. Anyone can learn techniques and recipes. To truly understand and master flavor though, takes decades of tasting, testing, and reevaluating. For this reason, it’s not something that needs to be focused on directly but rather understood subconsciously so that one day as a cook or chef you can be a master of flavors.
Many of these skills and topics covered above are essential in not only restaurant kitchens but also home kitchens. That’s why at The Chopping Block, we cover many of these topics in much more extensive detail to prepare everyday home cooks like yourself for any kitchen situation. If you’re cooking for just two or trying to enter into restaurants, we have the skills to aid you with classes like our Culinary Boot Camp. This is a flavorful five-day course jam-packed with most; if not all, of the information you could learn by going to culinary school into an easily digestible format for home cooks.
And if you really want to get inside the mind of a chef, check out our newest Modernist Boot Camp coming up on Saturday, March 26 from 10am-3pm at the Mart. By exploring the science of cooking and using our kitchen as your playground, you’ll discover new ingredients and techniques as you take your cooking to an entirely new level.