Why I cook: 5 Justifications to the Madness
Sometimes cooking can be a truly maddening job. It's a high stress career that can break the best. Everyone has their reasons for doing what they do and it’s important to lay them out so that when things are tough, you can remind yourself why you decided to do it in the first place.
This is why I cook
I cook because I love to learn new things.
With cooking there is always more to learn - you're never done. I could spend a whole day researching about bread or chocolate and still barely scratch the surface of the wealth of knowledge there is to acquire about cooking and food. Then there are things that you will only learn from working in a professional kitchen. Things like how to work in or lead a team, how to teach others what you know and how to be as efficient as possible. All of these are skills that stay with you forever once they’re learnt.
I cook because of the energy.
In the kitchen, you're always on your feet, moving around; sometimes for over 12 hours straight. While it can be painful at the beginning, you adapt to it and come to enjoy it because there’s practically no time to be bored, no time to take a break. You get absorbed into the work. It surrounds you. You're constantly seeing the results of your hard work and getting almost immediate feedback from each other, the customers and the servers. The energy of a finely tuned kitchen is something to behold. Everyone’s moving around quickly with precise, practiced movements - all the time communicating with the rest of the team and running through what’s next.
I cook because of the zone.
The zone is something that’s difficult to describe, but once you've experienced it, you'll know. When you're in the zone it’s like you're almost superhuman. Your senses extend throughout the kitchen. You get a sixth sense for when food is done. You can hear from the other side of the kitchen if a pan wasn't hot enough, or you can smell if a crème brulé was burned too much. You somehow internalize and organize 10 different orders at once in only a couple of seconds. You go into autopilot and time slips away. You operate at an elevated level. Everything you send is cooked perfectly, looks beautiful and was done quickly, yet you feel like it was effortless. This is the zone. It’s something worth craving and worth seeking out.
I cook because of the challenge.
There’s nothing like a good challenge; and, in the kitchen, there’s definitely no shortage. The higher rank you are in the kitchen the more of the challenges you'll face. There are days where you're faced with preparing for a 5 course wedding service for 80 people the next day, while still having to do a normal service for 40 people that night. Where half of the tables have special requests or food intolerances that you need to take into account. And, while all of this is going on, you have clients asking you for special menus for next week or catering for the week after. Oh, and don't forget supervising the staff. You need to make sure everyone’s working and that they're working to your standards.
Now, not every day is like this, but they do happen and they happen more often than you may like. The sheer amount of planning and organization that needs to take place in very little time is something that I look forward to. It lets you show people just how good you are.
I cook because of the creative opportunity.
The point where you get to start creating in the kitchen is the point where you start to have even more fun. You can express yourself through the food. I know it sounds a little odd, but when you create something that’s truly your own and then get the feedback from the customers that it’s one of the best dishes they've ever had, there’s nothing like it. Sometimes it'll seem like it’s all been done before, but that doesn't mean that you can't do it your own way. In fact, restrictions encourage creativity. It forces you to do something differently. Again, at the higher levels in the kitchen, the opportunity for creativity is more prevalent. As the chef, you have whole menus to be creative with. You can take people to other places, or spark old memories with the food. You could tell a story as people move from one course to the other. The possibilities for creativity with food are endless and it’s an opportunity to run a little wild and do what you want.
Cooking presents numerous challenges and opportunities and that’s why I love it. There’s always something more to learn or another dish to create, a new colleague to train. It never stops and while a career in the kitchen may seem tiring (it is), it’s worth pursuing. Answer the question for yourself. Why do you cook? Then, when you get lost and forget why you're even doing it (you will), reread it. You'll be reminded of what drew you to cooking in the first place and you'll have a renewed sense of purpose. I know I did just from writing this.
I'd love to hear why you cook. Tell me your top three reasons in the comments below.