Why I Am Not Concerned With “Mastery”, Chef…………….

Let’s start with the above picture. Jean Banchet and his staff in front of La Francais in Wheeling Illinois. One of the most influential chefs the US has seen. Jean passed on at age 71. Two weeks before he placed his last order he was riding his Harley. He also raced Porsche’s on the oval track. He was the first chef in the Chicago area to realize the potential of interacting with his clientele. An area that was previously and exclusively the domain of the FOH manager. He was a huge motivational factor for me to pursue my then career competing in freestyle jet ski competitions. I did not work with him but was exposed to his career behind the doors of French kitchens. He was very cool for a Frenchman and I state that with much affection. He got it! As fine a chef in the kitchen as you can ask for. Perfect, no, but who is? For example he is wearing a paper hat I always made fun of:) Just as he made fun of my baseball hat! Jean also made it clear he never wanted to die standing in front of an oven. Smart man.

This article is in response to: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-you-arent-chef-defense-mastery-dylan-turnbull

There is no need to defend being a master chef. There is no need to justify different paths in the culinary world. I don’t now, and never ever wanted to be the best chef. I always wanted to be the best chef I was capable of being Good chefs are like village leaders in a microcosm. The best take care of their tribe 1st and foremost.

The author has some anger/failure/envy issues with some jealousy topping and a side of insecurity me thinks. Great chefs are not only measured by Michelin ratings. It’s not mandatory for great chefs to be validated by schools, critics, media or other chefs let alone Yelp:) Great chefs find their specific culinary niche and become very good at it. They recognize their frailties as a human, their limits of talent, patience, stamina, physical skills, communication ability, problem solving, sanitation, facility assets or limitations, client needs, staff potential, consistency in all phases of a daily routine specific to their situation while not settling for complacency. Then they apply their assets to best benefit all they affect. They keep their mind receptive to new ideas or change while retaining experience & confidence enough to know when not to change.

I’ve seen this particular expression of thought many times. 1st there is the pissed off realization that the individual will know they aren’t going to be the most memorable phenom to hold a skillet. Then the anger seeps in as time passes and life outside of the kitchen continues to march on without them. They are not comfortable with themselves, so in turn no one need be comfortable around them. Exactly the personality type I would eject from my kitchen. Maybe he is a nice guy. Maybe not. His approach is not acceptable to mine in a kitchen. He’s lost in a sea of confusion created by past generations of a similar thought process, established due to no opposing views or differing approaches. Status quo. That same mindset offers little tolerance if its not status quo laid out by the current regime in a a given kitchen. So tightly are they screwed together trying to do something that has little importance in the whole of life he’ll end up on his death bed with a buffet of regrets and not enough valuable life experiences to serve him a fitting final meal.

I am what he is not. I am what he will never be. I am self aware in life far beyond his ability to even rationalize the concept. None of the differences I speak of are directly linked to the actual preparation and service of food. But for food preparation and all it entails on all levels just as there are situations he can devise to make an example of someone else whom he may feel unfit or otherwise in a kitchen I have news Buck Wheat. I can do the same to you. So can numerous chefs I know personally. We all know how to lay out a trap for a culinary public execution. Big deal. Who among the well skilled well traveled chefs and especially ones who have done drugs during their formative years interwoven with the ever present kitchen humor are not able to do that? So you can play bully for a day to prop up your ego or mask your angst.  When does your parade start? I’m sure to be busy, sorry………..

Kitchen life is filled with failure. It’s our failures that make the attaining of goals so much more satisfying. It’s how we help co-workers failures that define our true grasp of what it takes to be a great chef. One of my top goals as a chef was to help my staff improve their lot in life by equipping them with as much knowledge, wisdom, and experience as I had to offer. This includes patience, respect, and charity. Its essential in passing the baton to the next generation. Molecular restaurants are few and far between and not feasible for everyday meal consumption. The other 99.9999999999% of restaurants need sharp, smart talented CHEFS . In no way does this mean they are inferior, lesser, impaired, unmotivated, ill trained or otherwise not up to “delusional” standards that are always subjective from kitchen to kitchen, country to country. None of this in any way is mentioned in this article and that for me this is very telling.

I do share his angst when it comes to wanna-be’s and ass clown “chefs” proclaiming that they are the first to make their ‘Gluten Free Wienie Beanie Chicken Beak Salad sprinkled with a seasonal Bronco Juice Vinaigrette” or their sensational “Salmon Smoothie Brunch game changer”. I also don’t suffer the kitchen fool. But I do think my “approach/appraisal” of the individual that finds his or her gizzard under my knife to be a lot more pragmatic and realistic. I do think there is always someone lurking that needs an extra large foot buried up their keester (con artists in particular).

Every profession has its down side. Its up to us as individuals to determine if that downside(s) outweigh our satisfaction and the career of choice’s impact on our life and those we love.  Does balancing those needs during a lifetime where nothing in the future is guaranteed or certain cheapen a culinary career or skill set? Hell no. That thought process is defective and in need of healing. If someone wants to be the “Grand Imperial Exalted Rectal Chef from another Reality” then go for it. Just don’t complain or point your arthritis plagued fingers at the rest of us (chefs) that we don’t understand you. We do. It’s why so many of us chose to not be like you. Find a therapist with an App. Maybe it’s not too late to wake up from your own personal nightmare. If you do wake up, we always have room at the table for another chef to rub elbows with. A chef, that actually gets it, what it means to be a chef. What it means to appreciate life, in and out of a kitchen, and what it means to appreciate what you have, not scorn what you don’t. Great chefs are not measured only by what is on the plate. Using that measurement alone is the problem with measuring a chef’s career in the 1st place.

So in ending I don’t place any extra merit to Master chefs being superior to other chefs. Same as I don’t want to be known as a Master Baker either:)

29 thoughts on “Why I Am Not Concerned With “Mastery”, Chef…………….

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