Thursday, February 20, 2014

Knives and Fire

People that cook for a living are an interesting and diverse lot. Looking from the outside in we used to be considered servants. Then as dining out became more and more popular we were upgraded to a group of drug addled alcoholics payed minimum wage and left to our own devices as long as the lobster thermador wound up on a hot plate. That is, at least if you listen to Anthony Bourdain.

Now, with more and more people graduating from cooking school, preparing food for people is actually considered a profession. There is a certain amount of respect. After some years of experience, and lots of hard knocks you can actually rise to the top, become a chef and run your own restaurant. Or multiple restaurants for that matter. And the general public will actually look up to you. One thing that all chefs have in common is ego. Granted it comes in varying degrees. But, to get to the top we have all taken a lot of crap, it forms in a sense, who you are. In my experience the more crap you deal with coming up the larger your ego gets. Or maybe the more humble you get, depending on who is dishing out the crap. How you deal with the stress and pressure of rising through the ranks ultimately determines the type of leader you will be. But even in the most humble chef, and I could name few that I really look up to, there is still ego. When asked why a chef does what he or she does, the answers will vary as widely as the diverse group presented the question. Part of this is where the ego comes in. The Chef says to himself "I have been busting my ass for all these years and finally someone is asking me a question , and they really care what I think." Of course the shoulders go back, and the chest pumps out. They might even put my picture in their magazine. So why do we do what we do? "I like to take care of people...Instant gratification...I find the transformation of ingredients fascinating...creativity...I like the sense of order and precision...the chemistry of it is intriguing..." All perfectly good answers to the question. I call Bull Shit! If you corner each and everyone of us it comes back to this...Knives and Fire. A fascination of which we were born with.

I have, since as long as I can remember, been drawn to the flame. P.S. The draw towards the blade has been no less powerful. Please don't tell my mom. But as kids we almost set the whole woods on fire a number of times. I personally was never into accelerants...discontinuing that brief period when I learned that rubbing alcohol was flammable and the magic I could work with some paper towels stuffed into the tube of a bic pen. Maybe Let's not go there. My first knife was a 4 inch lock blade that I got on Christmas eve. And yes I did cut myself that very first night. Nestled in my bed waiting for Christmas morning as I ran my thumb along the blade. I don't think I touched it for a week after. The cuts and burns over the years are to numerous to remember. At this point in my career my favorite knife is a custom made blade by Bob Kramer. Although he has made me more than one, the first , a 9" chefs knife is my favorite. From what I am told Mr. Kramer has become so renowned I could sell this knife for 10 times what I paid for it. However the knife I reach for almost as often is a Chicago Cutlery boning knife that you can order online for about 12 bucks.

As for fire...I love to cook over an open fire pit of hard wood. The flavors that are imparted are beyond compare. In the mean time the Big Green Egg, The Caja China, The Turkey frier , and the 14 year old Garland at the Restaurant will have to suffice. p.s. at home we are finally switching from electric to gas!

Apple flambé 1 tablespoon butter 1 local apple sugar to taste brandy orange peel cinnamon in a warm pan sauté the apples in butter, add sugar, spices and orange peel. remove from flame and add brandy. return to flame cautiously. serve with vanilla ice cream.

From "Consider the Fork" by Bee Wilson... One thing is for sure. We will never get beyond the technology of cooking itself. Sporks may come and go, microwaves rise and fall. But the human race will always have kitchen tools. Fire, hands, knives; we will always have these.