Chef Profile–Issue #1

I will not be naming names to protect the innocent.  Then again, we’re talking about cooks here, and cooks are never innocent.  But that’s neither here nor there.  Let’s be honest here, I will not be naming names to protect my own guilty ass. So for my fellow colleagues and students, this should be a fun guessing game, but please keep your guesses to yourself. And for all you cia-secular civilians out there, I hope that the character portrayals of the chefs will be compelling enough without knowing their true names.  Without further ado, here is chef #1:

“When we push you, you’re going to think this school sucks. But the school doesn’t suck, you suck! “
The above quote came from the very first chef I had at the culinary. The class was culinary fundamentals. That was back when we had our timelines printed and filled out for us, and we spent an hour dicing onions and other vegetables each day. Our chef for this class was an old schooler. He has been at the culinary for around 25 years. We were his first fundamentals class in a while, he had been teaching an advance cooking class for many years just before. He must have had to muster great humility and patience to come back to teaching first-term, first class newbies. He handled it well, for he was a hippie.  Sort of.
He was definitely from Vermont, and he definitely got much of his training out west in Northern California.  He smiled slowly and often, suggesting a slight trace of a recent inebriation, but more likely vast inebriation at some point in his distant past. He often hinted at a vast knowledge for the injustices of the world, muttering a bit about insecticides or the chemicals used in the refining of certain oils. He spouted this stuff almost robotically or wearily, like he had explained all this 1 million times before to 1 million other students, the end result being that maybe .002% of those students actually listened. Yet his patter trudged on. Once a hippie always a hippie.
The one main thing that contradicted his freewheeling, progressive nature was that he was a chef. Chefs seem to have a certain militaristic quality, to say it lightly. Yes, he trained out in hippies-ville Northern California, but he trained with a French chef who was ex-military russian assassin.
Still, he successfully fused his liberal, humanitarian sensibilities with the intense structure of kitchen ruling.  He called out mistakes with an even tone.  When we did something stupid, he would simply say something like “well, that was stupid!  And he’d laugh.”  I was the class leader, ad one day I was frustrated because the class was dragging their feet through clean-up and it was getting late.  I asked the chef to give them inspirational words to get them moving and he yelled at them in a big, booming voice  He then whispered to me “How was that?  Good?  Effective?  Good.”  He laughed and went back to ordering produce for the next day.  By the way, after he yelled, there was silence for the rest of the evening.  He said about students making small mistakes, “you shouldn’t get squashed like a bug…there should be some restraint.” He was stern, but fairly even-tempered, though some would probably argue otherwise.
I am sure I’m not saying anything new to this chef, but some students still thought he was a hard ass.  And there were those who thought he was too negligent. Some thought he was too negligent on some issues, and far too much of an ass on others.
I believe any erratic behavior from him was rooted in an internal struggle that began stewing when he started this course and that resolved itself by the end.  He got slotted to teach “fundies”, man. I don’t think he was super excited about that. On top of that, I did not get the impression that the last chef, if there are even was one at all, passed a very well lit torch, if you know what I mean. I will leave that issue there for the sake of preserving the integrity of the CIA. Let me just say, that even at the best cooking school in the world, shit happens. Now go read the quote that starts this blog entry. You feel me?
And we sucked. I don’t think we really realized how bad we sucked in that class until we looked back a few months later. Chef must have had a pretty significant struggle with the issue of patience.
Ultimately, Chef just wanted to be a happy guy. And at some point he decided that’s how he wanted to live his life. And that inspired me. He showed me that to be a chef does not mean I am doomed to be a miserable, raging lunatic.
Chefs, as a group in general, tend to get very upset. Bluntly, they demonstrate a rage that I had never witnessed until I started working in kitchens. It is a type of rage I had never witnessed in myself until I started working in kitchens. But even in my humble career in kitchens before, I had never been told by a chef “I want to punch you in the face!” until I came to culinary school. My fundies chef, while being much more direct than any chef I had ever had out in the world, was a fairly mellow cat all in all. And by the end of the course he had put together all the broken pieces of the class he stepped into, reconciled with the fact that he was a fundies teacher again, and stepped into his power as a caring, passionate, über-Intelligent Chef instructor.
He shared his life with anyone willing to listen.  He had a hard life during the first half, but he made his life good for the remainder.  He worked very hard, and it paid off for him.  He has a successful B and B, and he teaches at a bad-ass school.  On being a teacher at the CIA, he said “I’m plugged into the food matrix here, man.  I know everything going on in the food world.”  He’s extremely well-read, and he’s a voracious learner.
Most of all, he got me.  He helped me become a better cook.  He knew I liked to write, and he understood what I was writing about.  He always responded to emails asking for career advice, or when I needed a pep talk.  When I see him now, with his pony-tail bundled up in a hair net, I feel admiration and respect.
I hear his next venture is opening a restaurant in Costa Rica.  Pretty friggin awesome if you ask me.
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