On a small sheet of paper in my kitchen cabinet is written this quote:
“I’d come to know three outstanding American chefs, each one of whom had been cooking his entire adult life and had made people happy doing it. In fact all three of these chefs had stated that a main reason, if not the reason, they cooked was that simple; to make people happy. If they failed in this, the work was for nothing. Didn’t matter how good the technique was, how artful the food, or the personal standards they’d brought to bear on it.”
It’s from a book by Michael Ruhlman, The Soul of a Chef, which I read a few years prior to opening my restaurant. This simple text articulated for me what I was not able to express on my own. Indeed, this is why I love to cook; to make people happy. To hear you say, “That was incredible” makes the labor worthwhile.
But here in recent days I find myself in need of a similar discovery. When I receive a complimentary comment about an entry I have posted, I receive it with gratitude, but unlike my cooking, I’m not sure of my motivation for expressing my thoughts.
In short, why do I write?
When we first found out that Karen had cancer, I felt compelled to write about it. Compulsion is the best word I have to describe the urge to communicate what we had just discovered. The words came easy, my thoughts seemed focused. And it left me wondering why? What inner need was being met by writing?
For me, writing is a recent discovery, a late in life realization that I can put a thought down on paper and make it somewhat clear and concise. It’s why I could probably never write a book. My ideas are only about a page or two long, and you need a couple hundred of them to bind together and I don’t think my well is that deep.
My theory is this; I am in possession of a story, one that contains elements that I wish were not in it. I can’t change these facts, nor can I remove them from the story. But as a writer, at least I can tell the story in my own words and not feel that it is being told for me. In this way I can be an active observer as well as a participant
It all comes back down to control.
As a chef, my job is all about control; controlling the heat, the seasoning, the flavor, the ingredients, the chaos, the knife, the cost of food, the labor, etc. I understand why the French developed a military style hierarchy in the kitchen. The end game of creating outstanding food is constantly being threatened by all the fragile means that are required to produce it.
And now as a writer, I’m not comfortable with a passive position, either.
I can’t change the past, and I cannot predict the future, but maybe I can interpret them as I observe them. I can look them both in the eye and remind them, that regardless of what they have to offer, I have nothing to fear.