“Did you have to cook on Thanksgiving?”
My response to that question is to downplay the “have to” part and replace it with a “get to” part.
For me as a chef, there is a wide, blurry line between work and play. To understand this division concerning vocation and lifestyle, you only need to look at the books on my nightstand. Interspersed in the stack of well intentioned but unread novels and nonfiction are the most frequently perused cookbooks and food magazines. I’m sure some psychologist would attest that this is probably not healthy and would press for a more balanced focus on other interests and diversions, but truth be known, that’s just likely not in the DNA of one who loves to cook for a living.
I think this imbalance stems from the fact that the preparation of food and eating it is not first and foremost a vocation. For a person to know how to feed himself is a basic human impulse, and is something a child figures out very quickly when he learns how to pick up the Cheerios between two fingers and put them into his mouth. This child discovers the pleasure of such action and does not forget it. The act of eating is now established and can continue on for a lifetime.
But in the same way, the act of feeding others is similarly fundamental. Parents of young, finicky children recall the satisfaction of finally “getting that kid to eat.” When our children first showed signs of food aversion, we felt like failures as parents. We couldn’t succeed at something as basic as providing food that our child liked. What was wrong with us?
Nothing was wrong. We only had to learn how to feed them.
Eating and feeding. Simple, human actions with lifelong lessons attached.
In the beginning, we learn to eat simple, bland food. As we grow, we learn to eat more broadly. Eventually as we mature, we hear the call to learn how to eat healthier. In our latter years, as metabolism changes, we learn to eat less. Eating is an education and a wonderful one at that.
As a chef, I feed others with the same progression. I embrace that there are times in life that call for simple, mild sustenance, and at others, an elaborate feast. The occasional cheeseburger can be balanced with regular placement of greens and vegetables. In the practice of moderation and variety, I don’t deny anyone the right to indulge, especially myself. I can’t eat fried turkey and smoked ribs every day like I did on Thanksgiving Day, but I can do it once or twice a year. I learn how to feed others by what I am learning about feeding myself.
I love to cook and I love to eat, and hopefully I am daily getting better at both. My goal is to provide food that ultimately brings satisfaction, not just immediate relief.