Why I Cook?

Provencal Tian ready for long slow roasting

Recently on Michael Rhulman’s blog,  he discussed the reason why he cooks and challenged other food bloggers to do the same.  I ponder this often.  What was the original reason I chose to cook?  What was the motivation?  How did this love of cooking evolve to the present day?

I first caught the cooking bug when I was 7 years old living in Morocco.  My older brother had a good friend who’s father loved to cook and would invite us to his house for great meals.  My parents would show so much appreciation and respect for this man’s skill.  I wanted that same level of appreciation and respect.  He cooked from a book called “la Cuisine est un jeu d’enfant” (cooking is child’s play) and I figured I could cook from that book as well.  Under my mother’s watchful eye,  I started to cook from the book.   I wanted to be left alone to cook without supervision.  I had some success and continued to cook other dishes from the book.  I invited my teacher to come eat at our house and my parents would invite their friends.   I also started to make cocktails for these guests from a Playboy bartender’s Guide  (can you imagine if you told people these days that your seven year old was making cocktails for you).

So I would say my main reason for wanting to cook was for appreciation and respect.  We always ate very well.  So it certainly wasn’t out of necessity for survival.  Some have told me their parents were such bad cooks they were forced into action so they could have something edible for dinner.

As I got older, I found cooking was even more powerful.  It could help me hook up with girls.  I also learned to give good massages for the same reason.  I found out you could really touch (figuratively and literally) people with these two skills.

After my time at the University and a couple years attempting to live a 9-5 life.  I decided to go to culinary school.  Now my hobby had to become my profession.  I jumped into that world and decided I wanted to learn as much as possible.  I wanted to become a specialist.  I saw the respect and admiration my Instructors garnered, which further fueled desire to cook.

When I started to cook professionally, I initially became de-motivated.  It was hard stressful work and the people I cooked with had no appreciation or respect for the limited skills I had.   I then decided come hell or high water I would earn their respect.   I would work for the best.  I would go to France.  I would get skills clearly setting me apart from the rest.

Back to the bottom of the heap.  But working in France taught me how much better cooking can be.  The masters garnered respect and appreciation at a level unheard of in the US in the 80’s.  I would tell French people I was working at Georges Blanc and their eyes would light up.   Paul Bocuse, George Blanc, Roger Vergé and Joël Robuchon among many others were national heroes in France.

Came back to the US and realized that regardless of your background and history you still have to prove yourself in a professional kitchen.  What I brought back from France was a profound respect for the process involved with cooking.  Cooking required skill, knowledge, repetition and the use of all your senses.  I became a craftsman.

I stumbled into teaching Culinary School quite by accident and at first I was intent passing on the skills necessary to survive in a professional kitchen: discipline, hard work, organization and ability to withstand abuse.  Then it struck me that what I really wanted to get across to my students is the passion involved in cooking.  Once you have the passion all else falls into place.

People always ask my wife if I do all the cooking at home.  “You must eat really well” they say to her.

When I was working in kitchens and single the last thing I wanted to do on my day off was cook.  Chefs are notorious for empty fridges.  They might have a tombstone in the freezer nestled in with a bottle of Vodka, some slightly moldy salsa with a gallon of milk and 12 pack of beer.

When I got married and started teaching, I was around food all day and would eat what we made.  I would come home satiated and unexcited to cook.  So my wife took on the chore.  Fortunately she is a good cook.

Recently I have been the one feeding the family.   I have a new perspective after 22 years of Professional cooking.

I cook because I love the process of cooking.  Thinking through a dish and learning from it.

I cook because I know I can cook as well or better and for a lot cheaper than most any restaurant we might eat at.

I cook because I am in control of every element of the process.  I am ultimately responsible for the outcome.  If I mess up (it can happen) then I take stock and learn from it.

I cook because it allows me to explore the unknown.  If I cook the cuisine from a country I have never been to, it allows me to take that journey through the food.  It might not be the way the food is actually made in that country but that’s ok.  If I go there eventually, you can bet I will be looking for validation and authenticity.

I cook because it is a creative outlet that allows me to use all my senses and imagination.

I cook because I love to eat good food.  Important to note that good food does not mean it has to be expensive.

I cook because I want my wife and children to eat good healthy food and open them up to the vast world of food.

I cook because I still love to see that look of satisfaction on the face of the people I cook for.  Which really goes back to the main reason I started to cook in the first place.

Why do you cook?  Leave a comment or share your blog post.

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