Chefs, are you an artist or a craftsmen?

2010 International Chefs Congress

Tomorrow,  I will be on my way to NYC for the International Chefs Congress.  I went two years ago and found it very inspiring.  This year, I decided to fill out a survey and put my name in the bowl for a drawing for free tickets.   I was one of the lucky winners and will be present for the whole congress.

The last time I was at the Congress, the stock market was in collapse.  I walked through times square to witness workers at Lehman Brothers exiting the building with their packed file boxes under the commentary of the news crew stage opposite the building.   The global economic uncertainty could be felt in every block of the city.

Still the Congress went on and I got to experience some amazing presentations by world class chefs.   I’ll never forget Heston Blumenthal’s presentation or the presentation by Rene Redzepi from Noma restaurant.  I had never heard of Rene or Noma and this year his restaurant was voted best in the world.  There were many other impressive presentations and many star chefs were in attendance.

This year the line up is equally impressive. Thomas Keller, Tom Aikens, Albert Adria, Dan Barber, Martin Berasategui and many others. The theme is Culinary Creativity: Art vs Craft.

Is cooking an art or a craft? Are we as chefs deserving of the title artist? or are we craftsmen and craftswomen.  Craftsmen, to me implies heavy repetition and steady improvement to achieve a standard near perfection that can be replicated over and over.  An artist gets inspiration that leads to a creative act that satisfies and elicits an emotional response.

I strongly believe that one can’t exist without the other.  In order to get the inspiration that leads to truly creative acts, you need to constantly refine your craft, study it, think about it non stop, repeat it, learn from others, share it, teach it, fail and try again.  Some excel at getting to that stage faster than others, but rarely does one leap frog over the process.  Some will never get to that stage and will merely dwell in a daily attempt at perfection.

I ate at El Bulli once and I was left with an overwhelming feeling that I had experienced a meal that was created by a great artist.  Ferran Adria is a master craftsmen that has the ability to reflect on his craft on such a high level that he can fearlessly venture into the unknown to reach new discoveries in the realm of food.  He (and his team) are artists, scientists, craftsmen and committed to their creative vision.

His brother, Albert, will be at the congress and will present.

The International Chefs Congress brings together many of these similarly minded craftsmen/artists and is inspiring to all of of us who wish to expand our own creative thoughts on this edible craft.

I will attend two workshops while there and interestingly enough they will not be about some newfangled technique, but about age old technique of preparing pork.

The first is cryptically called:  “There will be blood: Cooking with life’s essential liquid”.  All about working with fresh pig’s blood to make Boudin Noir and other traditional blood dishes. The Chef presenting is Brad Farmerie from the restaurant “Public” in NYC.

The following day I will go to a workshop titled: “The Pig Whisperer: Working Magic with Pork” by Chef Normand Laprise from the Restaurant Toqué in Montreal Quebec.   Chef Normand will take apart a whole pig and show us how to use all the different cuts in various applications.

I’m very much looking forward to each of these workshops and to the Congress.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for an inside view of the Congress.

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