January 5, 2010

Rock Stars with Knives

I’ve worked with Chef Instructors and Culinary Students for the past eight years and they are some of my favorite people. It’s an entire culture unto itself actually. The world of food embraces all sorts; foodies, wine connoisseurs, personal chefs, restaurant chefs, pastry cooks, bakers, home cooks, food writers and specialty food markets. I could go on forever and create a virtually endless laundry list of fabulous jobs or simply food related categories that the people I interview and work with are passionate about. Nowadays there are even such jobs as salt and tea sommeliers, single plantation bean coffee connoisseurs and Chocolatiers. Magazines such as Food and Wine and the Food Network have elevated the industry to new heights and Chefs have become in a way, the new Rock Star.

There is a big difference usually, between foodies (Foodie itself is becoming a rather worn out title) and chefs. One of the differences is that chefs love to please others with their cooking and foodies mostly appreciate good cooking but would not necessarily want to immerse themselves in the lifestyle of an actual chef. Hot kitchens, extreme stress levels, relatively low starting wages, sharp knives, working holidays, late nights and long hours are a reality of a restaurant chef. Most foodies would melt in the industrial kitchen on the line being rushed along and having to yell out “yes chef!” under extreme duress.

What really draws people to this industry in general is their profound love for cooking, but not only do the tougher parts of the industry not deter them, for some, the industry is appealing for those exact reasons. In some ways, restaurant cooks are a part of an edgy-elite club of modern day pirates; some are heavily tattooed and proudly bear the slanted burn marks branding their forearms and the telltale scars on their fingers from wayward knives. They have to be unquestioningly loyal to the captain of their ship (the executive chef) and their crew. Many chefs are drawn to the stress, the heat, camaraderie and real modern day adventure of working in a thriving kitchen, like a moth to a flame (literally - the gas flame on an industrial stovetop). It’s a lifestyle choice. Working in a kitchen is the sort of job that constantly excites them keeps them on the edge of their seat. Maybe it’s a direct connection to life - feeding people, working with food; feeling, and seeing, smelling and tasting it. It’s in essence what keeps us all alive, and good food, REALLY good food makes our lives more delicious and memorable.

It’s my opinion that foodies, food writers and general home cooks like me, love to cook from the safety of our own kitchen and read about the alternative adventure of a chef’s life from the safety of our desk. We venture out to experience and taste for a moment, the exciting whirlwind lifestyle of a chef by going to restaurants. Chefs seem younger, exciting, incredibly hip, energetic and more alive somehow. I think it’s because they know what they want to do in their life and they aren’t afraid to pursue their calling. With all of the hurdles, often without a safety net of a “regular” job, they approach food and cooking with more commitment than the average person. Maybe chefs really are the new brand of Rock Star.

*A couple of great books that really put you into the heart of an industrial kitchen and into the middle of a cook’s life are Heat by Bill Buford and my favorite,Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (a culinary students cult classic)
Cook On.


  1. Great analysis, Heidi, as always. I have great admiration for those that dedicate their lives for my dining pleasure.